River of Light

River of Light

Last night I had grown weary taking the same old path I follow on my walks.  I’ve also been wanting to do something–anything–approximating climbing a hill. On impulse, I jumped in my car and drove to All Saints, Sherod’s church in downtown Fort Lauderdale.  After I parked my car, I started walking east, towards the beach.  It’s been so overcast around here that I hadn’t realized how close to a full moon we were.

Dusk was slipping into the night and the colors were amazing

Walk far enough east on Las Olas and you start up a drawbridge–the closest you’ll come to a hill around here.

Walk a little further and there you are: on A1A, with the Atlantic stretching out forever in front of you.  The path of moonlight on the water is so seductive–a way to a tomorrow that’s right there, if you’ll just follow along a little further.

It was incredibly fun to walk across the street from all the beach places that were so alive with music and people talking and eating and enjoying themselves by the water.  Close enough to enjoy the energy of so much life but not claustrophobic because of the crowds.  I discovered that to get my 6 miles in, I had to walk from All Saints to Sunrise Blvd and back.

The best moment came close to the end of my walk.  I was on the downward slant of the Las Olas drawbridge, listening to Equinoxe by Jean Michel Jarre when what felt like a river of light flooded by me–a bike club, it must have been, with what must have been close to a hundred riders, buzzing by me.

For a few moments I felt like I was being carried along by that river of light and also of joy.  There you have it. A Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.


Yeah, I am back sooner than I thought I’d be. These past few weeks have been a time of intensely reconsidering about my vocation, the work I am doing and that complicated, confusing institution we call the Church, which Karl Rahner describes as always redeemed and always groaning for redemption.  I stepped away from this blog because I needed to regain perspective that I was quickly losing and didn’t need to do it in a public forum.  The next few postings are an effort to retrace some of the steps and maybe, reinterpret why it is that I am an Episcopal priest.

Michael was the first person I ever fell deeply in love with. I met him in 1980.  I had dropped out of college and returned home so depressed, my life hung only from the gossamer thread of a new-found faith.  After moping around my parents’ home and fighting with my mom for several months in Cali, I moved to Bogotá and went back to school.  I also found my way to the small Episcopal Church, St. Alban’s, that still functioned as an expat haven in those years.  The rector, Fr Patrick Hurley, took me under his wing and I found there a community that mediated the grace and hope I needed to start saying yes to life again.  It was Fr Patrick who introduced me to Michael.

I was bedazzled.  Michael lived and worked In Cali but came to Bogotá fairly frequently because he was in the process of becoming a postulant for Holy Orders. He was brilliant–a theologian, a poet, an accomplished musician.  I got to know T.S. Eliot through Michael, especially T.S. Eliot’s plays which are not as well known as his poetry.  One of his visits to Bogotá coincided with an excellent exhibit of the work of Paul Klee at the local modern art museum.  We were both mesmerized and I remember walking and talking with Michael about the quote we’d read next to the piece we’d both been most drawn to.  Describing his experience painting under the Northern African sun, the sign on the wall said that at one point, Klee exclaimed “¡Yo y el color somos uno!” (I and color are one).  We had an hours-long discussion that ranged from mysticism to art theory.

During that year we drew closer and closer and there was also always this small and infinite distance between what I wanted in that relationship and what it actually was.  We were both in transition (it didn’t take me long to figure out that I wanted to come back to the USA to finish college and Michael was headed to seminary out in Berkeley, CA) and at first I decided we were both cautious because life would soon be changing dramatically for us.  There was also something I couldn’t quite name though and finally, I scrunched up what little self-confidence I had at that time and wrote Michael a letter asking him very directly about the nature of our relationship.  His response came several days later, written in his wonderfully distinct and beautiful handwriting.  In the gentlest and kindest way possible, he explained that he was gay and that some of what I so much wanted in our relationship simply wasn’t going to happen.

It’s still hard to remember that letter and at the same time, I’m fiercely glad I kept it and could go out to my garage right now and pull it out if I wanted to.  For quite a while, I lacked words to respond.  I felt so stupid and so exposed and so alone.  Having just clawed my way out of that deep gully called clinical depression, where it seemed like morning hardly ever came, with my sense of myself and my self-confidence just beginning to return, I battled the sense that I was unlovable, that I would never find love.  Until one morning, I woke up with a sense of crystal clarity.  I had fallen in love with Michael because he was an extraordinarily lovable man.  There was nothing to be ashamed of in my attraction to him and in fact, the opposite was true.  It actually told me something about myself and about life that this was whom I had come to love. Whatever the terms of our relationship, I was so very blessed to have this person in my life.  I was almost giddy as I wrote Michael that morning, knowing that if there had been loss, it was not the loss of our relationship.

