Thursday, December 2, 2010

When is a bush just a bush?

I love the season of Advent even with all of the related craziness of preparing for Christmas. It is THE most graphic illustration of "in-between" time. At our house we still have a few stray pumpkins lying around, and an Advent mediation book out on the coffee table, and we have our pitiful blow up Santa in our yard because A. we heart Santa even if he does look this year like he's has many collapsed vertebrae and needs a titanium rod inserted and B. when some time off from work, the husband's energy level and good weather all line up on the same day you by golly get your Christmas decorations up even if it's Advent. All of that mixed up together is totally at the heart of Advent.

It's a season to celebrate both the right now and the not yet. We get all of those weird readings about the end of time and John the Baptist going postal on anyone within earshot and we will soon hear the joyous, familiar readings about angels and a young scared pregnant girl. Advent tells us to wait, to remain hopeful, to keep and eye out and Advent tells us to (like Cher in Moonstruck) snap out of it! Snap out of it and tend what needs tending right in front of you. (OK that's not really what Cher was talking about when she slaps Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck, but I love that snap out of it line and find it appropriate for Advent.)

At my dear St. Thomas parish I'm facilitating an Advent book study using my favorite book of all time: St. Benedict on the Freeway. I know I'm prone to exaggerate, but for real, I love love love this book. Corinne Ware is the author, and it was my great pleasure to know her when I lived in Austin. Her book, and I would say, her life, teach that God can be found every single day. God is present not only on those high and lofty occasions but in the nitty gritty every day. And if we practice a certain internal stillness we are more likely to "catch" God at work. As Corinne points out, it doesn't mean adding more stuff to our to-do list. It means, "seeing the daily in another Light."

Advent is a season that calls us to listen and look: look for ways God is speaking, look for ways God is loving even in the rush and crush of our daily 21st century Western speed obsessed culture.

BUT....(or as some of my former Bible study girls would hear me say so often...) COMMA...sometimes the burning bush is in fact something on fire that we need to tend to quickly! And sometimes the burning bush is right in front of us and we, like Moses, need to stop, take off our shoes, look and LISTEN.

I won't be able to tell you nor can you tell me exactly what kind of bush is on fire! It is the work of faith to listen and observe carefully enough that one can tell if it's time to run get that fire hose or if it's time to take off those shoes and hear the voice of God. And, just to confuse things even more, it might be both! Yikes!

I invite you now in this blessed season of Advent to carve out moments for quiet, moments for deep breathing, moments of thankfulness. And in the carving out I feel certain that God speaks and leads us to clarity. Peace! Rhoda

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Prayer Book

Howdy! That is THE word here in College Station home of Texas A & M---and---St. Thomas Episcopal Church, of course! I like howdy and the friendliness it conveys. Even
though I spent years living in Austin know...rooting for that other football team...I am loving this community and all of the Brazos Valley. But no matter how friendly everyone has been, there is still no substitute for time. I am joyfully and painfully aware of that on Sundays in particular.

My sweet husband bought me a new Book of Common Prayer/Hymnal combo to celebrate this new chapter in our lives. Yes, we are dorks who buy things like that to celebrate new events. Rob also buys me jewelry and I buy him his favorite bourbon...we are dorks...not Philistines. And every Sunday I am aware of how stiff my new prayer book feels. I've been using it only 9 weeks.

The prayer book/hymnal I was using before was my original one. The priest who sponsored me for seminary bought it for me because at that point, over ten years ago now, $100 was out of reach. $100 now is not exactly "couch cushion" money, but a little more attainable. (Please note that the cost of the prayer book/hymnal combo has not, unlike other things, skyrocketed. Can I get an Amen?)

That original prayer book got me through my last year in seminary, my first years as a deacon then priest in Austin and went with me to Houston. Sometimes as I participated in worship at the Cathedral in Houston an old note would fall out of that aging, weathered prayer book. Once it was a funny little note by a kid I adored who was in the 7th grade at the time he wrote the note. When I found the note again on a Sunday in Houston I realized that little 7th grade boy was now in college. Most of the notes, wrinkled and smeared, had names on them.

Most of the notes were names of people I had loved whose funerals I officiated.

