Image 2

I’ve been visiting my mom—or maybe she’s been visiting me—these past few days.  It is that time of vigil, whether I want to keep it or not, that starting to mark off the days.  Two years ago today, I was in Panamá for that turning point when my mom had finally decided it was time to stop with the chemo.  Next will come the 22nd of May, when I stood at my closet, preparing to leave the next day to Panamá, realizing I needed to pack clothes that I could wear for my mother’s funeral or at least what we would call the celebration of her life. And then, until June 5th, all sorts of other markers and moments that are now inextricably bound to me.

This morning, standing at the kitchen counter because I was running so late I got to be here when Sherod woke up, I told him I thought we weren’t having enough fun and invited him to go to the movies after work.  He said yes.  The movie was silly and got awful reviews—it’s called The Wedding with Robert DeNiro, Dianne Keaton, Susan Sarandon.  The theater was so cool, and dark and spacious, no more than 6 or 7 of us in that big room.  It wasn’t too long before I was dosing off, my arm through Sherod’s, his hand on my knee.  Even through the haze of my movie theater siesta, I was aware of how much he laughed at scenes my eyes just couldn’t open to watch.  Sherod allows himself laugh so it shakes him to the very core of his being–that’s part of what I fell so crazy in love with.

The movie was over soon enough, we had dinner watching the news and then I left him to go walk.  On impulse, and tired of the music I have on iTunes, I checked out On Being and got to hear a marvelous poet, Marie Howe talk with Krista Tippet about “the poetry of ordinary time.”  Early in the program, the conversation turned to her brother Johnny’s death of AIDS and Howe read one of her poems, The Gate:

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This — holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This,
sort of looking around.

The poem could have been about my mom. It could have been about me.  This.  This afternoon in the theater.  My arm touching his, his hand touching my knee.  This laughter I love so much.  This.

A Year Ago

Image-7A year ago, this weekend, 9 couples, members of All Saints, participated in a liturgy to bless their marriages.  All of them had been married previously in states where same gender marriages are legal. Together they represented hundreds of years of fidelity, constancy and love.  For some in the community this act was too painful to bear and I still miss the members of our church who made the decision to leave.  And along with missing them, I am nothing but deeply humbled and fiercely glad to have been a part of a moment resplendent in grace.  Congratulations again, to my beautiful brothers and sisters.  I am in awe of your courageous love.

Tearing Off A Piece of Life


Breakfast at Grandpa’s, Dania Beach Fl
April 27, 2013

Recently–and I wish I had made sure I got the source–I read a wonderful description about the difference between the photographer as artist and the hack like me.  The hack like me uses a camera to tear off a piece of life to have a look at it.  The photographer as artist sees a story that has not yet been told.  I love that distinction.  Isn’t that the work of all art, regardless of medium?  Pushing further, for those of us who have the luxury of ‘discretionary time’ (that is, time to do things that don’t have to do with basic survival)–isn’t that some of what we are given the chance to do?

Much of what I have written here falls under the general category of hack.  Maybe sometimes I’ve inched beyond hacking just a few millimeters, but only barely.  I feel like a dilettante at life too.  For several weeks now, I’ve been having an intense conversation with a fellow priest  about church and the viability of our current ways of doing ministry.  I continue to do a version of the  the Spiritual Exercises, working out of a very practical book called The Ignatian Adventure very early each morning.  There’s my walking, and a silly medal I now have to show for the fact that at least when I walked the half-marathon, I reached a destination, obtained a very specific result.  That medal is more than a piece of life I can look at.  There’s a story that couldn’t be told before my hip replacement that now is unfolding.

Many years ago, when I was learning to sail, one of my instructors told me about looking for breezes.  It seemed absurd until she pointed out how you follow a breeze on the surface of water. Really seasoned sailors can gather amazing amounts of information from just a few ripples, a small patch of movement. Now, whenever I am out on the water, I try to watch carefully, always astounded by how much I can see of the invisible.

