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."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Honey in your heart

I am 8 weeks into retirement, which is also 7 weeks into my recovery from having 3 vertebrae in my neck fused, along with the removal of 2 herniated disks. This isn’t exactly how I envisioned retirement, but it certainly has been a forced quiet, resting time. Bookended by 2 weddings in which I participated (a story teller at the first and officiant at the latter, the marriage of a cousin), and a wonderful retirement party in the middle, this has also been a time of celebration.

Perhaps more than ever I am aware of friends. The first wedding was for the daughter of a college roommate and sorority sister.  Then during my down time several sorority sisters (friends for more than 40 years) stayed with me and Mother, helping out as we needed.

At the retirement party, there were over a hundred people I’ve known through the years. Of course, family who has been part of my life forever, but also friends from high school and university, mentors from working days at UW, church friends from places I pastured, clerical colleagues and others from around the State. In the days prior to this official “do” friends from as far away as San Francisco (a young woman I baptized here) and New York (my farming, organ-playing, hiking nun friend of the Community of the Holy Spirit) came to celebrate with me. These were moments for me of what the kingdom of heaven is like: when brothers and sisters are gathered together in unity. It is so good when people from different aspects of one’s life gather around a table for food, drink, laughter, song, retelling of stories and maybe even a crazy game. To find that all your friends get along and everyone adds to the mix in a spontaneous, synchronous way is heaven for me.

In addition to being aware of the importance of friends old and new and realizing I have more time now to correspond, visit and enjoy my friends, I have been reading a couple of books (besides 3 or 4 novels) about how we look at life and how we share our story as part of the universal Story. Wayne Muller's, “a life of being, having and doing enough” is a book I wish I had found years ago. It has valuable approaches for avoiding the exhausting, overwhelming and bone-wearying life that comes as the result of the seductive practices of our culture to achieve more, have more, and be more through increased pressure, responsibility, communication, demands, and activities. As he writes, “The sheer pace and volume of their lives seems to corrode whatever joy, wonder, nourishment, or delight they may find in simply doing their best.”

To reset our inner thermostat so that we might discern what is “enough of anything” Muller suggests asking this question: “When approaching a task, a responsibility, or some choice between this and that, take a moment before you begin and ask yourself: Am I truly able to say that I really love this” Or is it more honest to say that I can handle this? (my emphasis) You will know instantly which is true. How you answer this question, the information you receive, may or may not cause you to stop, start, or change anything right away. But over time, if you step back for a moment before approaching any task…you will gather a tremendous amount of clear, useful, trustworthy information about your heart’s authentic desires, preferences, and dreams—as well as your sadness, discouragements, or regrets. Each and all of which, over time, shape a life of enough.”

This same notion of learning to listen to the quiet voice within is taken up the second book, “Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story” by Cristina Baldwin. In one of the numerous passages I underlined she writes that the parting blessing of the Tzutujil Indians in Guatemala is the wish for the other “for long life, honey in the heart, no evil, thirteen thank-yous.” Her advice to one desiring to become a Storycatcher: “Each of us has someone who put honey in our heart. That person is often an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary through the power to touch another life. Teaching ourselves to recognize these persons and remember these moments is essential to becoming a Storycatcher.”

I am so blessed to have so many of these folks who have put honey in my heart through the years. As I begin to meander forward into this new adventure of retirement, I hope to find new ways to share the honey together as our stories twine, intertwine, heal, encourage, and build wisdom. “Each of us begins the journey toward personal discovery because someone else gave us a vision that allows us to be more creative, more resourceful, more powerful than the child inside us ever thought possible.” (Juan Williams)  Now isn't that a sweet thought for today?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday--big day

It is late on a big day in Indy, so I hope to put down a few thoughts quickly.  Today's worship was almost entirely in Spanish--even the music and parts of the homily.  It was lovely and moving and certainly works in a subtle (?) way to make me aware of what it is like for others who are often on the fringes, not understanding language or customs of the majority.   Again, the theme was about taking courage, to not be afraid, to step out so that we can (like Bartolome de las Casas, whose feast day it is) work for the end of oppression and injustice.  Our first responsibility as Christians is to proclaim God's love; our privilege as Episcopalians is being part of a church where there is a generous ambiguity and lack of dogmatism so that all may grow and think as individuals.  Our part in that is to tell our story of God's love and mercy towards us so that others may also find their way home.

Today was marked with some heavy lifting as several of the big issues made their way to the floor.  It seemed very good to me that these resolutions came forth before the last day so that there was adequate time for debate (and the parliamentary maneuvering that is inevitable).  Significantly, we voted to establish a task force to focus on the structure/restructuring of the Church, the way we do business and the way we do mission. The resolution calls for a select group who are not part of the entrenched establishment to listen, pray, think, research in preparation for a consultation that involves a broad spectrum of members (bishop, clergy, lay and youth/young adults).  I think that All will really mean All as this intentionally non-named group does its work.  The bishops will take up this resolution tomorrow.

The Anglican Covenant which has been under much discussion and attack for the last triennium came to a vote in both houses.  We affirm that we want to remain with others in the Anglican Communion, but that we are not affirming the covenant at this time. How that will work out practically remains to be seen.

The third big issue was approval of liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions.  After many, many years of debate, discussion and disappointment, the tipping point came.  Many young people spoke of the church they hoped we could be and the church they needed; some old people spoke of long, faithful relationships which could now be celebrated publicly; some spoke of the hard work of theologizing, gathering liturgies, listening deeply on all sides.  Surely, there were some who remain unsure, but voted as the Spirit led them; others voted with tears of joy and others with tears of sadness that the old way was passing away and that the new was being raised up.  I was particularly touched by the assurance given in the resolution that there is room for the ,conscience of those who disagree' that no one is forced to offer these rites and that no one will suffer disciplinary action for  refusal.  In all cases approval of the bishop will be required as congregations and clergy work together to bring this resolution to fruition.  At the end of the vote there was no sense of triumphalist victory.

