Thursday, December 31, 2009
A bit of cooking: spiced nuts (a legal and very satisfying treat) and apple-cranberry chutney, to accompany chicken and pork and other such things later in the week. Time spent reading and relaxing.
Dinner around here will be broiled lobster tails, baked asparagus with olive oil and parmegiano, a green salad with beets and oranges and red onions, and some sort of rice pilaf. Champagne, of course, since it is New Years' Eve. We will not go out - we are not big-crowd people and this night brings out the less pleasant aspects of some folks - but will stay cocooned in the house, watching "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," assuming we can stay awake that long.
If we are still awake at midnight, we will say "rabbit, rabbit," as my children tell me we must do for luck, share a kiss, and then sleep soundly. Goodbye, 2009. It was a year with many blessings and many challenges. No reason to think that 2010 will be any different, and that's just fine with me.
Happy New Year! May your year be full of the sweetness and piquancy that makes life rich.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
One meeting with a parishioner in discernment, another with a couple who will renew their wedding vows in two weeks.
Work with Fabulous Parish Administrator to finalize Sunday's bulletin and announcements.
A jaunt over to Costco, where I spent an inordinate amount of money stocking up on staples, on the theory that if I get ten pounds worth of oatmeal, I will immediately get called to a position far away and it will seem ridiculous to transport the oatmeal. Like the "carrying an umbrella prevents rain" theory.
A quick stop to the Temple of Food, to see if they had any more nifty little bags of clementines. In the past, we have bought those wooden crates of them (in violation of our promise to eat locally as much as possible) because they are so very, very delicious, but we can never get through the whole box before they start to spoil. Thus, the arrival of the bags, which hold about half as many, was a boon. It's bad enough to feel guilty about buying a product which travels very far to get to us, but it's even worse when one ends up tossing a third of the box. Anything to reduce the guilt, you know. But no little bags, only the boxes, so I guess that's it for us for clementines for the year.
Home again, after a detour to the library to stock up on reading material.
Some people go to the supermarket to stock up on milk and bread and such when a storm is headed their way (we have some icy rain coming tomorrow morning). Some people do the same when a holiday is coming up and they fear they won't have access to a store.
I go to the library. Priorities, you know.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
After all, 95 miles, almost all of which was on a superhighway, is not that far, and should only take two hours.
I was wrong.
It was a crawl, a literal crawl, from about 7 miles south of my starting point for another 40 miles. The first 20 miles took two hours. The next twenty took another hour.
Suffice to say I was not on time. Four hours on the road, much of it riding the clutch, in first gear - yes, my car has a standard transmission. Normally, four hours would get me from Washington to New York, and normally this drive would take just under two hours. Fortunately, I was able to touch base with the head of the committee with whom I was meeting and let her know I'd be a tad late, and the group was gracious about it.
It was a good meeting, and we will see where it will lead. Friendly and faithful people looking forward to what God has in mind for them, asking challenging questions of the candidates for the position and asking questions of themselves as well. A lovely church campus, in an interesting neighborhood.
Yes, we shall see what the road is ahead. I do hope, however, that it isn't four hours in stop and go traffic.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Friday, December 25, 2009
We are all duly fed, both with venison and vegetarian fare. Gifts were opened to much laughter and appreciation - we tend toward the gifts that amuse rather than amaze - and phone calls with family who could not be here with us were a delight.
The apple frangipane tart was a success, and I indulged in a small piece, it being Christmas.
StrongOpinions got a Christmas present from Big Apple Ivy - a significant scholarship towards her tuition. This is a help that is much appreciated.
There was a time, many moons ago, that I had a lot of money. Christmases then were marked by piles of gifts under a very large tree...and the children descended on the piles and tore through them in what seemed like seconds.
Now our Christmases are marked by the right recognition that the gifts are athird tier pleasure of the day...the first is the celebration of the Incarnation, and the second is the pleasure of being together. The piles of gifts are more like little mounds.
But the smiles, the joy, the appreciation...it all seems so much greater now. Perspective on what love really is and from whence it comes - it changes things for the better. I don't miss the big piles of presents, not one whit.
Merry Christmas, all.
Last night I presided at the 5 pm Christmas Even service of Carols, Candlelight and Communion at Saint Middle School. Lovely turnout - the auditorium was quite full - with many new families there. I hope some of them will return in the coming weeks.
I was blessed with the beautiful white and gold chasuble and stole (see below) the parish commissioned for me, from our parishioner Gifted Seamstress, who has her own small business/ministry in vestments and paraments. The Children's Sermon featured Jacob the shepherd boy, played by a young boy with that name who hammed it up delightfully. The adult sermon is below...on days like Christmas, I like to do a story sermon in the tradition (though without the great gifts) of Frederick Buechner,and this one followed that model.
We had a fairly tight schedule after that service to go to PH's church's 10 pm service of Lessons and Carols. So we stopped to grab a quick bite (I had had grand plans of making us a picnic basket to consume in the 35 mile drive from one place to the other, but that didn't happen). Perhaps our new tradition may be Christmas Eve...
..wait for it...
Perfect! Protein, light, didn't get in the way of the need to be able to sing for the late service, and the wasabi cleared the sinuses a bit.
PH's little church had maybe 40 attending. Very intimate, very lovely in its way. I had been asked to sing "O Holy Night" - a delight to be able to sing a solo now that I'm ordained and serving elsewhere. It was over by 11:30, and we got home again in time to share a midnight Christmas kiss and fall soundly asleep.
So this morning (Saint Middle School doesn't have a Christmas morning service), PH and I slept in until 8 a.m., almost high noon in our world, then enjoyed a cup of coffee and tea, respectively, and went for a long walk through the still-snow-covered neighborhood. PH made us some bacon and eggs, and now we just are relaxing. We've decided to hold off on opening presents until StrongOpinions gets here.
But we have ever-present gifts that we enjoy - children who are doing well, each in their own way, relatively good health, work that we both love, extended family who are a joy, two neurotic cats who provide us much entertainment, books, food, a roof overhead...we are blessed.
Blessed most of all, of course, in the gift of the One whose birth we celebrate today, in his saving grace and love for us because of and despite of who and how we are.
Anything under the tree, lovely as it might be, is secondary to that.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The town was packed with people. The smart ones had come early in the day, knowing what the crowds would be like. They made their way to
But Joseph and Mary were late. The donkey was old and couldn’t move very quickly, and that was just as well, because Mary was so great with child and so uncomfortable that the jouncing if the beast had been able to go fast would have made the trip unbearable. So by the time they got to
And now, here they were, in the town, trudging from lodging place to lodging place – there were only a few in a town the size of Bethlehem, and it seemed they had sold out all the rooms much earlier in the day. They were getting desperate, because it was getting even colder in the night, and the donkey was tired, and Mary was aching deep in her bones, and Joseph was getting more angry with himself for not leaving earlier….we’ve all been on road trips like that, haven’t we, where it hasn’t worked out as planned and the whole family is feeling the strain of wrong decisions?
