Trying not to be blind

Police officers in riot gear watching demonstrators in St. Louis. Credit Joshua Lott/Reuters

Driving around my city today, trying not to be blind.  Military vehicles and fatigues are sprinkled through my route from preschool, to Good Will, to the park, and home.  Hummers painted army green loiter in firehouse driveways.  A man in camouflage fatigues graciously accepts the motions of praise from a white woman in the car next to mine.  She looks like my best friend’s mom.  Three young black men ride their bikes across the intersection.  They see, though they do not look.  And I’m just driving around trying not to be blind.

My throat clenches and I can’t answer the questions about snacks from the back seat.  An uncomfortable anger wells up.  I see, though dimly, the system iron clad and perfect: the simple, genial white support of a system that wields weapons of war to silence boys on bikes.   I’m a nice fitting little cog in this machine – with my aversion to drama and conflict.  But today I peek under the curtain and the reality makes me want to tear it down.  I’ve been a good person among good people in a system that consumes and destroys lives and bodies.   My goodness must look different.  My goodness must include anger and conflict, as well as hope and optimism.  My confidence must come from trusting my fellow human who has grown up in a different America than I ever knew.  And for my love of life, in this moment in history, I will use my status as a working cog to slow this damned system down until we can build one where #blacklivesmatter.  White sisters and brothers who love this country, this is our cause too.   Be a new kind of good!

Advertisements

Endings and Beginnings

sunset

photo by Dana Ross Martin

An ending and a beginning overlapped for me recently.

In the same weekend that I said “good-bye” to a dear friend who moved to another state, I joined a new retreat ministry and blessed the threshold of a new beginning.

Experiencing these two events back-to-back felt, at first, like emotional whiplash.  Until I paused to check in with my insides.   Both the grief of loss and the anxiety of stepping into an unknown were carving a canyon in my heart.

Within the ending held a beginning – for life to reshape itself into a new form.  Within the beginning held and ending – leaving behind the days of stay-at-home parenting.  The moments leading up to these beginnings/endings had my stomach churning.  Now, having moved through them, the river of change seems to have created some space, a kind of potent emptiness.  Space for more life…

Throat

 

My body talks to me.  It’s pretty blunt.  I still manage to gloss over its requests, thinking that ignoring my body will make it grow quiet… silly me.

This week my throat complains.  It’s so constrained I can barely swallow.

“We’re stuck, honey,” it says, not unkindly.  You see, my throat isn’t trying to be irritating.  Like my toddler, it sometimes doesn’t know how else to get my attention.

“Remember what it feels like to sing, to speak, to move, and feel your truth in vibrating colors filling a room?”

“Yes,” I say, “such lovely memories.  But there is so much to do and so little time – singing someone else’s song, talking without saying anything, moving stiff jointed to the next thing.”

“Such idle chatter.  Please, just let me do the talking.”

I pull my chin to my chest, “But we’re so exposed, vulnerable to a world of germs and criticism.”

“Yes.”

 

A promise to my achy throat:

A new creative venture!

I’m sorry to have neglected my writing for so long and I’m grateful to my throat for giving me a kick.  This year I will be experimenting with my voice!  My friend, Frank Krebs, presiding bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, and I are creating a podcast.  You’ll be able to subscribe to “A Priest and a Bishop Walk into a Story,” on itunes in early Spring 2016.  And you’ll find new content here with updates on shows and interviews.  Please check back and thanks for reading!

A Personal Creation Story

Irish United Nations Veterans Association house and memorial garden (Arbour Hill)

“In the beginning…”

Culture, science and religion offer us versions of “the beginning.” I grew up in a Christian church and culture that had it’s own story that didn’t resonate on every level, but had familiarity going for it. It hadn’t occurred to me to try to write a creation story for myself. But that’s what seven Soul Sisters (that’s what we call each other) attempted this past week. We’re a group of women spanning in age from thirty-something to rounding 80.  We’ve been meeting for five plus years to engage in Soul Work, healing for our own souls and the Soul of the Earth.  We began a new book recently to bring us deeper into our spiritual practices and our first assignment was to write our own creation story.

My story percolated for weeks until I finally sat down and let it pour out of me during one of Amos’ nap times.  It was one of those awesome, “Holy sh**!  Where did that come from!” moments.  It’s not a theology (so, theology geeks, hands off!), but more of an autobiography; a personal metaphorical story of how I experience creation happening in my own heart and life.

