Never Again Friday Five

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Over at Revgalblogpals, Deb writes:

“Perhaps you have tried something that everyone assured you was SO MUCH FUN!!! and you swore on a stack of Bibles that you would never ever be dragged to said activity ever again. Was it horseback riding? Rappelling? Ballet class when you were 7?

So share with us 5 Supposedly Fun Things You’ll Never EVER Do Again. You may find some commiserating souls among us.”

My first reaction to this week’s sharing was to respond with the lines from Yeats’ “A Dialogue of Self and Soul,” in which the soul says

“I am content to live it all again/ And yet again, if it be life to pitch.Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,/A blind man battering blind men;/Or into that most fecund ditch of all,/ The folly that man does/ Or must suffer, if he woos/A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source/Every event in action or in thought;/ Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!/When such as I cast out remorse/So great a sweetness flows into the breast/ We must laugh and we must sing,/ We are blest by everything,/Everything we look upon is blest.”

While there are clearly activities that I prefer to others for fun, there are very few “possible fun things” that I’ve tried that I wouldn’t want to ever do again. I might even consider doing those that are toward the bottom of my fun list if I were doing them with a group of people with whom I enjoy being.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Snuba is the only activity I can think of that I wouldn’t want to repeat no matter who, what, or where I was doing it. I tried out snuba last January in Maui and disliked everything about it. It had all the negatives of scuba and all the negatives of snorkeling with very few of the positives of either. The length of the cords attached from divers to the floating rafts weren’t really long enough to give me ability to travel far enough down to something to give me better views than snorkeling would have given. They continually got tangled in each other, making it impossible to swim freely toward something I wanted to see and sometimes literally wrapping around my legs, making it impossible to swim. It was a waste of time and money.

Words, Words, Words

In my mind these days, I’ve got an earwig of Pete Seeger singing “Words, words, words” that I can’t get rid of. It makes me wonder: is it possible to be on word-overload? Since the year began I’ve had a chance to read some very good books—Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow and Lowry’s Messenger all come to mind—and I’ve enjoyed them a lot. I’m now making my way through Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality, which I think will probably also be well worth the read. As I read, though, I can’t help but feel dissatisfied with the words. Kingsolver has done a beautiful job of capturing so many key issues in our lives these days—climate change and education and the economy and logging and more—and Lamott is right that if we are allowing our true selves (as opposed to those we like to put forward) to communicate with God, most of our prayers would be variations of petition, gratitude or wonder. McLaren, so far, seems to be echoing what Lamott is saying in slightly different terms. And yes I agree with them. Yes, the environment matters a huge amount to me so thank you Barbara. Yes, I need to learn to say ‘help’ and ‘thanks’ and ‘wow’ more, so thank you Annie. But what I really, really need more than any of these words—beautiful though they are—is silence.

Words seem so inadequate for the pleading and sometimes the despair I feel around the destruction of monarch butterflies or trees or for the wonder I feel when I see birds gathered at the feeder or sun bouncing off the Palisades. Words as prayers, no matter how masterful the “pray-er,” seem wanting. They exhaust me. They try to capture me in them and reign in my experiences, defining them and making them much smaller. I want more and more to find ways to move beyond words, into the vast, encompassing, embracing silence. These days, I’m with Annie Dillard:

“The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega, it is God’s brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blinded note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to “World.” Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing.”

Friday Five: Smile, Smile, Smile!

For this week’s Friday Five, Jan asks: what makes you smile? Remembering that Meister Eckhart said that if you pray “thank you” that that is enough of a prayer, share with us five things, memories, or activities that bring you smiles and gratitude.

There are lots of memories and activities over the years that make me smile when I think about them or look at pictures from the events or hear someone talk about them. I’ve tried, though, to pick five relatively inconsequential things that occur on an ongoing basis that make me smile and fill me with gratitude for such fleeting moments of enjoyment.

  • Coming home and walking through the door to find our dog, Max, holding with whatever his favorite toy of the day is in his mouth
  • Seeing vegetables – this year mainly leeks, radish, and rainbow chard– growing in my cold frames. (Who ever thought I’d be able to smile again when looking at chard after this summer of being inundated by it?)
  • Kathy swinging her legs back and forth under her chair the way a lot of my students did when, decades ago, I taught 6th grade
  • Conversations with my children (and other people, though my children in a special way) about the books they’re reading
  • Most weeks, at least one joke on the Big Bang Theory, the one TV show I try to make a point of watching as soon after a new episode is released as possible.

