Saturday, January 19, 2013

Daddy's on my mind

It is almost two years since Daddy died. (February 3, 2011) It is almost one year that Mother has been at home without being in the hospital or nursing home. (February 24, 2012).  These two years have been filled with many changes and transitions for both Mother and me. There have been significant losses (husband/father; mobility; career/job) and learnings (elder care, part-time job protocols, who and how to be without a job as key identifier)

As these key dates loom ahead, I find myself thinking of Daddy a great deal.  He wasn’t much of a go-er.  After his travels to Europe during WWII as a glider pilot, he was very happy to be a “stay at home son” until he became a husband and father.  As a result our family vacations, with a few exceptions, tended to be camping trips to the Snowy Range.  There Daddy delighted in teaching us to fish and hunt, pitch tents and cook over campfires. 

Daddy drew the plans for the house in which we grew up.  While some of the work was contracted out to a construction company, there was much work that we did as a family.  We learned about sheetrock, painting, pouring concrete, plumbing and how to use all sorts of power tools in his well-equipped workshop.  One of my fondest memories was working with him on the first house I bought.  Together we put in a bathroom in the basement and installed amazing shelving (from 12 inches to 36 inches deep) in the laundry room.  It seemed to me that there was just nothing he couldn’t fix.  When my brother, Kim, and I got our first car, a ’53 Chevy coupe, we worked along Daddy to install a new head gasket.  Of course, he didn’t let us leave the driveway in any of our subsequent vehicles without showing him that we knew how to jack it up and change the tires.

As a result of his skills as a handy-man, there has always been an underlying expectation that we could (and should) be able to take care of those inevitable projects around the house.  Not long ago while moving a new futon, the bolts holding the legs on were shirred off.  I tried my best to figure out how to fix it, but finally had to call on a neighbor for assistance.  As he opened up his tool box and knew exactly what to do, I was nearly overwhelmed with the sense of how much I missed Dad and the many kinds of help he had given me through the years.  But I was also aware how much I appreciated the skills he helped hone so I could replace a fence post, build a raised bed garden, tile a bathroom, and keep a temperamental snow blower going.

In the last decade of his life as Mother increasingly struggled with arthritis, knee replacements and shoulder surgeries, leg and ankle breaks, Daddy took on more and more of the household tasks and her personal care.  The thing that touches me most is how he could do so much without a crankiness or aggravation.  He just smiled and laughed; his good humor was infectious.  Lately, when I have felt burdened with some of the responsibilities for Mother’s care, I have found myself saying, “You are your father’s daughter.”  I think that this mantra has helped me to take a breath and react in kinder, gentler ways.

The Roman Catholic theologian, Richard Rohr, recently wrote on his list serve that “Your image of God forms you.”   If you think of God as a harsh, unbending judge, you may be formed as fearful, untrusting—perhaps even judgmental yourself.  If God for you is loving, forgiving and merciful, then you may be formed to be trusting, gracious and loving, too. 

Just as Daddy’s DNA formed and informs me and the life I live, I believe that my image of God is also forming and transforming me with the new life challenges I have in this season of my life. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gathering on Holy Ground

Italian creche--note the baby has not arrived yet

While I served at St. Matthew’s one of the joyful activities was writing/revising prayers for the “stations” we made to begin the “midnight mass.” After a half hour or so of singing best-loved carols and hymns which hadn’t made it into the regular liturgy, the lights would go down. A hush of anticipation fell over the gathered congregation. Then the Deacon and I, accompanied by 2 torches and a varying number of choir members would make our way through the church, stopping for song, prayer and the lighting of candles at the Advent wreath, the baptismal font, the Christmas/Chrismon tree and the Crèche. The sense of increased light coming into the dark world with the Christ was liturgically enacted.

Returning to the front of the church we were joined by the whole choir, who had changed their scapulars from blue to gold, other acolytes carrying banners and crosses and the thurifer with Queen of Heaven incense, wafting heavenward. Proclaiming that the dwelling of God is with creation, that God will dwell with us and we shall be God’s people; that the glory of the Lord has been revealed and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God, we began to process throughout the church singing, “O come, all ye faithful.”

