I just picked up my copy of Seasons, Saints & Angels, poems by Kendall Dana Lockerman, an Episcopal layperson in my Diocese. You can get a copy, too, from Amazon here. Here's the review I wrote on Amazon:
I have been a fan of Kendall Lockerman's poems ever since I read one he posted on his Facebook page a couple of years ago, and I am so happy to see this collection now in print.
A true poet in both sensibility and skill, Ken points, evokes, invites, hints at the mysteries that he knows surround us all, all the time, in a way that only those who know grace because of their own need for it can do. These poems are brimming with grace.
And yet, too, he is wry and raw, heartbroken and hopeful. (How else do you describe someone who writes lines like, "It is the mad fury of the beating wings of angels that gives heartbeats to prayers" and "Death and birth and tears rolled out of the ashes" and "The stones beneath my feet have heard the voice that called forth the creation," and "I confess that I am not devout/I am only faithful").
I've used Ken's poems for my own devotions and also quoted one in a sermon, with his permission, to the delight of my hearers (as another reviewer mentioned, Ken's voice is also, at times, playful). These poems bring to life the ridiculous beauty and angel-breathed mystery that can be seen all around us, even in times of pain and sorrow, if we would but have the eyes to see it. I heartily recommend this little volume to you.
Today my son and his girlfriend headed out to Iowa for their junior year of college at a school new to both of them.
My son has had his ups and downs about college, more downs than ups, but it has been clear to all of us that it is now time for him to leave the nest for real (as they say). I've had mixed feelings all day - happy that he decided at the last minute to print out the directions/map just in case the GPS got a glitch and that he has checked in via text message at every stop; excited about the new classes and new experiences he will have; worried about how the semester is going to go, given his history; sad that I won't be seeing him much for a while (maybe a long, long while).
So I leave you with this photo to contemplate along with the words of Julian of Norwich - all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well - as I ask your prayers for my son as he embarks on this next chapter of his life.
O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey's end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From today's reading from Paul's letter to the Romans:
[I]f your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I used to wonder about that whole heaping burning coals on your enemies' heads thing, which is made almost indecipherable when read within the whole sentence. One heaps burning coals on one's enemies' heads by being kind and generous to them!
I used to think that this meant that you'll shame your enemies by doing this. You will make them feel horrible about themselves and make them sorry for what they did. The point was to make them feel bad, really bad. To make them sorry, sorry, sorry.
And maybe that's what Paul mean, but I don't think so. I think it's not about making sure "you'll be sorry you did this to me." Because that keeps me bitter; that keeps me imprisoned in my bitterness. No, I think it's about changing my notion about vengeance. I think it means that I should let go of my desire for the enemy to feel bad as a result of my own hurt...so that I will not be overcome by evil myself. So that I will not be eaten up by bitterness and a desire for revenge. I just don't think St Paul is suggesting that I go about feeding my enemies by cooking up a pot of soup, mumbling murderously as I stir, and banging it down on the table in front of them, saying through clenched teeth and with clenched fists, "ENJOY!!!" And then they eat while I am livid with rage.
As long as I want to hurt someone back for hurting me, then I am succumbing to evil myself. I am just doing the same thing, keeping the cycle going, tit for tat and all that. Paul challenges me to break that cycle, to overcome evil, by substituting my desire for vengeance with a desire for the well-being of all God's children. Jesus says, if anyone is thirsty, let them come to me. Some of those who are thirsty are my "enemies." And so, if my enemy is thirsty, and I am a follower of Jesus, then I am to give that enemy something to drink. Paul may well be suggesting that I just let go of the whole thing about enemies and give that over to God. It's God's job to judge, not mine. My job is to feed the lambs and the sheep, even if I don't like them.
And so, I am left feeling that I have to give up any desire to heap burning coals on anyone's head and replace it with a desire to be lifegiving, to be forgiving, to be hopeful and generous. And to feel my own life coming back, greening up, when I shed my desire for punishing people,
even "punishing them with kindness."
Of course, this brings up the doormat question. Are we just supposed to lie down and let people run over us and take advantage of us and all that?
