Once in a while, something happens in the news that just kicks me in the pit of my stomach.
Coming home from lunch at my cousins to read today that Dr. George Tiller was murdered while serving at an usher at his church was one of those things.
Dr. Tiller was known to me as the medical director of Women's Health Services in Wichita, KS. To the right wing press, he was known as "The abortionist."
Now, I'm going to be blunt here. What a person wants to believe about "when life begins" is their business. How people feel about contraception, or abortion, or fetal stem cell research, or frozen embryos is their business. It's a free country. But two things come to mind here....
1. I don't care how strongly one feels about abortion in either direction, but the fact remains it is legal in the United States...and you can count me in as one who is grateful it is legal. In my training, on my OB/GYN rotations, I was taught by a few older OB/GYN's from the "pre-Roe" era, who remember the days of septic homemade and badly botched abortions. Desperate women do desperate things, no matter if it is legal or not. I do not want to return to a time when desperate women take matters underground.
2. To shoot this man to death in the sanctuary of the church adds a new level of sick behavior to it.
But wait, as the infomercials say, there's more...
As I read the article, it was the quote by Troy Newman of Operation Rescue that left me cold.
His response to the shooting was, "...I’m a tireless advocate and spokesman for the pre-born children who are dying in clinics everyday. Mr. Tiller was an abortionist. But this wasn’t personal. We are pro life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.”
This wasn't PERSONAL? Say WHAT? So being "an abortionist" makes you worthy of basically being executed in God's hosue? I just simply have no words for a reply like that.
I've got news for Mr. Newman. We're ALL abortionists.
When we fail to see as a nation that we need health care for all who cannot afford prenatal care, and they miscarry, we are all abortionists.
When we argue about the various biologic factors of hormone-based contraception, of IUD's and barrier methods of contraception, yammering on about "when life begins" and carrying on like we're figuring out how many angels dance on the head of a pin, instead of working harder to PREVENT unwanted pregnancies, we are all abortionists.
Believe me, I would rather prevent a thousand unwanted pregnancies, than abort just one. That doesn't change, however, the fact that the decision to end a preganancy by means of abortion is a decision left to a woman, her doctor, and her God.
I am sure there are those out there who feel some sense of justification for this in the context of their very narrow definition of the beginnings of life, that in their minds this does not come close to "tit for tat" in their worldview. But to do this to this man, in the house of the Lord bespeaks an evil that is beyond anything I can even fathom. I'm just out of words on this one.
Once in a while, something happens in the news that just kicks me in the pit of my stomach.
I admit I have become quite a fan of LOLSaints lately. So...I knew sooner or later I would have to create one for myself. Hey, I figure this one is not bad for my first attempt!
(Photo by Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, United States)
I had a really nice surprise today. I needed to just step out of the office and stand outside. I get a little cramped up sitting behind my desk. As I stepped out, the most marvelous surprise greeted me. The cottonwood trees in the little patch of "urban woods" behind my parking lot were shedding all their spring "cotton", and the wind was blowing the cotton about. It looked like one of the snowstorms we sometimes get with the big huge wet flakes, creating this wonderful surreal sensation.
As I watched them, my brain was saying, "Oh, look, a big snowstorm!" and I had this sensation that it was SUPPOSED to be cold outside. Yet it was about 70some degrees, and I could feel this wonderful "short circuiting" going on inside of me. I was really having the sensation of standing out in 30some degree weather, my "core" self sensing "cold", yet the wind on my face feeling "warm"! It was kind of a marvelous feeling simply from the "sur-reality" of it all.
I have to confess. I sooooo love cottonwood trees. Yeah, the "cotton" can be a little annoying because it sticks to everything (and as my friend PM pointed out, it as a special affinity for air conditioning units), but they only shed cotton for about a week. But it is the special kind of rustling that their leaves make that fuels my addiction--this loud, yet understated rustle that they make so unlike any other kind of tree.
My gauge for when spring really IS here is to hear the cottonwood outside my house begin to rustle. The onset of "cold dark winter" for me is the night I can no longer hear my cottonwood tree outside, and the silence of that night is always deafening, year after year. The first noise of its rustle rekindles life in me; its first absence in late October/early November carries the silence of death.
But all summer, that noise is the "white noise" of my yard. I love to sit outside at night and hide within its static. When the hot summer night air is muggy and heavy, the rustle is barely perceptible. But just let the least amount of wind pick up and the sound of cottonwoods explodes into the night.
Maybe that is what the voice of God sounds like. There but "not there". Never the same volume. Sometimes as silent as the tomb, and so glaring in its absence, yet so seemingly "there yet imperceptible" at other times. Most of all, nestled in the dark winter of silence, that sense that the noise WILL return and my hope to hear it in a few short months is like the Resurrection to me. Maybe, just maybe, it IS the voice of the Resurrection we all strain to hear.
Here's something that many of you might never have fooled with in your entire life, but they are as ingrained in my soul as car keys--manual coin wrappers.
You have to remember my grandpa, for most of his adult life, ran a route of coin-operated jukeboxes, pinball machines, pool tables, and video games in rural NE Missouri. Everyone knew him as "the jukebox man." He often gave away used records as he swapped them out on the jukebox to the waitresses and bartenders. Little kids were frequently the recipient of free nickels, dimes, and quarters to "play the machines." (He was no fool; he knew they'd spend more money primed with that free coin!)
So growing up, these wrappers were everywhere--out in his shop/office, in the den, and wrapped in rubber bands in bundles in the floor of his station wagon. I didn't realize for a long time EVERYONE didn't have coin wrappers around the house. To add to it, he also collected coins as a hobby...so he was always sorting coins at coin auctions he had bought in bulk, culling out "good" ones, and re-wrapping the rest.