French creche from Aix in Provence  (very tiny and handpainted) The ladies on the left are bringing lavender; and a fisherman on the right is bringing his catch.

In this week before Christmas, accustomed to that prayerful writing/revising, I have wondered how these prayers might be used in the domestic church, in my own home, as I won’t be presiding at Christmas services this year for the first time in 20 years. We have an Advent wreath, Christmas tree and a crèche to bless, so that may well suffice for my liturgical longings. Here are the Stations we used several years ago, singing specific verses of Longing for Light as we made our way from place to place.

At the Advent Wreath
Deacon: During Advent we wait in darkness and long for light. We wait with hope, we long for peace, we desire joy and we yearn for love as we prepare in pregnant anticipation for God’s light and life to invade our world and transform our hearts.
Dean: Tonight we proclaim that a tiny human being, Jesus, is that light and life. Let us announce salvation to people everywhere. Love came down from heaven. Light not shines in the dark and darkness cannot overcome it.
The Candles are lit.

Wooden German creche (Now what is that pig doing here?)

At the Font
Deacon: Jesus burst forth from the waters of the Virgin’s womb to take our human nature with its pain, sorrow, joy and dreams. In the waters of baptism we burst forth spiritually re-born, so that we may live in righteousness and holiness all our days.
Water is poured into the font.
Dean: O God, whose Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of creation, sanctify this water for the service of your holy Church, that it may be to us an outward sign of the cleansing refreshment of your grace and a reminder of the life and light you share with us now and for ever. Amen.

African soapstone creche

At the Tree
Deacon: God created the heavens and earth and all that is in them. In a beautiful and peaceful garden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge grew. When our ancestors disobeyed and ate the fruit of that tree, God pronounced a curse where hard work, pain and death became our way of life. But on another tree God’s Son worked our whole salvation, breaking the power of Satan so that everyone everywhere would be blessed and could become a blessing to others.
The tree is lighted.
Dean: Good and gracious God, bless this tree as a reminder of your promise that the citizens of your kingdom would be as numerous as the stars in heaven. Let these Chrismons (ornaments which represent individuals and events of salvation history) remind us that the cross of crucifixion cast its shadow over the stable in Bethlehem where our Son, our Lord, was born. Amen.

Mexican creche

At the Crèche
Deacon: During the dark of night, in a rude stable, a child was born. There was nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary. But this was the Son of God, the Child of Mary, the long-awaited light of the world.
The babe is placed in the crèche.
Dean: Blessed Jesus, Son of God, we pray that you will bless this crèche to be a sign of your humble birth that we may stand in humble awe at the mystery of your Incarnation. Tonight as we behold you in the faces of friends and strangers, let us join our voices with the angels and archangels who proclaim your birth. And grant that we may be strengthened to greet your when you come again in glorious majesty as our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

And so gentle reader, may Jesus bless you with a joyous, peaceful and loving Christmastide.  As for Mother and me, friends will join us for traditional prime rib on Christmas Day and to help us consume some of the 50 dozen cookies, the carmel corn, party mix, cashew brittle, cranberry tortes and fruitcakes that we have been busy making all December.  We do love to cook almost as much as we enjoy sharing our efforts with other and feasting on them ourselves.  Taste and see, the Lord is good!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent--waiting, hoping, sharing

Our secular Swedish Advent Wreath

           Due to the retirement covenant that prevents my participation in the life of St. Matthew’s, I have stayed away with a few exceptions; namely, to attend funerals of several elderly women who were neighbors/friends long before I contemplated ordination and the priesthood.  Last week I permitted myself to attend my first non-church event at the cathedral.
          The University of Wyoming Collegiate Chorale and several faculty members of the Music Department presented their annual candlelight concert.  It is one of Laramie's several "official starts" of the holiday season, but the selection of music is far more eclectic than traditional Christmas carols and hymns.  This year the concert was centered on the theme, "The Solace of the Song."  The Chorale sang the premier of an amazing Magnificat written by Forrest Pierce.  It combined Latin elements and mid-Eastern/Sufi rhythms and sounds. Another song, Some Roads, composed by a local master song writer, Bill McKay, really touched my heart and spirit.  It goes,
Life is more than yesterdays
More than the ties that bind,
Some roads lead on from what you've known
To what you need to find.

