Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

It's all Elizabeth Kaeton's fault for posting this.

It immediately kicked in my "song lyrics muse." I am not kidding; I whacked this out in FOUR MINUTES. Is this my brush with divine inspiration?

Here's to you, Bishop Robinson (with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel)

And here's to you, Bishop Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know. (whoa whoa whoa)
God bless you, please Bishop Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
hey, hey, hey

We'd like to know a little bit about your for our files
We'd like to help you learn to damn yourself.
Look around you all you see are schismatic Anglo-eyes,
They can't believe God thinks that you are loved.

And here's to you, Bishop Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know. (whoa whoa whoa)
God bless you, please, Bishop Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey.

Your fame has got your face upon the Daily Show.
Gold star in your tiara, that's for sure.
It's a little secret that you kick schismatic butt.
You represent inclusive love, a thing they fear.

Koo-koo-ka-choo, Bishop Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know. (whoa whoa whoa)
God bless you, please, Bishop Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

Sitting on a sofa on a Monday afternoon.
Hit the remote to HBO.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When he does not appear
Every way you look at this kicks rear.

Where have you gone, Queen Eliz'beth I,
Our communion turns its prayer book page to you. (woo woo woo)
What's that you say, Bishop Robinson.
Her Majesty has left and gone away,
Hey hey hey.

(Yes, Elizabeth, I know. Spend the $35 with the copyright office.)

Ok, I woke up this morning thinking about how dogs’ relationships with us are not that far from our relationships with the divine.

It started as part of my New Year’s resolution to “get to know the Book of Common Prayer better.” Well, I thought an easy starting point was just to read all the prayers and collects and hear the poetry of them and think about the deeper parts of that poetry.

Last night, I was reading the prayer “for knowledge of God’s creation” (p.827, BCP) and there was this line in it, “Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly...” So I must have slept on that somewhat.

So, this morning as I am letting the dogs out and bringing them back in and making “dog breakfast,” and drinking coffee, I got to thinking about the “morality of dogs” and how communing with humans is their way of “stepping beyond just the simple rules of their society’s morality.”

Dog morality is pretty simple:

1. Eat and drink when you’re hungry or thirsty.
2. Sleep when you’re sleepy.
3. Mate when your pheremones and some other dog’s pheremones say that is a good thing to do.
4. Companion with other dogs to the extent the other dogs don’t interfere with the other three, or benefit you (hunting in packs would be a good example of this.)

Where dogs step “out of the box” and go beyond themselves is in their companionship with people. Sure, people feed them and give them comfort, but that is not all of the relationship. They enter in a relationship that both pleases them, and pleases us. They don’t simply come up to you to be fed. They come up to be petted and played with even when they are not hungry. They do not understand our ways. I think about how I can’t sit on the floor and read the newspaper b/c little Eddie sits on it and stares at me, or my friends N.&R.'s dog Darby watching the other dogs on TV, or when Mr. Boomer just comes up and puts his chin on the couch and stares up at me lovingly. I think about this guy in Macon who lived alone with his dog and when he died and the dog was given to someone else, he would now and then run off and go to the cemetery and sit at the guy’s grave even though he did not see that he was buried there.

But something in a dog brain millions of years ago clicked and said, “there is a benefit beyond your morality for this relationship beyond your basic biological needs.”

So, to me, in that sense, what dogs do with us, is very similar to what we are trying to do in our relationship with God—go beyond just simply “our morality” into something bigger and not well understood with the brains we have, but we know that it pleases us, and we at least sense it pleases God. Whoa! That is a huge thought!

As humans evolved the first thing they figured out is they need rules as a society. But as humans developed higher thought, they realized there was some sort of benefit beyond their biology and physiology to have a relationship with this unseen entity we call God. This relationship (well, if you’re not a fundamentalist, anyway) does not directly benefit “enforcing the rules, per se” (although it certainly can be used in that regard) but at least, to me, is simply a sense that I want to be loved and petted by this entity, and my doing the things that make up my “spiritual discipline” give me the sense I am being “petted” and it pleases me, as well as it giving me the sense it pleases God. Sure, I could be doing it simply b/c I am trying to "obey the rules as I understand them," but with so many denominational versions and dissent about "the rules" that can't possibly be the only reason.

Now, I don’t understand this entity any more than little Eddie understands what reading the newspaper is. I’m sure he looks at me and wonders how looking at a piece of paper makes me laugh, or grumble or react. But he knows it gets in the way of him being petted! Well, that is true with us and God, too. There are lots of times we are more or less “obeying the rules” but there is that little niggling that something “isn’t right” with us, and we derive comfort from just the simple act of getting the Sacrament, or hey, reading p.827 of the BCP! We discover that by engaging in the things my priest repeatedly refers to as "the disciplines of our faith", with no thought at all to outcome or no intent to "make us feel better," we become deepened and challenged in this relationship.

So I am convinced that understanding my dogs is a secret window to understanding some things divine. How many other secret windows are out there, d’ya suppose?

One of my (numerous) hobbies is making "liturgical jewelry." With Lent less than a month away, I kind of experimented with making some bracelets and ankle bracelets and an "everyday necklace" in various purples and some gray gemstone beads.

I kind of joke that I tend to be "Kabballistic" with the numbers of beads that make up the patterns. I like to work in patterns of 3, 9, 18, and 36 since they have significance in Hebrew numerology. the smaller beads in the necklace in the picture are 20 on each side, total40, for the 40 days of Lent. One of the bracelets in the picture has six purple beads--for the 6 Sundays in Lent.

It's a relaxing hobby and in some ways, I think, a form of prayer, because I am being mindful about the numbers that make up the patterns. I really enjoy wearing the things I make and they make up 99% of my "everyday" jewelry. I pay attention to the liturgical calendar, so I can use colors that fit the liturgical seasons. I have a tendency to borrow from other cultures (especially the southwestern U.S.) to think up designs. But it's fun.

What I like best about the stuff I wear is it keeps me connected to the church seasons and the numbers that make up the stuff of Scripture.

anyway, enjoy the pics!

I love Indexed. Jessica is so creative. It does, however, bring up one of my more sordid confessions. I am not above dumpster diving. (Remember, I am into simplicity.) I will drive by a dumpster, see something sticking out, and have to investigate. Yes, I can afford to buy it. But that's not the point. I don't want to contribute to the throwaway culture. People throw out perfectly good tools, stereos, etc. in the dumpster, just because they don't like them, or a knob fell off, or who knows why. Maybe it belonged to the ex and they threw it in the dumpster "just because."

In fact, I laugh about my "recruitment incentive" during my second interview for my job in Kirksville. JML, the mutual longtime friend of both Episcogranny and me, saw me during my second interview and said, "You know, it's spring cleanup week. Let's go cruise College Park (a well-established "good" neighborhood in Kirksville) and see what people put out to be tossed. I need a bed frame for A. (her younger child.)"

So there we were, riding around the more "swell" neighborhoods in my pickup truck, checking out the curbsides. I am sure the powers that be did not consider this the normal physician recruitment method. But it was perfect for me, b/c it brought back memories of my college days when JML and I did the exact same thing! Spring cleanup in Kirksville is probably more of a giant swap meet than it is a true spring cleanup.

