This

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Encounter

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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.