And then our deputation and the Wyoming women who are attending the Triennial Meeting  had a terrific time of fun and fellowship at St. Elmo's, a famous Indy steakhouse.  Great food in great abundance, lots of laughter (not only with us, but with many other conventioneers) and a moment of rest and recuperation in preparation for the next two days in which many more resolutions will make their way to our consideration.  I am very pleased and proud to be a part of this group of thoughtful, insightful and caring brothers and sisters in Christ who exemplify their faith, hope and love in their discussions, prayer and votes.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Today was a day of legislation bookended with wonderful and different liturgies.  The morning Eucharist featured our Nation's first people with drums and singers from the Rosebud Reservation; readers from several different tribes and an excellent sermon that witnessed to the resurrection power as a small church with no congregation, no budget, no money for a priest.  But a priest was assigned who listened to the Spirit's call and began to feed the people with the produce of a garden planted on the church grounds.  As the people came, they offered their gifts and drew in others, lured by the kept promises for new life, transformed life.  The native flute, along with psaltery, dulcimer and guitar were enchanting.

Some of the big pieces of legislation came out of committees today.  Transgendered people were assured  of their place in the church and all its rites as another group was added to the anti-discriminatory canons.  When we say the Episcopal Church welcomes all, we really want all to mean all.  In committee it was moving to see that those most in favor of  bringing blessings for same-gendered relationships to approval worked with those opposed to see that a conscience clause was part of the perfected resolution.  It makes one proud to see that in the midst of disagreement there is civility in debate and care for the sensibilities and theologies of others.  It hasn't always been that way.  Maybe we are growing up into the stature of Christ; serving one another and doing away with triumphalism when what we hoped for is achieved.  We also dealt with significant issues about the conflicts between Israel and Palestine and how we might best be agents of healing and reconciliation.

Today was the Integrity Eucharist.  Each convention the room needed to house the celebration is necessarily larger.  No longer a small hidden meeting room, but the largest ballroom available.  Mary Glasspool and Gene Robinson, presided and preached, respectively, as the 2 openly gay bishops.  As he said, "now that Mary is on board, he can retire."   Incense wafted through the air; a gospel procession throughout the assembly in which folks reached out to lovingly touch the gospel in their midst; unbelievable music with a hint of jazz (led by Dent Davidson) and African drumming. Gene  was inspiring as he exhorted us that our faith family lived in tents--always moving on where God directed them.  It would have seemed easier to settle down and get comfortable, but God has people on the move.  I'm sure that there is a link to his sermon somewhere, but I cannot easily locate it.  Louie Crew, founder of Integrity was honored with a long standing ovation and gracious thanks for his joy, grace, love and generosity. 

And with this brief synopsis of a wonderful day, I say, "May God bless you richly and abundantly wherever you are on your faith journey.  God loves you and I am compelled to say that and live into the truth of that, too.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday night

Today was designed for a more relaxed approach to the General Convention.  While the ECW was putting on a 5K walk/run (making more than $7000 for a local agency which helps mothers and children), I didn't have enough time to do that and get to another traditional gathering of the Episcopal Women's Caucus.  So I did my  regular walk along the canal then off the the breakfast.  House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson gave a superb talk with many photos, illustrations and video clips about circular leadership and how it is the right paradigm for times such as this.  Awards were given and another video highlighting the contributions of Marge Christie to the Episcopal Church was premiered.  These women are great exemplars of the faith and the important work women have done for the Church.

Then off to worship.  I didn't hear a number of attendees, but it may have been around 6-7,000.  Absolutely beautiful music with a several hundred voice combined choir accompanied by brass, tympani and organ.  The procession of the bishops is always thrilling as we belted out, "Christ is made the sure foundation,"  with brass and sopranos on an amazing descant.  Once again the Presiding Bishop preached a thoughtful, inspiring sermon about our call, individually and corporately, to proclaim the prophetic word to a broken, hurting world.  She was more playful and humorous than I've seen her before.  Much of the service was in Spanish with some French and an unknown language thrown in to mix things up.  I love the broad and inclusive sense of the Episcopal Church that is evidenced at times like this.

While many deputies spend the early afternoon at Victory Field eating and taking part in carnival type activities, I joined a college roommate and sorority sister for lunch at at English style pub in another part of the city.  It was very relaxing and fun to take up as if we had never been apart, though we are facing very different challenges with aging parents, looming retirement, etc. 

Back to the Convention Center for another 4 hour legislative session which was unexpectedly shortened  with an hour break due to the lack of resolutions returned and calendared by committees for consideration.  I spent a good part of the time cruising the Exhibition area and visiting with acquaintances.

Our Province ( The Land of Lakes, Plains and Mountains:  Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming) met for some election business and for refreshments at a nearby tavern.  The cooler weather made the walk back to our hotel a relaxing and enjoying way to end the day.

Sunday morning

When I returned to my room last night, my energy was simply not there to summarize the day before hitting the proverbial hay.  But after a good nights sleep and a fin walk with even a hint of a breeze, I am up to putting down a few thoughts about yesterday.