So in the beautiful, holy place that has been the center of my life for many years, as a laywoman and later as a priest, I gratefully remembered so many experiences of knowing/finding/being found by God in the liturgy, in the people gathered, in shared prayers and joyful praise, and in giving ourselves to one another in the midst of deep anguish and grief.  I was particularly aware how much I miss singing in proximity with the fine St. Matthew’s choristers, as well as just how much I enjoy really good choral music.  My voice certainly improved during my tenure there.  Even though I have returned after many years to practicing the piano on a more or less regular basis—yes, even scales—and singing along with the player piano, my voice seems croakier than ever.  I am not so sure where this road that I have known so well is taking me, but I am hopefully confident that it will take me to what I need to find. 
As a page of the liturgical calendar turned on Sunday, we began another year with the season of Advent. I attended the ELCA church which has just proudly installed a new pipe organ.  Great sound! I was delighted to note their blue Altar hangings (Hooray for the Sarum Rite!) and surprised to see all red candles in their huge hanging Advent Wreath. A local rancher made the wreath to look very much like a wagon wheel.  There were also surprisingly several large poinsettias.  Like many churches when they light the first candle they designate this first week of Advent for  hope.
In the forced quietness of Advent as we wait, hoping with great anticipation, we are also concerned with waking up to find those places where the Christ is continually breaking in, coming to be with us. While some of the traditional ways of keeping Advent seem totally counter-cultural to the “Christmas parties, decorations, mall music, etc.” they are also ways to help us to become more mindful. 
Mother and I are attempting to keep Advent in a more intentional way this year. Without all the “church stuff” that kept me busy in the past, I am finding time for quiet mindfulness and meditation.  Because the gift from a dear friend (and the priest who I did my seminary field work under and who preached at my ordination and installation as Dean) has 29 Advent meditations, we got a jump start on Advent by beginning on November 28.  We light a candle, read some Scripture and Martha’s inspiring meditation and study her artistry on the reverse side.  Then with glasses of wine and candlelight we share something of our hearts with one another.
            We have talked of childhood Christmas memories—huge boxes of candy left on the porch and a paper bag filled with peanuts.  We remember dolls, stuffed animals, sleds, and special meals (Lutfisk at Grammy and Grampy's; turkey at our home; and somewhere along the line, exchanging turkey for Prime Rib)  And hilarious parties with my brother's in-laws before all going to the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. And the fun of gathering used Christmas trees to be used for forts and igloos until the snow melted.   
            Mother told about her baptism and all the “missionary/preacher boys” at her college who were praying for her to be baptized, and about weddings in our family that touched us in different ways.  I am much enjoying these times of sharing and seeing the different ways in which Jesus the Christ, has been with us, guiding us and forming us, for a long while and hopefully for a while to come.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.   We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly”—but we know he is coming to us now and will come to us in even more glorious ways as we wait and hope with joyful anticipation.