One of my more precious childhood memories of my grandfather (which, at the time was just "how things were" and I never thought much about it until he passed away) was sitting in his shop helping him wrap coins, and riding with him on his route to his various stops and helping him wrap coins. Also, off and on in my young adulthood, I worked for him, and learned to do these things solo.
I had probably started learning to wrap coins at about age six. It was hard for my little hands to get much in them, but I started learning how to catch them off the counter, squeeze my hand to make them all line up in a roll, set the rolls on the table, stuff the wrappers, and fold the ends. In reality, it was probably a really good manual dexterity tutor that has served my hands well.
I can't totally explain "why", but there was something tremendously satisfying about sorting and wrapping coins. First you dumped the bank bag out on the table. Then you made piles for each denomination. To this day, I can still tell you that pennies come in 50 cent rolls, nickels in $2 rolls, dimes in $5 rolls, quarters in $10 rolls, and halves in $10 rolls.
Next was to take a pile of one denomination and count off "half a roll" (well, less than half a roll when my hands were smaller) and line up the half-roll stacks on the table. Finally, you stuffed two stacks in a roll, and folded the ends with three folds. If you had an "odd roll" you folded the bottom with three folds and twisted the opposite end shut, then wrote the amount on the roll.
Sunday was our day at church to collect our money for the Waters of Hope campaign. (Be sure and click on the link in the previous sentence to see what that's all about, and please donate, if you feel inclined.) A few weeks ago, we were given little paper boxes (thanks to the efforts of our Sr. Warden and her husband) to fill with change every time we got a drink of water from the sink or the fridge or whatnot. We got several of these boxes back filled with change. I offered to roll up all the change. A couple of folks looked at me rather strangely; why didn't I just take it all to the bank? I kept going, "NO! (Dammit!) Let me do this! I WANT to do this!" I'm sure it seemed like a lot of work to them, but I could not possibly explain it in a way people could "get it" in a social conversation. Besides, I thought it would be nice to know the tally beforehand so we could have an idea what we've already raised when the bike riders raising money for this project arrived in Kirksville on Tuesday.
So I took the change home, sat at my kitchen table, and took a deep breath, as old memories started flooding back and I started happily making my little piles, then dragging off the flow of change into my hand. "Five, ten, fifteen, twenty," I thought to myself as I raked off the nickels five at a time. (Everything is five at a time except quarters, and those are four at a time and I count them off as dollars: "One, two, three, four, five.")
I thought about how quickly I got into an “old habit.” I like to brag that I am one of the fastest humans going when it comes to rolling up money and putting it in tube wrappers. There are so many simple joys for me in this action. I can still “feel” what $5 of quarters is in my hand, right down to THE quarter! I can still pull off the exact number of wrappers from a wad of them wrapped in a rubber band down to like one or two wrappers! I still rake off money fast, shuffle them into a roll in my hand fast, and stack them and put them in the tubes fast...and I only do this like once a year now.
Had there been a silver quarter or dime in that bunch, I would have "heard" it. You have to remember clad coinage came out in 1965. There were still a lot of silver coins floating around in circulation when I was a child. My grandpa taught me to hear the plaintive ring of a silver coin as it raked into your hand as opposed to the dull one of a clad coin. He taught me to look for "wheat pennies" vs. "Lincoln memorial" pennies. He taught me to find the tiny treasures in the pile of "ordinary." Once in a while, I still find a silver coin in change, and it's usually as I hear the jingle from putting it in my pocket. The ring of that silver coin is like angels singing to me, that I can still find this gentle little treasure without even looking for it.
The other thing that always gives me a mild grin is how dirty one's hands get rolling coins. You don't really think about that in a shiny pile of coins until you're finished rolling them. You have to get a little dirty to put things in order, you know? So I washed my hands and the table top, and enjoyed the new cleanliness of my hands.
My hour of rolling coins me realize something...this is no different than the habits I’m getting from my disciplines of my faith, is it? I am learning to spend time in prayer and not see it as “an intrusion in my day” or “something I have to work in my day.” Simply BEING a person of prayer is becoming a habit! Prayer sorts things. Prayer puts things in order in my life. The wear and tear of life leaves a little dirt on me and I can enjoy the process of washing it off.
I thought about how much I owe my grandpa for my money rolling habits, but it’s also “time I remember spending with my grandpa.” He didn’t do a single thing “deliberate” or “important” and yet it’s precious time in my mind now. He didn't say, "Hmmm. I think this is a good way for her to learn manual dexterity. I think this will be a fine bonding activity for my grandchild." He just did it b/c that was what HE was doing at the time, and frankly, it kept me occupied and out of his hair! Yet I am so incredibly grateful, now that he has passed on, to have just had that time, hanging out and "just being" with the task of his work.
I thought about how maybe I am starting to feel that way about God a little bit! Just a gratitude for being able to hang out with him, and a recognition this is “precious time.” Just "being." Just "hangin' out while he does his work." Just trying to "do what he's doin'." I thought about that six year old me, trying to roll coins in my little short hands, and not doing a terribly good job at it, and how probably to God, the things I do to "try to do what he's doing" are just as feeble, but with just as much intention, and at the very least, God must smile now and then at it, even if my attempts seem kind of puny compared to his.
To think folks wanted me to take those coins to the bank--look what I would have missed!
As you know, I've been winding my way through the book of John. I got to John 6 early this week and realized I needed to spend a week looking at the "Bread of life discourse" as a WHOLE rather than immediately start tearing into it. So, much as I did with John 1, I'm spending two weeks on John 6--one to think about it as an entire unit, and one to take the pieces apart and look at them.
