Thursday, June 3, 2010

It has been too long since my last post, but it has been a very busy and hectic month with a variety of ups and downs.  The photo above was taken on a nice Sunday morning hike while I was attending CREDO near Prescott, AZ.  A new friend and I hiked up to Thumb Butte on the morning in which they let the clergy participants have the morning off to enjoy as a sabbath.  It was a great 4 hour hike through a mostly forested area.  We spotted a coyote, numerous lizards and a variety of birds along the way.  Great fun.

Later in the day we had the opportunity to share with the rest of the group the plan we had prayerfully developed over the last week.  My three major goals are to Elevate; Instigate, Delegate, Congregate, Participate; and to Celebrate, Anticipate.  Of course under each goal there are objectives to address spiritual, health, vocational and financial issues and opportunities.    While the plan did not come together as easily and quickly as my CREDO I plan, I think that this one may be more realistic.  Indeed upon returning to Laramie, I have taken some serious steps to live it.  It could be easy to just shelve it, but the bottom line for me is that I really would like to "finish strong," knowing that this last season of my ordained life as my best time of ministry.

Getting to the real meat of the plan, however, has been slowed somewhat by the time and efforts of helping Mother and Daddy pack up the necessities of moving from their house of 48 years and hometown of 80 plus years in order to move to a senior housing complex here in Laramie.

This house is a place of great memories for all of us.  During the construction phase we all had jobs to do as Daddy did much of the physical labor.  My brother learned many carpenter skills and I got to be a pro at keeping the coffee pot going, cooking hot dogs in the fireplace and keeping my sister out of harm's way.  It was a wonderful neighborhood with many kids our age and younger.  With lots of construction going on all around us we had plenty of dirt piles for dirt clod fights and hills to build roads and cities for our cars and trucks.  There were open lots for our own baseball and football fields.  And lots of job opportunities babysitting.  With the Rawlins uplift just across the highway we had access to a whole range to explore.  We often took the fixings for breakfast and cooked on a fire at our fort.  It is amazing to me now to realize how much freedom we had in our rough and tumble play. 

At one point our home was crowded with Grampy and a cousin or two living with us at the same time.  Mother's grace-filled hospitality made everyone feel welcome to stay for a meal, so the table was always crowded with people and lots of great food.  I suppose it is no wonder that her hand-written recipe books for each of us kids and grandkids are  among our prized possession. 

Their new apartment is about the size of their first home in Rawlins which will take some getting used to, though I suspect Daddy won't miss mowing the lawn and shoveling the snow very much.  Even as I appreciate this new opportunity of getting to stop by for a cup of coffee or a cocktail, I know that they are having to make some pretty big adjustments to life in a new place and city.

Advice from a card I receive upon returning from CREDO seems apt for me and for them in this time of transition.  I quote below:

Take time to work.  It is the price of success.
Take time to meditate.  It is the source of power.
Take time to play.  It is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read.  It is the way to knowledge.
Take time to be friendly.  It is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh.  It is the music of the soul.
And take time to love and be loved.

And so now on with the rest of life, finding God's grace in myriad ways as we taste and see God's goodness in our past, present and plans for the future.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Foxes, family, friends

The little foxes
Yesterday morning while walking Fargo and Rebel, we got our second viewing of this year's fox kits. It never ceases to amaze and delight me that I get to live in a town where the wild critters make their homes, too. Throughout the winter I occasionally saw a couple of adults who were on the prowl, but they generally keep their distance and mind their own business--hunting. I've found their tracks in the snow in my front yard which is about a mile from the place where they have now denned. They have denned in a big open field, kitty corner from last year's den. At one point I counted 3 adults and 5 kits. These babies are so much fun as they jump, tumble, crash into one another, scurry in and out of the den, stalk and pounce. When the parents come back with something to eat (mouse, prairie dog or rabbit) they are very attentive. If their cycle is like the last few years we will find them out and about hunting or prowling around on their own by late August.