Began with a walk beside the canal but at my regular turn around, I thought to cross the bridge and come back by a different way.  About half way back the path was barricaded with a locked gate--so needed to backtrack, find an alternative and meet other runner/walkers than the regulars I have already come to "know" on these early mornings.  It is not unlike General Convention, we get pretty used to doing things in an accepted, "normal" way, but every once in a while there is an innovative motion or idea.  Through parliamentary procedure, discussion and debate, it may be blocked; but then it also may take us on alternative path with new energy as we encounter different people with different passions and paths.

Yesterday's worship was magnificent.  Bishop Cate Waynick of Indianapolis presided and Bishop Curry of NC preached another moving, dynamic, fun sermon.  Oh to preach with that energy and insight and humor.  He highlighted those crazy Christians who courageously step out in faith--Mary Magdalene who follows Jesus right to the cross when most of the others were absent; Harriet Beecher Stowe (whose feast we were celebrating).  He wove the Battle Hymn of the Republic into the sermon and had some in tears and many in laughter at other points.  A steel pan band from Brooklyn provided some of the music, so there was a Jamaican flare as some good ol' Baptist hymns were played as a prelude and later as communion music.

The afternoon was devoted to a long legislative session that seemed to get somewhat bogged down in parliamentary maneuvering, forcing some resolutions back to committee for perfection.  Many of the deputation attended an evening hearing on the Blessing resolution. We have a terrific deputation who are following structure, urban and social issues and the budget.  Everyone is finding a pace and seems energized by who they are meeting and what they are encountering.  At times this seems to be the church at its best:  folks speaking passionately about their beliefs, often in opposition to another but with a willingness to listen.  The diversity that is so apparent can be celebrated as we move forward with faith to what may seem an uncertain future, were it not the assurance that Jesus is just ahead beckoning onward to join him in what he is doing to heal, restore and reconcile the whole world and all its amazing creatures.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day 3 in Indy

Today was a more relaxed day for me as my committee work was essentially completed and we began to get going with some real legislation.  The day began a bit later with a another great walk along the canal.  The surprise for me was seeing the Presiding Bishop as she passed me on her morning run.  I believe she is as fleet on her feet as she is fast in her thinking. 

Following breakfast at Starbucks I sat in on another meeting of the Committee on Liturgy and Music.  They have a heavy agenda and interesting topics which will probably lead to some great debate on the floor.  Then off to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist where I sat beside a postulant from the Sisters the the Transfiguration.  We had  a good talk about the challenges of community life for the women who have often led successful careers in the secular world before accepting their call as religious. 

Today's service included readings, prayers and music from the Hmong people who are part of our church in various American cities.  They literally sing the entire service, except for the sermon. Some of the music was Taize style, so we were singing in Latin, too. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies was today's preacher. As it was the feast of Jon Hus, who courageously called into question papal infallibility and the heresy of the pope in office, she exhorted us to be courageous in our faith, too.  Quoting C.S. Lewis, "Courage is not just a virtue; but is every virtue at its testing point.  All virtues are dormant without courage."

As students of courage with a long line of ancestors in the faith who exhibited courage, we learn to be courageous from the people in our lives who prompt us to act despite fear.  We learn that courage is contagious--sort of a pay it forward paradigm.  In our church we are courageous as we learn to be both spiritual and religious.

Following a legislative session, several of our deputation went to Ali Baba's for a wonderful and inexpensive Mediterranean style lunch.  More time for hearings and cruising the exhibit area before another legislative session.  Some of us attended the ECW-UTO Gala Banquet which turned out to be both delicious, fun and inspiring.  We sat with women from the Miami area, Panama and a guy from Brazil.  I did not catch the name of the speaker, but he was lively and encouraging to move forward. 

Our deputation met for an hour or so in caucus.  It is great how each one has gravitated to an area or two of real interest (structure, budget, evangelism, small churches, world mission, liturgy) and lead us in understanding what is coming up. The discussions and questions are provocative, thoughtful and sincere.  We disagree, talk things through, reach new insights and understandings.  Today Marcia Himes, the national ECW president (and from Wyoming) joined us, along with her husband, daughter and other Wyoming women to let us know about the Triennial Meeting.  We are happy and pleased that it is going well for them, too.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

day 2 in Indy

Today began with another wonderful walk (though hotter and muggier) along the canal.  It amazes me as I realize how many different things I noticed this morning--different sculptures, buildings, etc.--when I wasn't so focused on getting lost.  Similarly as a 6 time deputy, I notice different things and move through the rigmarole without the same anxious focus.

The initial legislative meeting was devoted to organizing the House--and letting the Bishop's know that we were set up for business.  We actually got the the point of passing the first few resolutions which gave consent to 4 of the new bishops and a few courtesy resolutions.  With only an hour we didn't accomplish much, but the new deputies got a feel for how the business in formally conducted.

Then we all moved from the Convention Center to one of the hotels for the first Eucharist.  Brass and vocal soloists did an amazing job in a pretty traditional service.  Unlike previous years, we are seated in rows rather than at tables.  But singing familiar hymns with several other thousand people is a wonderful experience.  The PB preached another great sermon weaving in the "saints" of the day:  Walter Rauschenbusch, Jacob Riis, and Washington Gladden who were all social activists in the late 19th century.  They were each committed to building God's reign in the here and now as they worked to end poverty, opposed segregation, denounced corruption, classism, graft and corruption.  She called us to follow their example in our time to make common cause for the healing of creation and society.

In the committee I've been assigned to, we had a great discussion relative to transparency in the consent process.   But with that we completed all the work assigned to us, so I have an unexpected amount of time to attend other hearings and meetings.