I have to admit something. I had a dream a few nights ago that has to do with this discourse and I didn’t even BEGIN to figure it out until the next morning when I re-read John 6. I dreamed that Jesus was sitting in the hospital lab here, and he was coming to get a transfusion. My lab techs had called and said, “You ain’t gonna believe this, you GOTTA COME OVER right now. JESUS is over here, he’s BACK, and he wants to get TRANSFUSED.”
Of course, my reply was....”WTF?”
I walked over, expecting to see some nutjob that I’d have to call security over. He was wearing jeans, Birkenstocks (with socks, so the foot nail holes didn't show, LOL), and a t-shirt. Don’t ask me why, but I knew it was Jesus for real, even though he did not look like “Jesus of the crappy truck stop art.” He was darker and more rugged than Jesus of the crappy truck stop art. He said, “I need to be transfused and I came to you to get it.”
Ok, now here is where the dream gets funny. I go, “Ok, well, uh...Jesus, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I have all these regulations and I can’t have my lab shut down...soooo...uh....I need a requisition signed by a physician.” I’ll be damned if he didn’t produce one! In my dream, I remember thinking, "Well, gee, if he made it through Admissions, I can't fight much here." (BTW, he has a social security number.)
Then I go....”Uh....well...um....Jesus, I have to have you typed and crossed.” So my blood bank people did the type and cross and Jesus was type AB--the “universal recipient"--but Rh negative (AB positive would be the absolute "universal recipient") but since he was not a woman of childbearing age, the Rh is of less consequence.
Here's another comic moment of my dream. A few of my techs and my supervisor and I start discussing if we're SURE of that Rh because we would have figured Jesus to be AB positive.
So he got his unit of blood, and he’s talking to me. He goes, “I know this sounds strange, but I needed your blood.”
I reply, “Well, uh..you know...this isn’t “my” blood, it comes from volunteer donors. YOU surely know that.”
He answers, “You’re the lab director, aren’t you? You’re in charge of the lab, aren’t you? Therefore, even though the units came from someone else, it’s still YOUR blood. So now I have your blood in me.”
I am feeing a little weird in the dream at this point and he adds, “Hey, it’s ok. I’m the anemic one here. You’re the one who had what I needed. You shouldn’t be afraid of that.” Then he leaves.
Then, in one of those wonderfully non-coincidental moments, Fran of FranIAm posts over on Facebook
Then I had the big "A-ha!" because that is exactly what we are talking about in the latter part of John 6:
55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
That's when it hit me. Periclesis is simply like getting a transfusion. When we participate in the Eucharist, we are being transfused with the essence of Christ within the elements of Holy Communion. Conversely, when we do things that honor and glorify God, we are transfusing "our blood" into Christ.
Wow. All this from a dream and a blogfriend's aside. Who knows, maybe it can give Fran some ideas!
I had another of those non-coincidences today. While learning some of my own self-lessons in what "Obedience to God" means, I was also viewing a terrible blowout between two of my dearest blogfriends. Both of them have been instrumental in bringing me to the blogosphere; so to have such an awful fight between them is saddening. I found it rather interesting that this was going on at a time I am learning a new part of my own "secular monasticism"--that learning to listen to God (the root word of the word "obedience" is from the Old French word "to listen") is a type of free choice.
Christopher Jamison's book, "Finding Sanctuary" is a wonderful tool for this. He points out that in this culture, we often brag that "we are free to choose," yet the choices we make, even down to what to wear, are often dictated by hidden and unspoken agendas. To recognize this, to realize what we are actually obeying, in these circumstances, is a form of freedom that is, in many ways, counterculture.
Here are the parts of his chapter on "obedience" that really caught my attention.
“The monastic tradition believes that obedience is potentially the greatest expression of human freedom...obeying something unknowingly is not free choice. So the first criterion for a good obedience is that I must know what I am choosing to obey. Second, I must choose those things that open up future possibilities, not those things that enslave me.”
“In essence, what Benedict is describing (in the Rule of Benedict) is the exercise of conscience. Conscience is not the same as feeling; conscience is the inner process that enables you to listen to voices beyond your own feelings and desires...intense feeling is not the same thing as conscience. The monastic way urges the conscientious exercise of choice leading to obedient freedom.”
He then goes on to talk about several things that we often claim we are being “free to choose” but we are really choosing this hidden or unspoken agenda. He describes our selves as a sanctuary where virtue is the door, silence and meditation as the floor-covering to dampen the noise, obedience as the walls—walls that simultaneously dampen external noise, "restrain our selfish voices, and amplify the voice of God"—and humility as the roof.
He quotes Thomas Merton with “In order to become myself, I must cease what I thought I always wanted to be.”
But that whole chapter really hooked me. We place so much stock in this culture in “ambition.” We place a lot of stock in “self-expression.” But it dawned on me that the more we “self-express” by the world’s definition, whether it’s in relationships or possessions, or ambition, various lusts, or desires that we actually IMPOSE on others. We demand affections that can only be freely given, we seize what does not belong to us, and we measure our worth by what others do not have. Ewwwg. Ouch.
That is also kind of tricky for “mechanical minded me” who wants to grab everything and take it apart and play with all the pieces. It’s not wrong to learn that way, but it’s wrong to do that at the expense of imposing on others, or grabbing what does not belong to you or taking without asking, what you should ask permission.
This is my comment on my own self-revelations regarding a totally unrelated matter. But it strikes me heavily how it applies in so many ways to the blowout between my blogfriends, and the willingness of people to "take sides" and the source of many hurt feelings. Fascinating.
Ok, first question:
Would you be happy to have this Gospel book sitting on the altar from your church, and have the Gospel proclaimed from it, week by week?
I'm betting most of my readers would like it fine.
What if I told you this Gospel...um..."book" was a laptop, with a very nice removable decorative plastic cover of an old cover of the book of Kells?
I'm betting we might, at this point, have a lively discussion.
I'm going to hold out on my third question for a minute.