Monday, November 19, 2012


This last week I have been puppy sitting for a friend who is away visiting family.  Rugby, a 12 week old Goldendoodle, is mellow, intelligent, playful and mostly housebroken.  Fortunately he and Rebel hit it off right away and have spent countless hours chasing, jumping, attacking and gnawing on one another until they collapse into an exhausted sleep.  Fargo, on the other hand, shows his curmudgeonly old dog-self with looks of disdain and growlish pronouncements regarding the behavior of the younger generation.
            On the first couple of mornings I attempted walking the three doglins together for our tour of the neighborhood.  Rugby was alternately attentive to biting his leach (taking himself for a  walk?), biting the others’ leashes (taking them for a walk?), chasing leaves as they crossed his path (that path looks faster and funner!) and following new fragrances wherever his busy nose guided him. (This is a great walk)
Fargo, Rugby, Rebel (from left to right)
            Keeping the three leashes untangled as they crossed back and forth and as I attempted to maintain a forward motion gave the same feelings I had when attempting to “run” a marionette. An observer commented how busy I looked from his vantage point at a stoplight.
            On succeeding mornings I paired two dogs for a walk, then had a special one-on-one walk with the third who endured being home alone.  This was much easier and we all had some special time—even I had the opportunity to see, hear and smell the attractions of another amazing, abnormally warm, fall day.
            Walking all three dogs together is a kind of multi-tasking that gets the job done.  Sure there were some moments of tangled hilarity, but frustrated irritation rose quickly to the surface with the pup biting the oldest dog who insisted on putting the punctuation on everyone else’s pee-mail.
            Walking two was easier but had me being pulled in several directions at once.  Walking one was easiest of all—the doglin had sufficient time to take care of business and I had sufficient space and energy to notice and enjoy my surroundings.
            So much of my reading in the last several years has drawn my attention to the discipline of mindfulness—really taking the time to do one thing and that one thing only.  Our culture promotes multi-tasking at nearly every level.  With our varied smart phones, I-pads, tablets and kindles we can get whatever we want 24/7.  Shop, read, talk, write, watch as we go from task to task, not so much consecutively, but simultaneously.
            As I slowly adjust to this new rhythm of retirement/elder care, I wonder if I had tried in the past to be more mindful with each task as it came about—rather than letting myself be pulled in many directions at once—if I would have been better able to hang in there for the long haul of ministry.  When I hear other folks much older and longer in the trench than I who cannot imagine quitting or slowing down, my wonderings get even stronger. 
            But here I am on this day—dawn has just come—and I know that it is another day to attempt finding and living  into the delightful joy that the doglins know in this ruff and ready world as they experience it in simple ways--a long walk with lovely sights and smells, a good simple meal, a long nap in a sunny place, outdoor play with friends and—say did you just see that squirrel cross the lawn?  
"Hey, puppysitter, how 'bout letting me in for another treat?"

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Autumn haiku

Sniffing white dog boys
tug their red and blue leashes
Wyoming morning 

Dawn on the high plains
an impressionist’s palette
God’s painting for me
 Wispy gray orange clouds
caress snow covered pink peaks
God’s painting for me

Prairie gold stubble,
blue spruce trees and bare aspens
God’s painting for me
Gold mountain snow caps
o’er sage green and gold blanket
snuggled for winter

Sun shiny cold air
tint pink cheeks, bare hands tingly
God’s painting me, too.
Geese vee-ing southward
block the sun for a moment
God’s painting motion

                                                               Graced autumn morning
What a sensory banquet.
Thanks for God’s painting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams

In our neighborhood, blessed is every boy--
           a hoop on every house, garage or pole by the driveway
Blessed am I, having a brother--
          a hoop on our driveway for my dreams, too.
On the cracking, concrete court we learned
          to take a charge and hold our ground
          to see a goal and take the shot
          to share the ball, the win, the loss
          to spell P-I-G and H-O-R-S-E
          to breathe in uncertain grace at the charity line.

In pickup games ‘til cold hands and darkness
         drove us out of the lane and off the court,
On hot Saturdays, ten thousand reps, perfecting
         a layup, a jumper, man-to-man, zone
We dreamed we could soar and score
        as one and one-on-one
        me and you, melding as a Dream Team.

Now in the second half, beyond the three point line,
         the clock speeds on
         and we still take the charge, attain a goal,
         share the glories and defeats
and know the certain grace of charity on the Dream Team.

Hoop Dreams, then and forever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On this Rock we will build our Church

A retirement gift from one who collects heart rocks
So…my intention to blog each week didn’t last too long. Last week was a flurry of activity with my birthday celebration on Thursday and preparations for our annual Diocesan Convention. The 5 hour drive on Friday across central Wyoming provided eyewitness evidence of the drought—brown, dry, stubble everywhere.