Following a quick lunch with our deputation, I spent a bit of time cruising the Exhibit Hall and seeing numerous old friends; then sat in on a hearing regarding the work on "Holy Women, Holy Men. Then back to the House for more legislation and some minor debate.  The big issues won't come up for a while yet, so they allow debate to go on a bit longer now.  After supper I attended another hearing on Structure/Restructure of the church.  Most folks were calling for radical change now:  things are broken and now is the time to do something, but just how that will weigh out is anyone's guess at this point.  After a brief time of refreshment and laughter in our "hospitality room" with some of the deputation and some of our women who are attending the Triennial Meeting of the Episcopal Church Women,I packed it in to share a few thought with you, gentle and inquisitive readers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

first day

The day for me started early with a great pre-dawn walk along the canal/White River.  The paved path took me beside the NCAA headquarters and through part of the UIPUI campus.  There were quite a few other walkers and joggers out preparing for the long day of sitting that awaited.  Following a quick Starbucks breakfast I reported to the committee to which  I'd been assigned:  the Consent for New Bishops.  It is likely that canonical changes will make the work of this committee obsolete after this convention.  After some lively discussion about our purpose and agenda for the day, we had 4 hearings as part of the process to give the newly elected bishops the go ahead for their consecrations.  Later in the day we did the same for 4 more.  All were approved by the committee so will move to the House of Deputies, then on to the Bishops. 

They were articulate, bright, often humorous as they shared some of their journeys to this place.  The church will be in good hands under their capable leadership.  One (can't remember which one and my notes are in another place) told how many folks had asked if was excited about his election.  He said that excitement was not generally the emotion that seemed to be exhibited in biblical calls.  The sacrifice that accompanied calls seemed to take away that.  Others spoke eloquently about reconciliation, listening, the work of the Holy Spirit, prayer. 

Following lunch with our deputation all the bishops and deputies met together for talks by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies. The former (Katharine Jefforts Schori) encouraged us to see the next 9 days as a time to strengthen our hearts, to get a tune-up, to let our hearts get in synch with God's.  "Breathe, breathe deep to receive the Holy Spirit who brings the chaos of the deep; we are borne on the breath of God.  So breathe deep because God is in our midst."  Citing different kinds of breath (baby's first one, a dying gasp, the resuscitative breath forced into a drowning victim's lungs) she said, "Don't be afraid to breathe--it brings life, joy, new possibilities. She called us to take courage in getting to know the folks who are different, who have been our sparring partners, to learn to make bridges and to breathe together.  Also to be responsive, nimble and more communicative as we make God's Word flourish.

Bonnie Anderson, HOD President spoke about our early days of Independence (good topic since it is the 4th of July) and how the winds of democracy affected our polity in the church.  She challenged us to be the People of God Church to stay focused on the Promised Land where all are heard and the gifts of all are valued.  We should act generously with one another and to take our responsibilities as deputies seriously.

With the fireworks display completed (and viewed as reflections in the hotel windows across the plaza), I am ready to hit the proverbial hay. It has been a good first day, seeing old friends and meeting some wonderful new brothers and sisters in Christ.  This church is a strange and beautiful mystery that embodies God's grace as we witness that God can and does use the likes of us to grow the reign.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Indiana, my Indiana!

Well, here I am in downtown Indianapolis for the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  This will be my sixth one as a deputy from Wyoming; I missed once since I've been ordained and served once as the Chaplain for the Triennial Meeting of the Episcopal Church Women.  While our deputation will be putting info out on a the diocesan website and through Face Book, I hope to blog (at least occasionally) about my experiences and reflections.  I am not sure that I will be able to post many photos, but will give it a shot later.

Today was a travel day, flying from Laramie through very smoky skies to Denver, then on to Indianapolis.  It wasn't too hard to discern the other Episcopalians on the flight--an old friend from previous conventions and a new friend reading one of the books recommended before getting here.  I took a stretch limo in with a carload of folks from South Carolina, Virginia and Florida--instant connections and common friends.  Met one of our deputies in the lobby, toured the convention center and met with most of our group for supper together at California Pizza.  Lots of fun and great food.  A nice stroll through the downtown--hot and muggy, to me--then back to the hotel to get organized and a phone call to my sister who just saw her son begin his time at the US Military Academy at West Point.   And so with this brief start up, I will take leave of you, gentle reader, and catch some Zzz's.  Tomorrow committee meetings start early and then we are off and running by the afternoon.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Retirement announcement

St. Matthew's Cathedral, Laramie, WY where "All are Welcome at Christ's Table"
Below is the sermon I preached on Sunday, May 6 announcing my intention to retire in late July:

Ten years ago yesterday was the first Sunday I climbed into this pulpit as the dean-elect of St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Last week I re-read the sermon I preached that day. In it I told a story about a teacher who asked the class to bring things which represented their different faiths. One boy said, “I’m Jewish and I brought a Star of David. A girl proudly said, “I’m Roman Catholic. I brought my rosary.” A Muslim child said, “Here’s my Koran.” Another one declared, “Well, I am Episcopalian. I brought a casserole dish.”

Now after 47 weddings, 76 baptisms and 120 burials later and 1000 sermons, an international youth event, the search-election-seating of a bishop and hosting a diocesan convention, I am keenly aware of the great honor and privilege I have enjoyed working with you and for you in this corner of God’s vineyard. Wrapping a stole to “tie the knot” around the entwined hands of a couple who has just exchanged vows is a particularly joyful moment in ministry. It proclaims to the world that despite the statistics, despite the history of other failed relationships, we believe that love is bigger and that there is hope for a bright future.

Cradling a wet-headed sleeping infant, carrying an energetic toddler, glistening with chrism oil or escorting a tear-streaked young adult down the aisle to present the newest Christian in the whole wide world, is a great joy this gives for an aging spinster to welcome another child of God into the family!

