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

I get a daily e-mail with a portion of the Rule of St. Benedict in my inbox. I like how the translation I get, on the even numbered chapters, it's in the female gender, and on the odd numbered chapters, it's in the male gender. Feels very "fair" that way, you know?

But the one I got for July 28 gave me pause:

March 28, July 28, November 27
Chapter 48: On the Daily Manual Labor

Idleness is the enemy of the soul.
Therefore the sisters should be occupied
at certain times in manual labor,
and again at fixed hours in sacred reading.
To that end
we think that the times for each may be prescribed as follows.

From Easter until the Calends of October,
when they come out from Prime in the morning
let them labor at whatever is necessary
until about the fourth hour,
and from the fourth hour until about the sixth
let them apply themselves to reading.
After the sixth hour,
having left the table,
let them rest on their beds in perfect silence;
or if anyone may perhaps want to read,
let her read to herself
in such a way as not to disturb anyone else.
Let None be said rather early,
at the middle of the eighth hour,
and let them again do what work has to be done until Vespers.

And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty
should require that they themselves
do the work of gathering the harvest,
let them not be discontented;
for then are they truly monastics
when they live by the labor of their hands,
as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
Let all things be done with moderation, however,
for the sake of the faint-hearted.

Hmmm. Did I hear that right? After the sixth hour, having left the table, let them rest on their beds in perfect silence; or if anyone may perhaps want to read, let her read to herself in such a way as not to disturb anyone else. "Rest on their beds?" Like a nap?

I tend to think of monastic communities to be centered around two things: Prayer and work. That "nap" thing seems a little out of place. But let's explore that further.

One of the things that set St. Benedict apart from the more ascetic brands of monasticism was his emphasis on moderation and balance. Although he thought of the monastery as being the best place for his teachings, he fully expected many of his followers to be "out in the world." His rule promoted a balance that could be followed by the lay people, despite living in a cluttered, active world.

So in that context, "napping" does not seem counterproductive. It is part of balance.

Or, if one in the monastery doesn't feel like napping when others are napping, it isn't like kindergarten where you were forced to lie still on your mat during "nap time", you can get up and read, as long as you are being quiet.

Fifteen hundred years ago, Benedict understood a certain aspect of human nature, and a certain aspect of human nature to go against itself.

I was thinking about this in terms of my kindergarten "nap time" of so long ago. When we are five, we are told we MUST nap. But the very next year, in first grade, when we are six, we are told we must NOT nap. Somehow, going from five to six, we magically did not need naps? Hardly!

Now, most of my friends like to think that I never sleep. Several have remarked how they got an e-mail from me at 1:30 a.m. and one at 6 a.m. with the same date. There is no doubt that I am more active than most. I am pretty sure I am one of those people the neurologists call a "natural short sleeper." My grandmother was very similar to me, when I think about it. If I go to bed at a "normal" time, it's a pretty good clue I'm situationally depressed, and I almost always will wake up somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m. as a result of it.

Yet as middle age approaches, I occasionally DO take naps. Often it is after a physical activity, or right after a meal. They tend to be fairly refreshing, but sometimes I sleep just deep enough to be confused for a brief time upon awakening.

More often, I "nap with my eyes open." Perhaps it's just sitting in the yard being contemplative. Maybe it's lying in bed awake with my brain disengaged and exploring whatever thought pops in. Maybe it's reading a couple lines of Scripture and just pondering it in a rough "lectio divina" style. But in those moments, I have taught myself to do exactly what St. Benedict has instructed his monks.

Five years ago, I would never have allowed myself to do these things; I would have chided myself for being "non-productive." I would have filled every idle hour I could with "something", and felt empty and alone if I had not--I would have "failed."

The other thing I have noticed is that married friends of single people tend to want to see that you fill those hours. They become concerned that "you're just sitting home alone, brooding." They don't always believe you when you say you are NOT "brooding."

I was asked a very interesting spiritual question by one of my friends the other day. It kind of seemed from the standpoint of asking how to get something she felt she didn't have from someone who she thought "had it." I spent about two and a half days thinking that one over off and on. I found myself thinking about it when "taking those naps with my eyes open." I mostly had to admit that I didn't "have it" as much as she might have thought, but that when I felt like I DID, it came out in these times of "napping with my eyes open."

Perhaps that is the sacramental nature of the nap, whether it is a truly sleeping nap, or one with eyes open. In these quiet moments alone, the possibility of serving God in community comes up, and we figure out how to do it despite all our foibles and quirks. Thanks be to God!

I am on John 13 now in my "sometimes painful journey through John." I have thought a lot about verses 1-9; read them over and over in more or less a "lectio divina" fashion. I've paid some attention to the rest of the chapter but this one keeps grabbing me...

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

I have mentioned many times in this blog that one of the two characters in the Gospels I most identify with is good ol' Simon Peter. I sometimes wonder if we share some extra DNA--he's this great mix of impulsive and unflinchingly loyal. His foibles are so common to mine. Like me, he has his "Oh, shit, now what have I done?" moments. I soooo identify with him when he does the "deny Christ thrice" thing because I, too, have found myself caving into fear and having that really square off against that notion of myself as a "brave" person.

In this case, I would joke that this passage is "Peter n' me have issues about Maundy Thursday." I sooooo hide from "foot washing." Mostly because I have funny looking feet--huge high arches, narrow heel, fat forefoot, skinny small toes. But when Jesus sticks it to him that if he doesn't submit, Peter will "have no share with him," Peter's loyalty to Jesus wins out, and he basically goes, "Hey, then, okay, wash me all over!" I can almost imagine Peter (or me) just stripping down to the undies and doing the exhibitionist dance.

That is pretty much a parable of my ability to resist. One of my friends of three decades once told me that one of my best (and worst) qualities is that I am so "all or nothin'." (Cue the soundtrack from Oklahoma.) I can resist with a level of resistance that is astounding. But when I finally give up my resistance, it literally is "peel off my clothes and dive right in."