Let me tell you about an interesting discussion that happened on one of my Facebook friends' pages. I am going to respect privacy here and not name names. She posted on her status today, "(Facebook friend) is honored (name of church) will debut today a laptop gospel book. On the altar. Carried in gospel procession. God bless Deacon (XYZ)!"
And then the sparks flew.
Some people thought it was cool. Some were puzzled. The deacon in question posted and said that the bishop of (some state) thought it was a good idea. Some were flat-out offended. Some whipped out the Canons and the BCP to side on the notion that it was not um, "kosher", and that the bishop of (some state) had no authority to change this, that this was a matter for General Convention...
"Page 406 of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Additional Direction (for the celebration of the Eucharist, "It is desirable that the Lessons and Gospel be read from a book or books of appropriate size and dignity."
Canon III, Sec. 5. a) (1) Rectors and Priests-in-Charge and Their Duties. The Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop."
It got downright mean and hot.
I'll tell you what I was thinking, while I was reading this. I realized THIS is what keeps the unchurched away from the doors of the Episcopal Church. Not the female primate, not a gay bishop, not the whole "gay thing", not any of this hot button stuff. It is that we are arguing about laptops vs. books and whether little kids should get blessed wafers. Now, I'll be the first to tell you I hate PowerPoint. I work with it all week long. I would cringe if we had PowerPoint in church. But if everyone else wanted it, I would learn to live with it and I would deal with it somehow.
As for the "Gospel laptop," well, I was far less worried. I could think of a few reasons why this might be desireable, and as it turned out, I was right with my guess. So now for the third and final question...
If I told you that the deacon who used this laptop had been legally blind since birth, and cannot read the text in the Gospel book without holding it very very close her face, and CAN read it on the laptop as a 500% Word document, now what would you say? If I told you it was, in her opinion, the best way in that she could clearly proclaim the Gospel without struggling or distracting her parishioners, now how do you feel about it?
Hmmm...are some of y'all feeling a little sheepish now? I hope you are.
(I did have one big eye roller. One of the most incensed in this discussion continued EVEN AFTER the deacon in question dropped the spoiler, continued to hold his ground, even to the point of telling this person HOW SHE COULD DO IT with a book. I was thinking, "Yeah, you go look through her eyes and get back to me, okay?" Oy vey.)
Now for my .02 worth...
You know what? It's the WORDS of the Gospel I come to hear every Sunday morning. I don't come to admire the cover of the damn book. We start getting all weird about the book, that's biblio-idolatry in my opinion. Yes, the BCP says it's "desireable" to use a "dignified book". I agree. It is desirable. It's reverent. But when we did our Liturgy at the Lake last fall, it was read off a piece of paper. We didn't want to expose our nice Gospel book to the elements and possibly icky weather.
If that laptop helps this deacon proclaim the words of Jesus in a full, clear, joyful way, I'm all for it. I don't care if the Gospel is read off scrawlings off the back of her hand, or a printed roll of Charmin, if it makes her all the minister God wants her to be and people hear the Word, it's good by me.
Would I hear the Gospel if someone had to read it from Braille? Sure.
Would I hear the Gospel if the priest or deacon had throat cancer, and lost his/her larynx, and had to use one of those mechanical talking boxes held to the throat or built into the throat? You bet.
Would I hear the Gospel if the priest or deacon had to sign it and some lay person had to read it? Uh huh, no problem.
Then another thought creeped in, reading the naysayers, reading the implied anger and expectations that things be a certain way...
I came to MY church today in jeans, Henley, and denim shirt. Would these people speak to me at THEIR church? Would they hobnob with me at coffee hour? Or would I have been dismissed as too undignified? That I was not respecting the traditions of the church? Would they include ME? How would they feel the day I wore my Big Dogs Hawaiian shorts and the flip flops?
I started feeling very, very EXcluded.
I think the moral of this story is perhaps we ought to remember the BCP and the canons were written before a lot of modern things we take for granted. Just as the Old Testament and the New Testament were written before a LOT of things in our world came to be. Hmmm....
Yesterday I swung by a friend's house that got plastered in the tornado (well, what was left of it, anyway) after work, and had a little "happy hour", as best as you can call it that, and shot some pictures. I was incredibly impressed by this particular window. Notice how the blinds were literally sucked out the window when the tornado hit and bowed outward. It always amazes me what gets "sucked in" and what gets "blown out." This is the side that the tornado actually hit, and it sucked everything in the house into it. The back side of the house literally exploded. The other amazing thing was that a queen size mattress was sucked through a small window!
My friends and I had a good visit. It is interesting. Their house was pretty much totaled. Yet, other than the initial shock and the pain of the cleanup, they are more worried about others than themselves. They are of an age and income level that they are comfortable knowing the insurance company will write a check, it won't be what the house is worth, but it will be ok, they'll rebuild, and trust their own income generating potential. They are far more concerned about the young families that have been displaced, or the people in Novinger, MO, who came out from under a flood last year and now a tornado. They were far more concerned about their teenaged daughter who was home alone when it hit, the stress this has caused her.
But it is interesting how age and experience and a different income level makes a tragedy "doable" more quickly. The things we have lived through change us; if we let them, for the good. I know the husband in this family had many many bad experiences in his youth. He lived with various relatives as he was growing up. In some ways, he and his brother "reared themselves." Learning to love and give did not come easy for him. Things that some children receive in their growing up and families take for granted, were "learned experiences" for him, sometimes not even learned until well into adulthood.
Now he is finding himself as "the rock" in this family in the middle of this. That's probably why he and I have been friends for many years. I often was "the rock" in my family, too. Even though he and his wife are basically doing okay with all this, it still wears on everyone in his family. We were chatting off to the side and he looked at me and said, "You know, I'm doing ok, but I'm not sure how long my sense of humor will hold out. God, this is going to be such a hassle getting this place torn down and rebuilt."