 

 

 

Clanging Cymbals

It happens five times a day, seven days a week. A cymbal sounds on my phone to remind me of things that I’ve decided should be the focus of my attention. The first sounds at 8:30 and the last at 5:30. One of the five cymbals calls me to a specific piece of work—picking up voicemail messages left on one of my work voicemail systems—but the others call me to things I decided that, after much thought, I must do regularly in my life—lectio divina (time with God), biking (time for my physical health), playing my flute (time for beauty), and writing (time for reflection)—if I am to a happy, healthy, loving person.

The cymbal clangs five times a day and most days, at least four of the five times that it does, I dismiss the reminder notice that comes with the clang without doing what it’s reminded me about. I turn the reminder off and go back to work on the long To Do list that’s in front of me. The thinking that comes with that choice is usually along the lines of “Well, if I can just get through this list, I’ll have time to truly enjoy playing flute” or “I’ll really focus on today’s scripture passage if I don’t have a To Do list in the back of my mind.” It’s logical thinking, but it doesn’t quite make sense because I never get through the ever-increasing list of things that people are asking from me.

The cymbals clang and instead of being excited by their clanging—a clanging that should be calling me toward something I love—all they do is make me feel guilty that I’ve sold myself short again because of my commitment to the priorities that come from others.

Last evening just before going to bed, I learned that a friend from college—my son’s godmother, no less- whom I lost track of for a good number of years but then reconnected with in a much more casual way four or five years ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer and has just begun chemo. I called up my own mammogram, breast ultrasounds and biopsy scares over the past year as I thought of her news and committed myself even more to making a point of doing the four cymbal activities that I believe I need to be doing. This morning I woke up with the same strong commitment and started my day. The cymbal clanged five times today. I made my phone call to pick up messages as soon as that clang went off. I skipped lectio to make some necessary phone calls. I biked about three hours late, but I biked. Flute fell by the way. Now I’m writing 11 hours after the clang to remind me of my commitment to write and I won’t spend the time I’ve promised myself that I would but at least it’s a start.

Tomorrow when the first cymbal sounds I’ll already be at work and when the last one sounds I’ll still be there. Tomorrow they will remind me of how life could be, might be, should be, rather than calling me to action. I toy with removing them, but if I do, I fear that I’ll forget completely about what matters most in the flurry of what’s demanded and what others label as important. So tomorrow there will be clanging cymbals calling me, at least in spirit if not in practice, in the direction of love and wholeness.

Running and Flying

Over the last two weeks the expression that keeps popping into my head each evening when I lay in bed and review the day just past is “running to keep from flying.” I have no idea where I learned it or why it’s stuck in my mind as the proper image for these days, but there it is, refusing to leave.

Is it an expression that others know? I can’t tell. I’ve asked Kathy about it and she’s never heard it. I’ve tried googling it and looking for its idiom history and can’t find it anywhere. Perhaps I combined phrases like “hit the ground running” and “off to a flying start” but when I think of the expression, it doesn’t feel newly created by me.

Running to keep from flying calls up an image for me of running through a large field with a pair of (invisible) wings on my back that want to lift me in the air. I’m aware that, while flying might be a wonderful experience, there’s so much that I have to get done in the field that, instead of letting the wings pull me up off the ground, I run faster to be ahead of the wings’ pull. Each time the wings’ ’ pull catches up, I run faster still, trying to get more and more done and running more and more to try to keep from being lifted away from what has to be finished before I can be free to take off or to just lie down in the field and rest.

I know where the feeling comes from. These last weeks my workdays have been endless. Yesterday, a typical day hour and workwise, I started my work at 6:30 am, trying to get through some paperwork before leaving for a meeting at 7:30. I used car travel time as I went from meeting space to meeting space to get through some of the reading material I need to complete since I was lucky enough to find it in audioformat. I left my last meeting of the day at 10:05, drove home and answered emails while eating dinner, finally giving up running for the night at 11:30. This morning, it all started over again.

Running in this way is often making everything a blur. My glasses bump up and down, making my view a bit dizzying. I don’t have time to think much about, much less enjoy, the various things I’m doing as I run. Rather I just need to keep the wings’ pull from catching up to me. Running like this makes me feel less than human. It doesn’t feel like much of a way to live, though I’m pushing myself on through the hope that part of the pull should decrease as I get to know the new job more, that that job’s hours should decrease to 20 or 25 a week sometime soon, and that some of the pull should decrease as I move away from my pastoral responsibilities in April (a move that, if I were running slower would grieve me deeply, but there’s not time for that). Or at least I hope so, if only I can run like this for four months.