I imagine both Peter and I have a tendency to yell "Cannonball!" when we dive in also, and forget that when we do the cannonball, we get everyone else wet, and get them mad we messed up their hair and stuff. That is a problem. Then we are doing the "Oops, oh shit, I didn't mean to do that," thing again. We both probably irritate others b/c we do get a little self-absorbed in our own exuberance.

Nevertheless, I need to still strive for that exuberant feeling of "Okay, then, wash all of me!"

Many of you know things get posted here at some really weird times. There is no doubt that I am what is known as a "chronic short sleeper"--someone who routinely gets 4-6 hours of sleep per evening but seems to not have any ill effects from it. It creates the illusion among my friends that I don't sleep.

But even chronic short sleepers get insomnia.

I tend to have little runs of it, where I wake up two hours later. They are almost always during times I am stressed. I've had runs of it while I have been making all those Very Big Decisions at work.

A couple of nights ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. and wrote this prayer in rough form. I have sinced fleshed it out. I think it may speak to more universal aspects of insomnia although it really is more or less "about me."

A Prayer for Insomnia

O Lord, Your son said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Yet, at times, I cannot put down my burdens and use the same arms that carry these burdens to embrace You, and to embrace the refreshing sleep I need.

Sometimes, the "yoke of expectations" overpowers me. I yearn to be loved fully and completely, yet I also realize that within me resides this core of solitude that cannot be denied. Sometimes I let that core be absorbed by what I believe the expectations of others are, and in my quest to be loved, I fear I will disappoint.

Sometimes, the powerful gift of "awareness" you have cultivated within me can work against me. I am grateful I can feel and see easily what others cannot. But sometimes I take on too much of it as my own, and fear that putting down what is not really mine will cause someone to be "let down."

Sometimes, the delight of the uniqueness you created in me, becomes a burden itself. Sometimes, I long to have the life everyone else seems to have. Yet I know in my deepest heart, it is not the life that best satisfies me, or best serves You. The chafing of this realization also prevents me from accepting the gift of the nighttime rest I need.

Teach me, merciful God, to not pick up what I don't need to carry.

Remind me, O God of miracles, that my yearnings, even my unfulfilled ones, are also a gift--my humanity presented to myself, put there to remind me just how alive I really am.

Train my ears, O God, to the sounds of your presence within both the noises and the stillness of the night--to feel your presence as real as I feel my own skin envelop me, to hear the rhythmic breathing of your Holy Spirit parallel my own inhalations and exhalations.

But most of all, gracious Lord, teach me to embrace sleep as a lover, and not resist it as a foe; and in that giving of myself to it, I may feel the power of the true love You have for me, as well as the manifestations of Your love that abide in the hearts of those closest to me. Amen.

Well, Mimi showed me the magic of Picasa (had not even known it was out there!) and I was able to lighten up the photo in the previous post. Now you can actually see the pipes of our pipe organ (look directly behind the pulpit) and more of the details of the wood. The keyboard, however, is tucked back out of sight in this photo. The cross behind the altar in the stained glass window is the original 1871 processional cross, BTW. I should have told you that earlier. Now that I can see the altar, I can also tell you that this was taken on Palm Sunday. (Note the palms left and right of the altar.
I do so love our church building, whom I affectionately call "the old girl."

Ok, Lisa's challenge is to show off "our worship space." Even though a lot of people make fun of "Kirksville winter," I wanted to put a winter pic of Trinity out there so the trees did not obscure the view of the church.

Trinity Episcopal Church was established in 1871 as a remote outpost mission church in the Diocese of Missouri, and still enjoys "mission status" for a variety of reasons related to size, geography, and serving the Truman State University community. The early vicars literally covered a circuit almost to the Iowa line. I spent some time in the diocesan archives in St. Louis a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed some of the journals of the early vicars. One described walking eight miles after hitching a ride on the train, carrying his vestments and prayer books, and very tersely noted, "Froze north ear." (I like to tease our vicar that I have had similar experiences shoveling the church walk.)

The original building was a "board and batten" church located 180 degrees from the orientation of the present building, which was built in 1917. Architect Irwin Dunbar, who was also a parishioner, designed the buiding in a blend of Tudor and Craftsman styles. It was the sentiment of the diocese at the time to build churches that looked like "English churches." The roof is red tile. It sits on the corner of Harrison and Mulanix streets in Kirksville.

Dunbar also designed the home parish of my childhood, Zion Lutheran Church, of Macon, MO. I have to admit the first time I walked into Trinity, I had an eerie sense of "being home." I found out later on the two buildings had the same architect!

I wish I had a better, more well lit picture for you, but my puny digital camera can only do so much. The interior is dark walnut and the ceiling has the "upside down boat" look that a lot of older churches have. The pews are original, and I refinished the pews in the summer of 2007 as a "summer project." Another parishioner and I refinished the chancel floor in fall 2007. (Ever try to get up 90 years of wax buildup from thousands of candles? It's a real thrill.) The altar, rail, pulpit, and lectern were replaced in the 1980's.

I don't have a picture of the organ, but it is tucked away just right of the chancel. It's a small pipe organ that originally was at KMOX radio station in St. Louis, purchased in the 1950's. We do like to claim that we have "The best little church organ in Kirksville." It's not huge worship space; but it works for us since we're not a big congregation.

Our worship style is best described as "Fairly contemplative Anglo-Catholic", and music is a HUGE part of the congregational style. Probably 1/4 to 1/3 of the parishioners on a given Sunday are in the choir. Little church, big music. This is in large part due to our very energetic choir director. Roughly 75% of the congregation either attends or works at Truman State University. I shudder to think of the total years of education in one Sunday service!

