Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ferrets and the language of prayer

One of my favorite dads at our church affiliated preschool told me a WONDERFUL story yesterday... a story that made me want to put down the candy left on my desk this morning and write a blog post. Now that's a good story!

When this dear dad was recently helping to put his kids to bed, one of his children closed out their prayer time with "in the name of God, the father, the son and the holy ferret" O MY LORD!! That right there is why you have children my friends! How great is that story?

I have laughed and laughed thinking about that moment with those sweet children and their parents...and how the parents must have gotten cramps from trying not to laugh (too hard) at their sincere praying child. I couldn't help but flash onto the scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral where the funny old priest says "father son and holy spigot" So far I haven't made that slip at a Sunday service, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time!

The language of prayer is indeed a funny language...even when all of the words are technically "right". In fact I think we have so exalted the language of prayer in our minds that it makes us afraid actually to pray sometimes. Countless people over the years have said to me, "I don't know how to pray." Or, "I don't know what words to use". And I understand that...especially in times of extreme joy or extreme sorrow.

But even in the ordinary days and circumstances it can feel daunting to pray. And so maybe we take a cue from the culture that says "just do it" and we just do it! Just incorporate daily conversations with God. Like a person training for a marathon (so I am told! sheesh I can walk about 2 miles before I'm praying....for death!) it's the daily small steps. If we "wait" to pray until we have the time, the right words, or even the desire...we're going to be waiting a long time.

For the children growing up in the aforementioned household they will know from their earliest days that both of their parents are people of prayer. They will know that prayer is something you do all the time....not just on Sunday when the big lady in the white dress is praying fancy words from a book. Those kids will know that prayer can happen even at home, at night in a bedroom filled with dolls and stuffed bears.

A wonderful priest named Paul Fromberg is fond of saying "prayer is telling the truth to God". It's as simple...and complex as that. Like conversation with a true you tell everything too...and one you listen to as well. Prayer is about relationship....that's it...and sometimes relationships need words, and sometimes they need silence, and sometimes they need tears, and sometimes they need anger. All of it is bound up in true relationship.

So take a moment...right now....and breathe...and thank God, or ask God, or yell at God, or question God. Take a moment to pray. In the name of the Father, the Son, the spigot, the ferrets, and the Spirit. Peace.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Friendship, aging, and toilet paper crafts....

The nice husband and I were in Austin last Friday to celebrate the aforementioned nice husband's 50th birthday. I am much much younger than he, and won't be 50 for 10 more....months. Before we went to a party, we stopped by our beloved friend Mary's swinging apartment. Mary's birthday and Rob's are just a few days apart. But Mary turned 93. Stopping by Mary's joy-filled apartment for a chat did NOT make us think 'wow 50 is really pretty young by comparison." Thank God! Because Mary, newly moved into her fashionable apartment in the retirement community, is a force of nature! She's out on the town...literally dancing, visiting, volunteering (!) and generally spreading joy and dropping sunshine wherever she goes. Husband I usually feel like we have to lie down after visiting with Mary because she just bursts with energy and good cheer...way more than we feel like we do at almost half her age! Just as her home had been in previous decades, her apartment is full of pictures and cards from her many many friends and from her grand children and great grand children. Mary's kindness and irrepressible optimism have drawn people of every generation to her. She has friends (like the real kind...not just like facebook "friends") who are 18 and friends who are our age and friends who are her age and every age in between.

While we were visiting and laughing and of course taking pictures (Mary and I are inveterate picture takers...we are both going to need a WHOLE lot more wall space and more refrigerators!) Mary taught me this great Halloween craft using a roll of toilet paper, some colored tissue paper, a brown paper sack, and some string! (email me if you want the "deets" or...check out my post on THERE's a sentence I never thought I'd say!). I made my toilet paper pumpkin this weekend, but of course it doesn't look as cute as Mary's.

She's been on my mind so much even before our visit last week, but especially now. Mostly I've been thinking about different people in my life who have been present at seminal moments. Mary was the one holding me when I was crying so hard I didn't think I could breathe...on that day in 1997 when the moving van was hauling away my then husband's stuff because we were divorcing. There she was, volunteering of course, at the place where I was working and living. (that is..the Austin Ronald McDonald House) And she promised me that Jesus loved me and that things would get better. And she was right.