But I'll be honest, taking things out of the dumpster is probably a sign of something deeper in me. One of the greatest joys in my life is "renewing, re-using, and rejoicing" over something that someone else threw away, that works just fine for me. It is why I actually enjoy working with students in academic trouble. It is why the bulk of my dogs have been "pound dogs" or "give-away dogs." It is a Psalm 118 moment for me, using a "cornerstone that the builders rejected" towards something good.

Most importantly, though, it is a reminder of my own salvation. I have had to struggle with feelings of rejection and abandonment all my life. Those feelings cut me incredibly deeply--more than it might appear on my surface, because my surface appears tough and resiliant for the most part. For me, the simple act of "rejoicing in the salvation of a perfectly good snow shovel in the dumpster" affirms my own salvation. It tells me God always thinks I am worth picking out of the trash, in fact he might have hand-picked me out of the trash now and then!

In a recent post, Renz of Renz in the Woods accepted a challenge to himself, and enlisted my help, since he pegged me as "another secular monastic" on Facebook. Well, I generally do what my friends ask of me!

I have to start, though, with the confession that it took me about two years to accept that I even remotely resemble any kind of "monastic." It took a combination of realizing I enjoy work around my church as a form of worship, reading the book "The Cloister Walk," and about 4 friends all expressing not in the presence of each other that I had various "monastic tendencies." But I still could not connect to it in any great manner b/c the one thing I knew that made me feel "not monastic" was that I did not pray all of the Daily Office or the Liturgy of the Hours or any sort of attempt at "prayer throughout the day." It was not until Renz threw the phrase "secular monastic" out for my scrutiny that I could finally go, "Well...ok. I guess I AM a secular monastic." (Then quickly added to myself, "but I'm not a monastic monastic.")

So, with that intro, if you look at Renz' posts he makes four points in his explanation of a secular monastic. I'll stick to his framework for consistency's sake for my version.

Point 1: Solitude
For the last 22 years of my life, in two different towns, I have lived several miles out in the country and "worked in town", as we say in these parts. In my present locale, I am essentially embedded in 35 acres of pasture. I live alone with two dogs, two donkeys, a mule, and "someone else's horse." There have been times I was home sick, that, other than my letter carrier or the UPS driver, no one has come to the house. I am a bit of a "hoarder of eclectic stuff" and use the clutter in my house as an excuse to keep people out, not "entertain." Although, unlike Renz, I do have TV and Dish Network, and a nice (but 15 year old) stereo, like him I have "too many books and too many CDs."

This is going to sound funny because in a social setting there is no doubt I enjoy conversation, but I also value being able to be silent for hours. Although, when I'm indoors, there is often either the TV or the radio or music on CD's or my iPod going, I enjoy the wall of silence I can create in myself. In fact, when I blog, I REALLY like being silent. I like forcing my fingers to do the work that I either can't or won't vocalize in real life.

I enjoy taking vacations and staying home rather than "going somewhere". It's not like I have never gone anywhere, I have been to 49 states and 5 foreign countries, and once in a while I do enjoy a trip for a vacation. I prefer taking the train or driving over flying, and enjoy the luxury of "taking my time" to get there. I have my sacred spot in the yard, and I like to sit out in it, with or whithout my laptop, even when it is a little too hot or cold for most people. I just like to "sit and be" in that place, hear the wind, the animal noises, feel the sun or the wind on me, and at night, fire up my chiminea and watch the moon and stars.

Point 2: Simplicity
Despite the hoarding tendencies, I live far below my means. I enjoy buying things at consignment auctions. I don't dress flashy. I am graying and I don't care WHAT people think abut that. I drive a seven year old truck with 100k plus miles. I always try to patch up or fix up something before I give up and get a new one. I buy staple foods in bulk. I have a freezer full of meat that I know exactly where it came from, right down to the pasture it was on. I prefer local, home grown foods and cooking from scratch.

I have a tendency to be the last one to turn on either the heat or the A/C, and prefer open windows and breezes. I don't rely on gasoline powered tools (but I will confess liking to use a chainsaw now and then.) I shovel the church walks with a shovel instead of a snow blower. But my carbon footprint is pretty small compared to a lot of people. I live in "less house" than most people these days.

Some day, I'm going on a "decluttering" mission. I do this about once every 10 years. I think I will use the excuse of remodeling the house. I get rid of a lot of the stuff I've hoarded from my pack rat tendencies, start over in a sense. Some day, I want to build a "greener" house on my property. But it will still be "less house" than most people would be satisfied with.

Point 3: Celibacy
Well, I will start by saying I might have more internal struggle than Renz about this, although a lot of what he says rings absolutely true with me, too. There was a time when I was making some incredibly bad decisions on how to channel my sexual energies. There was a point in relationships that I just figured, "Ok, we have kind of reached the point where we are supposed to be doing it, so I guess I will, and enjoy it for what it is," and that's what happened. I did not give a lot of consideration to the big picture of this, that it is a giving of one's self that reaches deeper sometimes than the level of the relationship I was in, and that created conflict I did not expect.

The problem was (and still is, and probably always will be) that I am a high-energy person. That includes sexual energy. So in some ways, my celibacy is not something I have totally accepted. I think I tend to be a little like St. Augustine and St. Jerome. That energy does and will always cause some degree of conflict and the lack of being able to disspate it in the "usual manner" causes consternation and loneliness some days. There is a part of me that will always long for sexual release in "the usual manner."

But I also realize that part of why I have the time to do a lot of the things I do is because I am not exerting energy on that whole "dating/romance/romantic relationships" schtick. I'll be honest, I always hated dating, because I really fear that moment when you are going with someone and they start in on the "why don't you...(fill in the blank)'d be so much more attractive if you did," schtick. It can range from wearing a certain cosmetic product, or coloring my hair or wearing something I don't normally wear. That is when I went "full stop/full speed backwards." That moment is so betraying to me. It screams, "YOU DON'T LOVE ME FOR WHO I AM, AS IS, and I am NOT going to give up pieces of myself for superficial bullshit" and I run from it. There's just too much rejection with dating, and I don't need to be diving into the rejection pit all the time.

I fear that so much, I just decided, "You know, I'm not saying I will never have a complete soul mate," but I think if I did, it will be someone who for some time will interact with me on many different levels, and over time we more or less grew into a deep realization that we really ARE soul mates, that there is a growing sense of total companionship, and a sense of completeness in each other's company that does not demand change of anything in either the inner core of our beings. This may never happen. That's okay too. I am happy as I am now, not having to worry about that business of aiming for romance, aiming for sex, and having to "fit" to get it. I have plenty of love to give in a lot of ways, and I am learning to feel the energies of that love coming back to me in ways I never imagined. I have learned to de-couple "sensual" from "sex". We ruined the world "sensual". It is so much bigger than just sex. I'm trying to take that word back.

Point 4: Prayer
That was my last hang-up about admitting I was a secular monastic. I figured since I don't have a day-long cycle of prayer, I don't qualify as "monastic." But I have, in the last two years, developed some practices of spiritual discipline, like my working backwards through the Psalms, my present project of working through the last ten chapters of Isaiah, my "seasonal projects" like Advent and Lent. I read, I reflect, I write and blog. That is a form of prayer, I decided.

I work on "fixit" projects and maintenance projects at church. That is a form of prayer. I spend time in my sacred spot in the yard. That is a form of prayer.