There's a difference in having healthy boundaries, in calling someone to account for a transgression, and punishing people for those transgressions and ill treatments. I find that many of us are afraid of "confrontation," and so we will not stand up for ourselves or others who are being badly treated until things get out of hand and then someone else (the law, some authority figure) will step in and take charge.
But really, we don't have to make everything a confrontation. We can simply say, "I don't like the way you are treating me or her or him. It's not ok for you to do that here. In our community, we don't do this." That's not being run over, and it's also not ratcheting things up into a full-blown fight. There are ways to stand up for ourselves and for others that fall well short of inciting destructive conflict.
And so, I read it again. If my enemy is thirsty, feed him. If my enemy is hungry, feed her. Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.
Let that good take up the space in my life that I am tempted to fill with a desire to punish him
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Lots of talk here on the East Coast about Hurricane Irene. It is not affecting us in Atlanta - we are as dry as a bone and it's hotter than ever - but the storm and its potential damage dominate the news.
For our Saturday morning story, here's a link to a very creative site called "Instacane: The story of Hurricane Irene as told by Instagram" (an iPhone photosharing app). See rows and rows of photographs people tagged as related to the hurricane. Scroll through and hover your cursor over a picture to see the caption. Some of them are quite inventive. Be safe and enjoy!
O Loving God, whose will it is that everyone should come to you and be saved: We bless your holy Name for your servants Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle whose labors with and for those who are deaf we commemorate today, and we pray that you will continually move your Church to respond in love to the needs of all people; through Jesus Christ, who opened the ears of the deaf, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
V. Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance; R. Govern them and uphold them, now and always. V. Day by day we bless you; R. We praise your name for ever. V. Lord, keep us from all sin today; R. Have mercy upon us, Lord, have mercy. V. Lord, show us your love and mercy; R. For we put our trust in you. V. In you, Lord, is our hope; R. And we shall never hope in vain.
I was driving through one of my city's concentrated "international neighborhoods" recently. The busy street is lined with apartments and restaurants of all sorts. Noodle houses, taquerias, Korean places, Vietnamese places; restaurants with names I can't read or pronounce. A few businesses were interspersed, but the strip is heavy on the eateries.
People were riding the red bus that serves the Latino community - getting on, getting off and walking here and there. The traffic is heavy on this street. Workers of various types were also doing their thing from their trucks. City workers trimming branches, big trucks pulling in and out of the "mulch dump" with loads of yard waste. A cherrypicker fixing a streetlight. Busy, busy.
This neighborhood is familiar; I drive through it regularly. But I don't really know much about it, especially I don't know much about the people who live and work there. I don't know what kind of lives they lead, about what's important to them, about how they spend their free time, about their political inclinations. It occurred to me, as I watched a young mother getting on the bus with her toddler and after a young man got off the bus and headed toward the business district, these are the people that are suspected of being "illegal immigrants." These are the people who are being targeted by new immigration laws in several states; they are suspected, all of them, of being in this country illegally and without good reason, and "taking all of our jobs."
I don't really know them, though, and I don't think the legislators and politicos who spend so much time vilifying the international community know them, either. They don't know the woman with the baby or the young man going off to work or the busdriver. They don't know the restaurant owners or their customers. But they are willing to make broad generalizations about them and to make life more difficult for them because they are afraid of that which they do not know.
It says in the Bible (Exodus 22:21) "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." My ancestors came to this country from Ireland, many of them; others came from England and France. Most of them were trying to get away from oppressive legislation in their own countries - the Irish Roman Catholics were prohibited from holding public office in their home towns; the English were Anabaptists who were vilified at home; the French were Huguenots driven out of that country. My ancestors were part of the huge international community that became the United States of America. But some of us have forgotten that our ancestors were once resident aliens, too, as were the Hebrews in the land of Egypt, and have been busy with the work of becoming oppressors ourselves. Lord, have mercy.
O God, you called your servant Louis of France to an earthly throne that he might advance your heavenly kingdom, and gave him zeal for your Church and love for your people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some years ago, I attended a Sunday school class for adults on spiritual well-being 101, taught by a "life coach." I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say.