I'm so grateful that Mary and her whole family are in my life. She's taught me a lot of things (besides cute crafts...though never underestimate the value of cute crafts!) Mostly she reminds me to be friends with people of all ages and to embrace each and every day. 30 can be old if you don't give and receive love and the 93 year old who loves and laughs is the youngest person in the room. Hugs and love! Rhoda

Monday, August 29, 2011

Country Music and Spirituality

At the risk of alienating lots of you, I will reveal that I am a country music fan. I love opera too, and other kinds of music, but I’m just saying that some of the country songs on the radio actually have pretty good theology. Case in point, there’s a Rascal Flatts song entitled “God Bless the Broken Road.” The lyrics of the song remind us that the difficult roads, the journeys that seem like detours and our disappointments often end up leading us right where we need to be.

When I'm not listening to C & W music or watching TV, I will occasionally even pick up a BOOK! One of my all time favorite books (well, favorite book that you'd expect a priest to like...I also like football books but that's for another day) is Yearnings-Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life by Rabbi Irwin Kula. I'll be offering this book as a book study during the Season of Advent plus our young adults group will begin reading this book in September. Rabbi Kula writes, “The process of becoming is circuitous. Life has no straight lines or easy paths.” Amen brother! That's the "broken road" theology in a nutshell.

At the time, most of us can’t appreciate the odd twists and turns. At the time it's hard to believe the broken road is anything but broken. At the time of my divorce back in 1996 I had no idea that 3 years later someone perfect for me would be coming my way. Someone I appreciate so much more having been down a winding road earlier. (This someone by the way introduced me to country music). All the times we wrestle with doubt, collapse into grief, or feel the chill of isolation can be times we actually draw deeper into our faith. Times that we draw deeper into that painful part of our faith that transcends the vagaries of our “feelings”.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, when the Israelites wandered in the desert, their reliance upon God and their ability to pray even in the midst of despair had to come from a deeper place than “feeling like” doing it. For Jesus when He was alone and hungry or the Israelites longing for the promised land the journey included just making one step at a time.

We are quick to say that God blesses us when our lives are good and easy. We are quick to say God blesses us when we have plenty of money in our wallets. But I think the Rascal Flatts boys may be on to something. Rather than believe that God inflicts our suffering or arranges for it, I think God is more than capable of blessing it and by blessing it, transforming it. Through the Holy Spirit revealed in the arms of the community we can remind one another that the broken roads, the wilderness journeys take us where they take us. But no matter where the broken roads or the clear paths lead, we are never outside of God’s reach.
Blessings to you now and always no matter what road you are taking. Love, Rhoda

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mama was RIGHT

My friend Mary Anne sent me the following article from the WSJ. (I loving using the initials WSJ because it makes it sound like I really am up to date with the Wall Street Journal...I'm not really, but I love it when other people read it and send me articles!) My mom, who is 82 today, always always told me to be grateful. She did not have all of this science behind her to back that attitude up, but ta da...mama was right! She, like everyone who's in their 80s, grew up in the depression. She, however, was raise on a farm in Oklahoma and really saw firsthand some of the devastating effects of depression and dustbowl life. She also spent 30 years married to my father. That was about 30 years too long. I love my dad but he was a terrible husband. So for mama to come through all of that and still cling to optimism and gratitude just amazes me. Happy Birthday mama.

Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans cited gratitude as an indispensable human virtue, but social scientists are just beginning to study how it develops and the effects it can have.

Giving thanks is good for our health. A growing body of research suggests that maintaining an attitude of gratitude can improve psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.

Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.

Research also finds similar results in kids and adolescents. They are less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don’t.

Dr. Robert Emmonds, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and a pioneer in gratitude research notes, “With the realization that one has benefitted comes the awareness of the need to reciprocate.” The research is part of the “positive psychology” movement, which focuses on developing strengths rather than alleviating disorders. Cultivating gratitude is also a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which holds that changing peoples’ thought patterns can dramatically affect their moods.