If you visited, I think the first thing you would notice is that it's pretty quiet prior to services. Our vicar's style is very contemplative and he builds a lot of "pregnant pauses" in the liturgy. Expect a longer than usual pause after the homily, and a few short pauses "between gears" and in the Eucharistic prayer. I'll be honest, I "grew into" these pauses. I originally found them a little unnerving, but as time went on, I have come to appreciate them greatly, and really miss them when I attend other Episcopal churches now. I really like the combination of Big Music/Big Quiet.

Staying for coffee hour is an integral part of the experience. We may appear at first glance to be the "frozen chosen" upstairs, but downstairs, we're fairly noisy! Although we start at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and are usually out by 11:10, coffee hour frequently lasts till well past noon.

Feel free to visit our church web page here.

Soooo...Lisa has me beat on pictures, but at least I accepted her challenge!

I realized that no summer would ever be like the one when I was nine years old.

You have to realize, I was a space junkie from the time I was old enough to recognize toys. One of my favorite childhood toys was a little rocket that you put water in and pumped it up with what looked like a bicycle pump that hooked to the nozzle of the rocket, adding air pressure to the water. Then you flipped the guard back, and the rocket took off and the water spewed out all over you as it went about 20 or so feet in the air.

I would have played with it thousands of times, but my dog Peetee kept running off with the rocket. I probably went through have a dozen replacement rockets, between the seals cracking on the nozzle at the bottom, and the dog tooth marks in the rocket.

In June 1969, we visited my great-uncle in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Of course we had to go visit the Kennedy Space Center en route. I still have a picture of me, dwarfed by the "creeper" that carried the Apollo rockets to the launch pad. In those pre-Homeland Security days, you were allowed a lot closer to Big Government Things. Although we couldn't go "right up to it", we could get closer to Apollo 11 on the launch pad than people would be allowed to be at the time of launch.

I remember being filled with a sense of wonder that "this thing was going all the way to the moon." The other vivid memory for me was seeing the computer room that would help guide it there. It seemed the entire knowledge of the universe was in that room, with its whirring tape spools, the blinking lights, the analog (yes, analog) number counters all over it, and what looked like adding machine tape spewing out from it. That computer seemed as mighty as God. (Now I laugh about the fact my cell phone probably has more memory!)

Another great wonder they had in the room full of "everyday astronaut stuff" was this magical stuff called...Velcro. I remember hoping that all the rest of us could have Velcro someday! I have to remind myself that now, when I grumble about picking the lint off of Velcro on garments and travel bags. I DID yearn for the stuff!

I HAD to have "space stuff." I drank Tang, knowing "that's what the astronauts drink." I ate some God-awful weird little peanut butter flavored things that looked like Slim Jims that Pillsbury had on the market called "Space Food Sticks." (Definitely a fad food.) On our trip to the space center, I would not have left without two souvenirs--a scale model of Apollo 11, and one of those ink pens that "writes upside down in space." There probably weren't many occasions one needed to write upside down in Macon, MO, but I was definitely going to be ready.

Walter Cronkite and I were buddies--at least it seemed so. He and I sure did a lot of space launches together--I remember watching every detail of the Gemini missions together--including the funerals of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee during an exercise in the ill-fated never launched Apollo 1.

But July 20 became a benchmark day in my life. I have so many childhood summer memories, but they, over the years, have become a blurred line in my brain, only fleeting thoughts--mere blips of time. But pretty much the whole day of July 20, 1969 stands alone in that blurred line.

I remember it was roughly around suppertime when the Lunar Module landed. I had been "antsy" all day waiting for it. I was over at my grandparents' house all day waiting. "Space stuff" was something best shared by my grandparents and me, for some reason. We had the TV on much of the day in case a bulletin interrupted the normal programming. You have to remember leaving the TV on, unattended, was a no-no in those days. It was "a waste of electricity." It "wore out the tubes." It might even catch on fire! At least those were the common admonishments of the day.

Then, of all things, they were announcing this landing at SUPPERTIME! I (successfully) begged to get to eat in front of the TV. We ALL ate in front of the TV this time. I imagine I was the handy excuse. Then they announced it would be "a few hours" before the first lunar excursion. Sheer torture for someone whose bedtime was 8:30 p.m.!

I knew that I was not going to last. As I fell asleep on the couch, I once again begged to be awakened when it started. My grandparents were true to their word. I remember watching Neil Armstrong, at first half-awake, then waking up all the way quickly. The shadowy black and white images seemed so mysterious. It was the MOON, after all!

My grandmother, always a bit of a scoffer, liked remarking, "Just you wait till all those moon creatures jump out and eat them. Everyone thinks they're nothing on the moon, but you wait. Not little green men, either. Monsters." The truth was, the more she scoffed, the more you realized she was interested. After all, this was the woman who pressed her nose right up to the glass at the zoo and looked at the snakes and went, "Yuck." This was the woman who later, in 1999, would remark, "I want to live at least to 2000. I want to see if all the computers screw up and the world goes to Hell in a handbasket or not. That will be interesting."

I had been talking a mile a minute all day, and I think I was so silent during that broadcast, I shocked my grandparents. I like to think now that even then, as loquacious a child as I was, I innately knew when to shut up in the presence of God's awe.

I remember really needing to go outside and look at the moon when it was all over, as late as it was, and as tired as I was. My grandparents went out with me for a while, and we chatted a little, in that understated "How 'bout that" sort of way Midwesterners do, and then they went back into the house to leave me alone with it. I remember just looking at the moon and thinking, "Wow. Right now there are people on the moon. They're eating and drinking and walking around, and even peeing!" I spent a lot of time out there, saying nothing, alone. I wanted to go there. I wanted to know every secret there was to be known in space. When I think about it now, I wonder if that wasn't the first time I learned to just simply sit silent in the presence of things bigger than me.

Tonight, I went outside and looked at the moon, even though tonight it was just a teeny-tiny sliver, thinking about those footprints, and the space detritus still there. How much has it aged, how much has it deteriorated, compared to me? Less? More? There I was, gray and white in my hair now, a few wrinkles on my face...but the awe is still as young as that nine-year-old forty years ago. My, what places it has taken me, thanks be to God.

