Thursday, August 31, 2006

Daily Prayer

I have finally, after a six year hiatus, managed to find a spiritual director and started meeting with her once a month. We've met two times now and I am really grateful to have this be a part of my life's rhythm again.

One of the things my spiritual director has suggested is that I establish a morning ritual: nothing elaborate or time consuming, just a way of taking notice first thing in the day of God's presence in my life and world. She suggested it ought to be tied to something that I do anyway--like brushing my teeth, turning on a light, starting the coffee maker. It would be just a simple phrase, "Holy One, illumine my day," as I turn on the light in the morning.

I haven't actually done this, yet. But I have more recently been setting aside a brief time each morning to center myself in prayer--a daily practice I used to keep, but haven't for too many years now. (Days turn into weeks turn into months turn into years.)

What has shaped my time most of all is this new site I found via Sacred Space. It is called Pray as You Go. The site provides daily mp3 files to download to your ipod or other device (I simply listen to them from my laptop) which guides you through a ten-twelve minute time of meditation using music, Scripture, and gentle questions. I like being able to start the file and simply close my eyes and let myself be led gently through the meditation. Here is today's: August 31, 2006. (You need a broadband internet connection. Also, be warned, the file will start playing aloud almost immediately.)

We've also done this together as a family a couple times this past week. It's really something seeing my eight-year old son sitting with his palms open, imitating his mama's prayer posture.

The site also includes mp3's for the examin, based on Ignatian spirituality: an eight minute meditation to be entered into each evening which helps you to notice where God has been inviting you each day. Here it is. And mp3's for body prayer and breathing meditations (neither of which have I tried yet, but intend to).

Pray as You Go is put together by Jesuit Media Initiatives and comes out of Britain. If you're looking for a way to enter into daily prayer, I highly recommend the site.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Small World

Years ago when I was contemplating a masters in English, shortly after graduating college, I read the most deliciously satirical book Small World by David Lodge. It's subtitled An Academic Romance. A sequel of sorts to Lodge's book Changing Places, in Small World we enter the small, too-often petty, occasionally blustery, esoteric, and pretentious world of academic conferences. Reading the book cured me of my wayward desires for an advanced degree in literary criticism!

Well, today I registered for my first-ever academic conference in a field from which I wasn't rescued in time! I'll be attending the American Academy of Religion / Society for Biblical Literature conference in Washington, DC this coming November. (See some program highlights here.) To their credit, AAR/SBL has a fantastic student rate (ony $70) for the entire conference. This lured me in. Unfortunately I checked the flights after that. [gulp]

I truly am excited for the opportunity to go this year, though. And I plan to finally fly Jet Blue for the first time. Woohoo!

In other news, tomorrow is E's last day of summer. I am so sad! D and I are taking the day off from work and promised to spend the day however E wanted. He chose a Star Wars marathon--watching all six Star Wars movies (1-6; not 4-6, 1-3) in one day. So our alarms are set for 6:30 a.m. with a 7:00 a.m. showtime!

From the Peanut Gallery

This past Friday night at dinner, I told my family that I was trying to create a blessing ritual for the kids in our congregation who are going back to school this week. I told E, my intrepid eight-year-old, that I wanted to give them each something that they could stick in their pockets and keep with them to remind them that their church had blessed them. E didn't miss a beat: "How 'bout fifteen bucks?"

Friday, August 25, 2006

Back to School Friday Five

I can hardly believe the summer is nearly over. I love the start of school. But I am always soooo sad to let my boy go back. It feels like giving birth all over again, having to let him go a little bit more each year.

The RevGal's Friday Five is a Back to School theme today. And I just couldn't resist the fun!

1. What is your earliest memory of school?

I think my earliest memory of school is my deep longing to go to school! I am three years younger than my brother--and when he headed off to school it just broke my heart. I couldn't bear not to be there yet--to have those big fat red pencils and equally rotund crayons, the smell of chalk or freshly washed blackboards, the glossy pages of reading books. Oh, how I longed to be there.

I think this must be why at 37 I'm still in school.