I just looked at him and said, "You know, pal, you and me, our sense of humor somehow ALWAYS holds out. We don't know any way BUT for it to hold out. Trust it. It's gotten us through every shitty thing we ever went through. If we didn't have it, we'd implode and explode like this house."
I have figured out one important thing in life. The "real rocks" of this world are always people who never think they are good enough to be a rock.
News reports today confirm that the little town of Novinger, MO has been beaten up more than Kirksville. My heart really goes out to them, as this time last year they got flooded out, and this year they were "blown through!"
Here is a link to the local American Red Cross site if you'd like to donate.
I have about 20 of my medical students who have been affected by the tornado damage. This is a terribly stressful time for them as they are also in the middle of finals and studying for boards. If you would like to make a donation, contact Wendy Pinkerton, firstname.lastname@example.org , the director of student services for how you can help. Any and all donations, I'm sure, will be gratefully accepted.
Those of you who watch the Weather Channel and the news might have heard that Kirksville recently had a tornado rip through it tonight.
I'm fine, my house is fine, my animals are fine, but I did have a bit of an adventure. The short version is I did my version of Helen Hunt in Twister and outran the tornado in my truck since I was nowhere that I could take shelter. I was in town at the time it roared through, and decided the thing to do was book it for my house northeast of town. I will post more on that later.
So far, only one fatality has been reported.
You can see pictures of the tornado here.
Early pictures of the damage are here and here.
I am incredibly proud of our little parish. We were all calling each other--isn't that what a parish is all about? I got about 50 phone calls from friends from all over the country, many here in town, and several in our parish. All these phone calls have made me feel incredibly loved!
Yeah, I know it's the political off-season, but I had to post this routine by Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. I had to clean coffee off the front of my shirt this morning.
Thanks to Staying Awake in MO for the e-mail tip...
Early this morning, I had one of those "woke up in the dark and it hit me" moments where I really don't care to go back to sleep, because where my brain is going with the thought is too important to ignore. It's not that these moments make me fretful. They're not fearful. They're just too important to push aside and trade for another hour or so of sleep.
I have noticed, as of late, when I take the time to spend "quiet Saturday mornings", or time in my backyard where I appear to be "doing nothing", just "sitting and being", that things grow out of these times. They might be realizations, or circumstances that just happen to occur hours after my quiet time, or moments where all of a sudden, events of the past few days just seem to gel.
It suddenly dawned on me what a huge lynchpin of the struggle of my own spirituality is. Despite the fact I live and work in a world where I am prized for my dispassionate skills, my "head" skills, so to speak, the sum total of my way of understanding things in my world, still hinges on the physical and the visceral.
I am surrounded by viscera at work...literally. Gallbladders and colons and endometria and all sorts of body parts and pieces of parts. I still have to physically manipulate these items to make the things where my "head" skills come into play. Say you had part of your colon removed for colon cancer. I get the colon segment, open it up, look at it, choose the important things that need to be observed microscopically, dissect it, and look at my choices the next day under the microscope after they have been processed. To properly represent that disease, I would put in sections of the tumor, the bowel wall beneath the tumor, the resection margins, and all the lymph nodes I could find. My head would receive no useful information if my hands didn't take things apart.
This is probably why spiritual matters are hard for me sometimes. These things are unable to be taken apart; they exist as "wholes." Taken apart, they no longer exist in their true form. I get stuck observing them without really "touching" them. Or, the converse happens. Something touches ME that feels too powerful, too unfamiliar, too "invasive" and me--the person who has to grab and touch everything--suddenly shrinks back from the uninvited touch of IT. What a huge mismatch. I will grab everything of my own choosing and dissect it, even uninvited...yet certain things touch me and I recoil in horror. I swear--it is like some manifestation of "spiritual autism."
Yet, what's the thing I cling to, above all others, when my whole spiritual understanding of something looks like mud? The Eucharist. The thing I can touch, eat, drink, swallow, and incorporate within myself. In my 20+ years of solo spiritual exile, what was the one thing I missed, the one thing I would find a way to do once in a while? Slink in the back of some strange church, get the Sacraments, and disappear. I was not ready to be touched by anything else, but I could always let the elements touch me and be within me. Perhaps because I could choose to touch them first and willingly ingest them.
My two decades "out of community" in a spiritual sense left me in a weird visceral mismatch. Twenty plus years of taking everything apart I chose to, yet not having to worry about being touched by it at all. It has only been in the last five years (and mostly the last two of those five years) where I dared even START to allow myself be touched. So my recent adventures have been this weird spiritual hokey-pokey. I put my left foot in, I take my left foot out. When I jump my whole self in, I have moved maybe from "jumping right back out" to perhaps "being able to stand in there and wiggle about for just a little bit." Oh, I get better. But it is sooooo incredibly slow.
Just to learn to sit still and be conditioned to be okay with all this "touching" has been the biggest challenge for me, spiritually. It's basic horse training. If I want to get a horse to accept the bit and be reined by it, I start with simply touching the horse's face and mouth until he no longer resists, and reward him along the way. Only then will he accept the bit and eventually allow himself to be guided by it. In this sense, my mule and I are more alike than different. We have tremendous power to resist. We will accept it but only with a tiny handful of people we trust.
I find venues in which it is easier for me to sit still. My yard, my chiminea, my walking routes, work I physically do over at church. I find a tiny handful of people with whom I can feel safely vulnerable. To steal from Star Trek, I have a hard time "boldly going where my vulnerabilities have never gone before." I know there is movement here, and it's good movement. My viscera tell me it's all good. I am starting to understand, perhaps, that the "stepping back and having quiet time" is not "retreat", but "recharging" and preparation to maybe jump in a little more boldly the next time. But wow, it's slow...and wow...it's sooooo...well..."visceral."