I am blessed in that I have "clergy friends." I am able to interact with them on a different level than I am used to interacting with clergy. Sometimes it is hard, b/c you are not sure "which hat" each is wearing in the conversation, but overall, this softening of boundaries is good for me, because I realize that for me to grow in my own spirituality, I need a certain degree of bonding with those who made it their life's work. I sort of chuckle at my Facebook friends...there are a lot more of them wearing collars than I like to admit! It's kind of embarrassing to admit, "Yeah, I have a lot of clergy friends strung all over the country," but it is also kind of nice. I also realize it is good for them, too, in odd ways. So that is all good.

I like my life overall most days, love it intensely some others, and have bad days in it like everyone else. But I am so grateful to be able to disengage myself from some aspects of "the world" and "our culture" and am growing into the notion that this "fits" me in a way I never allowed myself to believe. It is in some ways, a submission to God that he made me a quirky and unusual person for a good reason, and I am learning to accept there is a covenantal power in that.

Litany of Penitence

The Celebrant and People together, all kneeling

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have let our laundry pile up.

The Celebrant continues

We have not paid attention to how many pairs of underwear we have left. We have not realized that the one pair of jeans we love the most lies dirty. We have run out of white socks.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to buy laundry detergent, and our manifold sins in this issue are intolerable to us.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the
lack of attention to "delicate cycle" and "regular cycle",
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation
of wearing certain items of clothing after picking them out of the dirty clothes basket,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those
who get their laundry done in a timely manner,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and
our dishonesty in mixing "colors" and "whites",
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in cleaning out the lint filter in the dryer, and our failure to
commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to our bulging dirty clothes basket, and our
indifference to what remains that we can wear to work and not look like a fool,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors who actually IRON their clothes, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who never seem to "run out" of any item of clothing,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of
concern for using "earth-friendly laundry products",
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of our laundry,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection, white as snow, like bleached socks and underwear.

The Bishop, if present, or the Priest, stands and, facing the people, says

Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
desires not the death of laundry slugs, but rather that they may turn
from their wickedness and live, has given power and
commandment to his ministers to declare and pronounce to
his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of
their manifold laundry sins. He pardons and absolves all those who truly
repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.

Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his
Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on
this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure
and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Time for another silent movie break. From TCM:

In a small village on the coast of England, Theodora Fitzgerald marries elderly millionaire Josiah Brown in order to please her father, Captain Fitzgerald, and her two older, unmarried half-sisters. On their honeymoon in Switzerland, Theodora is taken under the wing of American widow Mrs. McBride, who accompanies Theodora on a mountain climb. When Theodora slips over a precipice while trying to take a photograph, she is rescued by the young and handsome Hector, Lord Bracondale, who earlier had saved her from drowning near the Fitzgeralds' cottage.

Fearing her growing attraction to Hector, Theodora flees to Paris with her husband. Hector follows them to Paris and encounters Theodora again while she is dining with her father and Mrs. McBride. The next day, while they are touring Versailles as Josiah rests in their hotel, Hector and Theodora realize that they are in love. Knowing that their love is too strong to allow them to see each other as friends, they decide to part.

Brokenhearted, Hector asks his sister, Lady Anningford, to befriend Theodora, which she does. Back in England, Lady Anningford invites Josiah and Theodora to her country estate for a weekend house party. Despite his best intentions, Hector again declares his love. Theodora resists him, however, but sends him a note confessing her feelings, at the same time sending a note to Josiah saying that she will soon join him back in London. Morella Winmarleigh, who loves Hector and had once considered as his future wife, sees Theodora drop the two letters into the estate's mailbox and redirects the letter for Josiah to Hector and the love note intended for Hector to Josiah.

After a confrontation between Josiah and Hector, Josiah decides to sacrifice himself for his wife's happiness and accompanies an exploration party to Arabia. His party is attacked by bandits, and he is fatally wounded just as Hector, Theodora, her father, and an escort arrive. Before he dies, Brown wishes the lovers happiness.

I have seen plenty of Valentino silents, but really, the bulk of my experiences with Gloria Swanson's films is pretty much wrapped up in "Sunset Boulevard" in her (somewhat autobiographical) portrayal as an aging star of silent film. I was captivated by her range of facial expression. I was also sort of surprised, that, devoid of flowing, flashy sheik costumes, Rudolph Valentino was a rather slightly built man.

But I guess what this film got me to thinking about was the whole business of how we often never truly follow our "heart's desire"--not necessarily in just romantic things, but just things in general. All the trouble in this movie starts because Theodora gets roped into doing something she knows is wrong for her.

It make me realize that a lot of times we are even afraid to express our heart's desires to God, and instead, we just do "what we think everyone expects of us," hoping that it is the right thing, figuring if everyone else feels this way, we must be the problem. Then we find out that because we did not really take our heart's desires into consideration in counsel with God, we settled for less than what God expects of us and what would have truly made us happy, even if the road to it seemed "harder", somehow.

I have been incredibly impressed with the number of Psalms in which it is apparent the psalmist was lying awake in bed, in either the early morning or late night, pondering God. I kind of had the delusion I was the only one who did that. I have a feeling this is much more universal than I realized.

We can't always be as lucky as Theodora, whose elderly rich husband conveniently died at the end of the movie. So part of what I am realizing is that my prayer time is not just "time to ask of God," or even just "time to hang out with God," although both of those functions are very important. Part of it is using time with God for "sorting things out." Part of it is to uncouple our heart's desires solely from ourself and lay them out there for God, so we can use discernment. Of course he knows what these desires are, but I think to release them from ourselves connects them to his realm so we can better understand his desires for us, and how these things all "fit".

You’re St. Jerome!

You’re a passionate Christian, fiercely devoted to Jesus Christ and his Church. You are willing to labor long hours in the Lord’s vineyard, and you have little patience with those who are less willing or able to work as you do. Your passions often carry you into temptation zones of wrath, lust, and pride.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

(What is really funny about this is that book of the early monks I have been reading, I really also glommed onto the chapter about St. Jerome the other day, and occasionally my vicar thinks I can be a little "Jerome-oid" about the wrath thing, given I have a bit of a temper...)

Inspired by nka's post...

Kirkepiscatoid's top 10 reasons why HBO somehow managed to miss airing Bishop Gene Robinson's opening prayer for the Inaugural festivities:

10. Fred Phelps cut the cable.
9. Wasn't sung to the tune of "YMCA."
8. Bishop Gene wore a tasteful purple shirt instead of leather outfit with butt cheeks showing.
7. Could not finalize contract negotiations with former bishops of Pittsburgh and San Joaquin for play-by-play, halftime, and post-prayer commentary.
6. SAG rules say any non-union gays have to appear with Ellen DeGeneres or Rosie O'Donnell.
5. After reading Susan Russell's Facebook page, HBO found out the "Episcopalian Gay Agenda" on weekends consists of doing laundry and preaching, which won't boost the Neilsens.
4. They thought C-Span would pick it up.
3. He just stood there and prayed; no mincing or swishing.
2. Fox News and Bill O'Reilly came through with the "hush money" in the nick of time.

And the #1 reason...
1. Dick Cheney's daughter was on the dais and they could not figure a camera angle that didn't show her.

Between our Old Testament reading today (I Samuel 3:1-10, [11-20]) and an interesting thing that just happened in my pasture, I have been thinking about the value of hearing "that small still voice" that comes from inside us.

Samuel kept hearing his name called. It took him a while to realize that it was God calling him. He kept thinking it was Eli. I got to thinking about the times that "God has called my name" but it took me a while to figure it out. So much of my prayer and study time has learning to "observe."