I'm always so anxious that I will say the name wrong...even of someone I knew for years!
So for every funeral I make sure there's a post it note with the person's name on it so I don't have one of those horrible blank moments during the service! There aren't that many things that can go wrong in an Episcopal funeral....we stick to that prayer book sister! But it would be awful if the priest blanked on the name of the dearly departed!

I hadn't realized how many of those notes were still stuck in various places in my prayer book. But I'm glad. Finding those notes added another little piece to the string that keeps me connected with all sorts of people, people both living and dead. Early in my two years at the Cathedral, I didn't feel connected to folks in that community at all. So sometimes finding those names in the middle of a worship service helped me remember that connection is not only possible but never ending. I was oddly encouraged even though that encouragement was tinged with some sadness.

By the end of my time in Houston, I was so grateful to have made connections with people. My prayer book had new names added to it and new notes from little kids. Notes and names that tumble out from time to time when I open my old prayer book at home.

My new prayer book is dear to me because my beloved gave it to me and because it symbolizes a new chapter in my ordained life. I will be glad when it's not so stiff, when the pages aren't so crisp, when some notes come tumbling
out. I certainly am not anxious for people I'm now serving to die of course! I am anxious, however, to be more deeply rooted in this place. This place I can already tell is so wonderful.

But of course, there is no substitute for time! I could run over this prayer book and make it look far more weathered than it does. But all that would do is ruin a perfectly good prayer book! I will have to use it, over and over. Hold it when I'm laughing, crying, griping, praying, day dreaming. Hold it, even as I hold this community. And one day, this prayer book too will serve as a reminder of all those I love. Peace, Rhoda

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


This blog post will be chock full of confessions. Sadly, these confessions are pretty boring. Sigh. I'd love to be an international woman of mystery, but I am simply a chubby middle aged Episcopal priest, and all of those words in that sentence are about all of the mystery I can handle. I sort of remember becoming an Episcopal priest but when did I get to be chubby and almost 48? Wow. But I digress.

First confession, I like country music. A lot. I like other music too. I like Michael Franti and Spearhead, I like Kings of Leon, I like opera, preached about that one day. And I even like rapper Flo Rida...OK..let me rephrase that...I like the stuff he can perform on the Today show which is probably about .1 of his actual repertoire, and I think if you use words like repertoire and rapper in the same sentence you are clearly middle aged and not cool. But back to country music.

There's a very touching song by Miranda Lambert called, "The House that Built Me". It's about her journey back to her childhood home and her desire to "take only a memory" from the place. The song recounts the places in the home where she did her homework, learned to play a guitar in a back bedroom, and buried a beloved childhood pet in the backyard. It's a really poignant song, and it's been on my mind a lot.

My dear husband Rob and I are moving from Houston to College Station (insert Aggie jokes here). We close on our new house in the middle of July. I am almost 48 years old (I know I told you that already, but see I forget things). This is the first house I have ever purchased. (OK there was that one time that I helped someone buy a very small very cheap $80,000 house outside of Austin and yes it was a huge mistake and I lost a lot of money so be careful before you do that with someone).

I have been so caught off guard by the emotions brought on by buying this house. It's been nerve wracking of course. I think we have signed a literal ton of paperwork. It's like going to the financial gynecologist to get a mortgage these days (unless you are a Russian spy then it's really easy). Every dollar we have ever spent, every dip in a salary, every increase in a salary, every credit card bill (gulp) everything is under such scrutiny. I knew all of that would be weird and hard. But I get a lump in my throat thinking about owning this house. And getting to own it with my beloved.

My house growing up was not a house of peace. There was violence and alcohol and fear. There were times of joy too, but the noise of fear and sadness still rings most loudly when I think about that house on 11th street in a small town in west Texas. So I don't really long to go back there. That house doesn't ground me the way the house in Miranda Lambert's song grounds her. I did drive by it one weekend went I went to my 20th high school reunion. ( o Good Lord..I just realized the 30th reunion is this summer!)

That childhood house is smaller than I remember because like all kids things seemed so much bigger than they were. I drove by our church having remembered that there were hundreds of steps leading up to the front door. I think really there were 30. It's a funny thing about our memories of home. We can romanticize them or over dramatize them. I think it's hard to remember things exactly as they were in many cases. We can't help but remember things through the lenses we now wear.