In the landmark study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003 of more than 100 undergraduates, Dr. Emmonds and University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough shows that counting blessings can actually make people feel better. Those who listed blessings each week had fewer health complaints, exercised more regularly and felt better about their lives than the other two groups who did not list blessings. Another of Dr. Emmond’s studies with a Dr. Froh with 221 sixth- and seventh graders yielded similar results.

Dr. Emmond concludes, “Gratitude is actually a demanding, complex emotion that requires (1) ‘self reflection, (2) the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and (3) the humility to realize ones own limitation.’

Some exercises to help us be grateful:
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal – note three good things that happened today.
2. Find a Gratitude Accountability Buddy – swap gratitude lists with a friend.
3. Watch your language including your self talk – using disparaging words reinforces memories
4. Go on a gratitude visit – write a thank you letter to someone who has helped you. Read it to them.
One study: Fourth graders who took a “gratitude visit” felt better two months later.5. Savor good times – with photos, drawings, and scrapbooks.
6. Count your blessings – review events and people to be grateful for as you fall asleep.

Another powerful exercise: Imagine what life would be like without a major blessing – like a spouse, friend, child or job. In a 2008 study in the Journal of Personal Psychology researchers found that when college students wrote essays in which they “mentally subtracted” a positive event from their lives they were subsequently more grateful for it than students whose essays focused on the event. Even small boosts in positive emotions can make life more satisfying.

Beck., Melinda. “Thank You. No, Thank You,” Personal Journal, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, November 23, 2010, D1 and D4.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Moving Sabbath

(This post is reprinted from the most recent edition of our St. Thomas church or lazy? Hmmmm....I'll get back to you on that)

Wayne Muller writes in his wonderful book, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, “Prayer is like a portable Sabbath, when we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest in the heart. [W]e can be stopped by a bell, a sunset, a meal, and we can pray.” But, I would add, first we have to allow space in our lives to be stopped by that bell, sunset, or meal. I am preaching to myself here as well my friends!

Surely there is no culture on earth busier than Americans! Lives full of work, family, school responsibilities and activities piled on top of activities. We have access to news and weather twenty-four hours a day. Our technology makes it possible to trick ourselves into thinking we are “multi-tasking” when really what we are trying to do is fill our daily hours with too much.

In such a frenzied life it is easy to lose the meaning of Sabbath and deep rest. And when we lose an understanding of Sabbath, time set apart to be still, it’s easy to lose the “communion power” of prayer too.

If we see prayer as something more than just asking God for things we want, then we can begin to re-claim the deep Sabbath notion of prayer. For in prayer what we really are after is relationship, communion with God. And, like in any relationship, we must spend time with the other. We must listen more than we talk! We must, “let the mind rest in the heart.” Allow yourselves to be stopped this day. Begin a practice now of taking time just to be. Taking time to breathe deeply and let the presence of God wash over you and give you Sabbath time, even on a random weekday! Peace, the Rev. Rhoda S. Montgomery

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Even at the Grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia

Happy Easter! The season of life and hope and resurrection continues past Easter day. I am grateful to be part of the section of Christendom that recognizes that. I like following a liturgical calendar which tells me that Easter season is 50 days long and that yesterday was the feast day of St. Phillip and St. James. Although I did not greet that news with great joy when the alarm clock went off at 5 am so I could get up in time to do the 6:30 am Communion service at my church. Ugh. I am so not an early morning girl! These days I'm not sure what time of day I'm at my best. There's about an hour between 10:30 am and 11:30 am that I don't feel like I have a blood disorder, but the rest of the day I am so sleepy. I'm chalking it up to allergies, because I think all evil in the world has at its root the wicked hand of snot producing tear duct swelling wheezy lung infested immune systems that over function all spring...and winter...and fall. Hand me a Kleenex and a sledge hammer to bang on my head...but, I digress. (PS I don't really think that allergies are the root of all evil...and I am acutely aware that my health could be much much worse...I'm just sayin'...) OK I'm back.

The liturgical calendar helps me (and you too I hope) see time a bit differently. It helps me slow down in a way. While the stores at the mall are about to put up the 4th of July shorts and tankinis, the liturgical calendar helps us remember that it's still Easter season and that we should embrace that. Unfortunately, I and most everyone I know runs at breakneck speed even when following the liturgical calendar. So perhaps that's why I only feel truly wide awake about 1 hour a day. (But I still have my allergies and choose to blame them.)

