Friday, September 28, 2012

A little shopping, a little faith restored early September the nice husband and I got to go to Europe for two whole weeks.  I know, right?  You're thinking, "dang how much do they pay priests in College Station these days?"  Well...before you rush right out to apply for my job...we used MANY airline and hotel perk/reward things that husband has saved for 10 years.  He's better at saving them than I would be!  I get one of those, and think "cool, let's go to the Caldwell Holiday Inn tonight" and he says, "no, let's save them so we can go to Europe one day."  We love him.

Anyway, besides the usual things that happen on vacation....sleep (remember I'm 50 now!) and then eating WHATEVER you want because the calories do not count especially when you change time zones.  That's a fact I'm certain.  And now you've read it on the internet so it's totally true.  So in addition to sleeping and eating and shopping (could the stores BE any more fabulous in Heidelberg, Paris, and London?) we did something I RARELY do.  We went to church.  A lot.

I know you're thinking, "honey, you are a go to church ALLLLL the time, which is why you say you can't play with us on the weekends."  No, this was different.  This was GOING to church, not being responsible for a service.  This was sitting BY my husband in church, which has happened only a handful of times in our ten year marriage.  And this was not just any church.

We were able to have Communion at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  Then hear Evensong at Westminster Abbey and sit IN the choir stalls right next to the amazing children and men singers.  Then we had Communion at Canterbury  AND got to experience Evensong there too, also in the choir stalls.  All of these breathtaking buildings literally built more than 1,000 years ago.  I can scarcely articulate what that feels like.

Lots of you who have traveled way more extensively than I have (remember I'm the Caldwell Holiday Inn kind of girl), you know what I'm talking about and can probably articulate it so much more clearly.  But all I have is "wow" and "Thanks be to God". 

I mean literally Thanks be to God.  To get to be in a place where since the 6th and 7th centuries (!) people have worshipped is just beyond my comprehension.  To be on such holy ground where for centuries and centuries people have prayed and cried and sung and sought meaning and been afraid and been brave and been murdered (God rest Thomas Becket's soul) is simply indescribable. Even in those dark stories (again, poor Thomas), even among all the tombs and grave markers that are part of these glorious, majestic Cathedrals, I felt a renewed sense of hope.  Something I'm almost hesitant to admit I had lost hold of before the trip.

Maybe just from being so very tired leading up to the trip, maybe just from being, like every other American, a person who is too busy (and in my case, too allergic! ha!)to "stop and smell the roses", but being in those gorgeous places reminded me in a visceral kind of way, that we are truly connected to a long long (long) line of the faithful....sinful, foolish, careless, yes, but a long line of the faithful.

Last week was my first Sunday back at my dear church, and the collect (prayer) for the day read: Grant us O Lord not to mind earthly things but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those things that shall abide, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As my sweet church prepares to celebrate her 75th anniversary (which is like 10 minutes in Canterbury Cathedral time!) I was just overwhelemed at the altar thinking about those places we got to travel, and thinking about all  of those who have gone before us, who made it possible for this parish to be gathered in this place on that particular Sunday.  Connected somehow through our Anglican heritage to the countless throngs who have passed through centuries old buildings and now in our small way adding to that. 

Standing at the altar, and reading the almost 2000 year old story of the night before Jesus died, while looking out at people I love and remembering the impossible to describe beauty of those Cathedrals and watching out the glass doors of our worship space into the hallway as one of our precious parish babies was rocking on her knees about to take some first wobbly steps....well...I can only describe the confluence of all those things: memories of our trip, words from Scripture, people I love in front of my eyes, people I miss deep in my heart, people I never met but whose graves I touched,  I can only describe that as transcendent...or WOW...or perhaps DANG.

So grateful.  Grateful for time away for the usual reasons: sleeping, eating, shopping (duh, of course I bought some new cute shoes!) but so grateful to be reminded that even when I can't seem to pray, even when I can't seem to "connect" even though my time alive will, in the scheme of things be very brief, I am part of a long long line of faithful people....and so are you...whether you feel it or not whether you've ever even been to Caldwell much less Europe we are carried on the centuries of prayers that have come before us and we will carry those who come after us...even when we fail or are foolish or scared.

And whether we're in a 1,200 year old building or a 2 week old building or not in a building at all, the breath of God breathes in us, like it breathed in "them", like it will breathe in those who come after us.  And I know that's not always enough...I know what's it like to want a clear voice from Heaven, and a clear "burning bush" kind of sign, and I know what it's like to want people I love not to suffer. are looking at the wrong blog right now if you want clear direction on how to satisfy those wants!  (Be glad you aren't paying for this!)   But I've been reminded again...that there is "something"...something bigger than my small self, bigger than my worries, bigger than my church...etc etc...something that has driven people for centuries to hope and aspire and dream and build towering structures to praise God who is sometimes as near as our breath and sometimes as distant as a planet.   And I want in on that! 