I’ve been in active ministry since 2002, when I was hired as Christian Ed Director at All Saints.  I’ve taken lots and lots of pictures, I’ve torn out many slices to come back and look at, sometimes with shame, occasionally with wonder.  I am not sure I have a clue yet, how to look at any of the work as an artist would, able to see a story that has not yet been told.  With the encouragement of my priest friend who has me digging awfully deep these days, I am beginning to look at making an Ignatian 30-day silent retreat, probably sometime this fall or winter.  Up early this morning, grinding coffee with silly Duke getting under my feet and Daisy watching jealously, I figured out how I would take my grinder and things I need to brew my morning coffee.  I’ve started putting out feelers at several Jesuit retreat centers including Eastern Point, where I did my last 8-day retreat in 2012.    It is becoming  a very real possibility, very quickly.

A 30-day Ignatian retreat is not something to take on lightly.  It is an intense, highly disciplined approach to discernment.  I think I was imagining taking my coffee with me because there is such comfort in a good cup of coffee for me. I understand, in a very cerebral and detached way right now, that this isn’t about taking a picture like a hack does. I won’t simply be taking pictures of things that are cute, or curious, or confounding.  Maybe there will be transcendent moments of artistry–seeing in a flash, the story that was there all along that just needed some words to be told with.  Nope.  Finally, this is about going beyond taking pictures or even watching for the breeze .  This is about being willing to choose a point of sail where the breeze (or the wind, or maybe even a gale) fills the sails so the keel of my little boat is at an angle where I have to hike out as far as I am capable, refusing to capsize and insisting I can ride the wind and the waves.

Phos Hilaron

The temptation is so great to get mired in what has and might be lost.  Last night as I walked, I found myself negotiating with God: “Source of my being, I am willing to sacrifice but only if all the conditions are right, if the things I give up are not used to prop up what I think is unfair, unjust, unworthy”.  It sounds so reasonable as I lay it all out for myself and my Creator.  Except that there’s this little piece of the story I am a part of, called the scandal of the cross.  No bargaining there.  No calculus.  No careful effort to weigh the options and consider some alternatives.  No positioning himself for optimal results.  Just an ordinary man who kept on loving and giving of himself to what was asked of him at any given moment, even if it meant giving himself to the cross.  That is how love won.

Out walking, after much hand wringing over tough decisions I have ahead of me related to my ministry, I allowed myself simply to look, to take some pictures of the feast that is set for me to behold each evening.   Sun to light up my nights.

Dammit Duke


Our friends Pete and Carol are on a cruise. They asked us to watch their dog and we said yes. I’ll confess that I groaned a bit inside. Duke is totally a boy dog–has embarrassed me any number of times at their home with his nose up my skirt. He’s too big and too full of energy and the first night he was here he barked. all. night. long. Since the spouseman’s back is such a pain, it is mostly my job to take Duke out with a “Chuckit” and do the tennis ball thing. In the rain. In the dark. At the crack of dawn. With all that nasty, nasty slobber. I want to be annoyed but he’s this tall, rangy dog who lops down the street, ball in mouth,ears flopping every which a way, no dignity, no nobility, no finesse, just pure, overgrown puppy fun. And maybe because even though I tell him “that’s the last time I’m throwing this ball” I go soft and do it again, he’s taken a shining to me and follows me all over the house. Even pushed the bathroom door open and lay by the shower while I bathed this morning. Dammit Duke, I wasn’t supposed to like you so much.

I Don’t Believe In Angels


I don’t believe in angels as part of the larger scheme of things—to me they have always represented an ancient cosmology and hierarchy that is quaint, verging on the absurd.  For that reason, the narratives about the birth of Jesus recorded in the Christian Testament, with all their angels have required of me a suspension of disbelief.  The infancy narratives are such compelling invitations into the mystery of God’s ways that I have not felt disingenuous simply leaving my world view to one side, comfortable to say  that I don’t sweat about the details while I treasure the wonder that a little boy from nowhere with nothing to his name could cause the heavens themselves to sing with joy.

I have been spending quite a lot of time these days on the infancy narratives, up early each morning for prayer and reflection that has included the main passages of the early chapters of Luke and Matthew.  A few days ago, I came to the part where the shepherds were out feeding their flocks by night and the angel came to them and announced tidings of great joy.  For the first time, maybe ever, I sort-of sat with the concept and notion of an angel.  I wasn’t all caught up in an existential rumination or some kind of ontological back and forth in my mind, two competing cosmologies shaping that conversation.  It was a lot simpler, really.  “What might I know about angels”, was the half-formed question that insinuated itself to me.

That Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is surely an overplayed and over-examined  piece of music that becomes suspect because it is so easy to love.  But there are some wonderful lines in it including:  “there’s a blaze of light in every word”.  That morning “angel” had a blaze of light for me—a flash that cut through some self-protective ‘stuff’ of mine, that illuminated not only the text but my own life.  I thought that if I had ever heard the voice of an angel, it was my mom’s voice.  Let me hasten to add:  my mom was no angel.  She was a complicated, broken woman.  But I come back to those yearss  at Children’s in Boston  and the time I was lying weeping one evening after my surgery in 1968.

A volunteer happened to come by, saw my sadness.  Somehow I was able to tell her that I was desperately missing my mom.  The lady got permission and instructions from the nurses enough to wheel my bed (I realize now how small that bed must have been if she was able to maneuver it on her own) right up to the public phone in the hallway in front of the elevators.  She found the phone number to the Longwood Inn, where my mom was staying, put in the nickel and called.  Hearing my mom’s voice  was hearing the voice of an angel–there was hope again, and consolation, and the promise of the joy that comes when finally, something has broken the free-fall of pain.  I look back on that summer evening in Boston and also realize that the volunteer–who is now little more than a dimly remembered presence, was her own self an angel.

Last night, a lot of pain from the week caught up with me as I walked; in fact it was an overwhelming wave of pain like I haven’t dealt with for months.  And at the point when I could hardly bear to take one more step, I heard a rustle and there, once again, sat the little burrowing owl.  And once again, it sat still in front of me, though this time it was calling—a thin, reedy bird call that sounded like a kitten mewling.  Once again, I stood as still as I could, until the little bird took wing.  And then it came down on the grass close by me on the swale and I realized there was a second one—maybe his or her mate.  After just a little bit longer, they both flew away and I continued my walk back home.

This is the third time I have encountered what I assume is the same owl.  It’s never been in the same place; however, like the last time we looked at each other, it has been in the midst of bone-crushing desolation.  I don’t believe in angels and I am grateful, so, so grateful, for the beautiful presence of these creatures who are as mystery-filled as the darkness we meet in.




I woke up this morning to the voices of NPR playing on the radio on my husband’s side of the bed.  The pressure and drama and stress pushed each word of the broadcast and I wanted to care except all I felt was numb and sad in a very detached way.  What’s been unfolding in Boston is hideous.  But anything more I can say is basically a cliché or has been said far more beautifully and powerfully by someone else.

There was something else.  My baby girl was asleep in the room that used to be hers.  She has had amazing days at her new school.  Perfect behavior. Test scores the likes of which we haven’t seen maybe ever.  Not that I assume that it will last but that there is something truly worth celebrating in this spell of success.  So I picked her up from BARC late yesterday afternoon and she slept over.

Soon after I got up she came stumbling out, all spiky hair standing up and sleepy eyed.  She told me the smell of my coffee had woken her up and she wanted to have some.  Together we ground some more coffee beans and she watched and had a running commentary about the new brewing method I am using and what she’d like for breakfast.  The news continued to thread around us—and I wanted to feel guilty about cocooning myself and her from the darkness all around us but a true South Florida sun-shiney day was dawning and my girl was here. With us.  I held on to that joy quite fiercely.

After a slow start to the day, we went down for the treat I had planned for her—a ½ hour “Dolphin Encounter” at Miami Seaquarium.  Right at first, after we got there, my heart went to my mouth.  Luli continues to be at risk for elopement so she wears a lojack monitor on her ankle.  There was some serious concern that she would not be allowed into the dolphin pool because we can’t take it off.  I died small deaths of sadness for her and pushed pretty hard to find a solution.  One emerged: a wetsuit “bootie” that covered the lojack, making it safe for her and the dolphin.