I wish that I had slowed down more during the most reason season of Lent. In my March post I quoted my dear friend Bill Green. He was the one who always made that joke about giving up riding in submarines for Lent, and I really did laugh every time he said he because he took such delight in saying it. And when I posted that story and reflection in March I heard a voice in my head say over and over, "you should call Bill and tell him that you quoted him...tell him that you are thinking of him." And of course, the pressure of managing a church and reading and teaching and preaching and scratching my eyes out every day because of the pollen and generally living my life overwhelmed me to such a degree that I never took the time to call or write. And you know how this story ends.

During Holy Week I received a call that dear, kind, crabby, brilliant, frail, ornery, wonderful Bill Green had died. His wife asked that I be a pall bearer at his funeral on Easter Monday. And for a long time after she asked me over the phone, there was a profound silence. My heart still aches at the loss of this man from my (and so many other people's lives) and my mind still reels that such an honor was bestowed upon who didn't take the time to call or write this year. Bill would think my guilt a foolish waste of time, so I'm trying to "snap out of that" as quickly as I can, but I'm not there yet.

I'm hoping that I can use this experience to remind myself....for like the 10,000th time...what truly matters. I'm hoping that I will take opportunities to tell people that I'm thinking of them, tell people that I love them, when I have the chance. There's that wonderfully poetic John Mayer song, "Say what you mean to say" that also reminds me to say I love you when I've got the change (PSS I try to keep John Mayer's personal life and assorted hateful tirades separate from the lyrics to his music). So, if you are one of the 3 people who read my blog chances are you are indeed people that I love. I hope that each of us, whether we use a liturgical calendar or not can find ways to pace ourselves such that we never ignore the love that's all around us, including taking the time to tell God who loves us always even at our death, thank you. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

The following is an excerpt from Bill's obituary:

William Baillie Green, professor emeritus of theology died April 19 in Austin. Bill joined the faculty of Seminary of the Southwest in 1970 as associate professor of theology and retired as the Clinton S. Quin Professor of Systematic Theology. Bill served as assisting clergy for years at Church of the Good Shepherd, Austin and canon theologian for the diocese of Dallas.

In the mid-1970's, Bill became interested in ecumenical conversations with the Eastern churches, and was soon after invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to represent the Episcopal Church in the International Commission of the Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue. During his nearly thirty years in this capacity, part of which he served as the sole Episcopal Church representative, he has worked with some of the great theological minds of our time, including Michael Ramsey, Rowan Williams, Kallistos Ware, and John Zizioulas...Dr. Green fought to keep Anglicans and the Orthodox moving toward a shared faith and a shared table.

Upon his retirement from teaching in 1999, Dr. Green's sermons and prayers were published in a collection titled Ask, Seek, Knock. One of the prayers included in the collection is a prayer Dr. Green wrote for Lent:

O Eternal Lord, the first and the last: We whose lives are so full of poor beginnings and bad endings turn to thee that our souls may be restored and our strength renewed. Keep us from demanding that perfection which life never promises, or from claiming exemption from that suffering which is the lot of all. Show us, whatever befalls, that thy grace is sufficient and that nothing can separate us from thy love revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent, Submarines, and My Engagement Ring

So we're about 6 days into the season of Lent. How are you? Wishing you hadn't given up coffee or chocolate? One of my dearest priest friends, who is now in his 80s, always used to say that he gave up riding in submarines for Lent. That would be funnier if you knew this man. Picture Yoda...small, wrinkly, and freakishly wise. One of those people that you are sure came out of the womb in a shirt and tie with a fancy cane, a person who was never a child or teenager. He told me that submarine joke every Lent for years, and I laughed every time.