Uh...yeah...I pray my Facebook page.

I admitted that to a former student of mine yesterday, when he had sent me a message.

This former student had sent me an e-mail that he really liked my Facebook status updates. He said, "you've always been so honest and open." I had to laugh, because..oh...I'm sort of a "measured form of open" on my Facebook status. I am relatively careful not to offend, save the occasional four-letter outburst or flip statement. I know "everyone is watching." But he said it got him through some difficult times at this part of his life.

We talked a little about the power of social networking. It has the power to drive you further into the "me first/I'm so cool/me me me me" attitude that seems to pick up speed day by day in this world, OR... has the power to force you to take you out of your selfish shell and live within a community.

I realized by his words, I had gravitated to the latter. One of the ways I have gravitated to the latter is I literally "pray my Facebook page."

I get up each morning, I work a little on the part of the Bible I'm working on, and think about it, pray about it, and then I check my Facebook page. I just simply read what's going on in all these people's lives. As I read them, I, oh, in a sense, "offer up what needs offering up." If someone is happy, I offer a short prayer of thanksgiving. If they have troubles, I offer prayers for their healing. If what they say meshes with me, I might even offer up something for my own spiritual growth.

I did not consciously start doing this. It just sort of happened. I realized a few weeks ago for the first time I was doing it. Then I suddenly got incredibly self-conscious about it. Then I let it go again and just let it happen. I had to come to the realization that I'm not going, "Oh, I will make sure I pray my Facebook page today." I had to accept this had just "become" me and this is not of my doing at all. It is from God, pure and simple. The easiest way to screw THAT up is for me to lay claim to it. So I handed it back and said, "Ok, this does not belong to me, God. You take care of it and I'll just go along with it."

It came up in the context with my former student b/c I was trying to explain to him that there is a place inside himself that is capable of doing so many self-healing things without "trying" to do them, and I encouraged him to "find those places." I told him one of the places I had discovered "it" was in looking at my Facebook page in the morning, and for him to simply be aware of where "his places" might be; then encourage him to spend time there.

Isn't it funny how when you explain something to someone else, sometimes you notice it for the first time yourself?

Well, sometimes "angels unawares" show up in unexpected packages.

I put this picture of Mt. Fuji on my post today in honor of my most recent 4th year osteopathic medical student who rotated in my lab on an elective rotation. I will admit there are times that "the student teaches the teacher," and this is one of them.

For starters, this was the worst time in the world to have a medical student on an elective rotation. As you know, about two weeks ago, I was making some Very Big Decisions and we were making some Very Big Changes in the office. Some of these decisions were incredibly hard. I stressed majorly the two weeks prior to the Very Big Changes and constantly asked myself, "Am I doing the right thing?"

When M. arrived on his rotation, he was in day 4 of the Very Big Changes. Lots of dysfunction and issues with adapting to the changes. I was struggling with "how to appear comfortable and calm" among these changes. I had prayed nightly those two weeks prior for God to weather my temper through these days ahead.

God sent me M.

M. is a very hardworking 4th year osteopathic medical student who is technically, a Japanese citizen. He is, well, "incredibly Japanese" in his culture and manners. Incredibly polite. Incredibly open and friendly despite the reserved character to his nature. It seemed like an absolute mismatch between me and my "bull in the china closet" personality.

To make things worse, I realized that I was one of his interviewers to be admitted to medical school, and he made it clear he found that to be a big deal in his life. Agggh.

But then something amazing happened.

His polite nature became incredibly infectious.

I found that I was becoming more polite, more calm, more soft-spoken in his presence. I found myself praising him more openly, and when he was not quite "on the ball" with his answers, using a more forgiving, more instructive, more genuine part of me to correct him.

It started rubbing off on the way I treated the rest of the office, too.

Then something else amazing happened.

It seemed that the rest of the staff started seeming more "on track" with the changes in the office. They seemed to be more interested in working through problems rather than blaming each other for them. I started looking around and realizing, "This is why I made the Very Big Decisions and wanted the Very Big Changes." I was wanting the dysfunction in the office to stop, and I was recognizing for the first time, "I was seeking the quiet spaces in the office same as I do at home."

For two years, I have lamented that my work life does not seem to parallel my home life, my church life, my blog life, my Facebook life. I saw my first glimpse that it was not an impossibility.

My student, who came for me to teach HIM, taught me something. He taught me "I have a tendency to mirror what surrounds me." He taught me the value of my "environment." He affirmed my need to continue to seek that environment in my life, even if it involves Very Big Decisions and Very Big Changes. These things CAN lead to "stability" if done thoughtfully and carefully.

So now I am looking at this wonderful red origami bird he pasted onto a thank you card for me for these two weeks. A THANK YOU card. I've never had a medical student give me a thank you card at the end of the rotation in two decades. Maybe just the occasional e-mail a few days/weeks later.

I am duly humbled.

I won't forget.

I recently read a devotional excerpt in Forward Day by Day where the author praised the value of her trip to and from her country home every day and "town." It got me to thinking about the joys of my own trips I take every day from my own home in the country to town, and back home again.

Here is the prayer I wrote about that daily trip:

A Prayer for my Twenty Minute Drive to and from Work

Lord God, you knit the threads of time into the garment of the universe in amazing ways.

Thank you for gift of my twenty minute drive to and from work each day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year, a drive that some might find a chore. Within that twenty minutes are the seasons of the year, the mysteries of life, and nature's coat of many colors.

Take the pristine white January snowdrifts, the earthy muck of April, July's powder blue chicory flowers, October's orange fallen leaves, and the heavy gray horizon of December, and splice them together into a never-ending, always changing kaleidoscope of colors and patterns--so much the same day by day, yet stunningly different from season to season.