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In the meanwhile what’s keeping me going are the centering moments. My days are such that there are lots of chances at the beginning and ends of meetings to be with people leading and participating in spoken prayer and they help give me some energy. Most helpful, though, are the moments I’m grabbing –by walking to the car or restroom by myself, in the moment when Macy the cat first wakes me up in the morning, or just before I fall asleep–to be in silence and breath, focus, open to the divine. Those moments keep me going, giving me some centeredness as I go on to whatever is next on the agenda, and giving me hope—that one day soon a few hours will appear when there’ll be a chance to just sit in the field and look around at all the beauty or, who knows, even a chance to let go of all the work for a while and take off and fly!!!

Resolutions and Absolutions

A website that I frequently read for wisdom, for laughs, for sanity is RevGalBlogPals. On Fridays, they do what is called the Friday Fives, asking five questions for people to answer. In years past I used to do those on a fairly regular basis but that fell by the way in 2011. I thought I’d start up doing it again in 2013. So in today’s Friday Five, http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.ca/2013/01/friday-five-resolutions-and-absolutions.html

Pat Raube asks about resolutions and absolutions:

1. Start by sharing your success stories with us: In the past, what resolution has been your most successful? What change have you made that has been the most beneficial, to your mood, health, finances, or other way of being in the world?

A few years ago I made several resolutions that have made major changes in my life—to eat mindfully (which I’m now able to do these days unless I become much too overworked and tired), to bike for at least ½ hour five times a week, and to do yoga or swimming at least once (ideally twice) a week with Kathy. Up until this past fall, I was able to that on a regular basis. It not only put me in better health, but I felt more centered. This fall, with the craziness of so many part-time jobs, going out one or two evenings to swim or do yoga didn’t make me feel healthier, though, it just made me feel exhausted. I longed for some quiet nights at home. I still long for a night or two at home each week, but maybe when April comes, Kathy and I will be able to find some daytime hours to pick this back up.

2. What is one thing you hope to do differently this year with regard to health, either physical or spiritual? If you are satisfied with your current status in both areas, perhaps you would be willing to share something you’ve already done (or regularly do) to care for yourself.

I hope to put the things that matter most to my overall wellbeing and sanity—not only things like biking, but also the playing of my flute, meditating, reflective reading and writing, etc.—first in my day, before they get crowded out by all the things that work has put on my plate.

3. What is one thing you hope your family (of origin, of choice, however you define your primary place of mutual emotional sustenance) will do differently this year? A new tradition for birthdays? More vacation time? Game night? Feel free to really dream about ways to deepen your connections with those you love.

When I think back on the past year, some of my happiest times were playing board games. I’d love to see more game nights with family and friends. Most of our family enjoys board games, so I’d hope we could get together on a more regular basis to play them, maybe even adding some friends who like board games to the mix throughout the year.

And more vacation time like the time spent in Hawaii in January 2012—who wouldn’t hope for that!!!

4. What is one thing you hope your community of faith will consider doing differently this year? New music? Different approaches to preaching? Rearranging the furniture? If you are in a position to try to introduce change, share some of your enthusiasm and/ or anxiety with us!

At this point this is a hard question to answer. If I were staying at South Church for the entire year, my hope would be that we could broaden out our theology from being so anthropocentric to being much more inclusive of all God’s creation and have that widening more visible in the way we pray, worship, do sermons and music, and act. Because I’ll be leaving in a few months, that doesn’t seem possible. I’m also not sure what my new “community of faith” is to be. Is that the presbytery? Right now the presbytery as my regular community of faith feels very amorphous but maybe it’s a question of just needing to live into it to have that become more of a clear reality.

Absolutions:

5. In what area would you most like to learn to be gentle with yourself? For what would you most like to forgive yourself? Share your ideas and strategies for extending yourself the kind of grace we know we are assured of.

I’d like to be gentle with myself around the long To Do lists that this spring is bringing me. Even in the first week of new call overlapping old call and teaching, I can’t seem to begin to catch up to the work of the previous month, much less to the work of this week or day. And when it comes to South Church, I want so badly to savor all the time and work I have left with the congregation that I love so much. Instead, though, there’s barely time, if I do things as quickly as possible and for as long as possible each day, to get through the work there and the work for the presbytery and teaching. Savoring is going to have to fall by the way. I need to make peace that not only will I not be able to savor my days left working there but that even doing things as quickly as I can, not all the work on my schedule will get done by the time it should be done or in the way I’d like to do it.