Since the 80s when I became an Episcopalian and started being aware of Lent I have run the gamut in Lenten disciplines. I have given up Diet Coke. Yes, that was a bad idea. Whoever I was dating at the time probably still has claw marks or bruises or something on him! There's sacrifice and then there's just crazy! I've had some Lents were I fasted on Fridays. Some Lenten season where I read morning prayer or compline every day/night. By the way I highly recommend such a practice! Those services in our Book of Common prayer are lovely and brief and easily done in the privacy of your own home/bed...while nursing a Diet Coke. I have tried many times to write in my journal every day during Lent...then it was once a week during know how that one ends. It is hard for me to keep up a practice or let go of a habit all 40 days of Lent. (46 if you count the Sundays but we don't really because each Sunday is a "little Easter" so YES you can have your chocolate or your Diet Coke on Sundays!)

But this year I'm really trying to be consistent. So for my Lenten practice I have put my engagement ring on my right hand, which yes, compared to fasting for 40 days and nights in the wilderness looks downright lame. But it is a little irritating to have it there. I've had this ring now since July 24 2000, and it's always been on my left hand. So it feels odd to feel it and see it on my right hand, but there it is. A visual and tactile reminder of the season of odd and sometimes irritating season.

Besides just that feeling that it doesn't belong there, it also causes me to find other ways to remember things. When I am without a pen and paper, and I think of something like: buy more Diet Coke at the grocery store, or return that phone call, pick up the dry cleaning, whatever, I typically move my engagement ring to my right hand. Then later, when I think, what is that ring doing there? I will (almost always) remember, o yes, I need to do that errand or call that person. Then when the thing is done, I can move it back to my left hand. And yes that means I'm usually only good for remembering 1 thing since I do not wear lots and lots of rings! But remembering 1 thing is a big achievement these days!

If I remember my seminary Hebrew correctly (and by that I mean I never took Hebrew in seminary but I had friends who did who told me stuff and I have 3 really really good friends who are all Rabbis and they tell me stuff) then there is the element of an action attached to the concept of remembering that is part of the Hebrew language. So often in Scripture you'll read about someone wanting to remember a place or remember God's presence so that person will build an altar or make something or cut something (yes I mean circumcision, but let's not get derailed with that.)

I love the idea of doing something or touching something or making something and connecting that to remembering. It's the old tie a string around your finger thing, of course. But the whole season of Lent can be that for us, can be a whole season of remembering. And that's the best that the season has to offer in my opinion. It's bigger and better than just deprivation...although most of us in America could use a little forced deprivation (excluding Diet Cokes of course.)

If you spend Lent thinking only of chocolate or cigarettes or whatever it is you gave up and not spending any time thinking about God and drawing nearer to the Fount of All Wisdom, the Source of all Life, then Lent has just been about deprivation and not about transformation.

The purpose of sacrifice is not just the sacrifice, not just the pride that comes with, look at me I gave up this thing for 40 (46) days...I rock! But rather every time you reach for your ring on your left hand or every time you reach for that candy that you gave up or every time you reach for the prayer book to read morning prayer the sacrifice of time or something pleasant for your palate are reminders of Lent and reminders of God's outrageous love. Rather than doing some grand gesture to try and "pay back" God, it's really about offering in some tangible way a part of your very self to God who loves you beyond measure. So if that part of you is your love of chocolate or the time you now invest in some intentional way because it's Lent then that's the goal of the season, offering that part of you up to God in gratitude.

I have a feeling my Yoda friend did really have some personal practice for Lent that was perhaps just too tender to talk about, but if not, if really the joke about the submarines was the extent of his Lenten piety then so be it. He has sacrificed plenty by pulling countless seminary students (including this one) through the hard slog of theology classes often while experiencing excruciating back and hip pain.

May this season be a continual reminder of God's endless love of you. Peace, Rhoda

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A little cussin'...a little prayin'...

I consider myself to be a fairly patient person. I honestly do not have a fit in traffic (OK not very often anyway and never so much that people in other cars would know!) I can answer the same questions over and over. "What do you like to be called?" At least once a week someone asks me that. The thirty years of women clergy has still not resolved the question. My answer is "Rhoda." I don't mind answering that question over and over.

I'm also patient with my asthma and don't freak out at the first sign of wheezing. Some would say (read: husband) that I'm patient to the point of complacent. But longer than there have been ordained women clergy I have had asthma so I've developed a sort of patience about it.