Family and friends have been much on my mind lately. Mother and Daddy were notified a few weeks ago that an apartment in a senior citizen complex here in Laramie had opened up and would be available the first of May. Even though we have talked about it for several years, when the opportunity to move actually came, it was a whole new level of seriousness. Born and raised in the same town, living in the house Daddy built for 48 years, (which is not more than a half mile from their own childhood homes), it is a scary proposition for them to contemplate moving. One day it was "we've moving;" the next, it was, "we're staying." At times it seemed like my sister, Joanie, and I were tag teaming as we tried to help them lay out the pro's and con's. We want this to be their decision and agree that whatever way they choose we can support them and help them to have the best possible living situation. And so, it is that they are moving to Laramie in late May and will try it out until August when leases must be renewed for a year. I am very excited to have them closer and look forward to sharing some fun times and meals with them. We will all make some changes and that may well be the most invigorating and life-giving part of the move for them.

Friends have been much on my mind, too. A couple of weeks ago I met, Mel, one of my ol' college roommates and sorority sisters for lunch in her town. We lingered over coffee for several hours until the restaurant manager asked us to leave, so they could clean up and close. It is good to have someone to share the ups and downs of aging parents, troubled kids, the importance of a bible study. Laughter, tears, empathy and understanding that go back more than 40 years. Another long weekend my friend, Laurie, was here. She is the very active friend who is always ready for a hike or in this case, a half-day snowshoeing in the Snowies. The Libby Creek trail always seems to be up hill going out and up hill coming back. But it was a glorious day--so warm we didn't need gloves, hats or jackets. She and I also spent a good bit of time watching movies, basketball games, and arranging some new pictures from my sabbatical. Laurie always encourages me to stay in shape, set goals, play hard and work hard. Then a newer friend was here last weekend. Abby in quite a lot younger than I, so she introduces me to new music, new technology and new comediennes. Always lots of fun mixed with some serious talk about jobs, vocations, relationships.

Friends--cherished old ones who have been with me through the thick and thin places, and in the moment new ones I'm just getting to know--are so very important to living in healthy, whole and holy ways. Some have earned the right to offer advice and criticism because they are worthy of trust. Even at my most unlovable they still love me and desire good for me and from me. And then there is the most amazing thing of all--Jesus says to his disciples (and so to us), "I do not call you servants any longer...but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father." Just think of that, friends with Jesus, friends with God. When I am down on myself I am encouraged by this promise and then I am able to step back and consider what it means to also be a friend to my self.

Eleanor Roosevelt put it like this, "Friendship with oneself is all-important because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world." And in a more contemporary way, Anne Lamott says a similar thing, writing, "Awareness is learning to keep yourself company. and then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage."

And so on this my sabbath day, I will befriend myself with a walk up the street to see the foxes at dusk, a great dinner, a good glass of wine and a good night's rest. And to you, gentle reader, wherever you are, remember that real friendship transcends time, place and regularity. Consider our friendship worthy of a God who dares to call each one of us, "friends."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That Eastertide with joy is bright

My Anglican Rosary

One of the unexpected surprises of Lent/Holy Week/Easter was praying the Rosary; sometimes with others and sometimes alone. At one of the first Wednesday evening Lenten Soup Suppers, we had the opportunity to make our own rosary. It was a wonderful inter-generational event and those of us with bifocular eyesight were very appreciative of the youngsters who could thread the needles for us to begin. On the following Wednesdays we prayed the rosary as a group, using different prayers.

One week we used the familiar "And all will be well, and all will be well and all manner of thing shall be well" from Julian of Norwich as the "week beads." In each week of the beads we meditated on a person, event, place, relationship that we really desired wholeness and wellness. Many found this a helpful discipline through the rest of Lent. The following Wednesday was St. Patrick's day, so the "week beads" were from his Lorica. We meditated on Christ's presence all around us in people and places. The final week we used the seven last words of Christ on the Cross for the "weak beads." Because of their familiarity and the different places they called me to be in prayer, I particularly liked this and used it throughout Holy Week.