He started out by exhorting us to go around the house and make a list of little things that need fixing - dripping faucet, squeaky screen door, peeling paint on the windows - and then get them fixed. After a few minutes of talk of this sort, someone raised a hand and asked, "Excuse me, but how is this supposed to help me with spiritual well-being? This doesn't sound very spiritual!"
"Ah, but this is the prep work," said the coach. "Before you can do the inner work, you need to get rid of all the little irritations and guilt-producers on the outside. You need to get out from under all the stuff that hangs over your head, some of it literally. Get your physical house in order to prepare for getting your spiritual house in order."
Some of my classmates seemed to remain skeptical, but I totally understood where this coach was coming from. I suffer from a general sense of frustration and anxiety about little things that need fixing, and they pick at me when I don't take care of them. (And I often don't. I'm not handy and neither is anyone else who lives in this house.) I feel my life getting smaller and smaller and can feel myself starting to be hemmed in by the effort it takes to either ignore or work around those little things.
The coach went on to say that vagueness is an enemy. Which is why we make the list that includes everything, from tightening screws to replacing rotten wood. He was right. Vagueness allows us to feel overwhelmed (everything is broken!), which leads to getting off track or even giving up altogether. Some of us may be able to ignore all that and tend to inner work, but many of us end up feeling uneasy and filled with a a sense of low-level but constant distractedness and must get it out of the way. Certainly, I do.
I can't listen for God when I'm listening to squeaks and drips and that little voice in my head nagging and chastising me for not getting things fixed.
So, I am thrilled that I have someone who's working on stuff that needs fixing at my house in the coming days. We made a list. I can feel the burden beginning to lift, already, and he hasn't even started the work!
Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.
I was looking through some photographs this morning while checking in on the news about what's happening in Libya, reading an article about a Roman Catholic church that has decided to ban altar girls, and watching Jon Stewart pointing out how our country ranks just above Uganda and Rwanda in income inequality, among other things.
When I saw this photo from last year's beach trip, I immediately thought of the wonderful old song, "I'll Fly Away."
You may have your own favorite version of the song, but if you want to hear the Allison Kraus/Gillian Welch version, click here.
When I first came back to church after a long time away, I did a lot of crying in my pew. Not body-shaking, head-in-the-hands, puffy-eyed bawling but tears-just-barely-leaking-out silent weeping. I had an emotional and spiritual backlog of feelings that slowly came out out, little by little, over a period of years.
My tears were sometimes tears of grief, sometimes tears of joy, often tears of pure relief. And many, many tears of gratitude, too. I had so much emotion and I had been afraid I might be swept away by the force of it; but I found it safe to let my emotion come out by way of my tears in church.
Today I got another chance to shed a few tears at church, although technically I wasn't in church -- not the church building, anyway. We were in the parish hall, watching and listening to a presentation by the sixteen-year-olds who went on a pilgrimage to holy sites in Ireland earlier in the summer. Four pilgrims, my son among them, stood up in front of all of us and told us something about their own experience of being on an intentional spiritual journey together, about their expectations, insights, and their own gratitude for the opportunity -- and for their community. Most of them admitted that they didn't have "aha" moments as much as gradual realizations about their own spiritual lives. How connected they discovered themselves to be to each other, and to God, and especially to timeless creation itself.
They told about taking off their shoes to follow a 72-year old man who blazed a trail through the mud up a mountain and how that experience opened them up to discarding the things that blocked them from making authentic connection. They told about throwing rocks off cliffs into the sea 300 yards below --and with the rocks their burdens and worries. They told about learning to hit balls with hurley sticks from a 60-something guy who'd been hurling all his life.
They learned that everyone has a gift, a story, a life to share with others, and they experienced people sharing gifts with them in a new way.
And then we got to watch the slideshow - our teenagers hiking, posing, climbing, writing, dancing, holding tea parties, sleeping, meditating and playing amid ancient ruins and breathtaking scenery.
So what about the tears? I felt them welling up as soon as the kids began to speak - four of them, each presenting a thoughtful short reflection. Kids I'd known since they were babies now so poised and articulate and funny. I watched them, and the subsequent slide show, with eyes swimming with tears of pride, and gratitude, and a fierce love for my community that helped me and my family recognize, become acquainted with, and nourish our spiritual selves. The community that formed me and has formed my children into being the Body of Christ.