"I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer."
I just learned that my surrogate uncle had to put down his beloved horse Frosty. She was 33 years old, which is like 110 in horse years. The photo, taken in 1996, is one of my favorite pics of the two of them. My surrogate uncle looks like the Marlboro man's riding buddy, Frosty looks like her old confident self, and although the photo was taken in their pasture here in Kirksville, it looks like something right out of a western movie.
Frosty was a Missouri Fox Trotter, a breed developed here in Missouri to give the rider a smooth ride and a speedy flat trot for traversing the hills and property lines around farms expediently, particularly in the hilly Ozarks. Although some other horse-o-philes (particularly American Saddlebred owners) often make fun of their "doggy little fox trot", once you've ever gotten astride a fox trotter, and ridden that rocking-chair like trot of theirs, you'll never go back. It has been called "the common man's pleasure horse."
Frosty came from the Moberly area, and had previously been owned by the parents of our former Missouri state senator. She was pushing 20 when they got her, but she quickly became one of the favorite mounts of young and old in the family alike. Even though my surrogate uncle's present mount, Governor, is a more attractive horse (Governor is a palomino), Frosty was a much better size-matched mount for him. I remember my late grandmother giving him hell for riding Governor in a parade once, instead of Frosty. She said, "Governor's too small for you. A big man should be on a big horse." For a Fox Trotter, Frosty WAS a big horse.
Although Frosty could get in a snit now and then (she did not like other horses following her too closely on trails) she was an easy ride, and a sensible horse. That's saying a lot in the horse world. That's saying a lot in the people world. If only we could go to our reward with everyone saying we were "good and sensible horses", what a life we would have led!
Rest in peace, Frosty.
”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."
This not so great example of my horticultural skills is one of my lilac bushes. Now, my other lilac bushes look fine; the one right next to this one, in fact, is gorgeous. This one, ehhh...not so much.
It took a bit of a beating a couple years back and has just now started to bounce back. The tree to the right of it dropped a big limb on it in a storm one night. This part of the yard flooded out last summer and the "13 inches of rain in one day in Kirksville" got it even more bedraggled. I wasn't even sure if it was going to make it this year. But as you can see, there's a little life left in it.
I probably got to worrying about this bush last fall. For starters, when I'd dump the ashes out of my chiminea, I started putting the ashes at the foot of this bush. My late grandpa thought "wood ashes cured everything" when it came to yard plants. Then, this spring, I saw the ends of some of the branches start some leaves, so I knew it was still alive. When it had blossomed, out came the loppers. I have, at this point, pretty much lopped everything dead off of it.
If you notice at the bottom of the picture, some new shoots are coming up around the base. So, barring catastrophe, I think it will make it.
The stuff I lopped off, well, guess what...it has been going in my chiminea as kindling...to make more ashes...to enjoy my fire and have more wood ashes to feed some other yard plants. Yup, I put the withered branches in the fire and burned 'em. Hmmm.
As you all know, I have and to some degree continue to have a problem with the Gospel of John. One of the things that bugs me is it is full of a lot of stuff that people pass off as "judgment." You know...wheat/chaff, cast stuff out, burn it in the fire, fiery flames of Hell and all that stuff that too many fundamentalist Christians seem to groove on, and shove the Gospel of John in your face the whole time.
But right now, this evening, I am sitting by my now semi-famous chiminea (you've been sitting with me all fall and winter, and now into spring), and a few of those lilac branches were used to start my fire. I don't have any malice towards those withered lilac branches. They just aren't any good on my lilac bush anymore! In fact, I used them to a good purpose...to start my fire that I am now enjoying. The ashes will go to feed my other yard plants. This is NOT consigning them to Hell at all. I'm just finding a new (and good) purpose for them.
So, in that sense, I'm not sure the fundamentalists are really on target with this one. Yeah, I cast them out from the lilac bush, but they are being used for good, and really, a better purpose than the one they were occupying previously. Their presence harms the bush, but, burned into ashes, they can help the same bush.
Likewise, I don't think God casts out his creation that he loves. How does this work after we die? I don't know; neither do you; no one really knows. I think there are some people who like to THINK they know, but I think that is to assuage their own sense of judgment than anything else. I think I'm okay "not knowing." I just know that if I am in the image of God, and if I am taking these dead, withered branches and using them for a good purpose, I guess I can have enough faith and trust that God knows how to use dead, withered branches for good purposes.
I've been dealing with John 4 this week and something seemingly unremarkable caught my eye in v. 6: “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”
So...where’s Jacob’s well? And what’s Jacob’s well got to do with it?
Well, a little Googling gave the answer. Jacob’s well is still in Sychar, and it is now a shrine, tended by Eastern Orthodox monks. In fact, the monks have kept records on the well since the first century...and here’s what is cool that goes with the story. It is a VERY deep well. The deepest it has been is 240 feet to hit water (670 AD) and the shallowest it is was 67 feet (1881 AD). It also turns out to be spring fed. The Aramaic term for moving, spring fed water is “living water.” Hmmmmmm.
You know, when I think of this story, I always thought of just “a well like a NE Missouri well” with the water table 15-30 feet below me or so. Uh-uh. This well is DEEP. So people coming to get a drink, had to lower the community bucket at least a hundred feet or so before they hit water. So this well is not just a piddly-assed well...it is deep and dark and must have looked like a bottomless pit to them—dark, foreboding, with the potential to swallow you up.
Also, this spring fed water must have been incredibly refreshing and cool to people in an arid climate. It truly must have felt life-giving. So when Jesus and the Samaritan woman are talking about “living water”, it makes it even more of a “DUH” when you think of those who mistakenly think it’s important to take Jesus literally. It’s not like the Samaritan woman is sounding like a literal fool. She knows what “living water” is. It’s cool and spring fed water and she has been refreshed by living water many times before. She knows the feel already of what getting a drink of “living water” feels like.