I want to be part of that long line of people...flawed...messy...joyful..sorrowful...people who have told The Story for centuries.  Thanks be to God.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Fifteen Hours

April was hard. I mean so hard that I didn't spend any time shopping. Seriously. I've gone shopping when I've had fever and staples in my body. This was some kind of April.  Despite the usual frenzy of week day work at a church, and the weekly Sunday responsibilities and preparations, we also had Holy Week and Easter day too.  Don't get the wrong!  I love all of those extra liturgies, and by love I mean I'm still a little tired!

Throw in a 23 hour trip to Boston to bury a beloved friend and colleague and the death of my stepfather, I could seriously use a retreat...and by THAT I mean......I may need to have an overnight sleepover in the nearest Nordie's to regroup fully.  (I feel like I could have a whole other side business working with extroverts who like to shop and who pray.  Most retreat centers I've attended are lovely, restorative places, but could be improved with a little shopping center adjacent!...but I digress)

It's taken me this long to reflect on the events of the past month, the odd convergence of things, the juxtaposition of life and death, and I'm sure I've only just begun.  ( I have that Carpenters song in my head! )

April was one of those months in which I was reminded again of the sort of "luminous web" connections between all of us, and between the Holy. Delicate, fragile, and yet fiercely tough threads that connect us all. (Barbara Brown Taylor, a preaching GENIUS wrote a book I couldn't understand called The Luminous Web.)  Celtic spirituality talks about "thin places"...those places in our lives where earth and heaven seem to intersect...even if just for a moment.  Usually in Celtic spirituality that's about physical some gorgeous setting in Ireland or Stonehenge or the semi annual shoe sale at Nordie's...ahh... (OK I'm not really THAT obsessed...just hopping to get a chuckle out of the 3 people who read this blog).

Flying to Boston on April 20th to preach and preside at my dear friend Catherine's funeral, memories flooded at an almost unbearable rate.  How had our lives connected, and connected so deeply, so quickly, when on paper we could NOT have been more different?   But there I was, doing what she had asked of me when she first learned that her brain cancer was beyond cure.  She and I loved the Episcopal Church, loved Good Shepherd Austin in particular. And somehow I managed, while looking at her precious mother, to say the words from the prayer book...words that give me hope when nothing else does.... "for to your faithful people Lord, life is changed not ended."  And then I flew home...exhausted, but so grateful.

Sunday April 22nd would have been the day that my precious husband and I visited my stepfather, also dying of a brain tumor.  We began a pattern of making the hour drive every other Sunday.  But Sunday April 22nd I had just hit my limit and so, after trying my best to be "sparkly" at my parish on that the 3rd Sunday of Easter, I went home and slept...hard.

So on Sunday April 29th, an odd 5th Sunday of the month, Rob and I drove the hour to go see Arthur.  Our family has called him "Awa" since my now 19 year old nephew was 2 and gave him that name.  Awa and my mama began dating when I was 19.  They married 25 years go.  Arthur was kind and gentle, expressed love to me and my siblings in a way that, at least for me, was more easily interpreted than the way my dad did (does).

Some strong feeling/voice/spirit/"deal"/ told me to hold Arthur's hand a lot that afternoon.  And Arthur cried; I had never seen that.  Arthur cried and asked me about Heaven, and told me about "things" (visions?) he was seeing, and pictures he wanted to that sounded like Jacob's ladder, earth and heaven united.  And he asked me if I thought he had been good.  And I could scarcely breathe as I answered "absolutely!" And Rob seconded that, enthusiastically.  And I  thought about how true it was that Arthur was "good"...and I thought about the power of that moment and how much we ALL need someone to hold our hands and tell us we are "good."  And I knew in that deepest of places that there is something....something...that connects, and I don't begin to know exactly how to explain it.  And sometimes I'm so tired and sad and busy that I completely ignore it.  But there is some thread, and for a moment on a warm April afternoon I caught a glimpse of it shining in the lobby of a nursing home in Cameron Texas.

We left Arthur and mama at 4:30 pm.  At 7:30 am my sister called to tell me Arthur had died.
For to your faithful people O Lord, life is changed not ended.  Alleluia.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dads and daughters and swimming pools

It's already that time of year again!  CANNOT believe it!  Not only is it Easter-tide..hallelujah...but it's time for the neighborhood pool to re-open!  WOO HOO (another way to shout hallelujah)!!  I know I know...there's a lot of me to cram into spandex, but I do it, and don't even care who's looking.  Husband and I love love love water and will find any opportunity to plunge in...swearing each season that NEXT year we'll look better in our swimsuits.  We won't.  We are like children when it comes to excitement about pools and beaches.  And I love living in a city that takes such great care of its neighborhood pools, and opens them in APRIL.