There are plenty of tears in the Bible, too. Like me, people shed tears of joy, of gratitude, of sorrow, of pain and grief and mourning, and tears of frustration, and finally, tears of relief as when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. God collects our tears, they are written in God's book, as it says in Psalm 58. And so my tears are written there, too. Thanks be to God.
Grant, O merciful God,
that your Church,
being gathered together
by your Holy Spirit,
may show forth your power
among all peoples,
to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
and the Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.
Our Diocese is about to begin the process of electing a new bishop. Please keep us in prayer as we move through this process toward the election, which will take place on June 2, 2012. The nominating committee has announced that it will accept applications from the end of August through mid-October 2011. Here is the BCP prayer for the election of a bishop:
Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for the Diocese of Atlanta, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Shelter is a word that is used in a variety of ways. Sometimes we speak of certain people as being sheltered - "protected" from the world so that they do not experience hardship or upset. A shelter is a specific building - anything from a shed to a castle. Shelters are places of refuge for people or animals who are homeless or abused or abandoned. Sometimes there is a shelter at the bus stop where people can sit, out of the elements, while waiting for the bus. Fancy magazines like Architectural Digest, Southern Living, Veranda, and House Beautiful are known in the publishing trade as "shelter publications." We seek shelter from a storm, which (like the storm itself) can be any place, real or psychological or metaphorical. Shelter is a place of refuge, a place of safety, a place of rest.
The New Living translation of Psalm 37:6 says that all humanity finds shelter under God's wings, a result of God's precious loving-kindness. Other translations say that God protects humanity or that people take refuge under God's wings. Any way we look at it, though, the fancy magazines notwithstanding, we think of shelter as a place of protection and refuge from the harshness and maybe even dangers of the world.
While I am all for physical shelter for people and animals (and wish that so many did not have to resort to emergency shelters), I struggle sometimes with the notion of sheltering people in the psychological sense. Sometimes we do not tell people the truth because we are afraid it will shock or upset them or because we think they can't take the truth. Sometimes family members collude with one another to keep certain information away from a child or a parent, information about a medical condition or a death or a catastrophe. Often it is the colluders themselves who are upset and they project that onto someone else and make decisions about controlling others' exposure to information or even to parts of life itself.
It used to be that young ladies were routinely sheltered from parts of life deemed brutal or just unseemly. Only young ladies of high social standing, though. Little kids living in the streets or in homes characterized by lack and want (Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, comes to mind) lived amid the squalor, disease, shame, brutality and all the rest. There have always been those for whom there was no shelter from the harsh realities of life.
According to the latest Census Bureau numbers, there are more than 15 million children currently living in poverty in the United States. The poverty level nationwide for all ages is the highest it has been in the 51 years such statistics have been kept. Sometimes I feel that we are all colluding with one another to keep this information "on the QT." It's unseemly. It's brutal. Apparently, we don't want to know. And no one is forcing us to look this fact squarely in the eye.
We are supposed to be the greatest and richest nation in the world. And yet the gap between rich and poor widens while we argue vehemently in our political discourse about whether or not we ought to provide shelter (protection, refuge, a dry spot in the storm) by way of unemployment benefits, food stamps, health care, and other assistance to people in need because it is being labeled "socialism." Once again, ideology trumps actual people.
Whom are we sheltering by ignoring this gaping wound in our society?
Not much time to write today, but I do have a prayer request. There are a lot of people who need work these days. Unemployment and underemployment continues to be a scourge, affecting people and families of all ethnicities, classes, genders. Few career categories are exempt, either.
So please remember those who need work, and especially those who are losing hope because they've been out of work for so long or because it's just so hard to keep hearing, "No."
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My neighbor next door is working on his house again. This is a recurring theme. The houses in our neighborhood were built in the 1920's, and most of them have been through a series of renovations to update kitchens and bathrooms, to replace windows, to add a second floor or addition on the back, to enclose a porch, to build or replace a deck.