In our Soul Work group last Sunday, everyone shared their stories. The air buzzed with awe, gratitude, paradox, poetry, uncertainty and so much love between seven ordinary women attempting to touch the most sacred of non-ordinary realities.  I humbly offer my story here:

In the beginning there was Emptiness.  Emptiness contained everything and nothing, but Stillness kept all Her secrets.

The first sign that something was changing came with a churning from within Emptiness.  That churning was named Restlessness and He wooed Stillness from her post and let loose secrets quieted for many eons.

Suddenly, around the edges of Emptiness, doors began to appear.  Restlessness found His opportunity and formed into the shape of a key and found His way to the doors.  There were doors of various shapes and sizes and weights and textures.  Some doors remained locked to Him while others allowed their lock to be turned and opened.

On the other side of each threshold a different scene lay wait – some were beautiful and serene; others were violent and harsh.  With each threshold crossed, Restlessness would find voice – sometimes it was a whisper, sometimes a howl, other times a shout or a squeak or a laugh.  The sounds echoed in the chambers and turned into life – plants and animals and rocks and rivers – imbued with the undying energy originating in Emptiness.  Then Restless retreated back into Emptiness.

One day a creature, created out of Restlessness’ cry of Ecstasy, stumbled across a door.  Since the creature’s nature was to seek union, they were disturbed by this blatant barrier to something unseen.  The door captured all of their attention and it became a ritual to visit the door each day.  The creature began to gather objects and bring them to the door, trying to coax it open.

One day, the creature fell asleep at the door’s threshold and they dreamed the door opened.  When the creature awoke the door was ajar.  When the creature pushed the door open they were blinded by the brightness on the other side.  The creature was swallowed up by the Light and seemed to disappear.

No one knew what became of the creature or where it went.  Until one day she emerged, cloaked in garments for travel and eyes shining, illuminated from within.  She spoke to the other creatures of Emptiness and Restlessness and the door to the Light.  Some scoffed, others questioned, and some looked in her eyes and saw their own true reflection.

Many creatures have found the door, some through seeking and others by accident.  Unprepared for the journey, some never return.  But those who do become an emissary of the Light and their truth sets them free.

When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.
Joseph Campbell

Glad I’m no longer 20

IMG_0251I visited my Alma Mater last week.  Reliving those angst filled formative years offered unexpected gifts.

I was once ashamed of my college experience – or seeming lack thereof.  I was so timid.  I struggled to enjoy plastic solo cups and crowded rooms. I tried to understand the appeal, but efforts to fit in left me drained.  My fondest college memories are housed in quiet chapels and hidden corners of libraries.

But the parts that brought me shame I embrace with all the affection of a long-loved friend.   I no longer worry about seeming antisocial, cold or judgmental… anyone close to me knows I am none of those things.  The quiet drama unfolding all around me, hidden and wonderful, gives me such pleasure.  Where once my intuition seemed like an overactive sensitivity, an allergy, it is now my barometer for how to live a simple happy life.

I find it edifying to feel confidence where there was once fear; peace, where these was anxiety. There is no less uncertainty about what the future will bring but now uncertainty signals adventure instead of abyss.

Looking back through eyes aged a bit, I can recognize the seeds of my life as it begins to flower today; the muted colors of beauty waiting for a nurturing hand.  My life is not flashy or overly complicated – and it’s perfect – like a warm cup of coffee, a book, and a quiet library nook.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

A recent photo where I helped with a ritual to welcome  a child into the community

A recent photo of a blessing for this precious child.  

When I worked in parish ministry, and still when I preside at weddings, I am often confused for someone else – the secretary, the photographer, the wedding planner, or a bridesmaid.  I don’t mind.  I don’t wear my priesthood on my sleeve.  I grew up with men at the altar and it took me time to adjust to seeing a woman there.  I had to experience Masses that “felt right” with a woman presiding.    I know why people look a little tense, why their eyes study every move I make, every word… they’re waiting to recognize God, or at least something appropriately sacramental, echoing in a female register.   I guess that’s what they’re thinking.  I’m happier not knowing everything people think (a lesson learned in parish life).