But when it comes to computer stuff I am INSANELY impatient! Nothing gets me cussing a blue streak more than when something about the computer is messed up or when the server goes down, and I can't email. It's as though I have lost the ability to phone people if I can't email them. It's crazy! And I am not proud.

On my church computer there is some thing/hiccup/problem/#?*! - ing deal where as I'm typing along all of a sudden some HP product assistant screen pops up and completely interrupts what I'm typing. It doesn't happen all the time and there is no discernible pattern. There's probably a way to make it stop, but I haven't figured that out. It doesn't cause me to lose any work (or you could hear me cuss all the way to your house), and it goes away as soon as I click OK. I'm tired of pitching a fit about it, so I have least for a make friends with it...and use it as a call to prayer.

So far that's been working great! Of course it's only been two days...ask me again in a few weeks! But when that screen pops up and interrupts me, I'm choosing to stop what I'm doing, and take a brief moment to mention someone to God, or to offer a prayer of thankfulness for someone, or ask for direction about something.

God permeates our lives through and through all the time. I don't always live like I believe that, but I do indeed believe that. I don't think God is making this HP screen thing pop up! But I do think God "enjoys" receiving our attention, and offering prayers in random short bursts works for me better than setting aside some lengthy time in the morning or evening. Sometimes I'm able to engage a more traditional "prayer time", but lately these little bursts have really inspired me, and made me appreciate prayer all the more.

I am reminded of one of my all time favorite books: St. Benedict on the Freeway, by Corinne Ware. She was on the faculty of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin for a long time, and is one of those people you think is truly mystical and connected to something great. But at the same time she is fun and joyful and completely approachable. Her book offers a way to look at prayer and connection that I find to be SO helpful. It's all about finding God in the daily interactions and choosing to let common things like the friggin' HP screen thing or your garage door opener be "triggers" that keep us in touch all day every day with God.

God is huge and transcendent and indescribable and infinite. And God is as close as your next breath. Making a conscious choice to allow something that is indeed irritating become something that calls me to prayer is making a big difference in my very small life. A day may come when the HP thing gets removed from this computer. Heck...I think this computer is on its last legs sometimes, but in this meantime, this wonderful ordinary meantime, I'm grateful that I get a little random nudge to pray. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Puttin' on the Ritz

Last week I was fortunate enough to have one of those occasions where I got to appreciate my journey to date. The Episcopal Church is VERY fond of pulling out worship services for all sorts of occasions. We even have a whole companion to our prayer book, and that companion book is called The Book of Occasional Services. We are a liturgical people...and that often means receptions with food and wine. Amen!

Last week I was formally "installed" as the rector (senior clergy person) of St. Thomas. There's lots of words and prayers and chanting and Communion of course. It's a celebration of new ministry, but it gets shorthanded as "installation" which kind of makes me sound like an appliance...which in some ways is the work of a priest. We should be "plugged in" to our communities, function without needing much fussing over, perform our duties regularly, and be missed when we "go out" but also be quite replaceable.

As I was getting dressed for the installation service (and yes that means I bought a new jacket and new shoes..duh!) I was flooded with memories in one of those surreal "is this what it would be like to watch your life pass before you eyes" kinds of moments. I had used this really cute pin to hold back the lapel of my new jacket while it hung in the closet because I hate to iron and I think this jacket can't be ironed. (That's my story anyway) The pin I used is a sort of laminated Ritz cracker that has been dusted with sequins.

It was given to me by my beloved New Testament professor from my M. Div program in Austin. I think she gave it to me for my 40th birthday...a number of years ago. (What? I'm sure you are thinking this girl can't be 40! OK maybe you are not thinking that...but humor me)

As soon as I touched the pin to take it off the jacket I was immediately transported back to a time in the seminary chapel when this professor met with me and several of my female M.Div student friends. We gathered in a circle and practiced saying the liturgy. (We really do have to practice saying the liturgy even though we are "just" reading it out of the prayer book.) I remember crying almost uncontrollably, partly because I couldn't seem to get all the reading and the hand signals and the handling of the "stuff" really is kind of like learning to drive!

And I was crying because I thought, "really? I'm supposed to be a priest? Are you kidding?" This professor was, as always, kind and patient, attentive and she had been throughout my seminary career and as she continues to be. I made it through the rest of that "play church" time, composed myself, and heard her say, "you can do this."