(I have to get a little irked at the author of this part of my Bible commentary. The commentary sort of paints her as being a little on the ignorant side with her strange literal questions. I am thinking her initial conversation with Jesus was more "banter." As a Samaritan, she is not used to any Jewish folk being civil to her. When he asks for a drink, I can see her sort of going, "Hellooooooo? Did you sort of notice, sweetie, that I'm a Samaritan? Do you know what you're asking for?....What? You're going to give me a drink of living water? Well, DUH, I don't see any bucket on you? You been out in the sun too long?")
Wow...this is a little like my own journey, isn’t it? I travel through times of dark deep nothing that feels like there’s no bottom at times, but at the bottom of that dark pit...is living water...and the taste of that water is so good and sweet, even for just a little gulp or two, to my arid soul, that I want as much of that water as I can get, and I become more and more willing to traverse the pit to get to it. Hmmm.
It's not every day you go for a walk with the vicar and get to see a minutes old puppy!
We were doing one of our "walk and chats" out at the campground at 1000 Hills lake. As we walked by a tent, a young man goes, "Hey! My dog just had a puppy!" So of course, I had to go over and investigate. Sure enough, his dog had a minutes old puppy next to her.
The man and I got to talking and there is a great story about his dog (the mama dog's name is Roxy, by the way.) Well, he and his wife had taken Roxy to the vet to get fixed. Hmmm. All I can say is "they didn't fix her." He noticed she was looking pregnant, and told the vet, who said she'd be glad to um...re-fix her...for free. But in the meanwhile, they had taken Ms. Roxy on their camping trip, and I guess she decided that having her pups at the state park seemed like a good idea.
I don't know how many pups she ended up having, because we continued on our walk, but Ms. Roxy seems to understand the motherhood thing ok for being a first-time mom, and this little guy she had first is incredibly cute.
But I'm not sure going for a "walk and chat" with the vicar is ever going to be the same...I think he's going to get the idea that very weird things can happen when you hang out with me...
Ok, after my return from my little jaunt to the monastery, one of the books recommended to me was "St. Benedict's Toolbox", by Jane Tomaine. I will probably be mentioning this book now and then as I work my way through it. It is not meant to be a "speed read". (Uh, I'm sort of guessing it was meant to be read in a more or less "Benedictine" fashion...hmmmm?) So, for the last week or so, I've been going through Chapter 1 slowly and stopping on the questions, and times to think and reflect. The book has a series of "tools" designed to cultivate the Benedictine values of stability, obedience, and conversion. (My priest has been razzing me that I would be attracted to any book with the word "tool" in it. Well, ok, can't fight there.)
This is the tool in Chapter 1 that really hooked me as I read it--it refers to "living reflectively":
“Develop the skill of observation. Mentally step outside yourself during the day and gently assess your attitudes and actions. Do the same when in conversation with others. Before going to bed, think about the day, looking gently at who you were and what you did throughout the day.”
I got to thinking...I DO these things, I am very observant, I am learning to be reflective, but I sure do not historically do them GENTLY. I am terribly hard on myself. I historically kick my own rear end something fierce. This often comes from the demands and expectations that were placed on me in my medical training, and the nagging sense of “failed perfection” that I grew up with. Learning to do this GENTLY takes some thought.
So I got stuck on that thought, "How does one 'gently reflect' when one is used to a lifetime of harsh reality causing the equal and opposite reaction of harsh reflection?" Some of you have heard me say before that I don't belive that God operates outside the laws of physics...at least not in this plane of existence. The universe has cosmic law. The laws of physics are our understanding, feeble as it might be, of cosmic law. This all seems congruent to me, because if the universe is a creation of God, then cosmic law would also be God's law, at least in terms of "how things work" in the universe. I know I sound a little like our friend MadPriest when I get to thinking this way, but let's be real. I'm schooled in the sciences. It is my default sphere of reference.
Well, I got to thinking in terms of electrical current. If you really think about it, our brain can function as a capacitor. All our stored memories and experience can more or less up the charge of any given piece of information. So, it's conceivable that a piece of information that has similarities to our stored up memories and experience can become more "charged".
So in that vein, maybe "reflecting gently" simply means to take your observations for what they are, and not put more "charge" to it by letting it connect to all the things that are already in your brain that can hook it.
I got to thinking about my recent daily foray into the book of John. It is easy for me to feel "charged" about this gospel because I historically don't like it. Something I am noticing as I go through this Gospel every morning is that I am catching myself identifying with the people in the stories. I wonder if this is part of how to "live reflectively"--to imagine yourself in the shoes of others, even if they lived 2000 years ago.
Last week, I sort of “became Nicodemus.” I can understand how Nicodemus, one of the Sanhedrin, had to come to see Jesus under cover of darkness. I don't think it was that Nicodemus meant Jesus harm, or that he was a jerk who could not give up the trappings of his power, as some make him out to be. I think it was just that he had a real and earnest curiosity about Jesus, and until he could figure it out, he could not risk his position. What John mentions of Nicodemus, Nicodemus seems to be a "good man." I think he was simply a "torn man." I think he knew there was something very authentic about that Jesus guy. But he was steeped in years and years of rabbinical training and how could he possibly suspend disbelief to go against his training?
I think about my own years and years of training in the applied biological sciences. I had a hard time believing Helicobacter caused peptic ulcer disease for a long time. I had been told for years that ulcers were caused by stress and the "modern lifestyle" and the lack of psychological coping mechanisms. We cut vagus nerves to stop this disease. We resected chunks of stomach. Yet, someone wanted me to believe that a BACTERIUM caused this? That sounded like science fiction to me. But over time, the proof was there, and I could believe.