Well, that is until we got to Easter. Our facilitator/mentor/bead master/friend (Barbara Kissack) had also prepared special prayers for the days following Easter. Using a sequence hymn written by Adam of St. Victor (canon in the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris in the 12th Century), I was so moved by his powerful images. I think that his ideas parallel those of Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote of "Eastering" as I blogged about last time. Adam of St. Victor's words follow:

A Laramie sunrise
I see flames of orange, yellow, and red shooting upwards to the sky, piercing the whole clouds.
I see the clouds themselves chasing the flames upwards,
And I feel the air itself reaching for the heavens.
Down below I see great, grey rocks beating against the earth, as if they were pushing their way down to hell.
At your resurrection that which is light and good rises up with You,
And that which is heavy and evil is pushed downwards.
At your resurrection goodness breaks from evil, life breaks free from death.
And so here we are a couple of days into Eastertide. After the Easter Day services, I made a few phone calls to family and friends, particularly remembering with great fondness the women priests who took me with them on Easter Day to the country on my first Easter at seminary. I believed they mentored me into the "orthodox" way of priestly recovery from Holy Week: time in the country with good friends, a nice simple, but very tasty meal, some very nice wine, naps, walks. I had a wonderful dinner with our Deacon and his wife who is also Sr. Warden. They served lamb, wine, asparagus and good conversation.
Yesterday was a sort of recovery from "liturgical overload," with a long walk by the Laramie River--Fargo and Rebel loved going to a new place with so much pee-mail to check since late last fall--a nap, a movie, more phone calls, a steak on the grill and the Duke/Butler game. Before really changing gears for some of the events of Eastertide, I want to celebrate and recognize so what a good Holy Week it was. I'm not sure if my long tenure here has enabled us to have similar expectations, or that we are better able to delegate and trust that things will get done, or that new folks stepped up to the plate to offer their gifts. For me it was the least stressful Triduum I've ever had. I felt more present to the real worship and not be held captive by liturgical details. The garden for the Altar of Repose was beautiful and quiet; the cellist at Good Friday provided a most moving rendition of Bach's Sarabande for the Veneration of the Cross; the story tellers at the Vigil were so creative; the soprano and the trumpeter with a piece from Handel's Messiah on Sunday moved the congregation to tears and cheers. Each liturgy was unique, but it came together as a unity.
I think that this congregation really worked hard this Lent to recognize where they had grown cold and hard-hearted so that when that work climaxed with the last of the stones thrown on Good Friday, we were really ready as a group to move into new life, Easter life. It was, as one member wrote today, we were aware of the Holy Spirit's presence with us like we haven't experienced for some time. I stand in total agreement with Adam of St. Victor, "life breaks free from death." Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Springtime in the Rockies

Snow-laden branches in my backyard on Maundy Thursday, 2010
So here we are on Maundy Thursday, anticipating the Great Three Days which supposedly signal Spring. But in typical Wyoming mountain style, our Easter bonnets will be stocking caps or Stormy Kromers; and we'll wear wool skirts, flannel shirts and packs. No sandals for us.

I will have to say that when I walked with Fargo and Rebel this morning, I was awestruck by the beauty of it all. The snow lay heavy on branches and even wire fences held 2-3 inches of snow. When I finished shoveling the driveway, I gave strong consideration to making a snow bunny as it was the perfect snow for snowballs. But finishing up the last of the sermons for the Triduum seemed more pressing. Each year at St. Matt's we are better able to identify and utilize the varied gifts of more members. We have some new water and towel haulers for Maundy Thursday footwashing, new readers and pray-ers for the Ecumenical Good Friday service; new story tellers for the Great Vigil. Newness seems to a good word for Easter.