I'll be honest, I've had one of those "bummer" weekends. I've told you about my friend M.J., who has dementia. I have moments when I realize another chunk of him is gone, and this realization is always sudden. Every now and then it totally catches me off guard. I had experienced another of those moments toward the end of the week, and spent a fair part of the weekend mourning it. The problem with dementia is you can't just mourn once and get it over with. You get to mourn REPEATEDLY. Ugh.

I have let a few of my friends in on the significance of "my sacred spot in the yard" and "my chiminea." (Actually, you blogfriends of mine know more about it than my real life friends.) So, on the suggestion of one of my friends "in the know," I went home after church and cranked up a fire in my chiminea.

(This is how despondent I was...I bagged coffee hour made by the Queen of Coffee Hour!)

So, I am sitting in my yard, bundled up, a heavy coat and a quilt over me, hunkered down next to the fire in my chiminea. I threw on a piece of mesquite to make it smell good. I tossed in a few sticks of incense to boot. I looked like something out of a Jack London story.

I was out there about 45 minutes, just feeling the heat on my front and the freezing wind on my back, smelling the smoke and looking up now and then watching the clouds go this way and that, and the sun peek out and make things just a little blue now and then.

Then the coolest thing happened.

This fox trotted up along the grass in my pasture across the road from me and my chiminea. Beautiful thick red coat and bottle-brush bushy tail. By the size and build, I was guessing she was a full adult "big mama vixen." Not really big enough or bulky enough to be a dog fox. I was admiring her bushy coat and her graceful trot.

She then stopped. Stopped dead in her tracks, sat down and looked at me. Not a fearful glance, but the way my dogs sit and look at me. She even cocked her head. Her dark black eyes met mine and held my gaze. We both sat and looked at each other for a good minute or more. Then she casually got back up and continued to trot down the road.

That was too weird. Foxes usually don't want anywhere NEAR people. But there she was, no more than 50 feet from me. Sitting. Looking. Not afraid.

In that moment, I realized, like Samuel finally did, that God speaks to us in voices we recognize.

I have always been more connected to nature than most people, because I simply enjoy sitting and observing. It dawned on me that God speaks to me indirectly through nature than any other mode. I got to wondering if this might have been a little more,

I sat out there a while, straining my brain for the significance of the fox in Native American lore. I decided to go inside and make some coffee to take back out there with me, and did a little Googling while the coffee brewed.

Fox represents cunning, wildness and diplomacy. She also is a warning to keep one’s counsel, when to hold silence and when to break silence by quietly observing situations, then deciding what words to use. Fox, like Owl, is seen as a guide into the Spirit Realm. Fox is known for her ability to travel between dusk and dawn, and her ability to "shape-shift" as she can maneuver very small burrows.

In other words, she can observe and adjust.

There is an Apache legend that Fox killed an evil bear that was terrorizing the people with her cunning, causing him to fall into a fire in the forest, and Fox stuck her tail in the fire and brought it to the Apache people.

So unlike Coyote, who is seen as a trickster, Fox has a more positive bend to her meaning in Native American spirituality.

There I was by MY fire and Fox pays me a visit. In that moment, I realized, "I can observe, and I can adjust, like Fox, like Samuel."

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


What's your "Default Doodle?"

When you are bored and in a meeting, or on the phone, and just doodling in the margins of your paper, what do you most commonly doodle?

I am curious. I have a feeling our "default doodle" has the potential to see what is in our minds when the cognitive parts of us are disengaged.

I will tell you mine.

From the time of childhood, I have doodled geometric shapes, consisting mostly of combinations of triangles and spirals. The triangles, I will start with one triangle and then put new triangles on the three sides of the triangle, then connect the points of the triangles to each other into basically square, rectangle, and rhomboidal shapes, and keep making this ever-expanding outwardly growing network of triangles and connect them to each other. Then I will color in the triangles or hash mark them in in different patterns, etc.

The spirals, I do sort of the same thing. I start making the “middle” of the spiral and draw the spiral going outward. Then I go back in and do things like fill the rows of the spiral in with different hash marks, colors or patterns, or try to draw a 2nd spiral parallel to the first one and fill them in between the two lines of the spiral. Sometimes I make the spiral the middle of the doodle and put a square around it and put triangles on top of the sides of the square, and there we go again with the triangles.

When I get to hatching and shading things, they take on somewhat of a three-dimensional look to them...but not totally. There are areas that appear more 3-D and other areas that are not so 3-D.

I usually make my patterns to a certain size, then start a new one, and if I am doodling long enough, I start to connect the big doodles to each other.

Now, there have been lots of people who have looked at doodles in Jungian sort of way. A couple of good references are here and here.

Ok, in the general sense, after reading those pages, I realize that the geometric intricacies of my doodles show I am a thinking, purposeful planning kind of individual, somewhat into complexity. The three-dimensional side to it speaks to my need of structure and logic. The spirals are representative of self-protectiveness. It's even more interesting that I often place my spirals within these intricate geometric shapes that I doodle--as if I am even "protecting" them more with my planning, structure, and sense of purpose. I almost never put the spirals on the outside of the doodle.

But two things come to mind about my doodling. One is the pattern of "how" I make them. The other is I realized there was a doodle I did in childhood and young adulthood I don't hardly ever do anymore which I used to do almost obsessively.

I have come to realize in recent years that perhaps the "outward and back inward to fill in the details" aspect of my doodles speak to something that is deep within me that is “ever moving outward and ever desiring to be connected and patterned.” It is significant, I think, that my doodles always “grow outward” to a point and then I go back and “fill in the patterns.” In the light of all the interesting spiritual discoveries I have made in recent times, does it perhaps in some way also speak to my spiritual journey? I move outward till I'm satisfied with the size, then start another, and then connect them. What is interesting is those spirals are always in the CENTER of the if this soft, round entity is the core of me but I cover it with structure and logic. "Locked up" in a way.

Well, gee whiz, that is similar to how I take Scripture and push myself outward with it, then go back and fill it in with my own unique pattern. It is a form of “creating stability.” The "locked up" parts of me become the center of my spiritual core.

As I was reading and thinking about this, it dawned on me that there is a doodle I don't do so much anymore. When I was a child and young adult, sometimes I would get on runs of "doodling stars." Mostly they were the five pointed kind that you draw with a single stroke of the pen; sometimes they were six-sided "Jewish" stars. But I would make rows and rows of them and crowd them together very tightly.

Stars can sometimes represent "a need to be noticed"-- A need to "prove myself." I imagine that was a stronger dynamic when I felt a lot of the difficult parts of my growing up, and a stronger dynamic in my years of "schooling," and my years of trying to find my place in an achievement-oriented atmosphere.

I haven't done that doodle in any great quantities for years. Oh, I might throw an occasional star in here or there, but not that row upon row of intensely crowded stars like I used to draw. Maybe I have reached a point in my life where I don't have to "prove myself" so much any more, or so intensely. That is a thought for me to ponder.

I knew I had that photo handy! Here's the late Mr. Willis Woo doing his best Wyeth imitation.

From the NYT:

Andrew Wyeth, one of the most popular and also most lambasted artists in the history of American art, a reclusive linchpin in a colorful family dynasty of artists whose precise realist views of hardscrabble rural life became icons of national culture and sparked endless debates about the nature of modern art, died Friday at his home in Chadds Ford. He was 91.