As I touched that pin on my jacket I could hear her voice, and Iwas reminded too of a book we read in seminary called The Sacraments of Life by Leonardo Boff. It is an outstanding book that captures what anyone knows who has ever treasured some little cup or ornament that is on one level not very valuable but on another level is THE thing you would grab if your house was on fire. The ordinary things in our lives, a pin, a coffee mug, a box, can become Holy if we allow them to do so.

That little Ritz cracker pin reminds me of that dear professor, reminds me of my dear friends from seminary, reminds me of other professors and friends I've had over the years....all of whom shaped me. I'm so grateful to have had some moments in my life like graduations, a wedding (OK, two if you are counting), ordinations (two for sure), this installation, where I had the opportunity to pause and reflect on how I got to that particular moment.

I wish everyone had more moments like those! We should do more milestone marking in our culture. There's a lot to be said for occasions that cause us to stop and reflect and think, even for a moment, " did I get here? Who brought me to this time in my life?"

Even if some sort of celebration is not in your future, I hope that you are surrounded by completely "worthless" things that you can see and touch and remember people who have loved you. Things that you would grab in a fire. Things that are utterly sacramental, utterly tangible signs of God's endless grace.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Those darn digital cameras

Two very dear people gave me a digital camera (pink of course) back in May of 2009 when I finished by Doctor of Ministry. One of the dear people, Sandy, teased me a LOT about my propensity for using those disposable cameras. Sandy insisted that I take one giant step toward embracing the 21st century (and now look at me, I'm blogging and everything). These sweet friends were completely right of course, and now I am a digital camera nut! I have THOUSANDS of pictures stored on my lap top and have even...are you ready for this...learned how to manipulate, send, post, etc! Though you are not going to see any evidence of that on this blog post. Enough already! I can only handle so much technology at one time.j

A few weeks ago my sweet husband and I were doing our annual year-end pilgrimage to the beach. It seems to us to be the best possible place to end one year and begin another. We were taking pictures wildly of course with the aforementioned pink digital camera. It is a delight to be able to take all the pictures you want knowing that you can delete at any time! No more worrying if I will "miss' a great shot of something gorgeous or funny because I've "used up' all the film. (Kids you will have to look up the definition of film on Wikipedia or some such sight).

I am grateful for the wild abandon with which I can take pictures now and grateful for my sweet Austin friends who gave me this wonderful camera. It did, however, get me thinking...which is what you are paying for on this amazing ARE paying, right? HA HA.

I don't want to return to the disposable camera days, but I do want to make sure that I slow down and treasure the moments I am capturing on film. My digital camera allows me to take pictures without really thinking, which is a delightful wrinkle in the fabric of technology. The danger comes, of course, when I move through some experience without thinking.

No need to marvel at that seagull, I can take a million pictures later. No need to stop and appreciate how darn cute my husband looks when he's wading into the freezing cold water in Galveston bay and doesn't know I'm looking off our balcony at him. This won't be the last chance I'll have to snap that photo I think to myself.

And on the one hand I'm really glad for that. Glad that if I take 50 pictures of seagulls I haven't "used up" the film in my camera causing me to miss a great shot later. But on the other hand...I can get pretty careless because I know there's an (almost) unlimited supply of film/space/whatchmacalit on my digital camera.

I don't want to be careless as I move through life. I want to soak up what I see and experience around me and still hold onto some bit of that feeling of "is this worth my last frame of film?" I realize a person could take this to extremes! Let's don't do that. I'm not saying that I want to be afraid all the time or miss what's right in front of me because I'm waiting for that one big picture.

I'm just saying that I waste a lot of "film", and I hope in this new year I can be more thankful and aware. More aware of my words, my time, more aware and thankful for love, more aware of my faith....striving not to take any experience for granted. Never putting a person in the category of, "I can just delete him/her later".

Digital cameras are so fun and provide for instant gratification! I love that. But I hope in this new year to retain a little of the "old school"... a little of the feeling that keeps me grateful and protective of each moment, because it really could be the last opportunity I have to capture it. Blessings to you and yours in 2011.