But the house where I grew up did shape me even if it doesn't function as a touchstone for me now. The people and events that took place in that house, I am convinced, make me a better priest and a better wife. I heard a wonderfully wise priest say once that "an awful lot of good has been done in the world because of my (his) dysfunction". Amen to that!

This house in College Station is beautiful...I mean really and truly...not just through a biased mortgage holder's eyes...but it's beautiful beyond the aesthetic. This house feels like the home I've always wanted. If the previous eight years of marriage are an indicator (and Dr. Phil says that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior) then this house will be a house of peace. I think this is the house that I'll long to return to when the day comes that we leave College Station. I feel like I'm getting a giant "do-over" on the home front, and I am so deeply grateful.

I know that millions of people in the world will never be able to own a home so owning this one (even with all this debt) renews my enthusiasm for work like Habitat for Humanity and Episcopal Relief and Development. There are lots of statistics available about how much better children fare when their parents own a home. It's amazing what truth there is in the old cliche about the pride of home ownership. We have been so grateful to live in church owned housing our whole married life. It has enabled us to save a lot of money and retire some (yes, only some) of our debt (and by our I mean mine).

But there is something in owning this home that has given me a sense of freedom. I know you are thinking, just wait until you try and sell it. And I'm sure there are many headaches associated on that end. But for now, I feel like Rob and I are home in a way that I have never experienced. Ever. And that is so grounding that it makes me want to crank up the car radio and really belt out right along with Miranda. I probably won't bury a pet (what with the asthma and all...Rob would be burying me in the backyard if we had a pet), and I'm pretty sure I won't learn to play guitar in the "back bedroom". But I know that I will make memories in this new house in this new city and at this new church.

I am grateful for all that has gone before. I stand a much better chance of not taking one single light bulb or one single dinner for granted. Thanks be to God.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nine Long/Short Months

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Just kidding....don't send me angry emails. Yesterday, March 25th, was the Feast of the Annunciation. You know what that means...yep...9 months from now all the Christmas presents you haven't bought yet will be unwrapped and piled up in a corner or already in need of a good laundering or ready to be taken to the vet! (That last party might not just apply to clothing or Christmas pets either!)

The Church recognizes March 25th as the day that Mary began her amazing, weird, beautiful, difficult, miraculous journey toward delivering the baby Jesus. I love that the Church marks such a thing. Of course we cannot know for sure when (and some would argue if) any of these remarkable events take place. There's no incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was born on December 25th. The whole Christmas season as we know it gets developed LONG after the time of Jesus and was in many ways about taking over a pagan winter solstice festival...but I digress. And who knows if Jesus was a "full term" baby! We are presuming so which means March 25th to December 25th.

In the season leading up to Christmas Eve, the season of Advent, we get the reading about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary on that last Sunday of Advent. Then a few days later it's Christmas Eve and we have a sweet little pageant with small children in bathrobes and tinsel halos and a plastic baby Jesus doll held...depending on who Mary is that year....with varying degrees of tenderness. Sometimes the young actor carries the Jesus doll down the aisle by its hair...and sometimes the Mary child holds that doll like it is truly her precious baby. So given that most of us don't hear the Annunciation reading from Scripture until just a few days before Christmas eve, it is easy to forget that the very real, very young girl most likely had to spend more than a few days pregnant!

From my friends and family members who have been pregnant I know that the time of gestation feels both long and short. I know women get exhausted and elated, have trouble getting comfortable enough to sleep, and sometimes lack energy to do anything but sleep. It's a roller coaster of joy and anxiety, expectation and worry...and that's under the best of circumstances! Factor in a young unmarried girl in a time and place when unmarried pregnant girls could be stoned and that is one wild ride of a pregnancy!

It's a perfect reminder here in the season of Lent...a perfect metaphor for our journey of faith in this Holy season and beyond. The nurture of faith, like the nurture of a growing fetus takes time...a lot of time. I am, perhaps like some of you, impatient. I too live in an email/microwave/text messaging culture (although that text messaging business doesn't look too cool or go very quickly when I have to put my readers on to see the tiny little screen with those tiny little letters).