I came across a portion of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, "The Wreck of the Deutschland" with the amazing line, "Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us." When Christ Easters in us there really is the possibility of new life right now. So much of Lent we have dedicated ourselves to identifying places where our hearts have grown hard, cold, rigid; now I think we are ready for the new life.

As the Psalmist writes, "He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfroast like ashes. He scatters hail like bread crumbs; who can stand against his cold? He sends forth his word and melts them; he blows with his wind, and the waters flow. " (Ps 147:17-19)

This spring snow will soon melt and then we will be blessed with new growth on the now blanketed trees; the spring flowers will bloom (probably by June!!). But even in this cold, God's Spirit blows through us and the living waters flow. And soon we will shout, "Alleluia, the Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!" And he will Easter in us again, day by day, rain or shine, snow or sun. Alleluia!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Heart of stone, heart of flesh

Signs of hard heartedness, stones in a tub
One of the songs we frequently sing at our Family Service was written by Eric Law. It goes, "A new heart I'll give to you, a new spirit I will put within you; And I'll take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Having placed the stones on chests as we make our confession of sin, it can be a helpful way of considering how we've become hard-hearted, rigid, frigid, unopened to God's love and grace.

During Lent at every service with the Penitential Order we have had the whole congregation hold stones to their hearts as we've considered the Decalogue. Then we process to the rear of the Nave to symbolically rid ourselves of our hard-heartedness and sinful ways, then to turn back to Christ for the words of Absolution. The crash of those stones as they are tossed into the galvanized tub initially made a hideous, clanking sound. As the stones have accumulated the sound is dull, but nevertheless unnerving. During the ensuing week, folks take a stone home with them to help them through the week to recollect other areas which are in need of change.

As a "gift" to the Electing Convention last week, we gave all the delegates, alternates and clergy a stone to assist them in prayerfully offering up any area where hurts, betrayals, frustrations, aggravations with any previous bishop might hinder their openness to the Holy Spirit's guidance. For some it meant dealing honestly with our own hard-heartedness; for harboring grudges; for lack of support for those in positions of authority. The tub grew noticeably fuller before the opening Eucharist began.

On Good Friday we will have one last opportunity to prepare our hearts for new life, Easter life, when we place additional stones in the tub. Following each of the Solemn Collects we will have a very short meditation dealing with how we have inflicted hurt or been hurt by the subject of that Collect. For example in praying for the Church, we consider how the church, its ministers and members have let us down and then how we, too, have let the Church down by our failings in keeping the vows we made (Baptismal, Marriage, Ordination). We will place our representative stones in the tub placed at the foot of the cross.

By Easter the stones will have been well washed (with the waters of Baptism?) and will be displayed in a very large, glass container (like an aquarium) as a reminder of the new life we can embrace through Christ's passion, crucifixion and resurrection.

In my preparation then for Holy Week, I am thinking it is like the time when a potential transplant patient is hoping she will live long enough for the pager to go off, summoning her to the hospital for the surgery. And then because we know the rest of the story, we know that someone has died, that the needed heart has been made available and that Christ's life awaits us.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Super Stuff

Writing on Valentine's Day and the last Sunday after the Epiphany, I'm on the last day of my nearly annual pre-Lenten retreat. For me this is a time away to have some relaxing fun before the disciplines of Lent and a time to consider what is dead or dying that needs to be grieved and buried so that new life can begin by Easter. The photo above was taken just before I left Laramie. It features the stoles my sister, Joanie, made for this year's Super Bowl. It is the 10th in the series. Her whole family gets in on the act, suggesting layouts, color schemes and use of logos. The stoles are always colorful and get an enthusiastic response from the congregation, especially from pre-teen boys and those whose teams are playing in the big game.

The weekend of the Super Bowl was spent with the Vestry at our retreat. Using some of the early data gathered at our annual meeting, it was no surprise that the areas we see as working well or take delight in (and give us a niche place in the market) are worship/liturgy, outreach and music. Communication on every level (within the congregation and beyond) calls for special efforts.