Praying the Litany Anticipating Heaven with someone about to die, softly reminding them of the wonderful places they will soon see for themselves and praying with a family in the chapel before the burial office is a walk on holy ground with folks in their most vulnerable moments.

Perhaps one of the greatest and unexpected joys has been getting to know your hands –calloused, cracked, beautifully manicured and nail bitten as you extend them to receive the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Some really muscular hands, some stiff arthritic fingers, some tiny fat cherub hands and some long, slender musical, expressive hands. Sometimes thrust out boldly—feed me, feed me, feed me now; sometimes tentative and shaking—there is even some for me?

An acquaintance, Sam Potaro, in an elegant essay recently wrote about how the technology of phones, email, blogs, text messages and tweets enables us to more easily be “in touch” with one another than at any other time in history. We shoot messages off into cyber space to friends on Facebook in other parts of the world who in turn respond in mere moments. We have never before been so much in touch without touching.

Sam goes on to point out that because of this ability to be in touch without touching, “we in the Church continue to provide and promote the antiquated and inconvenient practice of gathering. We continually persuade and prod each other to come away from our solitude to share a meal, whether it is a pot luck supper or the Holy Eucharist. We hold fast to this old-fashioned means of communication because there is no substitute for it. We know there is no substitute because even God, in the end, had to resort to Incarnation to touch us in our deepest, most sacred and precious places. God used voices from the heavens, voices from animals, from a blazing bush, from prophets, kings and angels—making even the Internet look pedestrian, but ultimately God resorted to good old flesh to reach us, to touch us.

Even in an age where there is much fear of touch, we continue to advocate touch. We offer the common cup, break bread from a single loaf despite the threat of communicable diseases. We encourage the exchange of the sign of peace, the oldest expression of which is the kiss.

We touch because we so much want and need to know that we are connected; that we are not alone in this dark and sometimes scary world alone. In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples about this connection, using a metaphor of a vine and the branches. The branches cannot bear fruit unless they stay connected or abide in the vine. Abide is a highly nuanced word—it means to live, dwell, remain, lodge, endure. When branches abide in the vine, then the heavenly father is glorified because the branches bear much fruit.

In another place in that first sermon I said, “The striking part of this passage is the sense of corporateness in the Christian community. There are no individual branches. No Lone Rangers. All the members live together, connected to one another by the same source, the true vine who is Jesus Christ. In that way there is not strict hierarchy—where only tall, handsome men get elected to the Vestry; only jocks with straight A’s can be acolytes; only mature women can serve on the Altar Guild; only priests know the answers. As Christians connected to Christ, we don’t have to fret and scurry around trying to be somebody. We are as distinct and as special as we need to be. Simply loving one another, we bear good fruit.”

I need to tell you that not every Lent for me is bells and whistles of extreme spiritual growth, but I can honestly say the nearly every significant event in my life as a Christian came during Lent. During Lent I made an adult acknowledgement that Jesus loved me and accepted him as my Lord and Savior. In Lent I received my first serious nudges to consider a call to holy orders. In Lent I interviewed and accepted the invitation to serve as your Dean.

During the dry, dusty days of this last Lent, I urged you to consider what you really thirst for. I am not sure how you engaged this suggestion, but it had an amazing centering effect for me. Several large health issues came literally crashing my way. Changes in family responsibilities were calling for greater attention. And the ability to buck up, power through it all seemed to wither before my eyes.

In the darkness of very early Good Friday morning, I began my hour of vigil. Reading aloud from the passion narrative from Mark’s gospel I only made it a few verses before coming to the story of Jesus having supper in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. A woman crashes the party and pours costly ointment pure nard on Jesus’ head. When some of the disciples scold her, Jesus commends her action by saying, “She has done what she could.”

As those words “She has done what she could” rolled off my tongue, a floodgate broke and torrential tears began to soak the stones of the chancel steps. I realized in my heart of hearts that I had done what I could. It was both humbling and cathartic to realize I did not have the time, talents or energy to complete all the things that needed to be done or that I had wanted to do. I was bone-tired and I knew that you need and deserve more. During the next week I asked Bishop Smylie to accept my request to retire. I want to be very clear with you that this resignation is entirely at my initiative.

From my first days at UW I dreamed of coming to Laramie when I retired. After I left UW, I didn’t expect to live in Laramie again. Getting to return to Laramie and working here was a very unexpected and welcome bonus.

In retiring at this time I intend to continue living in Laramie. I look forward to exploring how God will use the gifts God has given me. Despite having five recliners in my home, I don’t intend to retire there and I haven’t put in an application to be a greeter at Wal-Mart.

For the near future I plan to serve as the Dean until the end of July. In the even nearer future, actually this coming Tuesday, Bishop Smylie will meet with the Vestry to begin working with them on a way forward and the calling of the next Dean. In May Bishop Strickland, Canon to the Ordinary and director of deployment and clergy placement, will be here to preach, preside and help with the process.

More than anything else I want you to hear how much I have loved serving here as your priest and pastor. You have challenged me, encouraged me, taught me. You have supported me and willingly tried some of my ideas and only occasionally frustrated me and balked in the direction I hoped to lead you. I know that I have grown emotionally, spiritually (and unfortunately physically)—becoming more the woman and priest God desired. I hope that you have grown, too. When you interviewed my I told you that if there were a general theme in my preaching and I answered, “Yes, I preach that God loves you.” I hope you have grown as I consistently preached that you are absolutely cherished by God and that you have been created by love for love.

I will never be able to adequately express to you my gratitude for calling me to serve here with you; I cannot say thanks enough for the grace you extended in sharing your hearts, lives, ups and downs, joys and sorrows, births and deaths –the holy ground of life with you.