And so, there they were, on the edge of town, at the very last lodging house, and once again, the innkeeper said, “I’m sorry, we’re all full up. No more rooms.”
And something in Joseph snapped. He got angry, this normally gentle man with the big woodworker’s hands. He said, “Man, can’t you see that she is great with child? No room! No room! Won’t anyone take pity on this woman and give her a place to rest?”
The innkeeper was tired, too. The crowds of people in town were a boon to him – he needed the money they paid – but they were hard work too. Demanding more straw for the pallets, more water, more food…everyone was on edge, it happened whenever the Romans pushed the people around, and a census like this was just one more way the Romans showed they had all the power. The Romans snapped their fingers and everyone had to go to their ancestral town to be counted. So those with inns in
He took a second look at the girl. Such a calm face. Tired, yes, but peaceful and beautiful in that peace…the innkeeper thought she must be exhausted by the long trip but she said nothing, just sitting on the donkey, a small smile playing around the edges of her lips.
Well, he had no rooms, but maybe there was something…the cave nearby, where the animals were kept. It was rough, but at least in a cave there would be some shelter from the cold night air. Yes, there were animals there, but that would provide more warmth, wouldn’t it? And maybe tomorrow they might find a room somewhere else in town…yes, for tonight it would have to be enough for them, the best he could do under the circumstances, you know.
So he stepped out of the doorway and said “Go over to the foot of the mountains over there – it’s not far, just a hundred meters or so – and there is a cave there. It’s where we keep the animals. Yes, I know, it’s not a room, but it will have to do – I really don’t have anything else. At least you’ll be out of the night winds, and she can rest…there will be fresh straw there for her to lie down on, my boy mucked it out this morning, so it’s pretty clean…”
Joseph looked for a moment as if he was going to say something harsh – put my wife in a cave with animals? – but he stopped himself. He took a deep breath, and simply said “thank you, thank you for helping us.” And he led the donkey over to that cave, away from the bustle of the town to a quiet place where his wife could rest, and he told himself that it was better than a noisy inn where the straw pallets probably had bedbugs and the noise from out-of-towners would have kept them awake, even dog-tired as they were.
The stars were beautiful and the moon was bright, and when they got into the cave it was surprisingly warm and inviting and smelled only a bit like the animals, from their warm breath. It would do, for tonight…maybe tomorrow they’d find better accommodations while they registered for this stupid census.
These two very human, very tired people, doing what the law required, trying to be faithful to their God at the same time, with the strange and wondrous knowledge of what this pregnancy meant for them and for the world…and yet they didn’t say to the innkeeper “Give us a room, because Mary is carrying the Son of God!” Such a demand would have brought unwanted attention from the authorities – little did they know that Herod would hear of the child’s birth from Eastern wise men – and attention from the authorities was never a good thing.
No, they took the gift of that little cave with the manger as enough. It was warm and dry, the animals were not too malodorous, it was quiet. It was enough.
This season of gifts and giving sometimes starts to feel like a celebration of “never enough.” Got to get a bigger tree, got to buy more presents, got to have fancier clothes, got to, got to, got to….
So tonight we take a moment to reflect on the ultimate gift of this night, under the starry sky, this little baby who will save us, redeem us. It is enough. He is enough. And the only question we need answer is this: are WE enough for him? That is our Christmas hope this night, in the cold night air, under the stars, with just the briefest scent of warm animal breath and fresh straw in our nostrils, and the sweet sound of a newborn child cooing in his mother’s arms. May we be enough, in our love of him, in our service to him, in our care for each other.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
...this is what I'd make for it.
Croquembouche. A Christmas tree of little bitty cream puffs, filled with luscious pastry cream. Attached to a paper cone with chocolate.
Damn, that looks good.
(Can you tell that the low-carb diet is wearing on me a bit?)
Bulletins - done.
Gifts - bought and wrapped.
Paperwork with Senior Warden on various things - done.
Grocery shopping - done.
Cooking - begun.
Wegman's (the Temple of Food) was packed today, but I did get to share a Christmas hug with a parishioner who works there. I didn't even try to go into Marshall's to find another set of the plush microfiber sheets - polartec sheets - brilliant! The line of cars circling the parking lot was too intimidating.
I was out at The Mother Ship today, finishing up things with Wonderful Parish Administrator, dealing with making sure the school where our parish meets is plowed out for Thursday evening, having the final fitting on the amazingly beautiful white chasuble and stole that Saint Middle School commissioned the Gifted Seamstress to make for me. (PH: "why do you need a fitting for something that's essentially a poncho?" Low-church heathen, he is. I'm short, dammit. Regular length chasubles swim on me. She needed to get the right hem length and arm length.)
Please say a prayer for two dear persons who are struggling with difficult and life-threatening diagnoses. The coming months will be hard for each of them, and for those who love them.
A friend told me about Blue Christmas services, for those who are facing Christmas after a death of someone they love, or in the midst of depression or medical travail, or some other deep sadness...I wish I had heard of this earlier. I may do that next year. They are tied to the Longest Night of the Year, and provide a liturgy to provide comfort in the midst of darkness, when it seems hard to see the light that is to come. A good bit of pastoral theology, I think.
StrongOpinions had her last exam up at Big Apple Ivy this afternoon - it was the one she most feared, and she came away from it feeling like she did reasonably well. She will head up to her eldest stepbrother's for Christmas Eve, and then will be down with us for a few days starting on Christmas Day. We will do all the silly things that are part of our celebration of Christmas, like making cookies out of cornflakes and marshmallows and copious amounts of green food coloring, shaped like wreaths, and maybe even a buche de noel, even though I'm trying to avoid eating that kind of stuff, and a pilgrimage to the cheese boutique - bliss!
Sunday will be Lessons and Carols with Holy Eucharist, and the following Sunday will be the postponed Children's Pageant.
That's the news that's fit to print around here. Are you ready for the coming of the Light of the World?
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
We cancelled church for tomorrow, as did most of the churches in the greater DC area. One clergyperson opined as to how we were not living into our vocations as priests by cancelling our services. Easy to say if you've got your own church building, and a rectory right next store. Saint Middle School's public school venue is completely snowed in. They won't be plowing - they've cancelled classes for next week. The custodian isn't going in and so we couldn't even get into the building. Then, of course, there is the 40 mile commute for me to get out there. Somehow, I can't get terribly worried about whether I am fulfilling my call appropriately in this situation. Better that our parishioners stay home and safe while the professionals go about the work of clearing the roads, and may they all say a pray for those folks and the others who must work in this blizzard.
We will reconvene on Christmas Eve, and I will be glad none of them (including me) risked life and limb on Sunday morning.
Friday, December 18, 2009
No, the problem is that there is a winter storm bearing down on Your Nation's Capital, due to begin after midnight tonight, and that brings out the crazy in the populace around here. Particularly when the weather forecasters talk anywhere from 8 to over 12 inches of accumulation.