My neighbor's house is in an almost constant state of renovation, with periods of activity interrupted by several months of inactivity, a cycle created by the fact that he is in the Air Force and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan several times. I am grateful for his service to our country and I imagine that having home projects that entail predictable, concrete steps and show visible results are therapeutic and life-giving for him.
Because I work at home, I am intimately familiar with this pattern and have to admit that the noise sometimes drives me crazy 'long about the fourth or fifth day in a row of hammering and sawing after several days of jackhammering before that. I have to admit that I wonder why the fencing must be replaced again or the kitchen redone again or how much stuff needs to be jackhammered out of a house or how long the windows will be boarded up this time.
And yet, I'm in the transformation business. I know that transformation - of houses, of neighborhoods, of businesses and schools, of persons - is messy. Sometimes it's a little noisy and hard to watch/listen to. My own personal transformation included nothing less than emotional train wrecks and lots of probably incoherent and certainly irritating babbling.
And I'm in the neighbor business. I want us all - people of all faiths and none, people of all ethnicities and classes, people of all political persuasions - to find ways to live together, balancing our needs and desires with the needs and desires of others to create real community.
So I did what anyone would do. I called a handyman to come over and work on MY house. There's still a hole in the back of our garden shed from a spring storm; there's rotting wood from some old water damage from leaking gutters and a window that's had broken glass on the outside (thermo)pane since 2006.
There's a log in my own eye, when it comes to home maintenance and repair.
I don't know exactly why my neighbor spends so much time working on his house. But my time would be better served getting my own house in good repair than stewing about his.
When I was growing up, we didn't make that big of a deal about Mary. We were Baptists and all that Mary stuff was papist, I was told. So we had our white ceramic madonnas at Christmas (I still have the one I was given by my choir director in elementary school), but that was about it. I remember visiting St Peter's in Rome after I graduated from high school and seeing Michaelangelo's pieta there (this one) and although she was not painted, there I saw Mary in a much different light. This was not a serene or placid or blank-faced madonna but a young mother dealing with the unimaginable. This mother was doing what mothers do - cradling their children - and at the same time asking "why" with her palm upraised. If a bewildered Mary asked Gabariel at the annunciation, "How can this be?" then she was asking the same of God here.
When I became an Episcopalian, I met many people who were devoted to Mary; the Anglo-Catholic parish where I served as a deacon had a large statue of her in the back of the nave and we said the Angelus (Hail, Mary....) at the end of every service. Others, primarily women, felt that Mary gave them what was missing in their (as they perceived it) all-male Bible and church tradition. Mary offered a place for women in the story to these women, most or all of whom were mothers.
I myself became drawn to Mary when I was pregnant with my first child. I, too, had a place in the story, a special place. Mary offered me a new way of seeing the story and a new way of experiencing faith that was tied up inextricably with the messiness of life. I had things to ponder in my heart, too, although I was never one to keep everything to myself.
Now I see that indeed women - many women, not only Mary the Mother of God - are all over the Bible and our tradition. They figure in so many of the stories - in some they are just there with everyone else, and in others they are key.
But many women I know were taught about the Bible from people who glossed over the women and their everyday and pivotal roles. They were taught by people who told them that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and that Martha was the silly and inferior sister whose sphere was limited to cooking and cleaning (and that oh by the way such was their sphere, too) and that if it weren't for Eve, sin would never have entered the world. They were told that women could never be anything because it said so in the Bible - that they were inferior, sinners, hapless, unfit.
And so they found their solace in Mary, about whom no one could castigate or put down. No one could call the Queen of Heaven unfit or hapless. No one could call her silly or inferior.
All sorts of traditions have grown up about Mary, including stories about her later life, her parentage and early life, her assumption into heaven. The Bible itself is rather quiet about all of that.
But it is not quiet about this: Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.
Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV)
Here's the thing that jumped out at me about this reading from Matthew today. When first confronted by this Canaanite woman, Jesus' response was to quote the storyline as he knew it: He came to help the Jews live into their identity as "the light to the nations." Presumably, some day, when Israel lived up to its promise, all nations would stream to its light and everyone would be pulled into the orbit of God in a new and lifegiving way. Then all would be healed, all would be saved, all would be the family of God.