Synchronize the motions of my familiar journey with the joyful motions of your natural kingdom--bounding deer with tails held aloft, hopping baby rabbits, scurrying coveys of quail, and the creeping pace of the box turtle.

Keep me aware of unexpected roadside delights--owls landing with outstretched wings onto fence posts, newly born calves, shy flocks of turkeys, hawks flying lazy circles in the sky. Use them to teach me that unexpected joys still await within my most mundane work days.

Embed in my heart the knowledge that what I see along the road today is but a fleeting shadow, put there by You for today's viewing only--yesterday's view is gone, and tomorrow's is not yet here.

Transform the seconds of those twenty minutes into hours of inner strength as I prepare for my day's work, and unwind the watchspring of the stress of my day in those twenty minutes towards home.

Even in the visages of nature's death by the roadside, make me mindful that I, too, will become dust, and I may not take this journey again. What I do today must matter.

Weave these threads of time, oh Lord, so finite, so similar, into the carpet of your kingdom--a kingdom with no end, no beginning, illuminated by perpetual light. In the name of Jesus Christ, whose 33 finite years stretches into infinity, Amen.

Tobias Haller was talking about the powerful emotions this film evoked for him on Facebook, and now I know why. (NOTE: This movie is rated R. It has a degree of gore and one pretty graphic sex scene, but all in all I don't think it detracts from the movie.) It is based on a true story, roughly paralleling the story of Chante Mallard, who hit a homeless man while intoxicated and drove home, leaving the injured Gregory Biggs stuck in her windshield to die the next day.

What I will say about where the movie veers from the real life story (without spoiling the plot) is that in the movie, it's more the way Gregory Biggs would have liked it to turn out, I think.

If you have ever done one stupid thing in your life while being intoxicated, this movie will hit you hard.

This movie is a stark reminder to what lengths people will go to in order to try to cover up their transgressions, and the dark inhumanity that people are capable of when they're afraid their transgressions will be discovered. About the only person with any redeeming social value is the poor homeless guy who gets hit by Mena Suvari's car. Every other major character in the movie
shows what worthless specks of humanity people can be. The Hispanic family, whose son discovers the man, does not call the law, afraid of deportation. The boyfriend thinks the thing to do is tie him up, put him in a garbage bag, and pop a cap in him.

Although many of the characters are "eye rolling stereotypical" (gangsta boyfriend, white girl with cornrows who hangs with African-Americans, illegal Hispanics, vicious female boss, and way-too-swishy gay guy with a Pomeranian), it is still a very graphic and vivid story.

How many times, in the heat of wrongdoing, do we go to extraordinary lengths to cover it up? that is the deeper question.

How many times have I been so worried that I'd be "found out" in something or another, and it turned out I got in a worse pickle by trying to cover it up?

How many times have I been in denial for some of the wrongs I committed; made them "someone else's fault" even when to take it to that level proved to be ridiculous?

One of the things I am learning is to "just fess up when you screwed up." Obviously, my screwups are not as dire as the premise of this movie, but this movie will drive it home. I have decided I'd rather be castigated for being too honest, too open, too quick to ask for forgiveness, than to deal with the "hiding" anymore. This movie drove that home for me. Rent it!

I was over playing on a site called Wordle. (Thanks, Barbi!)

This is a way cool can take a block of text and make a "word cloud" out of it.

I decided it might be interesting to see what it would do with one of the Sunday homilies at's the result...

(created on

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict. As many of you readers know, I've been paying a lot more attention to this guy ever since I read a book on the early monks and since my visit to the nearby monastery. I have to credit him for a major life change on my part. I am a person who walks fast, talks fast, eats fast, works fast, and prays fast. I have to give St. Benedict credit for "teaching me to slow down now and then." I have come to believe in his Rule. Even though it was written 15 centuries ago, a lot of it makes good common sense now. I find myself viewing many of my thoughts and actions through the lenses of "Stability, obedience, and conversion."

He has taught me fifteen centuries later to try to slow down, and listen. I am still not very good at it, but I keep trying, and sometimes, it actually happens!

Benedict's Rule is short by "monastic discourse" standards, but powerful. Benedict liked rhetoric and oratorial speech, but realized it did not have just the power to "persuade" in a secular sense, but that the power of speaking and oratorical rhythms could be put to the service of the Gospel. Although in one sense he was a "college dropout," it wasn't because he didn't understand his schoolwork!

Benedict understood the power of both the Psalms, and their melodic nature, and was a huge proponent of what we now know as lectio divina...that in chanting words and phrases of the Bible slowly, they gain power and create recognizable images in our own spiritual lives.

He actually wrote his Rule for lay people, and saw the Divine Office as a means in which "the Church" can come to us, no matter where we are. Rather than insist his monks stayed and prayed in the monastery, he stressed that it was the actual praying of the Divine Office, no matter where they were, was the important thing. By doing this, the whole world became their chapel, and being united in "the present moment" became their church.

St. Benedict was a bit of a trail-blazer in that some of his most beloved disciples were women, and through the energies of his sister (St. Scholastica) he promoted his Rule as a way both men and women could become closer to Christ.

St. Benedict's Prayer

O Lord,
I place myself in Your hands and dedicate myself to You.

I pledge myself to do Your will in all things:
To love the Lord God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength.
Not to kill, not to steal not to covet, not to bear false witness, to honor all persons.
Not to do to another what I should not want done to myself.
Not to seek after pleasures.

To love fasting.
To relieve the poor.
To clothe the naked.
To visit the sick.

To bury the dead.
To help those in trouble.
To console the sorrowing.
To hold myself aloof from worldly ways.
To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Not to give way to anger.
Not to foster a desire for revenge.
Not to entertain deceit in the heart.
Not to make a false peace.

Not to forsake charity.
Not to swear, lest I swear falsely.
To speak the truth with heart and tongue.
Not to return evil for evil

To do no injury, indeed, even to bear patiently any injury done to me.
To love my enemies.
Not to curse those who curse me but rather to bless them.
To bear persecution for justice's sake.