The Convention with its theme this year, "On this Rock We Will Build Our Church" is like a family reunion with workshops, business meetings and worship to bring us together and move us along. Attending for the first time as a unattached clergy person was both unsettling and freeing, but seeing friends from childhood on, as well as numerous folks with whom I’ve served on Cursillo, commissions and committees helped to ease the strangeness. I feel much blessed for the many opportunities of the last 25 years which have let me rub shoulders with so many talented, caring, generous people.

As the Convention progressed I was aware of changes through the years. It seems we have fewer concerns about the budget and the consequent attempts to amend it line item by line item. That is a pleasant change. There are also far fewer resolutions; in the last two conventions there have been a total of two resolutions. “Back in the day” it was normal to have 10-15 resolutions concerning everything from banning the use of Styrofoam cups at coffee hour to giving 10% of the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner to the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, (Now Episcopal Relief and Development) to clergy salary minimums to advocating for the passage of anti-hate legislation. I’m not sure why there is such a paucity of resolutions; I don’t think it is a lack of passion or concern as it is just a different way of getting things done.

While a few of us enjoyed the give and take of debate and parliamentary wrangling, I think most folks found it disturbing and frustrating. At this Convention I found a certain freedom in speaking my mind/heart/spirit without having to consider how it might reflect on the congregation with which I was associated. I am not sure that I can rightly consider myself a “wise, old crone” but I was reminded of several personally touching paragraphs that Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, wrote in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully:

“Wisdom is not the quality of being wedded to the past. Wisdom is the capacity to be devoted to its ideals. . . And why must the elders in a society immerse themselves in the issues of the time? If for no other reason than that they are really the only ones who are free to tell the truth. They have nothing to lose now: not status, not striving, not money, not power. They are meant to be the prophets of a society, its compass, its truth-tellers. . . It is the older generation that must turn the spotlight back on our best ideals when the lights of the soul go dim. Before it is too late.

“A burden of these years is to accept the notion that nothing can be done to save a people when a younger generation is in charge. A blessing of these years is to have the opportunity to take on the role of thinker, of philosopher, of disputant, of interrogator, of spiritual guide in a world racing to nowhere, with no true human goal and no lived wisdom in sight.”

Warren Murphy, our keynote speaker who has written a powerful book on the Sacred Ground of Wyoming and the people who have inhabited this place throughout the generations, spoke of the challenge we face in teaching/learning about the formation of a community of “rugged individuals.” We are so proud of that heritage; indeed that can-do attitude has sometimes been what got folks through long, lonely blizzards and hot, windy summers. And yet, it doesn’t take long for most of us to also recall those times when neighbors (and sometimes strangers) were right there lending a helping hand when we had a flat tire and a broken jack, when the next door neighbor kid shoveled the drift off the driveway (without pay and without being asked too) or when someone brought a casserole when we were recovering from surgery and couldn’t get to the store and then stayed to visit and do the dishes. We may be tough and rugged, but we also know we really can’t always do it all by ourselves.

The Bishop's Award for Service
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all this Convention was being honored by Bishop Smylie with his annual Bishop’s Service Award. Each year he gives a lovely chalice, paten and pitcher, created for his Consecration as our Bishop, to an individual who has added something to the Diocese. I was humbled by his kind words about my ministry and friendship. Standing in front of so many good Wyoming folks who have formed me, called me and ministered with me my heart was filled to overflowing, as were my eyes. It isn’t too often that my knees knock, but by the time I returned to my seat I felt emotionally exhausted and physically weak.

So from this side of retirement I find myself looking back—not so much with nostalgia for a glory that may not really have been really all that great, but with memory of what is truly good and right. I also look forward—not as a fantasy where the future will magically turn into a Broadway musical, but with a vision that God is really drawing us into new ways of being together as we listen, pray, sing, laugh, eat, share, cry and stick together, even in the midst of disagreements and controversy.  "Faith, hope and love abide, these three and the greatest of these is love."