I had an appointment first thing this morning. I swung by the supermarket to get some salt for our front step, since the management company isn't particularly efficient at cleaning walks and such. Long line of folks getting bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper (diapers, too, if they have little ones). I went to the drugstore to pick up something for PH, and there were many folks there, as well, stocking up on everything under the sun.
Realistically, even if we had 18 inches of snow (pretty unlikely), the most we would all be stuck in our little cubbies would be maybe 36 hours.
That doesn't mean that we need to go all cowboy about this, though. I was supposed to drive down to the Capital of the Confederacy tomorrow morning for a job interview. The chair of the committee and I decided that it would be foolhardy to make a 95 mile drive down and then back again in the midst of what will be a bad snowstorm. I fully expect to make it out the 40 miles to Saint Middle School on Sunday morning, since the snow will stop late on Saturday, unless the custodian can't make it out to the school to open it up for us. Wouldn't that be ironic?
So the house is nice and warm, the snowboots have been located, the ice-melt stuff is by the front door, and there is ample food in the fridge.
I don't think they'll have to send out the St Bernards, do you?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
- A wonderful and intense meeting with someone who is discerning God's call.
- Picking up a parishioner who cannot drive for medical reasons, bringing her to noon Eucharist, running a long list of errands with her, and lunching with her before taking cards with our Christmas activity calendar with a candy cane attached and pasting them on garage doors through her neighborhood.
- Going back to the office to proof two different bulletins and the Sunday announcement insert. Thank the Lord for the Volunteer Guy who does the first draft, the Fabulous Parish Administrator who does the second draft, and the software to modify things fairly easily.
- Dealing with the miserable traffic on the Beltway going home. Seriously, it took me 40 minutes to go the 30 or so miles from church to the Beltway, another 40 minutes to go 5 miles on the Beltway to my exit, then another 15 for the last three to get home. Would that there was a more efficient alternative, but it's just the normal traffic and the surface roads are as bad if not worse. Yes, I've whined about this before, and I probably should come up with a clever acronym for the experience (TBS=The Beltway Sux, maybe?) to save you having to read this over and over. Sorry.
I had plans for getting a few other things done today, but at this point in my parish's life, attention to pastoral matters and getting the bulletins done are the best and highest use of my time. I wish I didn't have to commute so far to get it done, but that's the lot of an interim.
At least most all the shopping and shipping is done.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I had hoped today would be a bit more calm, but it seems not to be so, and the list of That Which Must Be Dealt With grows by the hour. This is, of course, the way of this time of the year. Extra activities, planning for the administrative part of year's end and for the year to come, people in the midst of personal challenges getting overwrought, usually for very good reasons.
So I'm looking forward to a couple of Sabbath moments in the coming weeks: spiritual direction on Wednesday, high tea with some friends next Monday, a 2 and a half day retreat with some dear ClergyChick friends right after 2 Christmas, some quiet time with PH in the car othis Saturday while we drive down to the Capital of the Confederacy for an interview (prayers welcomed).
For some folks, the extroverts, Sabbath is the renewal gained by being with a bunch of folks doing non-work stuff. For those of us who are introverts, Sabbath must be quieter to do its healing work. I'm grateful for those moments...and am reminding myself that I must make them happen.
So I'm reminded of the instructions for meditation by St John of the Cross, the final step of which is this: "Loving and attentive repose in God, to make sure we are fully prepared for that moments when the intelligence opens itself up to God's illumination."
Without the repose, how can one apprehend the illumination?
Monday, December 14, 2009
Holy God, creator of all things in heaven and on earth, we give you thanks for the gift of this Purell, for ethyl alcohol, it’s active ingredient and for Isopropyl Myristate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Aminoethl Proponal and other inactive ingredients whose purpose is known only to you and in files that cannot be released by the Food and Drug Administration until 2079. We humbly ask that your love and care for all creation not extend to the microbes we hope to eradicate through our sometimes fanatical and paranoid cleansing and that you guard and protect us from all superviruses we might be unleashing on the world through the same. We also beg your protection and indemnification for ourselves, Johnson and Johnson, Gojo industries and all other subsidiaries from liability and physical or spiritual damage from the use of this sanitizer. Finally, may the chemical cleansing of our hands be a an outward and visible sign of the cleansing of our hearts, and may the pungent and alcohol-laden scent waft heavenward as incense in your presence. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, who, like Purell, comes as fire and burns away all that is not worthy of surviving in your presence.
Let the church say … AMEN.
So what did I just spend some time on (in between bulletins and planning the service for the Vestry meeting tonight, etc, etc)? Talking with a lawyer about the land that St Middle School is to be gifted. Land that will one day be the home of our church. Joy!
It is a joy, and a generous gift. But the deal is not yet done. This has been dribbling on for a couple of years. Now we are going back and forth with the donor of the land on the precise language that controls our use of it (no, we won't put in a liquor store, but we might put in a day care center at some point, so the language of the covenants for use are important). I am determined to get it buttoned down before this parish calls a permanent vicar. So I've put my quasi-legal hat back on again, working with the wonderful pro bono attorney who is helping us with this, and have girded my loins.
I guess this means that I am using the things I learned in my past life for the benefit of God's church, and that's a good thing, but titrating the percentage of pastoral presence versus hard-ass negotiator in this situation is an interesting challenge. I think I'll let the lawyer take care of the hard-ass stuff, and I'll just be my warm and loving self. (No, don't you dare snicker!)
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Amng the many wonderful folks there was a dear friend from my sponsoring parish, the husband of one of our choristers who hasn't been there for many a moon, lots of great people large and small, and PH, taking a few pictures:
Above, cool rose-colored vestments and paraments, modeled as we set up for our service this morning, made by the Gifted Maker of Vestments and Paraments.
Below, the excellent stole made by our children, modeled by yours truly assisted by one of the gifted artisans.
And the cake of all cakes, complete with the Episcopal logo and our parish logo.
I am blessed to be a part of this wonderful parish family. Wherever I end up, these folks will always have a special place in my heart.
So here we are in the midst of Advent, looking ahead with joyful anticipation to our celebration of the birth of Christ, and what do we get? John the Baptist excoriating the very crowds who came out to be baptized by him, for repentance of their sins. “You brood of vipers!” Not what’s recommended these days in all the church growth literature as a way to win new converts to Christ!
Of course, we could simply say that John was cranky after too much locusts and honey and his back was hurting from sleeping in caves or on the rough ground in the cold night, but his mission was deliberately designed not to be easy to listen to. He was a prophet, after all, and prophets generally talk about how God’s people have gone astray, not how everything’s going to be all right.
John does seem a bit of a killjoy, with all this talk of fire and winnowing forks and axes and stuff, but the scholar John C Morris suggests something different: "underneath the holy fire is holy joy. If the Baptizer can be described as a killjoy, it is because the joy that he kills is the false joy of manufactured sentimentality and superficial jolliness. Underneath John's stern message is the good news that a better world is possible by the grace and power of God."
There is a tendency in the world, particularly this time of year, to pretend that bad things don’t exist, that people aren’t mean to each other, that everyone is good and happy and the world is alright because it’s the holidays…we put red and gold and green glossy wrapping paper over everything to hide the things we wish weren’t there. It’s the holidays, and we’re supposed to be happy, right?