I love that right smack in these final days of Lent we read about the Angel Gabriel's wild announcement to Mary. In my head I hear that cartoon screech sound like when Bugs Bunny or some other character slides to a halt and sparks fly out from his feet. And after the initial shock of " O M G!! I'll have to buy Christmas presents again"...I take a deep breath and think for a while about the daily preparation that Mary had to make. One day at a time...morning sickness..growing belly...whispers around the village....Joseph standing by day at a time the Blessed child grew and grew inside of her. And we too are day at a day at a time to nurture God within us... to nurture our faith bit by bit. Some days we may find ourselves nauseous all day...some days we have energy and excitement and can't stop smiling...some days we cannot rest for all the turmoil in our minds and bodies...some days we wonder if we can go on. All of that...all of that bit by bit moving us deeper and deeper into a life with God. Deeper and deeper to that which we too shall birth one day.

May you find peace in this season and every season, Rhoda

Thursday, March 4, 2010

OK I give up

My last blog post was re-shaped because of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I didn't think I should write about a book called The Happiness Project in the face of such terrible suffering. So I was getting all geared up to write about it last week, and then BOOM, earthquake in Chile. So I give up. It's the season of Lent. A time for reflection and for some people a time of depriving oneself in order to draw more deeply into a life of faith and apparently it's a season for terrible natural disasters so I give up. I'm going to write about the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. If I wait for there to be no terrible news in the know the rest of that sentence!

Since it is the season of Lent, and a GREAT time for confession, let me start by saying I have no where near studied this book! For that matter I haven't even finished it. There is no way I could pass a test over this book. Gulp. O wait, I don't have to take a test over this book. Whew! I have, however, strolled around in it. I am so intrigued by this young woman's early statement, "the days are long, but the years are short", that I find myself reading the book in little bites, thinking on those bites, and then laying the book down (alongside the dozens of other books and magazines by my bed! A pile created in part by a touch of ADD and a bigger touch of TSTR---too sleepy to read).

In Ms. Rubin's year long quest to find what would bring her lasting and sustainable happiness she reads, writes, complains, talks, and keeps journals. There is science behind happiness in some cases. I skipped over the science and philosophy part! And there is good ol' AA (alcoholics anonymous) kind of philosophy, "fake it til you make it' although she calls that "Act the way I want to feel".

In the August portion of her book she tries keeping a gratitude journal. I too have tried to keep such a thing and am some years more successful at that than others. A gratitude journal is VERY Oprah! And I do love Oprah, but like this author I too found that sometimes a daily entry felt contrived and burdensome. Rubin states that sometimes she felt just plain ol' annoyed by the task. She discovered a way to make a conscious mental shift that did not always include writing down that for which she was grateful. She learned to state either out loud or in her head, "I feel grateful for...." She finished the sentence with whatever task she was doing at the time that did not start out originally as a thing for which she was grateful. "I feel grateful that I am awake at 4am and not able to go back to sleep" (I hate when I have nights like that, but I will try this idea now.) So instead of tossing and turning, she made that statement (quietly), went to another room in the house, lit a candle and sat in the quiet (what some might then call contemplative prayer). And, as Rubin states, "a complaint turned into thankfulness."

Eureka! Something so simple but so profound. Inspired not just by this book, but by other books and teachers I have had over the years I am working to develop a way of moving through the world that has at its heart, gratitude. I do sometimes write down what I am grateful for, but I, like Gretchen Rubin, tend to feel constrained by that if I do it every day. I had a terrific priest friend who early in my career advised me to end each day writing a thank you note to someone in the parish. I must confess (again, it's Lent) that I don't do that. But I do write a fair number of thank you notes, and it is a powerful way to end the day.

There's an interesting balance to be struck I suppose between re-framing a situation and just being in complete denial! Rubin probably talks about that in a part of the book I haven't read! While I am not literally grateful for the traffic I will face on my way home today I am indeed so grateful to have a car, be able to afford gasoline, have a job and home to travel between, and have great music to listen to while I'm stuck behind people who CANNOT DRIVE..O..wait...that's a post for another day.

Just as forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences and no restitution to be made, gratitude does not mean there's nothing bad in a situation. Gratitude is not a synonym for denial! I can cry and mourn my sweet friend's death, wish that he had not been felled by disease, and be really grateful that I knew him at all, and be reminded yet again that life is short and I need to treasure every opportunity to be with people I love. Like almost everything, gratitude is yet another one of those "both and" situations. It is so sad to bury a friend and it is so great to have had the friend. It is so frustrating to be in traffic and it is so great to be alive and in traffic.