The experience turned out to be more intimidating for her than I had anticipated.  Mothering from the edges, there are some things I’ve forgotten or don’t think through as thoroughly as I used to.  Nonetheless, we did it and by the end she was having a lot of fun.  When we finished, we stopped for a quick late lunch and then took her back to BARC because tonight she’s going out to a dance sponsored by the local park program that understands that young people like mine need that kind of fun too.  She was excited.  I was relieved because it made the transition easier, at least for her.  After dropping her off, I made myself not look back.  I can’t get used to this.  I have to savor today in its ‘enough-ness’’—no, in its completeness.

The news is still looping the same videos, the folks in Boston are still in the midst of an awful situation. I am still trying to keep the grief of so many at bay;  I haven’t even allowed myself to think about the children who are in the orthopedic unit at Children’s–my old stomping grounds.   That young man, and my God, he is so young, only two years older than my girl, must be so scared.  He has done something monstrous.  But I ache for him. And I ache for his mama.

Being a Priest


I have been praying more intently and more intensely than I have in quite a while.  Right now, it seems to me that it is the only thing I can do that makes any difference.

Yesterday morning, I spent time on the Ignatian Exercises.  I’ve written about that particular form of disciplined prayer and discernment in other parts of this blog.  One of the ways you pray through the Exercises involves actively imaging yourself present in one of the stories of the Bible.  Yesterday, that meant spending about 45 minutes imaging what it would have been like to walk with Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

This kind of imagining still challenges me, although less than it used to.  Trying to imagine walking with a young woman about my daughter’s age and who was also called María, it wasn´t a big stretch to imagine what it would have been like to be Mary´s mother, going along to help her very pregnant daughter.  And from there, it was an infinitesimally small leap to imagine what it would have been like if Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been like my daughter, with cognitive limitations, a fused ankle, eyes that don’t track exactly in synch and all those behavioral and emotional issues that have often stretched her dad and me to the breaking point.

Scripture portrays Mary as far more able than that, of course, but I have to believe that any yes to the angel would have sufficed and my daughter’s yes, in spite of—and because of—all the ways she is not “like everyone else”, would have been enough to make her worthy of bearing the Christ child.  What mattered about yesterday’s time of prayer and reflection was the certainty that it is not our own merit that earns us God’s attention and invitation to be partners in the story of creative, redeeming and sustaining love.

During a good part of the morning, I worked with a person who barely scrapes out a living for himself.  He has his papers but when the really hard financial times hit 6 years ago, he had to send his wife and 3 children back to their home country where the few dollars he could earn were enough, more or less, to feed them.

He came to see me yesterday because he is the victim of identity theft.  Even after paying the IRS over nine thousand dollars in taxes and fines incurred by the person who has taken over his social security identity, this person was still getting new bills from the IRS and now needed help to file the necessary paperwork to start trying to resolve the problem.   The IRS wants this person to go out to California to investigate and have charges brought against the thief that is robbing him of his life—like he can quit his job and drop everything to take care of this.  I am not sure what will happen next, but at least I could help him navigate the “labyrinth of solitude” that is the IRS hotline.  Blessed are you my friend, and blessed are the fruit of your love, those three beautiful children who miss you so much as you eke out a living for them and yourself.

Yesterday I also found out that someone with considerable means has made a generous financial gift to our community—not huge, not life altering for us—but significant.  This person is not able to be a regular participant in the life of our community but is someone I have liked from the first time I met them.  So many times in the  past (and, admittedly, of necessity), a person like that has become a target to me.  I’ve gone to meetings, talked, planned and plotted to figure out a way “to make the ask” for a financial gift.  Don’t get me wrong.  Without the generosity of lots of people of means, we could not have done the work we’ve done in the Latino community these past few years.

I also recognize that my own life is far better for the fact that Sherod and I worked our way up to a tithe quite a long time ago.  I am still learning how to help others discover the joy of giving.  But in the case of this particular person, I don’t think that is what I should do.  I bet everyone else is constantly trying to find the angle to make the ask.  I want to be this person’s pastor, a person who tends to a human being who comes to church out of a necessity I may not fully understand but sense is deep, honest and easy to overlook.  I don’t want to be plotting and planning how to convert that person’s presence into a gift and gain to meet other needs, no matter how legitimate.