Today is not good-bye. We have 3 months for that. Three months to tie up loose ends. Three months to express our thanks and work through the things done and left undone, said and left unsaid. We have 3 months to live into a greater clarity of being connected as branches—branches connected to the true vine who is Jesus; connected, cared for and loved by the vinedresser, his Father and our God.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Corned beef and Colcannon

When Irish???? eyes are smiling
My hope to blog every week got away from me last week…so as the Benedictines are wont to say, “Always we begin again.” So I begin again with thanksgiving that last weekend was the feast day of St. Patrick, a day that has often been a joyful celebration with family and friends. This year was no different. Despite no great assurance of any real Irish heritage, this "Irish wannabe" loves to recognize and celebrate with those who are truly Irish and the gifts that come to us from the Emerald Isle.

My first trip abroad  in 1977 was with a first generation colleen who still had relatives living on the “auld sod.” Even though she aspired to stop at every crumbling castle and all the ancient cathedrals and churches, I did my best to convince her of a certain value of visiting a few pubs, partaking of pub grub and sampling Guinness and Harp. We made some good compromises which is a key to getting along with travel companions. The memories of watching Waterford crystal being blown and cut, of kissing the Blarney Stone, of feeling the wind blow off the Atlantic on the Cliffs of Moher and teasing my Roman Catholic friend about St. Patrick’s, Dublin being an Anglican Cathedral are indelible memories—the stuff that builds a foundation for dreaming about another big trip.  Slainte!!! I am so glad that my travel companion (who is now in her 90's) and Mother, who has often joined us in our celebrations, and I  were able once again to celebrate St. Paddy's Day together.
St. Patrick’s Day always comes during Lent, but I have it on good authority that it is permissible to set aside (at least a little) some of the Lenten disciplines for a real celebration. Our menu this year included smoked trout and Kerry Gold Irish cheddar for appetizers; a main course of Corned Beef with cabbage, rutabagas and carrots; Colcannon and Soda Bread. For dessert we had Chocolate Irish Whiskey Cake and Irish coffee. There was the mandatory singing of My Wild Irish Rose, Peg of my Heart and McNamara’s Band (our family always sings loudly and proudly on the verses concerning Uncle Yulius who came from Sweden (Yea!!!) to play the big, bass drum.

But after St. Patrick's Day, it is still Lent. And so we begin again. This season has been a time for me to grow in compassion toward myself, as well as in gratefulness for all things. Several things have been helpful in that regard. Each night before dropping off to sleep I spend some intentional time thinking about the moments when I felt most alive (joyful, happy, aware, in touch) as well as the times when I felt that was being sucked dry. I consider what I was most grateful for and what I was least grateful for. What contributed to feeling happy and when did I feel sad?
Playing with knives cuts away cares and stress

Honoring ways of playing and relaxing, letting go of stress and tension has made me aware just how much I enjoy cooking, planning a dinner, arranging the table and most especially the catharsis of sharpening my knives and slicing, dicing and chopping. Cares drop off like leaves in autumn.

A portion of a sermon by Br. David Vryhof of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist has provided a daily source of meditation which has been very helpful to me. I quote it below.

“Whether you are a success in the world’s eyes or a failure, you belong to God.
Whether you achieve all you hope for in life or few of your dreams come true, you belong to God.
Whether you were born into a happy home or a troubled one, whether you’ve had a comfortable life or you’ve struggled all the way, whether you’ve been much loved or largely ignored, you belong to God.
And God has said that you are precious in his eyes and he loves you, that nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth can ever separate you from the love with which God now holds you.
You need not regret the past or fear the future. You belong to God.
You need not conform yourself to the opinions of others or struggle to win their approval. You belong to God.
You need not grasp for riches or fame or success or power in order to find meaning and purpose for your life. You belong to God.
You need not be afraid of failing or falling or fumbling in life. You belong to God.
Your name is carved in the palm of his hand. God will never forget you, never abandon you, never leave you. You belong to God.
‘What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.’”

1 pound of kale or cabbage
1 pound of potatoes, peeled
2 small leeks or a bunch of green onions
1 cup milk (or better, cream)
½ cup butter
Salt, pepper and mace (a pinch)

Boil the potatoes in salted water, until done enough to mash.
While potatoes are cooking, finely chop the kale/cabbage and slice onions/leeks and simmer them together in the cream for five minutes.
Drain the potatoes and beat them well. Then add the cabbage and leeks to the potatoes, beating them until it is a pale green fluff, adding the salt, pepper and mace. Do this over low heat.
Pile the mixture into a deep warmed dish. Make a well in the center and pour in enough melted butter to fill the cavity.
This can all be done ahead, (except for the melted butter) and warmed in the microwave just prior to serving.

Life, like Colcannon, is a mixture of the ordinary handled with care and served with love. Even the moments of being “beat” helps to produce something good and fulsome, helping us to remember to whom we belong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From Sand to Soup

Baptismal Font at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Lent 2012
This year for Lent our focus is on "Water for a thirsty world." We have transformed some visible places in the Cathedral as mini-deserts; most notably the baptismal font which is filled with rough rocks and weed stalks and dry grasses. Practically, we are collecting donations for the drilling of a well in another part of the world through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. The congregation has been encouraged during the highly creative "Minute for Mission" to make contributions for each glass of water consumed, each bath/shower enjoyed, each flush of the toilet, etc. After just 2 weeks we have reach nearly 20% of our goal.