"Hardscrabble rural life".

That is probably why his paintings are so meaningful to me. My generation of rural life was not so hardscrabble growing up (just a little financially dicey) but for my Depression-era grandparents, those images were very real, and I saw ghosts of those images in old family photographs and family recollections.

My favorite Wyeth painting is the one above, "Master Bedroom." (It's in my OWN bedroom, actually!) In fact, I have a photograph of the late Mr. Willis Woo Dog sleeping on MY bed with my print of "Master Bedroom" in the background, in a similar pose. I'll have to dig that one out of the archives!

The starkness and poverty of the room is striking, yet the family dog is sleeping as if royalty. It is a scene I have seen many times over in all the homes of my life, on chenille bedspreads, hand stitched quilts, and other understated bed covers. Something about that sleeping dog, just as content in stark nothingness as in the most palatial home, hits deep with me.

His work has always been a reminder of the beauty within stark reality, and I honestly mourn the loss of this type of talent. That recognition is hard to come by.
LogoThere are
people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

(P.S. Almost all of my friends are more "unique" than me. Then again, I have the 23rd most popular first name in the US and the 48th most popular last name so I was probably doomed in this game...)

In my journey backwards through the Psalms, I am getting down to the wire here, am at Psalm 11. Verse 3 is kind of thought provoking in that regard: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Simply “not feeling well” can certainly erode on our foundations, can’t it? That’s true with physical or emotional pain or situational anxieties or anything like that.

Being distressed can do it too. Or even good things can do it. We might start getting a little “heady” about our blessings and a little of “But it IS about me” creeps in and erodes at us.

You know, merely being disciplined about faith, whether it is prayer, or study, or just dedicated time for reflecting, is in the world's eyes, kind of counterproductive. That is a lot of swimming upstream every day of our lives. That can wear on our foundations. Being a person of faith can be downright freeing and exhilarating at times...but it also comes with the realization to be that person, you have to swim upstream every day, and some days it’s tiring.’s back to “What can the righteous do?” It’s like a question I posed to a friend when we were grumping about feeling "different than everyone else", ”When you are a 'different' kind of person, how do you love fully and also experience the fullness of love with a different gold standard than the bulk of the world?”

When the world has a different gold standard for “success,” for “love,” for “happiness,” than we do, the sheer tidal force of our culture laps at the foundations of us. We can be doing nothing but living the way we have chosen to live, and it will still wear on us, just as waves lap against a pier constantly.

So how do we deal with this constant pressure of entropy?

Honestly, I am not totally sure, but I do think it means we have to be continuously mindful of what our foundations are made of, and that much of our foundation is NOT “us” but something bigger than us. To stay connected with God in a “foundational” way. This is part of why I am mad the evangelicals have co-opted the word “fundamental.” “Fundamental” is not being forced to accept a certain attitude about the Bible and salvation that a particular set of people believe. “Fundamental” to me is to continue to seek God’s instruction in a disciplined regularly pray, read, study, reflect, and LISTEN. Part of it for me is learning to be ok that I cannot possibly see all the answers, to accept some degree of ambiguity. Part of it for me is to accept that God made me who I am for a reason, that the fundamental parts of my psyche are basically good things, but that these good things can come out sideways and backwards when things lap at my foundations.

I spent a lot of years ignoring my foundations, or even seeing them as hindrances to “true happiness.” Only in recent years have I been attending to these neglected foundations. Yeah, it’s hard, but what I am discovering is the “good” things in my life are becoming stronger and deeper and more alive.

So perhaps the answer to “what can the righteous do?” is to persevere with their own foundations by continuing to engage in the disciplines of their faith, not necessarily b/c it will give answers, but in that the SEEKING these things brings hope and meaning to us in a world that runs counter to us.

Well, in short, it's not good. Although Bo had a biopsy of his mass (results to follow next week), it is probably a moot point, as further studies show he probably has metastases to bone and possibly his lungs. The advice of the veterinary team at MU was "let him go home and be a dog as long as he feels like being a dog," and prescribed some pain pills to start to plan to keep him as pain-free as possible.

In other words, if he were a person, it would be the equivalent of a stage IV malignancy.

Bo's mom says he has a little bit of the "drunken sailor" walk at the moment since he had been drugged to get a CT scan, but I'm sure by tomorrow he will mostly be back to being "Bo as usual."

I hope they can have "Bo as usual" for as long as they're allowed. I also worry about his companion, Miss Zera Ruth. I left some goodies over at their house while his folks were driving to Columbia to pick him up, including some for Zera...she deserves some lovin', too! Meanwhile, I think the best prescription is lots of hugs and a few hamburgers. I will keep you all posted.

I got some tough news from two of my friends today.

Their beloved Bo has a yet to be diganosed soft tissue malignancy and it's probably fairly dire b/c it appears to have eroded into a rib. Right now, Bo seems in good enough spirits, so there is no urgency with any decisions. Bo is spending the night at the University of Missouri vet school, and everyone will have a better idea of what they are dealing with in a few days. They have been blessed that even though he is 12 years old, he's always been a very "young" 12. Most big dogs are already pretty old by age 12.

He had a small mass for some time. Of course, none of us thought much of it, because older dogs often get benign fatty tumors. but then recently he started having more masses.

But this is all tough duty, even for "dog extended family" like myself. There will be decisions to be made, things to think about, and a LOT of tears in this family, and mostly, my job will be "just be there." It is hard to walk through these decisions with a some ways harder than with people, because it seems to be accelerated b/c of the shortness of a dog's life, and also because active euthanasia is always one of the options on the table. It's hard for us to understand what a dog thinks, what a dog feels, when thinking about treating something vs. not treating it. I have found in my own case, I have to always step back and ask myself, "Am I treating the dog, or am I treating me?" At any rate, it is tough, whether you are the owners or just the friend of the owners.

I kind of know what Bo is to this family. He is that kind of dog that I think, sometimes, a person only gets to have once in a lifetime. I think if you have been a good person, you are allowed ONE dog that is different than any other dog...a dog that seems "more than a dog" in more ways than most dogs. If you have really courted God's favor, you are allowed more than one. It's not that you love your other dogs in your life less, it's just that this "one dog" is different. That one dog you are allowed to have makes you question everything you think you know about the mysteries of the cosmos.

Bo is that dog in this family. He represents a time in Bo's dad's life when he was very alone and at times, Bo must have seemed to be all he had in the world that was loyal and true. He represents the gift of "learning to love" in the case of Bo's mom. She was attracted to Bo's dad b/c Bo was in the first picture she ever saw of him, and it broke the ice to exploring a relationship that led to marriage. She didn't like Bo at first, b/c he didn't get along with her dog Rex. But she learned to love him, and I am sure learning to love Bo was part of the plan of learning to love all the things that came with this new family she chose.

When I think of these two friends, I don't just think of them, it's "them and Bo and Zera." All four of them are part of a family I dearly love. So, this news about Bo cuts into the security and stability of my extended family, too.

Here is my "once in a lifetime dog." J.R. was my dog of my young adult life. I got him right after college, and he was my dog when I was teaching school for a living, my dog of my medical school years and part of my residency. He was a cast-off. A lady gave him to me b/c her husband mistreated him and she feared he'd kill him. He was damaged goods. He was deathly afraid of storms. He never did learn to be comfortable around "blond men." But he was smart--smarter than just the ordinary "Sheltie smart" in a lot of ways. He probably knew about 300 words. He babysat the small children at our med school parties. If you asked him in a totally different part of the house, "Where do we keep the cheese?" he'd scratch the fridge. If you asked him "Where do we cook the weenies?" he'd scratch the stove. I did NOT teach him this. He made me wonder if the Hindus weren't on to something about reincarnation.