But this woman has a problem now. Her daughter is in torment now. What does she care that someday healing will be given to all? Her daughter needs healing now. And Jesus' response was not just careless but care-less. Without care. And it was mean.
The Canaanite woman didn't accept the story line. She was gracious (even in the face of Jesus' rude language) about accepting that she might not be the primary focus of Jesus' work, but she did not accept that she was not in the picture at all. "Yes, Lord," she said. She knelt before him. "Help me," she said simply. "Help me."
And then I thought about the church, I thought about society. Some day, people say, when people are ready, when the time is right, then we can pursue the justice some folks are asking for. Women asking for the right to vote and then the right for equal pay for equal work and for equality in church. People of color asking for the right to vote and then for equal education opportunities and for equal (and not separate) rights of all kinds in schools, in the workplace, in society. Gay and lesbian and transgendered people asking for justice in the military, in the work place, in family life, in church.
We say, "some day." But they need justice now. They are asking for justice now. And our response is often to tell them to wait.
Jesus changed his mind in the face of her persistence; he allowed himself to see the larger vision as something that can have a present reality, not just a future one. Like God in the face of Abraham talking him down from destroying Sodom if fifty or forty-five or thirty or finally just ten righteous people were found there, Jesus, when confronted with someone asking for justice, someone calling upon the divine righteousness - the divine will toward right relationship - changed his mind, too.
Planning out justice for the future makes little sense when faced with the reality of those who are suffering now. "Let justice roll down like the waters," says the prophet Amos. "And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, like your servant Jeremy Taylor, deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let your Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Maybe it's because school is back in session, but all of a sudden it seems possible to be outside for more than five minutes at a time during the day.
(I'd like to stay outside for a long time tonight to watch the meteor shower but alas, we can't really see such stuff in this bright urban center. See my reminiscence about being outside under a night sky filled with Sputniks and shooting stars here.)
So I took a walk around my garden this morning and saw that, amazingly, not everything was burned up. A number of the roses are doing their thing with late summer blooms. Some of them are definitely crispy, and all are smaller than the spring versions, but they're blooming and the butterflies and bees and wasps are happily visiting them all.
Being outside is just a more spiritual activity for me than being inside, even if I'm praying or reading something inspirational inside. Being outside is a real kind of being, walking around in God's world, with heightened awareness and alertness to all the intricacies of the Kingdom.
Life-giving God, you alone have power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Every year, stargazers get all excited about the Perseid meteor shower, which is to be at "peak" this weekend. (See National Geographic story here.)
Alas, this is not something we get to see here in midtown Atlanta. Too little sky on view and waaaay too much light. We seldom see stars at all.
I miss seeing the stars in the night sky. I grew up in a fairly rural area and we had no street lights or town lights that dimmed the sky for us. In fact, I've always felt that I did my best sleeping at my parents' house where it was really, really dark at night.
And, oh, there we could see the stars! We could easily see the Milky Way, an arcing band of hazy/cloudy looking freckled light studded with brighter, more defined points of light, simply by looking straight up. We could see the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper (aka ursa major and ursa minor) and lots of other constellations that someone had to explain so that we could "see" the figure - the king and queen (Cassiopeia and Cepheus), Sagittarius and Scorpio, the swan and the lyre. I remember talk about being able to see the aurora borealis on occasion - a shimmering of psychedelic colors - and think I remember seeing that once. And of course, we saw satellites, too, which were new; we called them all Sputniks as we watched them move purposefully across the dark expanse above.
And in the late summer were the meteor showers. Before the time when we all began to stay inside watching television in the air conditioned house, summer nights were spent outside. The house was hot inside, especially after dinner preparations had heated up the kitchen, and we often sat outside on the porch or in lawn chairs with cold drinks in condensation-slick colored metal cups or invited neighbors over for chilled watermelon or, best of all, to make homemade ice cream in a wooden churn with rock salt in the bottom of it.