That may be a false kind of happiness, as Morris says. And it is worth the effort and perhaps a little bit of pain to look underneath the glossy paper to the reality beneath, and do some work on fixing that, because therein is the gift that might bring true happiness.
In a way, it’s a little bit like my laptop computer. Every now and again, it locks up on me. I can’t get it to do anything, or, worse, I get the dreaded “blue screen of death.” Something is corrupted, some process confused, and it simply gives up. Ctl-alt-delete isn’t enough. I have to do a hard reset. I unplug the thing. I detach the battery pack. Then I put it all back together again and restart it, and usually it fixes things. It's what's called a "hard reset."
What John is talking about here is a hard reset. In preparing to welcome the newborn Jesus, we’ve got to do more than simply papering over the bad parts, the things that are corrupted in our souls…we’ve got to look at ourselves honestly and clearly and do the necessary repair work – the cleansing of our hearts and souls.
The hard reset is about fixing ourselves, because in fixing ourselves we start to fix this broken world. And that is what truly brings rejoicing. John is not simply condemning the people who come to see him on the banks of the Jordan, he is giving them direction on how to live better lives in the future. Share with each other. Don’t take more than is your due. Don’t extort or threaten. Live within your means. Pretty good advice in these days of widespread unemployment, of Lehmann Brothers, of ARM balloon mortgages, of fake Patek Phillippe watches…John says, “Do a hard reset on your life. Get rid of the things that make it harder for you to hear what Jesus is saying. Don’t be like the ones who only value their lives in terms of this world, of money and power and privilege. Be for god and for each other.” A transformed world view. A hard reset.
That’s what the prophet Zephaniah is talking about today. Rejoicing, singing and dancing, because God has forgiven our past sins and is our defender against those who are against us,
That’s what Paul is saying in his letter to the church at Philippi. Rejoice always, again and again, and be gentle with each other, trusting God and knowing he will be at our side.
When I do a hard reset on the laptop, it usually takes a bit longer to restart. I may be ascribing more humanity to the thing than is appropriate, but I think it is reordering itself in some fundamental way, finding new ways of making all the internal connections necessary to work properly. We might do that, too.
What John prescribes, and what Zephaniah and Paul celebrate, is the restoration of wiser, purer connections, of the joy of being refreshed in our relationship with God. This season of preparation is also a season of rejoicing, not just because of presents and wrapping paper and Christmas trees, but because once again we know that we can perfect ourselves, with God’s help. When the baby comes, we will be ready, and all the angels will rejoice with us.
Reset, refreshed, rejoicing.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Today was spent doing various errands and wrapping and packing gifts. With the exception of Litigator, from whom I am still waiting for a gift list (he wants books), and PH, it is all done. A few stocking stuffers and I'll be able to breathe easy.
PH and I have gotten in the habit of giving ourselves a joint present. Last year, it was a package deal on massages. Maybe this year it will be some sort of vacation. We are trying to avoid gifts of "things" - it's much more fun to get/give consumables of some sort.
When he comes home, we'll go get a tree and a wreath for the front door - there is something about the smell of the house with fresh greens that is just heavenly.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Top picture is fairly early on in the ceremony. Six of us were priested. I am at the extreme right. Bottom picture is afterwards with my dear friend L - we made each other's red stoles so this was an extra fun picture.
Monday, December 07, 2009
The Archbishop of Canterbury issued a brief statement wringing his hands about the implications of this election in the midst of tensions in the Anglican Communion. We may strain the bonds of affection, he says.
Would that he would wring his hands as visibly about the law condemning homosexuals in Uganda to life imprisonment and in some cases death, a law that is supported by the leaders of the Church of Uganda. He has been silent. No worry about the bonds of affection in play here?
What has happened to him?
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Picture taken at the reception after my priestly ordination with some of the wonderful folks from Saint Middle School who attended the ordination. Some sang, some presented, some served as banner bearers and oblationers, some knelt and prayed. For all of them, and for all those who have affirmed my call to the priesthood for lo these may years, I give thanks.
Standing on the stepladder was a dicey proposition…I was two weeks away from delivering my first child, and I was BIG. Some short people are cute when they’re pregnant. – they stay skinny with a teensy little basketball out front. Not me. When I wore my black velour maternity outfit – the only thing I could fit into in the last two weeks – I looked like nothing so much as a fuzzy bowling ball.
Was it ridiculous to be doing this? Of course! What madness possessed me to try and get up on the ladder in my delicate condition and hang wallpaper?
You guessed it – the nesting instinct, that primal urge to get things clean and organized before you give birth. That kind of preparation is not just a human instinct – animals do it too.
Hamsters pile up the woodchips in their boxes. Cats and dogs find a quiet spot – usually in your closet, and settle in. Even birds are said to “go broody” when the desire to prepare the nest becomes overwhelming.
We need to prepare when something is coming. And in Advent, the something that is coming is extraordinary indeed, so the preparation must also be extraordinary.
My little story of the wallpaper makes us laugh, but not all preparation is joyful. The work your dentist does to prepare filling a cavity is not much fun, but necessary. The work a demolitions expert does prior to blowing up an old building is rather frightening and requires special care.
A few years ago, I went with a team to Pascagoula, Mississippi to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Even though the hurricane had hit in late August and this was the following February, our work in the homes to which we were assigned was preparatory. We were mucking out debris, and doing demolition work. All this had to be done before any rebuilding could happen. The old moldy woodwork and soggy drywall, the rotten things in pantries and refrigerators, broken appliances, sagging ceilings…it all had to go, and everything that remained needed to be sprayed with a bleach solution to combat the return of the mold and mildew. Not a 2x4, not a sheet of drywall, not piece of flooring could be brought into the house until the old mess was removed. Preparation work is often unpleasant, smelly, dirty, even dangerous work, but it is necessary before something new can come.
The preparation described in our reading from the prophet Malachi certainly falls into that category. The messenger who is coming is a source of amazement, but also fear. “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendents of Levi…until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.” Like a silversmith purifying the raw ore by melting away the impurities in the fire, like someone who washes with soap made with harsh lye, this messenger is cleaning house in an even more demanding way than I did when I was pregnant. His task is to clean away unrighteousness…in his time, the unrighteousness of priests who were not true to the covenant. Before the Lord of Hosts can come, Malachi says, this preparation, this difficult and thorough preparation, must be complete.
And John the Baptist, too, warns that we must prepare. John was known as the forerunner, the one who would tell people that the Messiah was coming. In today’s Gospel, he wanders around the wilderness, this strange man with the camel’s hair garment and the dreadlocks, telling anyone who came to hear him that they needed to be washed clean of their sins in the Jordan.
The evangelist Luke reminds his audience that John is doing what Isaiah had prophesied: "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Before the Lord can come, work must be done. Preparation is necessary. We must make ourselves ready.