I was always amazed at what I COULD teach him. He would spin in a circle in the direction your spun your finger...clockwise...counterclockwise. He won a year's worth of dog food in a contest b/c I taught him to tap a telegraph key and just by dumb luck, he tapped out "eat" in Morse code! (then again, maybe it wasn't dumb luck!) He made me believe in Jim the Wonder Dog. The picture above was J.R. wearing my hood and cap from my med school graduation in 1991. We all joked maybe the wrong one of us graduated!

When he got old, he got arthritic and "down in the rear" and I eventually had to put him to sleep when life was just too painful for him. He got fearful that he could not get up and whined and cried with a horrible tone to his voice, because his old joints hurt too bad. It became just not fair to expect him to lie there in fear till I got home. I cried for days after I had put him to sleep, even after I brought his successor Mr. Willis Woo home.

(Ok, I admit it. I lasted five whole days without a dog. I caught holy hell from my grandmother for not "mourning J.R. for the appropriate time frame" but all in all, Mr. Willis Woo was a godsend. The flip side of that was I remember when my grandmother was dying of cancer, she was petting Mr. Willis Woo and I overheard her telling him, "I'm sorry I didn't like you at first, because you were not J.R. But now you are the most loyal of them all when I can't even get out of bed. I'm sorry I thought that.")

But thinking about dear Bo this evening, I remember J.R., and it helps me understand exactly why Bo and his mom and dad need your prayers.

Lately, as I am getting down to the "teens" in my "Journey backwards through the Psalms," I got to thinking how in many of them, the psalmist references "seeing God's face" (usually, he's lamenting his inability to see God's face.)

I have a strange theory about that. I think I often see the face of God in human hands.

Hands have fascinated me since childhood. My family is full of men with tough, calloused "working man's hands" and women with "hands shaped by honest work." No French nail tips or manicures in that crowd. I can remember watching the hands of my family as they chopped and pounded round steak for dinner, or cut wood, or worked on the car, or scrubbed tough stains off of the laundry. I was always intrigued with how these rough, tough, no nonsense hands also could be capable of most delicate moments...diapering babies, comforting crying children, gentle touches to the back of my head in moments of love and pride.

So it is no surprise that I still often observe hands, and my memories of people are often of their hands, not their faces. I think about my old mentor M.J., how his gnarly, fingernail-bitten, osteoarthritic hands could still have such fine muscle control to drive a microscope slide "freehand" and move the slide mere microns while looking at a case under the scope. I think about my college mentor CJM, this hyperactive Scottie dog of a man, whose hands moved surprisingly slowly and gracefully when he talked, like delicate little birds. I think of my friend S., whose small, short-fingered hands move like lightening bolts when she cooks supper and seem to have a mind of their own. I look at my own hands now and then and realize as I age, I am getting "wise-looking hands" like my grandmother had at my age.

I was realizing recently during one of my acolyte stints that I probably occupy my mind 75% of the time I am up there in front by observing and pondering clergy hands. When I go down the aisle with the processional cross as our associate priest reads the Gospel, I stare transfixed at how her hands hold the book firmly yet gently. In the Eucharistic Prayer, I watch our priest's hands as he blesses the wafers and the wine, holds his hands outward at certain parts of the prayer, and gaze a lot at his "Sunday ring".

The story of his "Sunday ring" to me becomes part of the Eucharistic Prayer itself. Some years back, after a very tough time in his life in "the parish from Hell," he had a dream in which a circle figured prominently. A few days later, as he was out for a walk, he happened to look down in the storm sewer. There in the leaves and debris of the storm sewer was a white gold ring with a bluish green oval stone setting. He sort of took it as a sign of sorts, and has worn it in services every Sunday in the various parishes he has served subsequently. For him, it is a symbol of his obedience to God and his acknowledgement of the power God allows to be channeled through his hands. Knowing that story connects what is going on during the Eucharist in a "it's him/it's bigger than him" sort of way.

Pondering his "Sunday ring" has really made me think a lot about what clergy hands really mean on Sunday as they preside over the table and hand out the Sacrament.

I like to think about how for a brief moment, the hands of the person presiding over the altar are the “hands of God.” They symbolize the presence of God among us, just like how Jesus came to be among us. Week after week, God comes down to dwell among us and the human form of it is in the hands that preside over the Eucharist. When I say the Nicene Creed, I think about both of those sets of clergy hands in our parish, how in the service of the Church, they are just like Christ--fully human and fully divine in their power to bless the Sacrament and hold the Gospel.

I enjoy my job of helping with the ablution of those hands. It is my little tiny symbol of serving a living God. It reminds me of how the symbolic water of our baptism is connecting all of us in the parish in those few seconds, how our parish is connected to parishes all over the world, a never ending river of our Baptismal Covenant. It is a “that we all may be one” moment. That simple act I am doing in my regular acolyte stint helps all the mysteries of the Eucharist “happen” in a tiny way. Whoa!

And, as the infomercials say, "But wait...there's more!"

Then I sit and watch the hands that receive the Sacrament. Everyone sort of does it the same, but does it differently. I sit and wonder what blessing will happen to each of those sets of hands each week. I remember when I first started doing a regular acolyte stint. I was really concerned about all the "What do I do's" when I wasn't actually doing anything. "Look reverent" was the only thing I could think of. Of course, Wallace, in his quasi-Buddhist-totally-into-contemplation sort of way, looks at me quizzically, like he's a little puzzled that "contemplation" is not intuitive for me, and goes, " know...meditate."

I go, "On what?"

"Well, on whatever you want."

"But I don't know what I want! Gimme a jump start, here."

"Ok...well then, pray about the needs of each person in the parish while I go down the line. If you know something in particular about that person's needs think about that, if you don't, just think in general terms. That's kind of what I do, since we're a small parish and I know most everyone."

I found that I could accomplish that if I concentrated on everyone's hands as they got the Sacrament. I could think about all those sets of hands going out and being "sent now into the world in peace," like in the Post-Communion prayer.

In all those moments, I realize I am given a glimpse of the face of God...and his face has ten fingers.

Some of you readers may already remember the "small world" link between me and Lauralew of Episcogranny. She attended Truman a couple years before me. Her roommate was my good friend of 30 years, JML. (Yes, another J. My life is full of the letter J, ok?) We missed crossing paths. Once I entered the blogosphere, and she found out I was from Kirksville, she started doing the "Do you know..." thing, and when I found out our mutual connection, you could have knocked me over.

So, with Lauralew being just 90 miles away over the holiday, she tripped on up to Kirksville this morning. First was church, and she seemed to enjoy my Trinity friends a lot. Then we met up with JML at La Fuente for lunch, and then a long leisurely 3 hour chat at JML's house. It was marvelous fun to share both the secular and the spiritual with two mutual friends, and my first meetup with a piece of my blogosphere.

I am usually hesitant about meeting new people. I rarely make good first impressions. People have a hard time getting a real good feel for me on initial meetings b/c I tend to hide the deeper parts of real me behind the "live wire at the party" veneer I often employ in casual social settings. But such was not the case. Since my blogfriends already know the "deeper parts of me" in some ways, there was nothing to hide, so I could be more of that part of me.