Not to be proud.
Not to be given to intoxicating drink.
Not to be an overeater.
Not to be lazy.
Not to be slothful
Not to be a detractor.

To put my trust in God.
To refer the good I see in myself to God.
To refer any evil I see in myself to myself
To fear the day of judgment.
To be in dread of hell.

To desire eternal life with spiritual longing.
To keep death before my eyes daily.
To keep constant watch over my actions.
To remember that God sees me everywhere.

To call upon Christ for defense against evil thoughts that arise in my heart.
To guard my tongue against wicked speech.
To avoid much speaking.
To avoid idle talk.

Not to seek to appear clever.
To read only what is good to read.
To pray often.
To ask forgiveness daily for my sins, and to seek ways to amend my life.

To obey my superiors in all things rightful.
Not to desire to be thought holy, but to seek holiness.
To fulfill the commandments of God by good works.

To love chastity.
To hate no one.
Not be jealous or envious of anyone.
Not to love strife.
Not to love pride.

To honor the aged.
To pray for my enemies.
To make peace after a quarrel, before the setting of the sun.
Never to despair of your mercy, O God of mercy.

I had to give "fork-poking" points for the speech our Presiding Bishop gave at the opening of the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention last week. She sure stirred up some fundies with this quote:

"The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy—that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention."

I was sitting there reading it, thinking, ""

But she's right, you know. Especially that "idolatry" thing, and that "individualism" thing.

Like you, me, or anyone has the power to "save ourselves" by saying "the sinner's prayer." I might as well click my heels together three times and say "There's no place like home." I can't see the God I worship meeting me at the gate and going, "Eh, eh! Not so fast! You didn't say the magic word!"

I followed some of the more fundamentalist-type links, and the comment on one of the sites that cracked me up was this one, meant to infer the PB was a heretic...

"I guess that the "bishop" has never read a Bible. She needs to read Acts 4:12; Salvation is not in a religious organization but in Christ alone."

Well, DUH, did that commenter read what he/she just said? "in Christ alone." Like "not by YOU or anything YOU did." DUH. And when you look at Acts 4:8-12...

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Well, DUH, hellloooooo? She said that our words are not what saves us. Nobody said you have to DO anything; Jesus does what Jesus does, and it ain't got nothin' to do with you.

Then there was their so-called "poll"...

I guess that's the meaning of "push poll," huh? Not a single choice like "Uh...maybe she's right."

Sometimes, I get a feeling people need to remember there is "intent" with "repent," when we use the word as it truly means.

I mean, let's say I owe my friend $100. If I tell her, "I'll pay you on Friday," and I have no intention of paying her on Friday, telling her that meant nothing. But if I've paid her, it was not a hollow statement. Do I get to absolve myself if I didn't pay her on Friday by saying, "Well, I told her I would, so it counts." Hell, no!

Now, the people who see this salvation thing differently like to point out "all have fallen short of the glory of God."

I'm with you, there. 100%. No argument there. There is nothing--not ONE thing--that I can do to measure up for the gift of God's grace. But that still does not mean that getting "saved" in a certain prescribed method approved by certain segments of Christianity will assure "my" salvation. If you were to ask me what assures me of salvation, I would say it is being able to look at how I have changed my life as a result of my desire to do God's will...and it's not "my" salvation. It's just "salvation."

I sooooooo dislike that emphasis on "a personal relationship with Jesus" thing. It reeks of "I've got mine; too bad YOU'RE going to Hell." Truth is, we are defined by others. It's that "loving your neighbor as yourself," thing. In my case, I so often fall short in even beginning to "love myself." "Loving myself" means to stop always making it about me. When we make it about us, that's not "self-love," that's narcissicm. If we were all loving our neighbors as our selves, in the way God meant for us to, this stuff about our own salvations wouldn't even come up. We'd just know.

In the meantime, I am grateful to God for my uncertainty. Without it, I'd never try to do better. If I had the smug self-assurance that some of the "saved" do, I would never feel I ever had to change a thing about myself, because I'm already"in". As the years roll on, I worry less and less about being "in" or "out." That's not what salvation is about.

Next to Phantom of the Opera, I would say this was Lon Chaney's best work, both from a character perspective and as his reputation of "Man of a Thousand Faces." Cheney plays Blizzard, a double amputee who is the crime kingpin of San Francisco. The opening scenes, set in a young surgeon's home/dispensary, show that as a child, he sustained injuries in a traffic accident that led to the young doctor mistakenly choosing to amputate both his legs above the knees. When an older physician colleague arrives, he takes one look in the pan that contains the child's legs and pronounces the young surgeon never should have amputated. (My one snide aside is that is a pretty tall stretch of surgical pathology to do that without dissecting them, but hey, it IS a movie...)

The boy awakens from his unconsciousness and overhears this conversation and the statement that the older doctor will lie for the younger one upon the arrival of the parents. When his parents arrive, he insists that the doctors are lying, but the older surgeon says, "It's the ether. He's imagining it."

We then fast forward to Blizzard's adulthood and are given a glimpse of his vast empire of crime. The movie centers around his relationship with Rose, a police informant sent to spy on him by becoming part of his crime network, and Barbara, who we later discover is the daughter of Dr. Ferris, the surgeon who mangled him. Without getting too far into spoiling the plot, Blizzard and Dr. Ferris meet again, and Blizzard coerces him into an act that ultimately allows Ferris to atone for his mistake...with unexpected results.

Chaney is nothing short of amazing in his portrayal of a double amputee. In order to play the part, he had to bind his legs behind him and walk on his knees--a position in which he could only stand to be in for ten minutes at a time, and caused permanent muscle damage to his legs. Some film historians say that part of what was transmitted as the "evil looks" of Blizzard are actually some of the physical pain Chaney actually felt to play this part.