In Jesus’ time, bathing to cleanse yourself of sins was not unusual – the ritual bath, or mikvah, was prescribed for all observant Jews, a ritual act to remove that which was unclean. Why does Luke care that John is doing this?
Well, a big clue is in the set-up that Luke gives us. He starts out with a detailed explanation of the political and religious leadership in place. All those names, some of which are familiar to us…Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas, Herod…all the big guns who run things. They run things, of course, in the cities, in the seats of power. Not only the political leaders, but the religious leaders, are in the cities. John isn’t there…he is out in the wilderness, in a place those leaders don’t go. And people are coming out to see John, to be baptized by him, not only from the countryside but from the cities as well. The people who are not in power can sense their need for a thorough cleansing of the soul…and Luke is hinting to us that the leaders in the cities ignore that feeling, and that’s bad news for them, since they are the most unclean of all.
We get that feeling, that urge to clean or be cleaned. We feel it in our souls, and it’s an irresistible urge. We know that change is coming, that Jesus is coming, and we feel the need to prepare.
It is not just for decorative purposes that we decorate our houses, with ornaments on the tree, a wreath on the door, a crèche on the mantel. No, we know we need to prepare for the coming of the King. We sense the need for a cleaning and a changing in anticipation of what is to come.
But it is not enough to hang the lights on the eaves and put out the Christmas candles in the windows…we’ve got some interior preparation to do. And that might not be as jolly or as quick.
Look deep inside your soul. What needs cleaning?
Are you harboring anger toward someone, not letting go of what you see as righteous rage?
Are you sure that you don’t deserve anything because God couldn’t possibly love you?
Are you feeling jealousy that others seem to have more things than you? Are you struggling with a hopelessness that leaves no room for hope in God?
This Advent season, this time of preparation, provides a chance to follow your nesting instinct and clean house in your soul, to ask for God’s forgiveness for your sins, to ask for God’s help to hope anew, to ask for God’s wisdom to puzzle through the things that make no sense. It requires no stepstool, no cleaning products, just honesty and quiet moments with God in prayer. It may feel like refiners’ fire, or a scrubbing with fuller’s soap, or it may feel surprisingly refreshing, like putting down that bag of garbage you’ve been toting over your tired shoulder for a long time.
Whatever it feels like, it will open your heart to the light that is to come, the baby King who saves us all. And I guarantee it will be better than wallpaper.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
As Brother Lawrence found a deep spirituality in the quotidian work of the kitchen, so too do I find quiet pleasure and communion there. Chopping, measuring, preparing, stirring, cleaning, it all soothes me and gives me room to bask in the glow of the love of God. I can pray in the silence, with the feel of of running water over my hands.
Tomorrow will be a good day. Not silent, like this afternoon in the kitchen, but the repetition of ancient words will feel like the repetition of the tasks of the meal. Not in solitude, but the feel of hands on my head and on my shoulders will remind me of the singularity of my call in the midst of the blessed communion of those who have followed a similar call. Not quotidian, like the baking of a loaf of good crusty bread, but sanctified by the daily-ness of the work to come, in the repeated rituals and words and acts.
It is all good. Thank you, God, for this day and this call and this light in my heart.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
(This blogpost will now be interrupted for an annoying whine. If you want to go elsewhere for the next few lines, the management will understand.)
The drive back home was miserable. Stimulus dollars are funding much road work in this area, and the roads I need to take are being "improved." Well, they may be improved when they are done, but navigating them now certainly isn't improved, and the alternate routes are all just as bad. So it took an hour and a half to get back from the meeting.
(Whine break is now over. You may resume your normal reading.)
Several phone calls and emails to tend to pastoral matters. A trip to the grocery store. Home to clean the bathroom, iron the curtains (now minus the cat hair on them - they are on a window where the cats like to perch), straighten up other places. A long phone call with StrongOpinions, who is going through a depressive phase. The tiny moment of blissful quiet in the afternoon was a pedicure (red toenails, of course, since that's the color vestments we wear at ordination).
Wise folks take a few days away for a retreat prior to their ordination. I probably should have done that, but it doesn't seem possible given the stuff going on in the parish and elsewhere. The good news is that I will be taking a three day retreat with some of my Clergy Chick pals right after the 1st of the year. I can hardly wait! I need to learn that even as the only priest in a parish, I must make time for this for my sanity and spiritual health.
Remind me of that when I waver on doing that, will you?
P.S. I am going to be radical for the ordination and wear a cream clergy blouse, cream wool jacket, and a red skirt and red shoes. It will all be under the alb for the service anyway, but it's my little bit of protest against the notion that all clergywomen have to look like ads from the Women's Department of Brooks Brothers, plus the dog collar. And the red shoes make me smile.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
In a fit of excess energy, I finished Sunday's sermon this afternoon. Some of you know I am OCD about getting sermons done relatively early in the week. Of late, I hadn't been doing that - I usually got them done on Fridays. Today, it just flowed. A good thing, since the week is busy. Clericus way out in horse country tomorrow (please, Lord, let the rains end by then) and lecturing on Friday at Big Old Seminary on keeping sane through General Ordination Exams, while finishing the cleaning for the houseguests (can't wait to see you, C&L&A) and prepping for the Saturday night dinner party.
Menu for the dinner is roast pork loin stuffed with dried fruit, curry potatoes, and red cabbage. I'm thinking a tarte tatin for dessert, but I haven't completely settled on that yet. Cheese straws while we drink something aperitif-y. I don't think any Christmas decorating will be done, as much as I wish it were so. Just not enough hours in the day.
The funny part of all this doing of stuff is that it fed the sermon, all about the nesting instinct and preparation (both fun and not-so-fun) before something BIG happens. Not conscious at the time, but it sure does fit.
Some days it feels like we preach what we need to preach, y'know?
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
I'm getting excited about the ordination on Sunday. There was another list of errands to be completed today, all of which went smoothly. Was it a function of the sunny day, as yesterday's litany of disasters might have been a function of rain, damp, gray, cold? Who knows?
I had a delightful time this afternoon with the small clergy group I belong to that does theological reflection on happenings in our ministries. Well, maybe delightful isn't the right word, since we usually bring challenges to talk about...maybe the word might be thoughtful, meaningful, helpful. This is such a wonderful group of friends and colleagues, and I learn every time I'm with them.
Tonight I finished preparing the prep session I'm doing on Friday for this year's seniors at Big Old Seminary - they will be taking their General Ordination Exams in January. They are, as we were, stressed and nervous and wondering what will happen. I am hoping to be helpful and calm them down a bit. They will do fine, I am sure.
Still chewing on the sermon for the coming Sunday and thanking God that one of my brilliant parishioners will be leading Adult Ed for the Advent season. Right now I'm swamped.
I'm grateful, though, for the work, and the family, and the friends, and the gift of vocation.
Net score today=1000.