 

Why Noon on the Gaza Road?

I’m moving the blog that I began in the spring of 2007 from noononthegazaroad.blogspot.com to this new site. (Thanks to my niece, Kristin, for both hosting it and doing the initial set-up for me.) When I decided to make the move from the past blogline site, I had to conjure with whether to keep the old blog name or not. Over the years, there have been a few problems with the name. Some people have thought, based on Gaza being in the title, that what I’m writing about is Middle Eastern politics and have come to my site and been sorely disappointed. Others have, thinking that, skipped visiting the site but have asked me why I keep a political blog. And others still have thought that I’ve spelled the blog’s address incorrectly—that it was meant to be “No one on the Gaza road.” Today as I start the switch I realize I’ve never explained the blog name, so I thought I’d begin the entries at the new location by explaining my choice.

The name comes from a biblical story about Philip in Acts 8. The story is set in a time when the early church is being persecuted for its choices and actions. Afraid, the early Christians long to stay together in their small communities with those they’ve come to know and trust. They’ve been through a lot of internal struggles—figuring out what role Torah rules are going to have in their common life and then daring to overcome the prejudices of the day by welcoming Samaritans into membership. (Prejudices of the time against Samaritans were that, not only weren’t they as educated as Christians but they also acted in “inappropriate” ways that made them “unclean.”) These struggles have cost them a lot. They’re tired, they’re fearful, they need a breather, time to reconnect and rest. The wisdom of the leaders is not to risk the little bits of safety and unity they still have by moving further out into other villages and other nations.

And then God sends an angel to Philip. Philip isn’t one of the original 12 disciples who sat at Jesus’ feet but he has become a deacon in the early church and he’s one of the people who have been successfully working with the Samaritans who want to be Christian. The angel tells Philip to get up and head out on the wilderrness road to Gaza (from Jerusalem). And he tells him to go “mesembrian,” a Greek word that can mean “south” if it’s used for a location or “noon” if it’s used for time. Philip has no idea why God wants him to go out onto a deserted stretch of road in the middle of the day but he goes (I imagine very reluctantly, because by now he’s gotten to know and love the Samaritans he was sent to work with).

While he’s on the otherwise deserted road, an eunuch who is an Ethiopian official who had just come from worshipping in Jerusalem rides past on a chariot. God pushes Philip to go talk with the eunuch. This must have been the last conversation Philip thought he should have. His prejudices—against Ethiopians (with their strange appearances, gods, and customs), eunuchs (based on Deuteronomy 23:1), and rulers of other governments—must have told Philip to go in exactly the opposite direction. But God pushes and Philip (reluctantly) goes and meets the other person on the road. Eventually, despite a lot of reluctance on Philip’s part and some more pushing, both from God and the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip even ends up welcoming the Ethiopian into the church, expanding the church’s boundaries in several more unexpected ways. At noon on the Gaza road, Philip learns that love breaks down barriers, overturns narrow perceptions and prejudices, and embraces so much more than Philip and his religious upbringing can ever imagine.

Throughout my life, at any one time, there has always seemed to one biblical passage that speaks more clearly to me than any other, that pushes in a direction. When I was in college and seminary, it was Jeremiah 12:5. For more than the last dozen years, though, it’s been Acts 8:26-40, a scriptural choice that has had unexpected major impacts on who and what I’ve prioritized in my ministry and why. It’s a story that has served to remind me to slow down enough to try to listen for the divine voice telling me where I need to be and what I should be doing there, a story that suggests that I need to put more effort into stepping out into unexpected, uncomfortable places and experiences to discover the divine in such encounters, a story that tells me that when I think I know where God and God’s people should be found I’ve probably got it wrong since God’s love is much broader than anything I can imagine.

In 2013, as I start this new blog site and take a first step into what feels very much to me like a Pauline “juncture of the ages” (as Kathy retires from her work with Westchester County at the end of March and I overlap my last months as Associate Pastor at South Church and my first months as Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Hudson River), I find myself wondering if this is to be the passage that will continue to call to me over the upcoming months and years and, if it is, what Gaza road I’m to be on at the upcoming noontimes of my days. The entries that will be filling this blog – as nonreligious or irreligious as some of them will end up sounding—are, in one way or another, all attempts to stay alert to, and to puzzle through, that question in some faithful way.