How is this any different from the evolution of my understanding of gays and lesbians? How is this any different than my understanding of God compared to the God of my youth? The "proof", and our acceptance of the proof, takes time to process. So in that sense, I can understand Nicodemus in a way I could not if I just read the passage and read someone's commentary.
This week, sitting in John 4, I see I am already trying to "be" the Samaritan woman. Overall, I think this is good. I am trying to put myself in the shoes of these people and trying to be aware of the parts of them in myself. Maybe this is part of how I can take information about myself and sort of keep it divorced from the things in my brain that can hook it and act as a capacitor and make it more "charged." Maybe by truly putting myself in the shoes of others, I can in fact be more gentle with myself. I remember an argument I had with a friend once. I was royally pissed that he was just doing the "you're wrong" thing over a decision I had made. I remember in exasperation going, "Hold it! Just for 30 seconds, I want you to imagine you're ME. MY life, MY job, MY baggage. NOW tell me why I'm wrong." I remember it slowed him down and he went, "Huh. You're right. I was looking at it solely from my view of the world as seen by my life. I think I WOULD have handled it differently if I were you."
I'll tell you the hardest part of trying to figure out what God wants me doing or being in a given situation. I know we are all called to a ministry, even as a lay person. Sometimes I think the priestly crowd gets off easy. They are given a collar and an identity for their ministry. We lay folk are not. The priestly set does "discernment" with a finite goal--ordination--to either look at and go "yea" or "nay." We lay folk see these "traditional ministerial roles" and go, "Nope, nope, nope, not this, that, or t'other" and may, in fact, diss the idea that our ministry is "out of the box." Few of our ministries fall into a distinct category. I think all ministries are like snowflakes, priest or lay--they are unique--but the "defined" ones have their own common trappings, just like "White coat = health care." We see clearly who we are, yet go, "Nahhhhh, that's not a MINISTRY. That's just me bein' me." We're wrong as wrong can be when we do that, but we just get blinders about it.
I know my blinders. I get the big attack of, “Ehhh, I’m such a ‘not standard model Christian’ (whatever that is), so how in the hell can God use ME?”
Somewhere in my brain is this archetype of "Christian." Shiny, happy, got a halo over your head, every time you open your mouth, it's all peace and love and la la la. Never gets mad at God, never questions the Gospel accounts, and Jesus sits on your shoulder. Then that flip, raw, salty, 4 letter word-laden me stands next to it and might as well have a big sign that says, "UNCLEAN".
My brain plays out the inner struggle of "unclean" vs. "Hey, wait a minute...God made my personality what it is. So it must be ok to not be a shiny happy sort of Christian." More and more, as I read the New Testament, I am learning that Shiny Happy Christian is a myth. Jesus opened up a can of whoopass in the temple. The disciples were horribly martyred. The desert monks all seem a little grouchy. When Jesus rebukes Peter (as he often does,) I get the feeling he doesn't go, "I rebuke you, Pete." I have a feeling Peter gets, as my granny used to say, "A good old-fashioned ass chewing." Paul's letters deal with all sorts of church dissention that make my church's coffee hour gossip look pretty dull. "Shiny happy" is a delusion.
It doesn't change the fact, though, that trying to understand "my ministry" gnaws on me. It is maybe more itchy and gnawing than it used to be, simply b/c my awareness of God has changed. It did not “itch” me two years ago. It did not “itch” me as much one year ago. It gets itchier and itchier, like an allergic reaction. I expect to break out in hives any day now.
In some ways, I know God loves me more than I ever realized. Yet “My ministry” is less clear than it was a year ago. Thinking of this in Benedictine terms, the world is playing on my “stability” nerve, I still have problems believing my own “conversion,” and it leaves me only with the one thing I try to do—obey—and sometimes obeying feels like I am banging my head against the wall.
Then I think of another something my granny used to say..."Well, do SOMETHING, even if it's wrong." It's not "decision", it's not "mistakes" that kill potential. It's inertia. Well, I refuse to be inert. So, I may not know what "reflecting gently" really means, but by golly, I'll try something, even if it's wrong. I guess even "sitting still and letting it come to you" is doing something. I know one thing; when you try something and it doesn't work, you certainly know "what not to do next time!"
There's no doubt. I've been Oscar the Grouch the last few days. For lack of more detail, let's just say I have gotten on a run of defining myself by my inadequacies. I have had a fair more number of "unknown quantities" in my life lately, most of which have the potential of impinging on my new-found discovery of needing "silent time" in my life. Another part of it is that I find myself having to "sit still" with a situation that I have only a limited amount of control over certain details and outcome. Still yet another part is that, because of the uncertainty, I have a decreased ability to readily commit to things I have historically been able to usually handle on short notice.
It's all frustrating. It's made me "armor up" in some ways. The problem, of course, is when I'm "armored up," it makes me go out and "pick fights." Things that normally don't bother me get under my skin. It gets me in my "is anybody botherin' to notice me?" mood. It puts a chip on my shoulder. I put myself in the impossible situation of desiring a little nurturing but not being able to really bring myself to be vulnerable.
So, I went off in the corner and did a little reading about St. Moses of Ethiopia. He was one of the early 1st century desert monks. One of his most famous quotes, when another monk came to him for advice, is “Go, and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”
He was a formerly violent person (in getting revenge on a shepherd, he killed four of the shepherd's finest rams, eating and selling the meat) but later became a hermit.
So, in a manner of speaking, this evening I've been sitting in "my cell," so to speak. St. Moses endured many prejudices because of his skin color, and even met his own end at the hand of robbers. So I imagine he had more reason to feel "slighted" than I do. In that light, I think I can get over being a grouch!