This week we had our neighborhood pool almost to ourselves...apart from the young and very svelte lifeguards (seriously, it's a good thing husband and I can swim cause those little guys are NOT going to be able to drag us out of the water), but apart from them and one other pair of joyful swimmers we were the only folks at the pool. The other pair, took my breath away and made me tear up and made me call home.

A little girl, maybe about 6, adorable in her bright patterned swimsuit, chubby...but not in that way that makes you think..."O no!  We've got to do something about obesity in America"...just chubby in that wonderful 6 year old way was splashing in the pool with her dad.  They were playing hard and laughing.  She was riding him all over the pool, shouting "faster horsey faster", and he was laughing hard too.  Answering her ENDLESS questions about dogs and ponies and panthers (panthers?  sure), and obviously the two of them adore each other.  She, just at that right age to think her dad is pure magic.  He, most likely, wanting to freeze this moment, aware, I would guess, that time passes so so fast.  I could imagine him thinking something like "wasn't it just yesterday that this child was an infant?"

Of course I have no way of knowing any of this...just speculation on my part.  Although I'm pretty intuitive and was close enough to them in the pool to see how they looked at each other.  And my eyes filled with tears.

I have zero memories of ever going swimming with my dad.  Not to sound all whiny and like I clearly need to go to therapy (again)...I'm just saying, I spent a few moments searching my memory bank for times when my dad and I ever did anything with just the two of us when I was that young.  And I came up empty. And it made me sad.  I wanted to grab that little girl and her dad and clutch them tightly and say TREASURE THIS...but somehow I think they already are.

On the other hand....I do have memories of when I got older and my dad and I discussed some great books and the importance of reading and the time my dad taught me how to fill out a check.  (A check kids is a piece of paper that works like money...err..your debit card...ha) And despite the many ways my dad failed as a father and husband, I do know that he loves me.  And despite the fact that he's 88 and in really poor health, he's still alive, so I went home from the pool and called him.

And somehow I wonder if all of that can't be bundled up into the waters of baptism?  By the waters of baptism we are sealed and marked as Christ's own forever...but it doesn't mean that we are immune from hard things, or magically protected from any sadness or illness.  It does mean that we are Loved beyond measure, and given a new start, and given the gift of the Spirit. I think it's the power of the Holy Spirit (and some really good therapy...those things ain't mutally exclusive!) that helps me have eyes to see my dad for what he is: flawed, disappointing, and also a child of God who does in fact love me.

For all you dads and daughters out there, hang in there with each other.  Moms and sons too! Make room for the Spirit, and no matter what you look like, wrangle yourself into a swimsuit once in a while and remind yourself of the healing power of Water.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Super models, football, and prayer

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl (read: plug in the crock pot honey we're making the good queso!), there was something of an Internet firestorm around a personal email sent by Tom Brady's wife Gisele Bundchen. (Tom Brady is the quarterback for the New England Patriots, Gisele is a super model...both of them weigh less than I do). She apparently was asking "close friends" and family to pray for Tom and send him positive "vibes".

The email leaked, of course, because nothing online is private, friends! (repeat that over and over to yourself...and to your teenagers). And comedians and sport casters had a field day, and I have to admit I laughed at some of the jokes.

But then I started thinking about prayer and the common theme to most of the jokes. Most pundits and comedians, and even people in my own gene pool, said something like "Why does Tom Brady need prayer? He wakes up next to a super model every day? He has millions of dollars! He's famous! He plays football for a living" and on and on the litany of "good things in Tom Brady's life" continued. So is that what we've reduced prayer to?

Only praying for things when life is bad? Only praying when there's illness and no one in the bed next to us, certainly not a super model? I hope not.

I must admit that I catch myself being far more "prayerful' when things are hard, and I'm scared, or sad. When I was on my 5 day cruise two weeks ago, I'm not sure I spent a lot of time praying! (slumped over the slot machine saying please please...doesn't count!)

It's a funny thing about prayer. Prayer isn't just about spewing a laundry list of complaints or problems....though it certainly can include that! (see the Psalms!) However, if we only see it as an emotional band-aid, one that we don't need unless we're bleeding, then we've missed an awful lot of the point. Prayer is about relationship and drawing deeper and deeper into that relationship in all times and places. I don't just talk to my husband when I'm upset. I don't just talk to my girlfriends when I'm sick. It's times of sorrow and joy and sadness and celebration....all of those times...that's what I want to share with my friends and family. So how much more must that be true for the infinite holy mystery we call God?

As the season of Epiphany comes to a close (sigh), and the season of football has ended (heavy sigh), and as we anticipate the season of Lent, I would like to invite all of us, myself included, to a time of prayer....real...true....deep prayer. Not just rattling off lists of things we need, but listening, praising, thanking, petitioning, and praying for others....maybe even the rich and famous!