The world will have news every second of every of suffering and earthquakes and war, and I am so grateful to be here. Blessings on your journey in and out of Lent! Rhoda

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Getting that September 10th feeling again

In the summer of 2001 my sweet boyfriend proposed marriage to me; I said yes. He has now been my sweet husband since April of 2002. Seriously. It's like being married to the Sesame Street character Elmo. He is sweet and funny and cheerful all the time. And yes, sometimes that is irritating. I am extremely fortunate.

One day a few weeks after he proposed I went wedding dress shopping. I was 39, must trimmer than I am now. It had been a long time since I was a size 8, but I was around a size 12 then. I went into one dress shop and the tiny under 30 sales clerk, said to me, while I was getting undressed...."wow. I'm not sure we've ever had anyone your size in here." Wow indeed. I left. Without a dress and without a lot of self esteem. I had bounced back from the initial clerk who had asked quite incredulously, "you are looking for a wedding YOU? Not your daughter?" But this was now more than I could bear. I went back to my small apartment, phoned my fiance and informed him that I was too fat and old for him to marry, and thus, we would have to break up. He, being very much in love with me, and a Texan, said he felt like getting his gun. (OK that part is not much like Elmo.) He refrained, but his offer did sort of warm my fat little heart for a moment.

The next day I picked myself up off the couch, quit crying, started to laugh about the whole then, went to work, and the world changed forever. The next day was September 11th, 2001. Suddenly my dress woes and chubby belly woes seemed ridiculously small and insignificant. Suddenly like the rest of the world I was glued to the television news and overwhelmed with tears for days on end.

The news from Haiti, reminds me of that time. It is, of course, markedly different. Acts of nature and acts of deliberate evil are incomparable. The devastation and its aftermath are something similar, however. There is the tremendous loss of life and complete disorientation, and the coming together...even for a moment of the world community when terror strikes...whatever its source.

I was going to do a cheery little post last week about the new year. I am intrigued by a new book called "The Happiness Project", and I was going to write about that. Then the earthquake hit and all of those thoughts were discarded as so much fluff and blather. It's one of those times where everything else seems so insignificant.

Life in Haiti has been unspeakably hard long before the earthquake. And now. Now. I cannot even begin to imagine. And added to all of that horror has come a major aftershock and more suffering. The words of one of the great Psalms of lament springs to mind, "My God My God why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22). Surely words like that must be on the lips of those who struggle in such a place.

I have found myself over the years with the words of that Psalm on my lips with far less provocation.

We wait and pray and hope and lament. And I suppose that's about all most of us can do. A few are called and able to go and be hands and feet in a place so desperate for help. But for most of us we are here and it will be all that we can do to pray and send whatever money we can send. (My suggestion is Episcopal Relief and Development:

But of course there are dozens of great organizations accepting donations for relief in Haiti. (Be careful there are always scam artists at work!)

I would NEVER want to use the language of "good" casually in a situation like this. I would say there is something powerful that happens that brings the plight of a people to the world's attention. I do not mean in any way to suggest that such attention is the "good" that comes out of an earthquake! Though there have been some in the news who say such things. It reminds me that it's often the people with healthy children who tell grieving parents they can have other babies or people with money who say money can't buy happiness. So I don't want to say anything from my safe beautiful office like that! I will say that for me it takes this kind of shocking news to remind me, o yes, people in Haiti suffer. It takes this news to open my wallet.

I forget about Episcopal Relief and Development on "regular" days. I forget about the portions of the world where people live on less than a dollar a day. and where children starve...all the time...not only in the aftermath of a disaster. I don't know how to manage those facts differently. None of us can spend all day and night absorbed in the news. None of us can spend every moment reading about the plight of all those in the world who suffer. And if I give away every penny I have all I manage to do is join the ranks of the world's poor.

So somewhere in all of that I have to learn how to be aware, open, generous, and concerned and still live my life, find joy in daily things, love my little Elmo husband, and trust that God hears prayers even when it feels like there has been complete abandonment.

I have to keep reading Psalm 22...feel those first verses, feel that despair, acknowledge that despair, not rush through, but keep reading...until I can get to the closing verses, "My soul shall live for him (God); my descendants shall serve him (God); they shall be known as the Lord's for ever. They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done."

Thanks be to God. Rhoda