In order to not scare the audience into thinking Lon Chaney actually lost his legs, the original film showed him walking down a staircase after the credits. This footage was lost, unfortunately.

My only beef about this film is that the musical score has been updated into this sort of "techno-gloom" music. I think I would have preferred something closer to the original music score, but it still did not detract from the story.

This film absolutely captivates me in its juxtaposition of good and evil; it is a reminder that all that is "good" has a dark side in this world; and all that is "evil", but for a twist of fate or two, could have been "good." An interesting use of metaphor is that Blizzard meets Barbara by answering an ad for a sculptor's model in which she intends to sculpt a bust of Satan. She creates with clay a model of the darkness that lives within Blizzard himself.

The other part of this movie that captivates me is the notion that Dr. Farris redeems his past transgression to a degree, in a way not expected, and in a way that gives Blizzard a chance at a new life.

What this movie got me to pondering is now literally, ONE event can change the paths of our lives from good to evil, or from evil to good. That people or things we think as "bad" or "hopeless" may have started on that path by one good or bad break. That the awareness of these windows is crucial to our spiritual growth.

I think back now and then and realize there are many, many times in my life God set "that one thing" in my path to stop and take notice, or sent "that one person who would be key in me changing my behavior" in my life's timeline. Had I not been open, had I not been aware, I would have missed a key chance to have made a significant life change. I thank God for those people and those things. I need to learn to pray for those opportunities to present themselves to others. I need to pray that if I am the "one" to be set before someone else to make a change in their life, that I am aware and willing enough to rise to the task.

I had a surprise visitor while sitting outside tonight—a hummingbird!

Now, I need to set the stage a little. I've had a tough week. I had to make some Very Big Decisions around the office. The decisions were not easy or pretty. But I think in time, time will show they were right. But it did not help that today's Gospel, when I went to church today, was about "prophets being without honor in their hometown" from Mark 6. I am pretty damn sure right now at the office, if it turns out I was a prophet about this, I am definitely one without honor at this point. In a small medical office, moving anything past everyone's comfort zone is never well received, even if the ultimate goal is the best for patients. As Elizabeth said, when we were messaging on Facebook, "I hate this part of leadership." (Me, too. Me, too.)

About twice a year, it doesn't matter how good the sermon is, it's just not going to sit well with me because the text itself is abrading me. Today was one of those days. That's always frustrating, because 50 out of 52 weeks a year, I walk out of church feeling "uplifited" in some ways. I knew I was in trouble today, because my two favorite things in church today were "coming early and sitting by myself" and "getting the Sacrament." That means I am having one of those days where all the people need to just go away because I am not ready to "re-enter" the world. Yet I come to church anyway. Go figure. I am still not totally sure what THAT is all about. I guess I should chalk it up to "a discipline of my faith."

When I got home, I went for a five-mile walk on the gravel roads around my house, in the sun, without water, and with the occasional pickup truck throwing dust on me. The good news, I suppose, is that I have lived out at my place long enough, that the neighbors no longer think they need to stop and ask if I need a ride or had vehicle trouble. I imagine I am, in these parts, "their very friendly but kooky neighbor walking around in the hot sun." (Well, not totally. I have one other neighbor who walks around.) I enjoyed some of the roadside flowers. But I was still not totally reconciled to my mood.

So, this evening, I was lounging in my lawn chair outside, up shows this female hummingbird, not to drink nectar from any flowers, but just from the trees. She buzzed right around me—I mean I could almost have reached out and grabbed her—she was definitely unafraid of me! She’d drink...and buzz me...and find another place to drink...and buzz me. She did that for a few minutes, then she just rested in the tree.

I learned a long time ago, when ONE of anything shows up in my “outdoor time” as a visitor, to pay attention to it.

So...I went in for a minute after she left, and looked up the symbolism of hummingbirds...

Here’s what I found on some Native American totem sites and some "Jungian symbolic meaning sites"...

It is not commonly known that the fluttering wings of the hummingbird move in the pattern of an infinity symbol - further solidifying their symbolism of eternity, continuity, and infinity.

By observing the Hummingbird, we see they are seemingly tireless. Always actively seeking the sweetest nectar, they remind us to forever seek out the good in life and the beauty in each day.

Amazing migrators, some Hummingbirds are known to wing their way as far as 2000 miles to reach their destination. This quality reminds us to be persistent in the pursuit of our dreams, and adopt the tenacity of the Hummingbird in our lives.

The Hummingbird serves as a reminder that "The sweetest nectar is within!"

It’s also interesting to note that the hummingbird is associated with Xiuhtecuhtli, the Aztec god of fire (because of the ruby throat on a male a fire on his chest...) Xiuhtecuhtli is also is “The lord of the year and of time” and is the Aztec god in the first hour of the night. (Hmmm. Funny. She showed up right around sunset.)

In South America the hummingbird is a symbol of resurrection. In the Andes, the legend is that it “dies” on cold nights but comes back to life in the dawn. Here’s what I found about that...

Hummingbird is the creature that opens the heart. When the hurt that caused us to close our hearts gets a chance to heal, our hearts are free to open again... Hummingbirds teach us fierce independence. They teach us to fight in a way where no one gets hurt. They teach us courage. Having the courage to refrain from creating new trauma by communicating non-violently toward ourselves and others is an important part of healing. Recovering lost parts of ourselves enable us to become healthily independent.

I am amazed how, it always seems, with "the visitors from Mother Nature" that show up out at my place, they very frequently seem to be the Native American totem that I need to see at the moment. I am slowly trying to learn "to fight in a way that no one gets hurt", and often the someone who used to get hurt was ME.

My decisions at work have the potential to add to my trauma to myself. So did today's Gospel. (Sometimes, the Revised Common Lectionary does not work in my favor, you know?) But she is a reminder for me to "communicate non-violently with myself." That's also something I was exposed to, while reading from the book, "St. Benedict's Toolbox", a few weeks ago. It reminded me to "gently review your day." Ok, ok. I'm learning. (Slowly!)