Monday, November 30, 2009
- weigh-in at the nutritionist - lost another 1.5 pounds. That was the good news of the day. Net score= +2
- went to Cokesbury at Big Old Seminary and found the gift items and cards I needed. Just as I was ready to check out, the power went out, so I couldn't complete the transaction. Net score= -1
- went (in the rain) to the wonderful dry cleaners that does vestments for FREE! Got mighty wet, though. Net score= 0
- went to the Library to pick up a book they had on hold for me. Good, except they couldn't find the book that was on hold for me. Net score= -1
- came home and spent almost a full hour on the phone with Verizon Wireless trying to get one thing accomplished. I think I got it done, but I'm not fully confident. The task? Simply moving StoneMason's cell phone account over so that it would be billed at the same time as the other three accounts in our family. Mind you, StoneMason's cell phone account, like all of our accounts, is in my name. Life shouldn't be this hard. Net score, compounded by aggravation factor= -3
- discovered that the diocesan folks sent my invitations for my ordination (this coming Sunday) to the wrong place, and the box arrived there a few days ago. So even if they had arrived at my house on that date, it was really too late to send them to the out-of-town folks I might have hoped to invite. Glad I posted the invite on FB. Not the end of the world for me, but it sure seems like a waste of diocesan funds. Net score = -2
- then spent a half hour on the phone with the health insurance folks trying to get a claim paid. Life shouldn't be this hard, Part II. Yes, I'm grateful that I've got insurance. I really wish it worked a little better, though. Net score= 0, since I was able to get the claim paid, but it took me a half hour of cajoling to do so.
Score for the day so far= -5. Not good for someone who is essentially able to see the positive in most everything, and to shrug off the petty annoyances of life.
So now that I've got all the bad karma stuff out of the way, the rest of the week will be fine, right?
The image above is the infamously unfortunate Joe Blftspk, from Al Capp's "Little Abner."
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Time for a nap, I think. Thank you, Jesus (on many levels).
The collect that we heard at the beginning of our service today mentions a line from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” It is mentioned, of course, on this first Sunday of Advent, because the season of Advent is one in which we prepare for the coming of the light, Jesus Christ our Lord. We symbolize it in the Advent wreath, each Sunday lighting another candle, until all four of them brighten the dark days of winter as we greet Jesus, the Light of the World, on Christmas.
Why do we need the light? Certainly, in these winter months, light is a precious thing. The days are short. The shade of night falls so early each day that by 5 o’clock, all the streetlamps are on.
We need the light to warm our cold bones, to remind us that life awaits underneath the blanket of dry leaves, to fill our hearts with the sense of caring, of love, that we hope for in this season of waiting.
But we need light for something else as well.
Light feeds our psyches. Those who are particularly sensitive to the changing of the seasons, and the loss of light in wintertime, can become depressed. Science has a name for this: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can manifest as just a feeling of the blues or a lack of energy, or it can be full-blown clinical depression. The cure? Not necessarily the standard drugs for depression, like Prozac.
Instead, relief may be found in a light box, a device that mimics the rays of the daylight, giving light to the eyes that reaches in to cure the soul.
It’s no surprise – we know that germinating plants stretch up to the sunlight to open and bloom, and we know that when we’ve gone outside on a sunny day for a walk or a run, we feel better, rosier, healthier. Light helps us thrive physically and emotionally.
It is also a deep need for spiritual health as well, and that’s what I’d like us to think about on this day. As we need light for physical and psychological health, we need the light of Christ for our spiritual health. Think again of that prayer I mentioned: “put on the armor of light.”
In Advent, we are working to clothe ourselves in that armor of light as we await the one who is the Light of the World. So, too, in the sacrament of baptism, which we will celebrate in a few minutes. After J and C [the candidates for baptism, an infant and a toddler] are washed in the water of baptism, something else happens. They will be made ready for their life as new Christians. In ancient days, baptism was referred to as “enlightenment” because the baptized person receives the light of Christ, and in some places the ceremony of baptism includes the presentation of a lighted candle …the newly baptized is now wrapped in that wonderful light. J and C will be clothed in that armor of light to ready them, with the help of their parents and godparents and all of us who have witnessed their baptism, to go out into the world as Christians..
We pray for this, not only because we want to welcome them into the Body of Christ, to be an integral part of this faith community, but also because being a Christian is not always easy. The works of darkness are all around us, tempting us to follow other paths than the one Christ bids us follow. And that is the reminder that we receive in the Gospel this morning – another one of those apocalyptic messages where Jesus talks about some of the difficult signs and events that will take place before he comes again. The gospel names a few of the works of darkness: drunkenness, dissipation and the worries of life. It’s hard to imagine J or C falling into those troubles at this point in their lives, but those of us who are adults can certainly understand how these, and other troubles, can get in the way of living our life in the light of Christ. There are challenges ahead, for J and C, and for the rest of us sitting here today. But the gospel exhorts us to “stand up and raise your heads, because redemption is drawing near.”
Don’t be afraid to stand up. Raise your heads. Like those germinating seeds, reaching for the light. Like proud people who are glad to be wrapped in the armor of light, standing for what we believe in. We are not only washed of our sins in the water of baptism, we are enlightened by the flame of love and grace given to us by Jesus Christ. And even in times when darkness surrounds us, that light will give us the courage to live God’s Word in our daily lives. Whether we are ten months old, or ten years old, or decades past those markers, we need to stand up, cloak ourselves in the armor of light, and go out and celebrate what we have been given by our generous and loving God.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
It reminded me how overly dependent I am on my electronic stuff, since the sermon was on this laptop, and I had no way of printing it out. Same with the Adult Ed stuff. I can't think of any elegant solution to this problem...had the power not come back on, I would have had to drive to the Mother Ship very early tomorrow morning with the laptop, and print the stuff out there. Maybe this means I should print a couple of the drafts as I go along, although I hate to waste the paper. Maybe I should start writing them longhand on legal pads. No, that's not going to happen.
Today is a gorgeous sunny day, brisk and beautiful. Still pretty windy. The Farmer's Market was still well-populated this morning and we now have a bounty of fruits and veg for the coming week.
One more week until ordination to the priesthood. Yes!
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I had the delight of a little breakfast time this morning with two of my favorite clergywoman friends. We're very good at identifiying all the problems of the world. Fixing them - not so much. But it is great to have a couple of people to whom you can say ANYTHING and they won't flinch, and who will tell you you're full of baloney when that's the case.
Holidays - they're lovely, but for some folks they are ineffably sad. Bereavement, family problems, illness, seasonal depression, job loss, it all comes out at holiday times. Spending a lot of time on the phone or email with hurting souls reminds me of how fortunate I am.
Dear Lord, pour down your healing grace on those for whom this time of celebration feels like a bitter reminder of their pain. Let them know that they are not alone and that your love is with them always. May your embrace be warmth to those who are chilled to the bone, may your words be food for the empty soul, may your love be a salve to the wounded spirit. And may we never forget our own obligation to be your hands and feet and voice to serve those who suffer.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I am beyond thrilled to be able to exercise my ministry by baptizing, and had great fun chatting with the two year old boy who is one of the candidates, so he gets used to me before the Big Moment. He said "I wanna be captized." Too adorable. Mom had done a great job preparing him for what is to happen, as much as anyone can prepare a two year old. I think I'm going to have Mom or Dad hold him while I baptize him, since he's big and wiggly. The other candidate, a 10-month old girl, I can manage on my own (I hope!).