Using a tool for Role Renegotiation presented by Dick and Mary Naumann, we spent much of our time listening to one another and thinking together what we at St. Matthew's need to do or be to enhance our relationship with Diocesan leadership. In the next couple of months we have a wonderful opportunity to consider anew our hopes and expectations for ourselves, for our next bishop and his/her staff. There are also the issues revolving around the considerable amount of property we have for our stewardship. l

There are moments when I see these looming issues as opportunities; and other moments as chances to rely on God's power and mind and on the gifts of those with vision, discernment and wisdom. I sense we really need to seek God's mind on all this as it often seems so far beyond where my skills or interest lie.

Following the Vestry retreat (and the Super Bowl), I headed to Moab, Utah, home of Arches and Canyon Lands National Parks. These are places where the creative power of God in nature is evidenced in the arches, canyons, needles and fins. For four days Laurie and I hiked on trails, long and short, up and down, in mud, snow and dust. Through the years and along many miles, she has taught me to hike quietly in order to hear and see more by talking less. As the Psalmist writes, "Be still and know that I am God."
In the vast stillness, one can hear and feel the light breeze stirring the sage, greasewood and junipers; the song of a scavenging titmouse or the call of a soaring eagle; the squeaky scrunch of fresh, dry snow. The myriad snow crystals (see below) gave me a sense of abundance; the arches and other massive formations gave me a sense of eternity, stretching back and forward in time; and the petroglyphs, the hope for that day when every tribe, people and nation will be gathered together in unity to the praise of God's glory.

Just as the first nation people welcomed the Olympians who gathered in Vancouver this weekend, I long to be among those who welcome others just as I have been welcomed by Christ through baptism and the vocation given to all as ministers of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5.17f)

Happy Valentine's Day and a holy Lent to you, gentle and beloved readers!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chill and cold, snow and sleet, fog and frost

When I awoke this morning a heavy blanket of fog drove me back to my own blankets for another cup of coffee and a few chapters in the book I'm reading. A half hour later I was delighted to see that the fog had lifted or rather scattered to the edges of the horizon in all directions. The glittering of the full moon gave a magical, mystical glow to the trees and shrubs which were coated in frost.

As the dogs, Fargo and Rebel, and I made our way carefully on the icy path we follow each morning, I was filled with joy. I love this time of day, just before dawn. Heading down the last hill toward home, someone had made a snow angel on one of the remaining drifts. For a moment I hesitated, then decided that it would be a fun and silly way to end a great walk. I threw myself into the drift and began waving my arms and legs to form wings and a robe. Until the dogs jumped on me, it was a perfect angel. Lying on my back I realized that the fog was rolling back across the whole sky, obscuring the stars which had for a time had blazed brightly. I recalled the Eskimo legend that goes, "perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy."

The coming and going of fog; bright moon light followed by deep darkness, fading stars and then the dawn are apt metaphors for this last month. It's been a month of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, insights and doubts. I am preparing another sermon for a funeral next week in Rawlins; last week it was for a young man who lived across the street from my folks. Next week it is a funeral for a friend I've known since grade school. Both of them died way too young in my estimation. There was also the great joy of baptizing 3 infants. I've begun meeting with two of the four couples who are planning summer weddings. New life in Christ in every case.

I felt lots of anxiety preparing for the annual meeting. I'm not sure why. There was much good news and good ministry to celebrate. But as the gavel figuratively banged down to end the meeting, I felt nothing but relief that it had ended well. At times it seems we are just inching along; at others we seem to be hurtling forward. (Not unlike a walk on our icy sidewalks) During this next month the pace picks up as nominees for Bishop "walkabout." We will be busy preparing for that, then for hosting the election convention in March. I hope that in the weeks ahead that our hearts will be prepared through repentance, forgiveness, prayer and deep listening so that the fog will lift and we will discern who will fit in with us and yet will lead us forward into the next decade.

Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold,

drops of dew and flakes of snow.

Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him forever.

(from Song of the Three Young Men)