I had to laugh at church to myself at the funny similarities between Lauralew and me in worship. Granted, my voice is an octave lower, but she sings and responds in church with vigor. I dearly love Episcopalians who have vigor! She, like me, does most of the prayer book from heart. She sings like she cares. You can hear her voice ring out in the responses. In other words, she worships like she likes it. I marveled at our worship similarities. She nods at the "Jesus Christ" part of the creed like I do. She prefers kneeling to standing. We even like to cross ourselves at the same time (except she also likes to cross herself at "we look for the resurrection of the dead" and that is the one I never got in the habit of doing.) To have that many worship similarities between two people who never met and became friends in the ether of the intertubes is uncanny. Cue the Twilight Zone music!

Then our visit with JML was fun b/c I got a glimpse of the world of their mutual past. JML is one of my dearest, most loyal friends. We don't get to hang out together as much as we'd like b/c she still has a lot of work obligations and obligations with the last kid in the house. But that has been ok, b/c we have a friendship that will always be there. Some friends are like that.

But as I was driving home, I was thinking a prayer of thanksgiving for all you that are my blogfriends, and was thinking part of this is a testament to the "cyberparish of MadPriest." I have met most of you b/c you hang out on OCIBW. You are my "church friends" as much as my real-time church friends are. I thank God for you. You make my spirituality better, more real, more connected. And God bless us every one!

With Epiphany coming up, I’m going to admit my Epiphany heresy, that makes the fundies run screaming from the room saying I’m going to hell.

Here it is: I don’t think the star had squat to do with the Epiphany, except that it was the catalyst for the Magi to want to go look.

Here are the things that I know I know from a scientific perspective:

1. We know from a lot of secular texts and from Roman coinage of that era that the years 4-7 BC were full of all sorts of phenomena—conjunctions and novas and comets and all kinds of stuff. Any one of those things would be called a “star” in the vernacular of that time. We know that priests and holy men dabbled in astronomy. They were trying to understand the sky b/c they saw more things in the sky than most people do now. Any one of these phenomenon could have been attributed to “the star” and that’s fine. It doesn’t matter, really.

2. We know the Magi already planned to be looking in Bethlehem b/c of the prophecy in Micah. So I don’t have to worry about the fact that celestial bodies “move” as the night sky moves. You can’t really “follow a star” without wandering all over hell’s half acre. I think this is more metaphorical and more linked to archetypes and the symbolism of the Messiah being “light”. People didn’t right history, per se, like they do now, they probably wrote more like “historical hagiography.”

Here is what else I know in a spiritual sense: Non-coincidences are real. The business in Matthew of the star “stopping” does not bother me, b/c in my mind, probably they simply saw it over a dwelling and something in them said, “This is the place”. More than likely, something inside of them made them stop, and the "star" just happened to be in the neighborhood.

So, to me, the star is great schmaltz in Matthew’s account, but it does not really play a major part in the Epiphany, except that some celestial event is what poked the Magi’s interest. This, of course, would cause me to be burned at the stake in several churches in Kirksville.

But then two funny thoughts have always occurred to me....

1. How many other, um, “Not-so-wise men” went chasing after all these other phenomena and came up empty? And how many other magi did Herod send out b/c he was wound up about this, because this rash of celestial phenomena was creating unrest in the area, because of the prophesy in Micah? I kind of imagine Bethlehem being a pretty touristy place from 4-7 BC, what with everyone looking for the Messiah, and all the stuff going on in the sky those few years. It might have been the perfect cover for Jesus’ birth! “Oh, shit, another bunch of foreigners looking for the Messiah. Quick, sell ‘em some khazrei!”

2. The other one is straight out of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” How many “wrong houses” did they go to? Again, maybe a lot of people in Bethlehem having boy babies were getting unexpected gifts and prizes. Maybe the locals had quite a racket on this. They’d see some foreign dudes wandering around town with treasure chests, and send them over to their cousin’s house who just had a baby. Or say, “Oh, you want to go to XYZ, over here," and when they got there, conk them in the head and take their camels and stuff!

Of course, the problem is, nobody is going to write down their screwups for posterity. No self respecting magus is going to put to papyrus, “We followed a star and never found squat, and we got hit in the head and had our gold and camels stolen.” But one thing remains the same. No one is going to go back to Herod and admit they screwed up, either, so I am sure there were tons of “not-so-wise” men that were fugitives.

What a movie that would make: “I Was a Fugitive from Messianic-related Justice!”

But again, I am also convinced it is all about "outcome", not whether the account in Matthew is "real", "partially real," or "mostly myth." The fact remains, there was an Epiphany. It is the epiphany itself that matters, not the details of the story of it. That is far more comforting to me and my realizations about my own epiphanies, because the details of my own cannot possibly live up to Matthew's gold standard of "this is what epiphanies are like." Knowing mine can be just as real helps me to accept them better...and isn't that what epiphanies are all about?

One of the things that always gets my mind to wandering during Advent and Christmas is all the emphasis on "visitations, visions, and prophecy." As a liturgical "non-apocalyptic-don't-even-talk-to-me-about-the book of Revelation" Christian, I just simply have a hard time with all the angels, visitations, and prophecy stuff in the texts during this season. It's hard for me to make the jump between, "This stuff happens in the Bible and everyone goes, 'sure, ok,' and when people claim it to happen now, we think, 'what kind of kook are you, and do you need 96 hours observation?'"

I am absolutely convinced that if benzodiazapines and SSRI's were available in the Middle Ages, we would not have half the saints we have. What we now would think of as "pretty hefty mental illness," people of the day saw as touched by God...not touched in the head. It becomes pretty easy to say "this does not happen to me, this does not happen in a reasonable, rational world."

This also is complicated by the fact that the ancients saw the line between these things as much blurrier. I think they were less likely to question their dreams and visions, saw them as more "natural," and did not have to worry about the Jungian interpretation of their dreams. They simply took these phenomena to heart and acted/didn't act upon them.

Yet people are absolutely fascinated by paranormal phenomena (A&E channel makes a good living off of it, in fact), and literature ranging from religious magazines to the National Enquirer carry stories of angels and visions. We do this weird dance between "believe" and "don't believe", and we are far more likely to "believe" when it happens to someone else.

I am always thinking in things like Luke's story of the angel Gabriel in "Yeah, ok, whatever," terms. But what I am slowly coming to realize is that things as simple as human insight can be "visitations" in their own right. I have had very interesting dreams in the past. I have had moments that I could see things in my mind during prayer. But maybe I cheapen them by refusing to think of them as "visitations" in some form. I am too scientific. I can rattle on and on about dopamine and neurotransmitters and endorphins and explain away every one of them. Sure, I can accept the power of a Lakota vision quest. But I would be quick to say the endorphins and neurotransmitters are the "cause."

In my adult life, I have had only three dreams in which ever woke me up wondering if something happened even close to a visitation in a religious sense. In two of them, I was "chatting up God." The funny part is God looked like George Burns. (Yeah, I see you laughing.) In the other, I dreamed that I was "being snuggled in bed by an angel" in which I was not allowed to see the angel's face. It was not sexual, but it was comforting in a "non-sexual, sensual way." The odd part was I could only see the angel's distal forearm and hand, and I remember that body part appeared "trustworthy" to me, so I did not panic in the dream.