We are also focused on the ways we thirst in this Lenten desert: fame, fortune, relationships, accumulations of all sorts. We have been encouraged to get in touch with what we desire and long for, the places of emptiness, doubt and disappointment. As the choir begins its silent procession, we hear the words of the Psalmist, "As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after thee." (Psalm 42) and the words of St. Augustine, “You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness. You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness. You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me and now I burn for longing for your peace.”

In the remaining weeks of Lent we will consider how the mini-deserts will be transformed by the waters of the Triduum and Paschal Feast: waters used for foot washing, the tears of the penitent, the water that flows with blood from the Savior's side, the waters of creation/flood/Red Sea/whale's belly/free-for-all-waters and the waters of the baptism. How will our dry souls and spirits be revived as we come to the oasis of Easter for the new life we are called to live?

A shelf of seasonings at Catacurian Cooking School, El Maroij, Spain
Last week I came across another quote that is perfect for a “foodie” of sorts and a devotee of good liturgy. “Liturgy is to life as consommé is to broth.” The pure, rich, dark and multi-layered taste of broth or stock that has been reduced, then purified with the addition of frothy egg whites which draw the bits of meat, herbs, vegetables like a magnet; then strained through towel or cheese cloth; then finished with a touch of Madeira or sherry. Our liturgy is like that: a pure, intense, multi-layered taste (complete with Port) of the sacred, the holiness of God who deigns to touch us, be with us and among us as one of us. For an hour or so we marinate in this "God-soup" so that we can go forth to bring the flavor of God to every task, every meal, every relationship. Together we discern where God is calling us to add the special intense flavor of faith, justice, love, mercy, hope.

Perhaps that is exactly the nourishing, thirst-quenching thing that is needed for everyone everywhere to move on together through the desert of Lent and life.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Birds and Books

Canada Geese on the North Fork of the Shoshone River

Early one morning this week I was struck by the sight of a large black crow precariously balanced on the very tip of the tallest spruce tree in the neighborhood.  His loud, "Caw, caw, caw, caw, caw" reminded me of the early morning call to prayer that comes from the top of a minaret in a Muslim country.  In just a few moments the sparrows, juncos and doves from various trees, shrubs and perches joined the crow in this avian prayer to welcome the dawn.

One of my favorite passages from The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin tells how Chauntecleer the Rooster crowed.  He had crows for every occasion that expressed grief, joy, accusation or warning.  And then there were the canonical crows which "told all the world--at least that section over which he was Lord--what time it was, and they blessed the moment in the ears of the hearer. . . By making the day, and that moment of the day, familiar; by giving it direction and meaning and a proper soul. . . At dawn, he crowed a fresh, green crow which sounded like chilly water and which awakened the Hens on the spot. . . But the seventh was the kindest crow of all.  This was as quiet as nightfall. This crow was the night at peace upon her nest.  This was settle, and rest, and 'You are safe,' and amen, and 'Go, now, to sleep.' For 'Done,' when it is well done, is a very good word."

Similarly, in her wonderful book, Dawn Light:  Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day, Diane Ackerman describes the troubadours of dawn.  She writes, "It's funny hearing birds trying out parts of their song as they wake, or perhaps to wake.  I love this warm-up, wake-up, speaking tongues at sunrise, when creatures discover they've survived another night on this sun-and-storm, human-battered planet and, not knowing what to say about it, or needing to say anything, just babble for a while.  Birds babble.  Baby birds before they learn their songs, and sleepy adult birds before they've cranked up the old tunes.  They all babble as we do while stumbling around in mental fog."

So as I wander the neighborhood babbling prayers from memory from the Morning Office, humming bits and snatches of show tunes, rock and roll, and folk songs as they come to mind, I find my direction, meaning and proper soul.  Thinking of the two beloved passages quoted above, I found myself giving thanks for the ability to read and for the availability of books I've enjoyed all my life.  Thanks, too, for those who read to me:  Mother--Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Adventures of Cubby in Wonderland, Mrs Piggle-Wiggle, and the Teeny Weenies;  Grandma--Bible stories and Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories;  Mrs. Schoen in 2nd grade delighting us with the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Miss Stanley in 5th grade reading in perfect dialect Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom's Cabin.  And those who encouraged reading:  the country librarians, like Bess Sheller who heard oral book reports so that we could earn a summer reading award; and Miss McFadden who opened our eyes to travel and adventure and mission in choosing books for our "free reading."  Certainly, there were the numerous faculty members who help me gain skills in critical reading.  I often give thanks for Dr. Francis whose class on Southern Lit was one of my all time favorites.

Sitting in my home study, surrounded by literally hundreds of books that I've read, studied and used for teaching, preaching, research  and used to travel to distant places for unusual adventures, as well as to get a glimpse of what unites, delights, divides and tries our common humanity, I am thankful for all the writers, publishers, printers, librarians and bookstore owner/workers. 

Before I'm off to preside at Evensong and the annual Vestry Retreat, there is still sufficient time to fly away with one of six or seven books beside my bed.  From a convent in Erie to Wall Street, from Paris in the 1920's to the mind of a dog, I've got a great choice.  Oh what a day!
Bald Eagle over Brooklyn Lake in the Snowy Range

Friday, February 24, 2012

Comfort food at home

Love that Wyoming winter
After several days of cold and very wintry weather that closed the highways in all directions, today was much nicer.  Close to zero degrees, but winds only 10-20 mph, rather that 65-70.  As my loyal walking companions and I slid along on our usual route, I was thinking about this coming Sunday's readings which include the baptism of Jesus.  Yes, we have yet another encounter with John the Baptizer.  In a place like Wyoming with nine months of winter (and lots of road closures) and three months of road repair (with lots of detours), John the Baptist could be the patron saint of state troopers who put down the barriers and flag-persons who make you wait for a pilot car. 