2. Who was a favorite teacher in your early education?

Mrs. DeMosk, my third grade teacher! As I remember her, she was like a willow tree--thin, welcoming, beautiful, comforting, peaceful. I used to try and get in trouble just so I would have to go back to the classroom after lunch while the rest of the class was outside at recess.

3. What do you remember about school “back then” that is different from what you know about schools now?

We always had to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands over our hearts, then sing a patriotic song like My Country Tis of Thee or Grand Old Flag (which was my favorite). My son has never had to engage in these activities, but I don't know if that's common across the country or just the case in our historically liberal city.

4. Did you have to memorize in school? If so, share a poem or song you learned.

She's a grand old flag, she's a high flying flag
and forever in peace may she wave!
She's the emblem of the land I love
the home of the free and the brave!
Every heart beats true for the red, white and blue
where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Keep your eye on that grand old flag!

Wow. How's that for indoctrination?

5. Did you ever get in trouble at school? Were there any embarrassing moments you can share?

I was pretty good at not getting caught, is the thing. So all my classmates thought I was a goody-two-shoes. But my junior year in high school was probably the worst. My dad used to drop me off at school in the morning. I'd walk in the side door, turn into the stairwell, then walk out the door under the stairs. By that time Dad would be pulling out of the lot. Then I'd walk home. (I think I've confessed that to my Mom already. If not, boy am I in trouble now.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Alas, Pluto, I hardly knew thee...

Snow White and the Eight Dwarves?

New Me!

Thank you for all the wonderful, warm wishes as I took the plunge and got my hair chopped off today! And I'm especially grateful to my dear friend SRF who accompanied me to the appointment and cheered me on! :)

I think I like it. Though I feel lightheaded. :)

The place was sooooo much nicer than anywhere I've ever been. And the woman who cut my hair clearly had skills that have never been taught to the SuperCuts places.

It's a whole new thing, now. I even bought a little jar of wax to make it a bit spiky.

So, without further ado--the new me:

Monday, August 21, 2006

Changing Things Up

I've made a hair appointment for this Thursday at 3. The picture in my profile, here on this page, was taken about a year and a half ago, relatively soon after the last time I got my haircut--which would be January 2005 if you must know.

I've been tired of my long, straight locks for a while now. And admiring my friend SpiritMist's more fashionable look. I've also been toying with the idea of getting more of my hair chopped off than ever before. Just for something completely different. Too much of the same thing is too much of the same thing. So SpiritMist has been kind enough to give me her hair stylist's info. And I screwed up my courage to make my appointment.

I had to undergo the rather painful process of getting my photo taken this morning for a publication of my Graduate School. (The picture is used to announce the fellowship SRF and I were awarded to teach a course we designed.) The little photo session left me feeling like my hair has gotten too long and droopy again. Time to change things up.

It's exciting to think about a new hairstyle. But I hate the accompanying self-awareness. I can never figure out what the heck my face shape is. And I find myself, at times like this, fretting about appearance way more than I wish to. At the same time, I'm trying to happily embrace the fact that I am body as well as mind/spirit--and attention to one's body is a a good thing.

Anyway, here's one of the photos taken from today. This can be the 'before' pic. :)

Edited to add: I'm thinking of trying something like hairstyle 3 on this site: Virtual Hairstyles. (Not the color, though.) That would be shorter than anything I've ever had before. I'm planning on throwing myself on the mercy of the person who cuts it. We shall see...

Monday, August 14, 2006

How Can You Worship at a Time Like This?!

Last Thursday, as news was breaking about the latest foiled terrorist plot, I was sitting at home planning Sunday's worship service. It was difficult to do because I had no idea what the world would be like come Sunday. The news accounts made it sound as if a terrorist attack was still imminent. Anxieties were increasing again around the world and in this country particularly.

I also didn't know how people in our congregation would be feeling. In some ways, the foiled plot was something to celebrate. Untold thousands of lives were saved as a result of the investigative work by British intelligence. On the other hand, it was sobering to know how close we were to another catastrophe that would rival and surpass the events of September 11. As we are approaching the five-year anniversary of that horrific day, it sounds like there were some malicious people who were planning on marking the event by causing more carnage. This is so utterly heartbreaking, when we really let it sink in, that I can hardly bear it.