Michael went on to Berkeley at the end of the summer of 81 and I went to college at Loyola in New Orleans.  Our lives intersected many times, sometimes in unexpected ways.  I got to visit him and his lover in San Francisco one year when I attended an HR conference out there during my time working in Memphis with FedEx.  He stayed with Sherod and me a couple of other times. Whenever we talked, it didn’t take more than a few moments before we were engaged in these incredibly intense conversations that called me deeper into myself, that challenged me to think and be my best.

Michael was the preacher at my ordination to the priesthood.  I am more than a little heartbroken right now, because the copy of his sermon was on a computer we had a while back now, and apparently, when Sherod dismantled it after it’s half-life was over, he did not keep backups, so the sermon is more than likely lost now.   But the sermon was incredibly powerful and beautiful.  I remember that.

It is a custom that your ordination sermon includes a charge.  Michael and I were fortunate to be fluently bilingual and when it came time for the charge, he had me stand up and spoke to me as we had always spoken to each other, in Spanglish.  He understood the fractures and ways in which my life is made up of bits and pieces of very different cultures that find their place in who I am.  In a very real sense, his sermon gave me permission to take all those disparate pieces of myself and offer them to an Episcopal Church that didn’t quite know what to do with someone with an awkward and messy identity like mine.

In the busy-ness of the next few years, Michael moved from Washington DC to Minnesota and I started El Centro.  We corresponded, now by email, occasionally, and on Christmas Eve of 2008, as I was driving to our first-ever bilingual Midnight Mass at All Saints, I called him bubbling over with excitement. I only got to leave a message on his answering machine to tell him about the bilingual service and to thank him again for his charge at my ordination.  In August of the following year, a friend was moving to Minnesota and I went online to give her the information to contact Michael.  To my absolute horror, instead of his church information, I found an online obituary.  Michael had contracted liver cancer and had died in April of that year.

It was the nature of our friendship that though intense, it was always part of a far larger, more complicated pair lives.  I’d gotten pretty isolated starting my new ministry and dealing with stuff with Maria.  I simply cannot allow myself to dwell on the fact that I didn’t get to say good bye.  But his death, more than any, was what led me to remind myself and my congregation, every Sunday, at the final blessing, that we are lent to each other for a very short time.  Part of becoming a priest was learning how to love and how to forgive.  Michael taught me much of what I know about both.

A Break

A Break

In the ebb and flow these days, I’m mindful that the balance between a public and private life when you’re a clergy person shifts a lot.  The poetry class I am taking is very engaging (and demanding), life in the New River Regional Ministry continues to unfold in the constant tension between fear and grace.  As I prepared for my sermon this week, I stumbled upon an image of my life that feels pretty accurate for now:  I am on a tightrope that extends into the horizon, with poles at regular intervals where I can stop and take a breath before going on.  It takes quite a lot of attention and care to negotiate from one pole to the next; that means focusing less on writing and more on simply putting one foot down in front of the other.  So I’m taking a break from the blogging.  I’ll check back in about a month–I am not ready to say I’m letting go of the writing altogether.  Just saying I need to pay attention in other ways

For those of you who stop in regularly–thank you. It is always both excruciatingly awkward to think of people, especially people I know, reading what I write and yet, essential to this effort having any meaning at all. WordPress provides information about the general location of one’s readers and people from as far as Malaysia, Russia and  Brazil read my blog–go figure!  It’s quite lovely to have a sense of connection in such a broad, if silent, world.


September 11, 1933

September 11, 1933

Today, my mom would have been 79 years old.  Most, if not all, the major life choices I made for myself were unfathomable to her.  Some of them were harder and took longer to accept but she raised me to be independent enough to make them, and she never quit trying to understand.  All the ways she loved me, how hard she worked to love me, become clearer now, from a distance.  Like my mom, I sit alone, drinking my coffee in a home as quiet and still in the early morning as hers used to be; as I think about her, it doesn’t seem possible she’s gone.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

That New Normal

That New Normal


This is what the new normal is like.   You start getting in the groove, getting some sense of rhythm, purpose and horizon that extends beyond the next day and then it crumbles.   We made good plans for Sherod, María and I to go to Selma.  I didn’t know how much I was looking forward to that time.  We’d be staying at a hotel, and for the first time in over three months, I’d get to see my girl’s face right after she’s woken up, those big dark eyes of hers, the way she has, when I bend over and sing the “good morning song” to her, of wrapping her arm around my neck so I stand there with my cheek against hers, the warm sleepy smell and total trust of a tiny child.  We were going to stop at Julia’s Kitchen, in Troy, Alabama for lunch.  Now Julia’s kitchen is a miracle of southern cooking so these days, mainly I get to look and smell and fight temptation while I pick at wilted iceberg.  More than anything, I am tickled watching my Mexican child eat fried okra and green beans and catfish.  I am infinitely amused watching her talk to the waitresses with their molasses accent and big hair.