Fireflies and treefrogs provided background noise as we children played tag or "ain't no bears out tonight" while the adults sat in the dark, smoking and murmuring among themselves about the boring things adults murmur about. And occasionally, someone would gasp or let out a little shout, and we'd all look up in the sky to see a long white-gold or orangey streak, a shooting star. The brainy scientist kid from next door (the one who became a doctor) would correct us, announcing that it was a meteor, but I much preferred the term shooting star. A star that suddenly takes off on a wild ride across the night sky, trailing a glittering streak of celestial ash - that's magic. "Meteor" is cold, rocky, science-y. Those nights under the stars of every kind (as well as the mysterious Sputnik beeping its way overhead with its spy cameras clicking) were magic, through and through.
I will look up tomorrow night, I'm sure, in hopes of catching a glimpse one of those streaks over the skyline. And I will most likely look up in vain. But I'll know they're up there, those stars that break out of their fixed places and just take off, trailing stardust.
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Clare, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
After being away for a week, I am trying to figure out just how much catching up I want to do on the news and events that sort of blew by me (or that I simply ignored) during my time away. Frankly, the news has been pretty grim these last couple of days, what with rioting and destruction in London and all the goings on about the debt ceiling and the stock market and the debt rating here. Political "debates" continue as the did in the time of the Philistines, when each side just lined up and called each other names and shouted insults at one another before the rock and spear throwing started.
I want to be informed. I want to keep up with world events, with local news, with what's happening in the world and my world. But after being on vacation, I recognize that the constant stream of news (with so much of it bad) can deaden the soul as well as enlarge one's understanding. I enjoyed just ignoring it all for a few days.
We have to find a balance, a way to take in as much as we can to be an informed citizenry and also to take time away, too, so that we can process, or just rest, from the noise and clamor of voices. Because in the end, we need to be able to hold up the good news, the other stories of hope and beauty and goodness that are out there in the midst of the sturm und drang.
The balance is not just between work and rest or work and play but between being able to see hope and beauty while remaining clear-eyed about the world's flaws. Even an optimistic, look at the bright sider like me can become jaded and worn out by a steady stream of noisy negativity, and so I must recognize when hopelessness comes near to me, too, and recognize it for what it is.
Meanwhile, my prayers are for and with those who are suffering today, those who are scared for their physical safety as well as those fearful about their financial security. My prayers are for those who suffer loss - loss of faith, loss of property, loss of hope, loss of connection - that they may find reconciliation and restoration. My prayers are for justice and for peace, a balancing act is there ever was one.
My son started school today! Yes, it's really early for that, but such is the school schedule here in the last few years. Students get to finish the semester, including exams, before Winter Break and also finish the school year before the end of May. It's pleasant in May. August, not so much.
Back to school means back to schedule for many of us, myself included. Even though my son fends for himself more often than not, and what with classes and after school activities he is away from the house from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. many days, I find that time works differently during the school year still. I feel the need to be less casual about meals and mealtime and to be on call for sudden schedule changes that involve pick ups and drop offs. The day has a more defined edge to it - up at a certain time, to bed by a certain time - and evenings should include the opportunity for quiet study. There will be paperwork I need to attend to and some meetings and the calendar will begin to sport entries like "band concert" and "auditions" and "games."
Of course, now that he can drive himself, I do declare myself to be officially done with the last minute dash to the store for glue sticks and poster board.
I am not sorry to be back on a schedule. By the end of summer, I am in "whatever" mode on way too many levels. I really do better with some kind of schedule imposed from outside, as any schedule of my own making falls apart fairly quickly. Getting up early every morning will make it easier to go to the gym more regularly. And needing to be more mindful about meals is definitely a good thing for all of us.
And so I give thanks for teachers and administrators, knowing that many of them are under more and more pressure these days. I give thanks for band directors and coaches and guidance counselors, all of whom are probably facing a lot of chaos right now. I am grateful for sidewalk crossing guards and parent volunteers and cafeteria workers, for custodial staff and those guys who will have to fix the air conditioning in some school or another during this week of near 100-degree temperatures.
At a time when education is a hot topic and when people are spewing a lot of negativity about schools, I am grateful for those who continue to do their best for the kids under their care. I am grateful for people who support their community schools, whether or not they have children in those schools, because they know that their support strengthens the community as a whole.
Now, bring on the supply list. I'll hand over the keys and directions to the school supply store.