It turned out that we were hosting a guest preacher on Sunday who is somewhat of an expert on the Middle East, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians. So the subject of worship that day was already heavy. In some ways, it suited the events of the week.

So for this week, I planned a service that embraced lament as one faithful response to the pain and suffering in our world. I found a lament on the World Council of Churches website (from a worship service designed to launch their Decade to Overcome Violence) and I modified it slightly. The lament alternated between a musical piece and spoken word. A young woman from our congregation played a Scottish aria on a violin for the musical lament. It was heartwrenchingly beautiful. For the spoken word parts, I had three different people read their pieces while seated in the congregation. I told them when we rehearsed it that I wanted the voices to come from the congregation--not spoken by leaders toward the gathered people, but spoken to God from amidst the people. The lament concluded with the congregation also speaking words of lament.

I truly believe that gathering in worship together is one of the most faithful responses we can have to events such as we faced last week. Opening ourselves to the healing presence of God at the times of our greatest vulnerability can truly transform this world. God longs for our reconciliation, for a whole cosmos, for the end of strife and terror and abuse.

It was an eye-opener for me a year or two ago when I read this simple sentence in the Book of Common Worship: "We pray for the world because God loves it." It goes on to say:
God created the world and cares for it. God sent Jesus, who died for it. God is working to lead the world toward the future God has for it. To abide in God's love is to share God's concern for the world. Our prayers should therefore be as wide as God's love and as specific as God's tender compassion for the least ones among us.
This is a beautiful theology. We pray for the world because God loves it. We don't pray for the world because it is hopeless, a lost cause, beyond redemption. We pray because God so deeply loves the world, because our concerns become God's concerns.

It is at such a time as this, when we face the bleakest realities of life, that worship truly becomes three dimensional. It stands out in relief as a truly faithful, hopeful, prophetic response to desperate, hateful, and threatening times.

Sculpture "Broken Earth" by Roberta Shefrin.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Many years ago, shortly after D and I were married, I used to get furious, inconsolable even, if I screwed up dinner in some irreparable way. Too much work would go into it for me to take it well if something went terribly wrong. Or if it came out horrible for some unknown reason. But my anger about messing up always made the rest of the evening much worse than it needed to be.

At the time, Taco Bell had these advertisements where they would just ring a bell--bing! We ended up making this our escape plan--if dinner ever went so wrong that it seemed unrecoverable, there was no need to get upset at all. I could simply declare 'bing!' and the meal would be tossed, forgotten, and we'd head out to Taco Bell guilt free.

Having the escape plan was brilliant. Since I always knew it was an option, I never ended up worrying about messing up anymore. And, in fact, I think in about thirteen years I've only had to resort to the escape plan twice. One of them right now...

D is off picking up a pizza (we still say 'bing!' but we don't go to Taco Bell anymore). The plan was salmon for dinner tonight, a spinach casserole, and mushroom risotto. Well, the spinach casserole turned out looking gross. (I'll eat it happily for lunch over the next couple days, but I knew it would be asking way too much of my boys here.) I completely forgot about cooking the risotto. And when I took the salmon out of the fridge it smelled nasty.

Funny thing is, E and I had walked over to pick out some fantastic desserts from a local gourmet market. I thought that would pair beautifully with the lovely meal I'd planned. :) So now we're indulging on all fronts! The best pizza in town, and the following three desserts: E will have cheesecake, D will have chocolate mousse torte, and I will be having a chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake. Everything's coming up roses. :)

I still want to write about today's worship--especially now that it's happened. Plus this afternoon the three of us led the worship service at the chapel of the nearby retirement home. That was a great experience. I had E (who's about to enter third grade) read the scripture that I'd preached on a few weeks ago. He did an amazing job. The residents actually applauded him after he finished reading. How sweet is that?

Finally, I'll share this fun little tidbit from E. I was lamenting that as we stood in line at the gourmet market, a man reached through the line and took the last smoked mozzarella I'd planned to take as soon as I reached that point in the line. E said to me, "Mom, you should be grateful for what God gives you."

