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.