I can explain away all of them, and have...multiple times. I can very easily dismiss these as my facile, fertile mind being allowed to romp and play in the arms of Morpheus, where the usual stimuli of the day are absent. Neurotransmitters on holiday.

But here is where the gap between those Biblical visitations and my weird dreams closes a bit.

In all three instances, I did something different as a result of those dreams. I acted upon them. In all three instances, acting upon them brought an unexpected delight in my life.

I won't go into the details; let's just say they are mine and God's, as are the "what I did's" when I acted upon them. But all three dreams caused me to break a pattern, with rewarding results...and maybe THAT is the deal with all of this stuff.

Maybe the real story in Biblical dreams and visions is the backstory that the object of the visitation did something differently. Maybe the true test of this stuff is "Wha'dja do with it afterwards?"

This thought has deepened my notions about these phenomena a bit. I am starting to learn to care less about the hows and whys and the "how true is this" stuff and looking more at outcome.

The phenomena, whatever they are, are catalysts for change and metamorphosis, and if these are good changes, then who cares?

Ok, several of my blogfriends are playing this meme. Basically, it is "Take the first sentence from the first post of each month on your blog for 2008 and put them all together and see what they say."

Some of these have been pretty darn here's mine. If I started with a a Bible quote, I'm going to cheat and skip down to the first thing I said. It probably isn't fair to make all the characters in the Bible play!

Here goes!

I had to spend a little time telling you about my Jewish friend M.J.'s Bar Mitzvah. Well, now that I know what my Lenten game plan is (see my earlier post, "Lent's coming; look busy") it sounds odd but I am kind of looking forward to starting it. God is basically telling Israel that it is time to pack up and leave Babylon. This week's Gospel, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, was "The Road to Emmaus" and the big thing I was thinking today in the middle of Wallace's sermon was, “Hmmmm....we all have our own ‘Road to Emmaus.’ Multiple times.”

I posted a story back in January about my friend M.J., who became Bar Mitzvah at age 77, and learning the Hebrew portion of his Torah, despite his dementia. I just discovered this week that my wireless internet router reaches out in the yard a little way from the house, so now I can combine two of my favorite activities...goofing around on the internet, and sitting in "my sacred circle" in the yard. Last Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 10:40-42) had Jesus explaining the true meaning of the word "welcome.".,.Over on Wounded Bird, Mimi posts the following:

Well, gang, I have embarked on a 40 day Ecunet cyber faith group experience called "Journey with Joan Chittister." Many of you have followed the almost year and a half saga of my cousin J. and his wife (also J.--we'll call her JM!) in their attempt to get custody of J.'s two children from a previous relationship. I am told by all my relatives that for a NE Missouri native, I have, um...unusual food tastes. Hola, mi novia Señorita Chompita Wiggletail!

Well, that was humorous enough, that I decided to take this one step further and also do "the first sentence from the LAST post of each month...and here's what I got....

Wallace's sermon today focused on Jesus' question, "What are you looking for?" It appears to me that God is speaking to Israel, reminding them that even in their downtrodden state they come from a godly heritage. MadPriest asked a very interesting and tough question on his blog today. Well, over on MadPriest's blog, he gave his loyal readers a chance to "write your own creed," the emphasis being to write a creed that you can believe 100% without any questions or reservations.

Sigh. Lately, my planet has been full of things that require choices and decisions and the choices/decisions on either side have not been great. Ok, I basically consider Tarot cards hokum but it is still kind of a fun quiz, just like when you go to the French Quarter you have to get your fortune read "just 'cuz". Letting people take up their own crosses is not really all that easy when you care about them.

Today’s readings focus on the value of silence. Finally! Something I can relax and lean back and chat about! Thought I'd share with you a fun picture I took last night. Some days, a person needs a "reminder of the value of mindfulness."

(I think this one came out even funnier!)

Addendum to the last post. K. & T. often ask me to do the blessing and I am terribly lame at "off the cuff impromptu prayer." So I looked at my previous post a bit and came up with a collect that I will use tonight....

O Lord, maker of the beginning of all things, grant us Your nourishment and prosperity during this New Year. Allow the healing broth of your Holy Spirit to soak into the dry parts of our souls and hydrate us with Your goodness, so that we become a source of nourishment to our “families by chance” and our “families by choice.” Help us to learn that the plainest and simplest parts of Your love can become a banquet under your watchful eye. Engender in us the wisdom to accept Your plans for our welfare and live in the knowledge that a future with You is one of hope. In the name of Jesus Christ, who fed the multitude with a meager handful of loaves and fishes, we pray. Amen.

"For surely you know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

Rural northern Missouri is a strange mix of "North n' South". Families have "northern traditions" and "southern traditions" and it may not even matter, for the long time natives, which side your relatives fought in, as Granny Clampett used to say, "The war of Northern Aggression."

We have two New Year's day food traditions here. The "northern" one is eating cabbage on New Year's day, b/c it symbolizes the green leaves of money. The "southern" one is eating black eyed peas, because they roughly resemble coins, and because they swell up (get fat and prosper) when you cook them.

Despite the fact my great-great-grandfather, Henry Brammer, fought for the Union, that side of my family ALWAYS ate black eyed peas (usually in a dish called "Hoppin' John") on New Year's Day for a lucky new year. So as I type, I am cooking up a batch of the little boogers to take to friends K. and T. tonight. They are providing the cornbread. (Naturally, this HAS to be eaten with cornbread!)

Now, my friends know "I'm too freewheeling to use recipes." I like the thrill of no two dishes I ever make tasting exactly alike, and the little unique aspects of them reflecting my mood. So I will tell you how I cook "Hoppin' John", but remember, this is "not a recipe."

I make a mess of black eyed peas and rice by soaking the peas overnight, draining them, and throwing them in a pot with some rice. The peas to rice ratio is skewed to the peas for me. Sometimes I use white rice, sometimes brown rice, sometimes rice medley. But it has to be the long cooking rice. Add broth (either beef or chicken, doesn't matter) till it safely covers the mess and allows for the peas and rice to an inch over the solid stuff.

Boil the rice and peas together with a ham hock, or salt pork, or bacon, or whatever salty bit of treyf trips your trigger, along with an onion, some green or red bell peppers, and shake in a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika and rosemary till it suits your taste. When I make this for my solo consumption I throw in a sliced jalepeno pepper, too.

Bring it to a rolling boil and cook till the peas are soft. I like mine a little "al dente", not mooshy. Eat with cornbread.

But that is my version of Hoppin' John. My granny's rule on people who did not like black eyed peas was that they had to eat three peas, or else they would screw up the luck for everyone at the table. That was never an issue for me as a kid--I love the stuff--but I can remember a couple of cousins having issues with Hoppin John. If you really do it up right, you put a dime in the pot, and the person who gets the dime in their bowl is the luckiest of all!

So, I am sitting here this morning thinking to myself about our various superstitions about "lucky meals on New Year's Day." They don't have to be "just superstitions". I am thinking of each of those black eyed peas as a bowlful of little tiny prayers for prosperity--not just prosperity for ourselves, but for those in the world who cannot see prosperity because of economic recession, war, poverty, and personal tragedy. Just as these little peas were once dry and now are swelling up to tasty goodness in my cooking pot, may the Lord reach in all of us, hydrate our dry parts, and swell us up with the nourishment from his healing broth, safely incubated in his holy graniteware cooking pot!



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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