So why am I praying so hard?  Where are all these stories leading?  The last nine months made it crystal clear to the leadership of the New River Regional Ministry that our work is not financially viable in the ways we have done our fundraising in the past.  We are testing new “revenue streams” and “profit centers”.  For example, we are trying to stand up something that could best be described as a thrift shop on the campus where I live and move and have my being most of the time these days.

The potential for getting quite a lot of revenue is there.  The pressure to “be all that we can be” is there too. If the community I serve faces hard times, in part it has to do with an inability to perform to standards of excellence.  It would be fair to say that we have a culture of survival more than a culture of success.  There are ways we fall way short of our own potential.  And that in turn raises all kinds of questions about the responsibility we have to be good stewards, to honor the gifts made by donors, to earn and deserve the right to keep our doors open.  In some regards, this thrift shop project has become the test of all the above.

Before I became a priest, I worked with a company that understood excellence.  A few days ago, the normal  flight path into FLL was closed and the alternative flight path comes directly in front of my house.  It was 7:30 in the evening and the daily FedEx DC-10 flight made its path into the airport right in front of me; my heart swelled with pride, as it always does.  I will always be a FedEx-er.

That said, first, and foremost, I am priest.  As we stumble our way into the future, the blind leading the lame (and it is important to keep that front and center all the time—we are all of us blind and lame) I pray for the grace, vision and courage not to let the urgency of our financial challenges, the driven-ness of our capitalist culture define us.  I am asking God for mercy and wisdom as I try to reconsider the habits of doing and being the Episcopal Church, and how these habits might prevent my small community from answering the call to discipleship.   This is a call not to success building on success, building on success, but to follow a peculiar man, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we call the Messiah, to follow into His ministry, certainly, and then to be willing to go the way of passion and death—since only by following that difficult way,  is it possible to discover resurrection.

So I pray.  I pray a lot these days. I pray for us all and for the church.  

Easter 3C

DSC_0021Last week, we saw Jesus show Thomas his hands.  We saw him invite Thomas to touch, to feel the wound on his side.  With the resurrected Christ, all is not forgotten.  The things that really happened are not denied.  Today, the theme is carried further, this time with Peter.   Peter has already been a witness to the resurrection.  Remember, he was the one that listened to the women, the one who ran to the tomb to see if Jesus was there.  He was there when Jesus came to them in the upper room. Peter, as much as anyone, has already experienced the Risen Christ.  Or has he?

Today, you can almost feel the resignation that has taken hold.  Can’t you just hear that dull and empty voice in him that said,  “Go back to what you know.  Go back to what is comfortable.  You knew how to fish once; you can do it again.  It’s a way to make a living and something to do—a reason to get up in the morning.  So he heads back out to the water.”

Then there’s that strange moment, when, as soon as it becomes clear that this person standing on the shore is Jesus, Peter puts on clothes, because he was naked, and then jumps in the water.  I want to be with you and I don’t want you to see me.   As perfectly human as that it, there’s something sort-of heartbreaking about such ambivalence.

But the really profound, heart-stopping moment occurs after Jesus has cooked breakfast and fed his friends and now, it is just the two of them, just Peter and Jesus together, really for the first time.  There is the three-fold question and answer.   Do you love?  No, but really, do you love me?  Please, do you love me?   Three times, Peter had denied him, three times, he is asked such a profound and piercing question.  The symmetry here is awful and undeniable.  And maybe it is how Jesus makes it possible for Peter to begin to participate, truly participate, in the life of resurrection.

Jesus has just asked for the naked, unadorned truth. These are not Precious Moments figurines we have here, and this isn’t a Disneyworld version of resurrection.   The real thing has its own sting because it is not based on denying what has happened.   Both Thomas and Jesus in different ways had to face into the what had happened—what had been done to another, who they themselves were.  Only then could resurrection mean something more than a nice breakfast of bagels and lox on the beach with a friend they’d never thought they’d see again.

For me, and somehow, especially this Easter season, the question is still, what does this have to do with us?  How do we, not just as individuals, but as a community, say that Resurrection belongs to us also, that it shapes us and has power in our life together?