As you can see, I did some redecorating!

The template is a free template from Ray Creations, and some "sizing and customizing" was done by Stephen Emlund of CreativeImprov here in Kirksville. There are still a couple of glitches to work out (mostly that the longer titles get cut off), but Stephen is a bright guy, so I'm sure he'll figure it out.

Ok, that is my shameless advertising plug.

Meanwhile, just a few words about my choice of template. That one jumped out at me because it reminds me so much of the view across my pasture at night!

Anyway, hope you enjoy, and be patient as we work out the glitches!

A friend tipped me off to this documentary, and I must say, it is well worth the watch. About the best way I could describe the story of Chiune Sugihara is that he was "a Japanese Oskar Schindler." Sugihara, using his influence as a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania just prior to and during WWII, used his diplomatic influence to move thousands of Polish and Lithuanian Jews to Curacao, Dutch Guiana, and Vladivostock in the USSR. From Vladivostok, some went to the U.S. and Palestine; others went to Japan. Most ended up in Shanghai, China until the end of WWII. He managed this despite direct orders against it from the Japanese embassy.

He basically got away with it because he had such skills as a linguist and translator that the Japanse government needed his war skills too much. But eventually he and his family spent the end of the war in a Russian POW camp for eighteen months, when the Soviets invaded Romania, where Sugihara was stationed. Following the war, his diplomatic career was over when he was unceremoniously dumped by the Japanese government. He worked menial jobs to support his family (including selling light bulbs door to door) and ended his working career in the export business in Moscow, with his family living in Japan. It has only been in recent years that his accomplishments have come to light.

What caused this man to realize he and his family had to take these risks? Oddly enough, it was because an eleven year old boy, Solly Ganor, who invited him to come to their house for the first night of Hanukkah in 1939. In short, it was the "miracle of hospitality" that saved many lives.

I often think about how we might all be entertaining "angels unawares." This movie is a great reminder of that, and that saints do live among us.

(Cartoon courtesy of Nature)

Over on Ruth's blog, she got a ton of hits and comments for asking a very simple question...what do you think Heaven will be like? She admitted that she doesn't think of it much, and I have to confess I don't either. I have a tendency myself to think, "Why try to imagine what I can't possibly understand?" But it's clear from the comments there are people who do, and I found their comments interesting. Some are very unique and intriguing. Some seem more or less bound to traditional imagery. Some seem connected to Biblical imagery...or at least some people's interpretations of it based on their religion. One even wondered if it's simply "nothing."

In my own comments, I realized my perception is more of a "presence" than a "thing."

I don't think much about it as a "place". I think the problem is what I call the "Jethro Bodine revelation." There was an episode, decades ago, of the Beverly Hillbillies where Jethro decided he was going to throw himself in the cement pond and drown because these beautiful women didn't pay any attention to him. He then described in vivid detail how these women would suddenly feel sorry for him and hold him and kiss him, etc. Jed just looked at him and basically goes, "But'll be dead!" Since my brain processes "dead" as the cessation of life, movement, thought, etc., I cannot imagine what heaven is like, because I'm being asked to imagine it with an organ that will no longer work following my death!

I just have a sense that it is probably right here, co-existing in a different plane of existence and my senses are too feeble to even comprehend it--just as Boomer and little Eddie smell very real smells in the yard I have no way of knowing what they smell like.

I find myself often wishing we could "smell what they smell." Even the smells you and I don't find attractive. Maybe to dogs, they ARE attractive, and if I could smell them with a dog's nose and brain, my attitude about those smells would be much different? How do I know that what I perceive as the smell of a dead possum is the same smell to a dog? Maybe to a dog, a dead possum smells like Chanel No. 5. Maybe to a dog, the wonderful smell of what I smell when I smell my lilacs, smells as unpleasant as dead possum to a dog.

Same way with heaven. It is possible if I could "smell" it right now, I would not find the "smell" attractive in my human mind. Or that the smell means nothing to me. It does not trigger anything. Smells are powerful triggers in our existence. Perhaps the "smell of Heaven" generally does not trigger anything to us, and maybe only rarely when we are in the right frame of mind, the right state.

I think maybe we get little whiffs of it now and then.

But meanwhile, I have to trust that at the moment of my death, all will be revealed. I have a notion (and from what I understand, this is also a very Jesuit notion) that at the moment we die, it's more or less like a curtain falls and what we felt was so far away was right there all along, and we now have understanding of it.

I have never bought all the "near-death experience" stuff with the lights and the tunnels and whatnot. There is a part of me that says all that "near-death experience" stuff is just our own endorphins kicking in with our own collected memories. A dream, more or less. I realize a lot of people really cling to these experiences as "proof." Honestly, I think they prove nothing except that our endorphins are powerful things. But I do not simply pooh-pooh them. I wonder sometimes if they are actually icons, archetypes, of something much bigger and incomprehensible, and that the only way our brain can deal with them is to create a common archetype or icon to match the commonalities of all human thought. Sort of like how so many people who saw "space aliens" see little hairless gray-green beings with no hair and big dark eyes.

I am not sure it is a "happy place", either. I think people who have experienced tremendous sadness have a desire for it to be happy, and project an expectation upon it. I have a feeling Heaven is neither sad nor happy. As we say in these parts when we go on vacation and people ask how it was, we say, "It was different." I just think "it's different."

I think the reality of Heaven is much more than visions of lights and tunnels, Biblical descriptions, and a desire for it to be a happy place. That's where faith kicks in. Part of faith is learning to trust I am on a "need to know" basis for it. Part of faith is to concern myself with the things I know are "heaven on earth." Part of faith is to try to BECOME a piece of what we cannot understand. That's a tall enough order as it is, and if I devote my time to it, I don't have to worry what Heaven "is" because I will already be connected to it.



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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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