"You're right, E. Thank you. It's good to be reminded of that."

"Then take your revenge on the one who God gives what you wanted."

My boy.

PS How do get the smell of fish off your hands????

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Animal House

My apologies for not writing more consistently lately. Part of it was discipline--making sure I'm putting in the time studying that I need to do, rather than spending time here. But after getting away from writing regularly, it gets difficult to get back to it. I start feeling like I need to have something to say before I write. And nothing can make a blank page more daunting than feeling like you have to have something to say.

So today I am just going to write anything--rather than writing about something. See?

So I believe I mentioned earlier that we've been letting our cat go out into the world at nights. Part of this is because we live on a safe enough and quiet enough street to make it possible. But another motivation is the fact that our cat cannot bear to be locked out of our bedroom at night--so he goes on rounds every hour or so, all night long, yowling and meowing, and scratching at our door. We've given in sometimes, but then he pounces and chews computer wires and looks for other mischevous things to get into, driving us absolutely bonkers. We finally gave up on letting him into the bedroom at night when he started climbing up to the windowsill directly above our heads then launching himself from there onto my body. Not once, or twice, but numerous times in one night. Aaaahhhhh!!!!

Letting him out at night became our ingenious way of solving this issue. Let the cat embrace his wild side and explore the world all night.

This was brilliant of us. For the first three nights. Now, however, Felix still gets overcome by loneliness every morning around six--sometimes earlier. And he starts into his yowling, as if into a megaphone, directly below our bedroom window. This morning, on Saturday mind you, D and I were up at 5:45.

At around 6:15 this morning we heard one of our neighborhood regulars out in the park across the street. He was walking his dog, as he does each morning at that time. It's a tiny dog and the guy doesn't put a leash on him. The dog runs like mad all over the park, while the guy whistles and calls and cajoles and whistles and calls and . . . D and I marvelled at the early morning antics today. What we choose to put ourselves through in order to live with these animals in our lives!

Felix is sound asleep beside me as I write this. He sleeps all day now, like a surly teenager.

We're off very soon to head to church. I got some stuff to put in the fountain, called FountainClear--an all natural, animal-safe additive that will help keep the water clear. Then I want to set up the sanctuary for tomorrow's worship service. I have a lot of people participating in worship leadership and I want to make sure everything is ready before we get there tomorrow morning.

I'll write more about the worship service later. Good to be back.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

3 Down; 3 to Go!

A million thanks to everyone who offered some prayers on my behalf. I have to say, I felt the effects of them amazingly. After a weekend that was much more humane and calm (and even relaxing!) than I thought possible, I took my exam on Monday afternoon and felt great about. This is a huge step for me--the first exam I had to sit for in my field (rather than a paper, or the systematics exam I took last April). Just to have it over and done with is huge. Just to see it's possible makes all the difference.

Yesterday I took the day off. And today I hope to get started studying for the next one (in Ritual Studies). I'm excited about the questions for that exam, and I look forward to diving in.

In other news, we've been letting our cat go outside at night the past few nights. This is a new thing for Felix, who has always been an indoor cat. But now we live in a neighborhood with very little traffic, and on a street that has two speed bumps on either side of our house. It seems like a very safe area for Felix, so we've been giving this new thing a try. The first couple times, I worried about him--would he even come home??? Would he get lost??? But this morning when we opened the door around 7:30, within about a half-hour he came trotting in through it (covered in cobwebs)! :) He seems so very happy with his new life.

Well, this is a newsy little entry, but I guess that's where I am right now. Just wanted to give you a little update. I'll have more important things to say another time. [cat situating himself across my arms, lap, and part of the computer as I type this...]

Friday, August 04, 2006

Prayer Request

For those of you who do such things, would you mind saying some prayers on my behalf? I'm scheduled to take my next comprehensive exam on Monday afternoon (12-4) and am in the last few days of a big push in reading and studying.

Please pray for energy, calm, presence of mind, interest in the material, and a sharp mind. Also prayers for my family as they try especially hard to give me some extra space over the next 72 hours or so.

I think I'll 'go dark' here until the exam is done. Trying to put blinders on and concentrate on the work.