I love how Sherod goes quiet when the pine trees and red dirt and gentle hills and homes with those sweeping “sharecropper house” roofs start dotting the landscape, and the cotton is all around, and the first invitations to “See Rock City” compete with bottle trees for attention.  You can tell the boy is home, that he is as much a part of that as it belongs in his heart and he is content driving his truck through those back country roads in a way I never get to see elsewhere.

All those things and more filled me with anticipation and then it all fell apart.  Our girl has been getting into a pile of trouble.  I imagine some of it has to do with the transition back to school, a new teacher, a new structure to her days now that she’s in high school.  Some of it is the failure to make the connection between action and consequence.  Some of it is just how it is when you are teenager.  The bottom line was simple: a trip with her wasn’t possible and then the rest sort-of unraveled so I just dropped Sherod off at the airport and came back home to clean and prepare for an awfully busy week.  Every time I slow down, though, the sadness returns.

In the cycle of readings we use in the Episcopal Church, today we heard the story from the Gospel of Mark about the Syrophoenician woman who pleaded with Jesus for help for “her little daughter who had an unclean spirit”.  Last night I found myself walking along my well-worn path and realized that woman could be me.  I desperately want my daughter “fixed”—not that I believe she is possessed, not that I ever take the wonder of her being for granted.  But I want to plan a road trip to say goodbye to someone who is so precious to María and get to take it.  I still ache because I want my daughter in her room when I turn out the light at the end of the day and to tiptoe into her room and snuggle with her for a bit as the next one begins.  I want her to have friends and to never have to go to isolation time out again.  There is so much I want for her.

Like the Syrophoenician woman, I wouldn’t have cared that I didn’t know this man.  If I had run into him I would have asked him for help.  I am not sure I would have been as gracious as the woman in today’s reading; I suspect I would have earned and deserved the title of b—-  if Jesus had answered me like he answered her.  But I would have been tenacious, that’s for sure. Even though I am a priest, even though I am capable of fairly sophisticated theological reasoning  and find plenty of comfort in the midst of ambiguity, for just a little bit, I allow myself to wish I could find that man Jesus so I could ask him to heal my girl.

“I Make All Things New”

“I Make All Things New”


“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”” (Revelations 21:3-5)

A few months ago, when I was overwhelmed by the pain of having to place Maria in BARC Housing, I wrote in this blog that it was terribly strange to find that now I defined myself more by subtraction than by addition.  Since then, there have been more losses to face into and probably others I am not yet aware of.  But here’s what I know now:  the losses opened spaces in my life to renew friendships I’d neglected and conversations that constantly challenge me to dig deeper and explore further. I’ve had to tend to myself in mind, body and spirit more kindly than ever before. Now, I am about to start engaging in the kind of learning I put aside the day I dropped out of graduate school to marry Sherod.  On the 10th, I am starting an online course called “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry” taught by a UPenn professor through coursera.org.

I took the GRE in 1981 and when I applied to Sewanee and Vanderbilt for my MDiv and PhD, those scores still counted. Now they don’t.  I am seriously considering  the notion that I’ll take a year to prepare to retake it.  Probably, I should consider something more like 2 years for the math part :-/.  Be that as it may, the tug of academics is pretty strong these days.  I’ve got two books by Merleau-Ponty on my bedside table; at night when I start reading, I don’t get sleepy. In fact, the opposite happens. I wish I had the stamina I once had to stay up reading all night. The possibilities that have opened with online learning are just too thrilling to pass up; I get a little giddy considering “the places I could go”.

I won’t pretend the loss is diminished.  Yesterday morning, I picked up Maria at BARC and as we drove down I-595, belting out Set Fire to the Rain with Adele, I was beyond happy.  After I dropped her back off  yesterday evening, I wept.   All of that grief is still a part of me.  But at least right now, it is true that in small and wondrous ways, tears are wiped away and things are being made new.