With all the relatives who will be coming, our numbers may go over the 100 person mark, pretty remarkable for a holiday weekend. I'm hoping it will feel like an invitation for many of them to consider attending at St Middle School - it's certainly a family-friendly place.
The cold is mostly gone, but the singing voice is still among the missing, darn it. Hoping it will be back by Sunday!
StrongOpinions will be here tomorrow. She will retrieve her car (a 74 Datsun 280Z) since we haven't been able to sell it yet, and will drive it up to her father's for Thanksgiving. We'll have a night with her. This is not our year for the kids for Thanksgiving, but we'll see them later on.
Life is good. Whatever happens on the job front, I am truly blessed. I have a husband who loves me and shows me that every day, I have kids who have grown up to be interesting, morally centered people, I have grandbabies who define "cute," and I have a vocation to serve God in the church. Nothing to complain about!
Monday, November 23, 2009
I got errands done at the office supply store, the video store, and the dry cleaners, had a good lunch with a friend, and found some lovely roses for cheap at Costco where I went to get soap.
All good things, but the best part of the day was weighing myself and finding out I've lost some weight. Now to see if I can sustain the loss and maybe even lose a couple mroe pounds over the holidays.
I have several sermons to write for the next couple of very eventful weeks. Should be fun!
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I took a bye on the St G's party to watch the Redskins-Cowboys game, coming home instead to tend to a few things that needed to be done, and to crash on the couch.
Next week will be exciting, with two baptisms (my first since doing emergency baptisms at the hospital during CPE) and new altar cloths (paraments) for Advent.
Two more Sundays doing Deacon's Mass, then I will be ordained a priest. I still shake my head in amazement that I have come to this place of grace. God is good!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.
--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)
So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?
1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?
Probably my cranberry chutney, and also making pumpkin pie.
2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?
The offspring will be either with their father or on the other coast working, so PH and I will enjoy a rare Thanksgiving with just the two of us - we're going out to our favorite French restaurant for a French thanksgiving...
3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?
...which means no turkey, which I can live without, anyway. I believe pate, Chateaubriand and pumpkin cheesecake will be part of the menu. And red wine. I'll give thanks, indeed!
4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?
You mean outside of the fact that we celebrate taking the nation away from the indigenous people, or Thanksgiving as a concept? I like the latter. I think we shy away too much from the former. I'll still eat, though, and thank God for the ability to do so.
5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?
Relatively good health, PH and the kids and grandkids, my impending ordination (two weeks!), the good folks at Saint Middle School, endless possibilities.
BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.
Oh, I suspect Aunt Bert lays out the old favorites, like tomato aspic, creamed onions, mashed potatoes AND mashed sweets, maybe also rutabagas, something with peas, a green bean casserole, and a massive turkey stuffed with cornbread. Giblet gravy. Cranberry sauce from the can that goes plop when the vacuum holding it in the can is released. Apple cider. Three pies: sweet potato (none of that pumpkin for her), pecan (mmmmmm), and chess pie. No apple pie, that's a northern thing, you know. Maybe some ambrosia as a digestive...and they ate the cake earlier in the week, and Thanksgiving isn't really a cake holiday, anyways.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
It pointed up the importance of keeping a master calendar, and I must admit that, contrary to my usual practice, I've been sloppy about that in recent months. This may be due to the fact that I thought I'd be gone to a permanent post by now (lazy me), or that our calendar at Saint Middle School is relatively modest, so I thought I could keep it in my head (a bit arrogant, that), or because the prior vicar kept much of this stuff in her head (her head was naturally better organized than mine, since she had set it all up in the first place).
So part of my afternoon will be spent plotting out a calendar for the coming months. This is the sort of thing that can be done whilst reclining on the chaise longue, surrounded by Kleenex and Earl Grey tea. Wish I had thought of doing it four months ago, but better late than never.
What tools do you use to track all that you need to keep track of in your parish/congregation?
I decided it was wiser to cancel my meetings and stay put rather than stressing my body more and spreading germs around. Since others are preaching this weekend and doing the Adult Forum (thanks, D & C), I can actually get some rest and do some reading. The new book on the list is "Music and Vital Congregations: A Practical Guide for Clergy" by my dear friend and mentor, Dr. Bill Roberts. I served as his TA for Church Music while at Big Old Seminary, and he was and is one of the great joys of my life. I recommend it highly - a fun read with great and truly practical information...it might be good reading for your church's music director as well, since it sometimes seems there can be a language barrier between the clergy and the church musician.
I may also spend a little time on the current knitting project, a Mimbres vest. If you don't mind following a color chart carefully, it's a fun knit, and because it's a vest, it goes quicker than a full sweater. Not portable the way sock knitting is, darn it, but still fun.
Other than that, I'll be on the couch, taking Vitamin C and drinking green tea and hoping for the good Lord's healing grace to pour down on me. And PH will be eating leftovers for dinner, because I think I'm not cooking tonight.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
It was good to see my fellow seminary grads - I can see some changes as they've grown into their new roles, but much of the same things that caused me to fall in love with them.
I had no voice for the whole thing - I still have laryngitis, which I certainly hope will abate by Sunday - so it became an odd kind of silent retreat for me, reminding me again the importance of listening. Since no one could ever accuse me of being quiet, this was a good thing.
I have a meeting with my spiritual director in an hour. We shall see how we do spiritual direction with me able to produce nothing more than a whisper. Somehow I think we will manage.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The conference itself is interesting, part of a three-year con-ed program funded by Lilly. Good to see old friends, good to stretch my mind in some different ways, but it is exhausting to be here and have to participate at least a little bit, but having no voice to do so. I'm tired of whispering.
Hoping the voice will start to come back soon.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Ah, well, there are other folks who need help more than I. The Washington Post has just rolled out its annual fundraising campaign for Children's National Medical Center. Having done CPE there, and having worked with parishioenrs who have children taken care of there, I cannot praise them enough. No child is turned away. Some of the most gifted specialists on earth work there, including Dr Jonas, the cardio-thoracic surgeon who has worked miracles on some very tiny babies with malformed hearts. I had the privilege of watching him perform one of those surgeries, and it was one of the most remarkable things I have ever experienced, particularly since I then got to follow the child and support the family post-surgery. So I urge you to follow this link and donate to them today:
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I pulled myself out of the trough this morning to go preside at church, dutifully using massive quantities of Purell, not hugging anyone (except those who insisted on huggng me first) and trying not to reathe on anyone. I presided and preached, sounding pretty bass-baritone, but begged off on leading Adult Forum, even though I was fully prepared for a session on the Daily Office, because y that time I was feeling very bleak indeed, and the drive home is almost an hour.
The rest of the day was spent mostly on the couch, reading the new Stieg Larsson. "The Girl Who Played With Fire." I recommend it highly, in addition to Donna Leon's most recent Guido Brunetti police procedural "About Face," set in Venice.