In the beginning of my ministry I wondered, “Do I need to lower my voice; wish people a “blessed day;” glue a smile on my face; wear a clerical collar?”  I tried all those things attempting to be more “priestly.”  But I learned that God shows up, not when I’m pretending to be a priest, but when I’m being me, perfectly imperfect me.  Incarnation*, people… it’s startling and real.

I found a lovely community of perfectly imperfect women clergy that share their journeys through their writing.  RevGalsBlogPals come from diverse traditions.  Our politics, family lives, and personalities span the human spectrum.  The only thing we have in common is our gender, our call to serve, and the crazy (inside and out) that accompanies that vocation.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit is the latest attempt to pull together some of these female voices into book form.  On one level it’s a glimpse into the particular challenges of being a woman and clergy.  But it’s also a compilation of stories from unique people living into the nearly impossible daily goal of reflecting God through their humanity.  This book makes it clear that no two women understand their ministry in exactly the same way and that women can do all things through God that strengthens them (Phil. 4:15).  In fact, they’ve been doing all things for millennia, there’s just a Facebook group for it now.

 I need these stories to be reminded that I’m not alone in this sometimes lonely journey.  But I also wish church members would read these stories, whether or not their pastor is a woman, to gain insight into this unique way of life.  I’m over a year removed from parish ministry and reading these stories unearthed the weariness of mind, body and spirit that can come with this vocation.  These personal narratives bear witness to strong, gifted, vulnerable, empathic, steely spirited humans who sometimes need support (and a vacation).

This RevGalBlogPal is taking a break from parish life, ministering to children and chickens (yes, chickens!  More to come about our newest members of the household, Ruby and Pearl).  But I reverence the heroic women who might look like a greeter or your daughter or your mother.  It’s okay.  There’s a woman in the pulpit and she supposed to be there.

*Incarnation is the Christian doctrine of God becoming human.

Growing a Community… Garden!

I’m frugal. It’s both my nature and the result of working for churches and nonprofits my entire adult life. It can be hard for me to spend money on things deemed necessary.  So when it was time to turn our mud puddle of a yard into something more inviting I struggled.  “I need green growing things!  I know where I can buy green growing things.    BUT there are green growing things EVERYWHERE!  Flowers grew here before the Home Depot Garden Center existed.  How do I get them to grow in my little mud puddle without shelling out the big bucks?”

And so began my quest.  I set out on my own.  I pulled pretty plants out of alley cracks only to have them wither in my soil (they probably would have been happier with roots).  I tried throwing seeds into a pot, but they didn’t seem to like it in the hot sun without water (oops!  I’m a descent parent to humans, but can be a neglectful plant parent).

Growth finally happened when I cracked and admitted my struggle out loud.  I talked about my vision for an oasis of green with my neighbors and my friends.  When I stopped trying to do it myself people popped into my life.  Turns out fairies live among us!  The hands of the most ordinary folk have the power to coax breathtaking beauty from the dirt.  AND they’re willing to share their secrets!  I’m waiting to spot their wings as they turn to say good-bye.

From neighbors, friends, and closeted garden fairies the slice of earth given to my care is beginning to green!  I’m most attracted to the varieties of plants that resemble the people that give them to me… strong, hearty, survivors of adversity, and keepers of incredible beauty when you give them time to unfold.

Here’s my shade garden…

IMG_5063[1]

IMG_5064[1]

And my fairy log (in honor of all the magic people in my life).  My loving husband rolled this log I found half-way down our ally.  Thanks, babe!…

IMG_5062[1]

And my native plant berm.  The ornamental onions aren’t native, but aren’t they fun?  They look like something from Dr. Seuss…

IMG_5067[1]

IMG_5066[1]

And sweet berries (strawberry and blackberry)….

IMG_5065[1]

Each plant is the child of a plant that grew in the yards of magic people around me.  My yard is like a first apartment for some of these baby plants… their first time away from home.   I’m trying to help them feel safe so they can grow into their full potential!  My plants and I like it when the fairies come to visit… it’s comforting to see a familiar face wise with experience (although sometimes we still pretend we don’t need advice… silly pride!).

My garden is a dynamic work in progress, like my community.  Where scarcity once ruled the land, abundance bursts from dead little husks.  I haven’t yet earned my fairy wings, but happy green shoots will reveal their magic over time; and then, look out!  Gifts of beauty may appear where you least expect them!  Why not grow a community… garden?!