It seems to me that one part of the answer involves all our own small and large betrayals and denials, all the ways in which we crucified and were crucified, the ways in which a community kills and dies – usually not in a stark and clear way, like Jesus was killed, but dies by a thousand small cuts.  How we start out all excited and fired up with a new possibility and end up feeling instead that we are at an awful dead end.

We know that voice:  Ah, let’s just go back and fish. Let’s worship and sing like we always did. We can’t do more. I don’t want to those people to change my church…

We must be vigilant, suspicious of our impulse to fall back on what’s known and comfortable.  When that voice inside invites us to consider the old dispensations, we have to gently and clearly remind ourselves that even if we try to go back, we have already changed, so in fact, there is no going back.

It helps too if we can recognize the insidious and constant temptation to cover up, to put on some clothes, to avoid seeing ourselves and being seen just as we are.  This week, we turned in the Parochial Report, or as Sherod calls it, the Pinocchio Report—a summary of the things that matter to the Episcopal Church at the national level:  On average, how many people  came to your  church on Sundays and how much money did you raise?  They may be the shallowest of metrics, but I also recognize how scared and vulnerable I feel when I look at our average worship attendance.   Our numbers are so small in comparison to everything we must get done…

Every Sunday, we come to have breakfast with the Risen Christ, and we are, after all, a beach town.  The beautiful sun at the top of our stained glass window is the sun that shone that morning in Galilee.  The feast is prepared by the same hands.  Imagine sitting together, all of us,  young and old, Latino and Anglo, traditional and contemporary, newcomer and old-timer, what would it be like if we had just finished breakfast and Jesus asked us,  “Do you love me?”

I can hear our first answer; it would be immediate.  ¡Claro que yes! of course we love you.

Then, what would it be like to have the question asked again, as if our answer were too quick, too easy, too superficial?

Would we too be hurt if,  going deeper, taking some risks to answer a second time, our response was found to still came up short and we were asked again?  Do you love me? Would we be capable of hanging in, despite our hurt, to dig again, to really ask ourselves what it means to say that we love the Lord.

Peter was uncomfortable, he was hurt, he was pushed way beyond his comfort zone that morning.  That was also a turning point for him.  Until then, resurrection had been little more than a warm fuzzy, something briefly glimpsed, partially understood, certainly not claimed and allowed to empower and direct.  Willing to hang in with that hard conversation, Peter, this silly, tempestuous, misguided person, made himself available to be transformed into an extraordinary source of grace and hope in the world.  This was resurrection that meant something.

You and I, this small, fragile, silly, struggling community that we can’t even call St Ambrose, or El Centro, or the New River Regional Ministry because we are all of those things, none of those things, and more, we are a new faith community coming into being, we can’t just read these stories from a distance and think that if we know the story and take a small host in our hands, drink some cheap wine, that will make the difference.   No. We need resurrection that matters.  And that means that like Simon Peter, we have to allow the Lord to have that hard, hard conversation with us.

Do you love?  Feed my sheep.
Do you love me? Tend my sheep.
Do you love me? Love my sheep.
You.  You, as who you are, the naked truth of who you are.

Follow me.


ImageSummer has arrived in South Florida. I could tell as soon as I walked out the door to walk–there’s the humidity, of course. And if you look up at any of the bigger, older trees in the area, the ferns that were shriveled and dried beyond life just two days ago, today are green and lush and exuberant again. The pool isn’t quite warm enough. Maria got in, I could only stand to get to the second step. But by next week–I bet we’ll be in again.


This evening, I booked my flights. I head to Newark on Aug 1 and then take an overnight flight on SAS to Stockholm. This year, my dad has rented a house on Ljusterö, one of the islands in the archipelago.


I’ll get off the plane and go straight to the ferry I rode on with my dad last year. Hans, my Dutch brother, and Anne Marie, his partner, will have spent almost two weeks with Dad by then and my visit will overlap with theirs for about 4 days. A few days before the end of my visit, Nils, my other brother, Laura, his wife, and Isabel Ann, my niece will come from the UK. I will get to meet my mother’s namesake. In all, my dad will get to spend a month enjoying his beloved archipelago. And he will have done it with all three of his children. He turns 86 in June and has said this is his last trip to the homeland. Sweet, sweet days ahead…