I did manage to turn the leftover turkey into turkey posole chili and made a roast pork tenderloin for supper.
Dear K stopped by to drop off my finished Christ Pantocrator icon, now appropriately sealed with linseed oil. We chatted a bit, and I could feel my voice starting to go.
Now, a few hours later, the voice is completely gone. I am supposed to go up to Charm City for a con-ed program tomorrow through Wednesday noon - the first session of Big Old Seminary's Second Three Years program (thanks, Lilly Foundation!). I am hoping to at least feel better. Not being able to speak might be a blessing, but I really do have to attend it. Prayers for at least some modicum of healing would be appreciated!
Our Old Testament story is that of Hannah, who longed for a child, and was the subject of mocking by many people, even the prophet Eli, in her barrenness. No one seemed to understand her sadness and longing. No one, of course, except God, who eventually responded to her vow dedicating a son to God’s service, and, as the passage says, “opened her womb.”
We can imagine her great joy, finally being pregnant, and finally going through labor and delivering her son Samuel, who would be the prophet who anointed Saul and David.
Going through labor, even in a situation like this where the child is so longed for, is still hard and painful work. Hannah might certainly be forgiven if, at some point in the process of delivering Samuel, she said, “I wanted a child, but I never expected it would hurt so much. If I only had known, maybe I wouldn’t have asked.”
Once the child was born, of course, the pain was put behind her, and all was joy, a dream realized. And, as she promised, Hannah raised her son to serve God as a Nazarite. God had answered her prayers. Those prayers, in conjunction with her own hard work, brought her the son she had sought.
What a different kind of birth the strange passage from the Gospel of Mark offers us today!
It is a passage called “the Little Apocalypse” by biblical scholars. The word “apocalypse” is one we currently use to talk about the end of the world, or some catastrophic event that feels like the end of the world as we know it. That’s part of the meaning of the word, but there’s a bit more than that when we use it in talking about the Bible. It is a particular literary and theological style. It usually includes predictions of the end of the world, weird stuff happening that signal the end of time, use of symbols, particularly animal symbolism, numerology as a tool to determine when this will happen. If you read the Book of Revelation, it’s pretty much all apocalyptic. The Book of Daniel is largely apocalyptic. There is usually an allegory about the battle between good and evil – think angels and demons – and there is at some point an end to the battle. In the apocalyptic view, God will intervene within a predictably short interval to end the present evil age and to vindicate the faithful; thus it is pessimistic about the possibilities of what God can achieve within history, and is preoccupied with the end of history as God’s solution. God judges at the end of history and sorts out the good from the evil.
So what is this little apocalyptic passage doing stuck in the middle of Jesus’ teachings to the disciples and what are we supposed to do with the “birthpangs” of a new age to come?
First, this is just a small piece of the whole passage about the signs of coming changes, and the details are quite ugly. Don’t read it before bedtime. And know that many popularists have used this in addition to a related passage in 1 Thessalonians as the basis of all sorts of theories about the end of the age. The rapture, so described in a series of novels by Tim LaHaye, is a construct that first was proposed by Cotton Mather, and later became more widely discussed by John Nelson Darby in the early 1800s and expanded upon and popularized in the mid 1800s. In the 1970’s, a writer names Hal Lindsey wrote a book called “The Late Great Planet Earth” that reintroduced the theory. Lindsey thought that there were many signs indicating the rapture was about to come (the Cold War, the European economic Community was the seven-headed beast mentioned in Revelation, …all signs of impending Armegeddon, before which the good guys – the church, presumably – would get “raptured” before all the tribulations came. If you think this is a radical view that is not commonly held today, I’d remind you of some of the craziness that happened around the Y2K timeperiod, and the fact that there is a new movie, 2012, that supports an apocalyptic view based upon one of those odd justifications that the world will end on a particular date for particular reasons (think numerology and conspiracy theory all wrapped up into one). Fundamentalist evangelical Christians are the primary proponents of this theological position these days – we Episcopalians do believe in an end time, when God will judge us, but we don’t believe that there is a preliminary step where the good guys get a pass on the bad stuff that may happen right before then.
So this passage talks about some bad stuff happening. Is it a marker of the end of history, or of something else? Yes, Jesus talks about birthpangs…that would be a metaphor of something major and new happening. But if we understand when this was written, we may have a clue to what’s going on. Much of what is described in the passage parallel what is happening to the Jewish community about the time of the Fall of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the year 70. Scholars disagree as to whether it was written before the destruction of the Temple or afterwards, but we can feel confident that it was during a time of great tumult between the Jews and the Roman Empire. And this passage may follow another of the conventions of apocalyptic: some authors write about stuff that has already happened as if they are writing far in advance of it happening, thus making their statements seem like prescient predictions rather than reporting the news of the day. So the words of this story in Mark may be talking about a radical change in the lives of the Jewish Christians, particularly those in Jerusalem. It is less an allegory than a statement of what is going on around them, and it seems to point toward a more immediate return of the risen Christ than history shows us.
And that’s both the bane and the blessing of apocalyptic: Nostradamus, Tim LaHaye and the movie 2012 aside, we have a hard time identifying when any of these things that market he beginning of the end of time will happen. But in another way, they are always happening. Open the newspaper, and you’ll read about nations taking up arms against other nations. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Fiji on November 9th. Famines in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Sudan. Brother battling against brother – wasn’t this what happened at Fort Hood? Does this mean that the world is about to end?
I don’t believe so. I believe that Jesus will come someday and the world will end as we know it. But for now, we might be better served by looking at the great shifts in our world, the reinventing of society, and see the birth pangs that mark those events. We see a shift in awareness of the needs of others for food through organizations such as Oxfam and Share Our Strength. We see a shift in the delivery of the things that help people stay healthy from groups promoting the use of mosquito nets in places where malaria is rampant, to Doctors without Borders. We see a shift in understanding how communities can live in peace with each other in some of the positive signs in Somalia and in the many activities of the Mennonite Church. None of these things is without controversy, which is certainly a sign that we are laboring to make them happen. If they were easy, it wouldn’t be work. But labor, and the pains that accompany it, is necessary for change.
And we can see this writ small here at St. Middle School, where we are in the midst of our own birthpangs of a sort. We are moving into a new stage of our existence as we publish our Parish Profile and begin to receive names of candidates to be our permanent vicar.
It’s a little bit frightening. Those of us who have given birth can affirm that when you go into labor with your first child, it doesn’t matter how much you have read about labor, how much you’ve heard other women’s stories, it’s a whole different thing when the first birth pang hits. So it is with us. This is something different and new and not without dangers or pain. So we revisit the words of the Gospel today to prepare ourselves for the next birth pang: we will not be distracted by well-meaning but unhelpful advice from false prophets nor will we be drawn into petty disagreements. We will take a deep breath and welcome the work ahead, because that labor is what will take is into a new stage of our life as a parish in the months to come.
Birth pangs. Not easy, but necessary, to move closer to the kingdom, to what God wants us to