Here we are in the first fresh days of Lent, knowing that Spring may be only a few weeks off on the calendar, but it will be a long while yet before we see daffodils and tulips.  We are eager to rush to Easter and the empty tomb, just as we were anxious to get to Bethlehem and see the Baby.  But John the Baptizer stops that nonsense with a word and we detour for six weeks.  I am approaching my own Lenten disciplines this year as an opportunity to grow in gratitude, learn new ways of dealing with stress and to discern some things about call and ministry.  With our much loved and helpful deacon out of commission as he recovers from open heart surgery (scheduled for next week), it may well prove to be a time to see how others step up to the plate in various servant ministries.

This morning several friends met me at the Laramie Care Center to help pack and move Mother's belongings back to the home we share.  Mother has been in the hospital and/or nursing home since November 8 when she fell, severely breaking her ankle.  Most of the care she received was fine (with a few exceptions that took this aggravated daughter into the advocacy (okay, assertive to the point of aggression) role.  But let's face it, institution food is institution food so....her top choice for her first meal home is beef stew. 

Mother is a happy camper to be home again!

Right now the stew is simmering and its aroma is fighting with the right-out-of-the-oven-chocolate chip cookies to see which fragrance will win.  Sipping a cup of hot, strong coffee--not like that watery stuff at the home which is reminiscent of herbal tea, I remembered a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:  "If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee."  We enjoyed the last loaf of a Christmas cranberry bread which brought forth tales about fruitcakes that are passed around in a family for years and years and never eaten, who drinks the brandy, whisky and rum so that new must be purchased every fruitcake making season, why not just put it all together and make a fruitcake smoothie.  In our family everyone loves fruitcake and we enjoyed for many winter deserts when we were growing up. 

Making fruit cake a couple of years ago!
Beef stew and fruitcake can serve in a sacramental way for me.  Because the various ingredients retain their own particular shape, flavor and aroma they are an example of the church which values the gifts and talents of each individual.  Together like this we are more the fragrance of Christ and the salt of the earth. When I hear that the church is a melting pot I think of a cheese fondue or a smoothie.  These blends may be nice in their own way, but I like the grace of keeping differing gifts, theologies and understandings in a creative tension.  There have been moments at Vestry meetings, Diocesan Councils, General Convention when the differences have led to "vigorous fellowship" but in those times when we celebrate the grace of diversity in unity, rather than seeking a common uniformity, I am most proud and glad to know this comfort of my church home.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Baking bread on my Sabbath

Ready to bake
Walking with Fargo and Rebel yesterday took me down an unexpected rabbit trail.  It suddenly occurred to me that a delightful way to spend part of my Sabbath day, doing something I enjoy but had not done for a long while would be to bake bread.  Fortunately I had on hand all the ingredients for Swedish Rye Bread.   The initial aroma of the fresh yeast as it dissolves is homey, comforting.  Then the sweet smell of molasses overpowers the yeast and finally the pungent tang of anise and fennel.  Of course all these aromas are eventually subsumed by the overpowering baking bread.  The whole house begins to feel welcoming and warm.

I got a good "do" on the dough.  Mother attributes that at least in part to the weather.  But I was so pleased that it wasn't too sticky when I began to knead it.  What a fun workout!  I am always amazed when the dough rises with life, reminding me of the Eucharistic prayers where we give thanks for these "creatures" of bread and wine.

While forming the loaves I remember learning to bake bread with Mother, watching the way her hands carefully worked the dough, loving formed the loaves.  The long serrated knife that sliced the warm bread, then spreading a slice with enough butter to drip off; maybe a bit of homemade crab apple jelly.  I loved that she never made us wait until the bread had cooled before we enjoyed the taste. 

Ready to eat!
One of my fondest memories is eating her whole wheat bread (with butter of course) and a thin slice of cheddar cheese while we waited for the beef stew which was simmering in a dutch oven banked in the aspen and pine coals of a camp fire.  It was a cold, misty, rainy day out south of Rawlins in the Sierra Madres.  The aromas of that good food mingled with the fragrance of the wet forest sure made of for the lousy weather.

A couple of years ago my sister Joan remarked that a particular hand-formed Christmas cookie tasted nearly as good as Mother's, but that mine didn't have quite the right shape.  "But then," she continued, "how could they?  You don't have her hands."

Mother's hands

Funny thing about hands....they reveal much about the person to whom they belong.  Callouses and ground in dirt ...painted nails...scars attesting to adventures.  One of my real joys as a priest is placing the consecrated bread--the Body of Christ--into the hands of the parishioners as they come to communion.  I could tell when Jack had begun his garden, Sue had begun a new dating relationship, Bob was off his medications; who worked outside with tools and who worked inside and did crafts or worked at a computer.  Big strong hands and small, frail hands.  All precious, all revealing, all reaching out to receive the Bread of Life, to experience the welcome with a taste of their true home.

Well now, I guess I had better sign off to slice off a hunk of that Swedish Rye Bread and make a sandwich before I slobber anymore on this keyboard.

Swedish Rye Bread
1 package yeast
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup oil
4-5 cups flours (mix of white and whole wheat)
2 1/2 cups rye flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon each Anise seed and Fennel seed

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.   When dissolved, add salt, molasses and syrup.  Add all flour at once to the liquid and work in thoroughly, working in the oil at the same time.  When dough ix mixed, knead it on a well-floured board until smooth.  Let it rise in a warm place about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Punch the dough down and turn completely over and let it rise again to double its size.  Form into loaves, placing them in greased loaf pans.  Bake in 375 degree over 45-50 minutes.  Makes 2 good sized loaves.