Itinerant Preacher

I’m in Kilgore, Texas this morning. I drove over 200 miles yesterday afternoon through peak, for Texas, East Texas fall. After breakfast at the Hampton Inn, I’ll pack up and go preach and celebrate at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Afterwards, I’ll meet with the leadership of the church and listen and dream with them about what God might have in store for them. Then I’ll drive back home dreaming and imagining about how we all can better partner with God and God’s mission.

I love my job.

A year ago today was my last Sunday at St. Mary’s, a place I’d loved and called home for over twenty years. A place where I’d drive three and one half miles each Sunday morning to preach and celebrate and listen and dream.

I loved my job.

In the year of my pause from my relationship with St. Mary’s, what one parishioner described as a gap year, I have only been back once, with permission, to attend the funeral of a beloved parishioner. It is the way of rector partings.

Yesterday, I wrote the Senior Warden and the Interim Rector for permission to worship on a Sunday morning at St Mary’s during Advent. As God would have it, it’s a rare Sunday that has not already been scheduled, and I am open-calendared.

A baby with whom I have two decades of family connections is being baptized, and the parents invited me to attend. I officiated at the baby’s parent’s marriage and prayed with others for years for this precious girl’s birth in into the world.

If given permission, the third Sunday of Advent, I’ll drive the twenty or something miles from my new home, past my old home, to a parish that is now one of the over one hundred fifty I now serve. I’ll worship and pray and dream. And live some of God’s great yeses to prayers.

I love my life.

Oldering Prayer

I hear the swishing sound of rolling walkers moving towards me. I know that the bells calling us to worship will begin to ring soon, and it will be time to pray with the sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery.

My day begins before the sun rises. The Oblates of our Lady of Grace have early breakfast before joining the sisters for Morning Praise.

The old coffee maker has been replaced by a newer version that now offers three choices–mild, regular, and bold, with parallel decaffeinated options. It is a better beginning to the day.

After breakfast,

we pray in community,

we do lectio divina on a portion of the Rule of St. Benedict,

we have time for quiet,

we pray again,

we eat lunch,

we give back to the Monastery with an act of service (for me, cleaning the walls of the dining room),

we do lectio on another chapter of the Rule,

we pray again,

we eat again.

Tonight after supper, we’ll play games with the sisters and pray one last time in community.

Then sleep.

In the over fifteen years I have come to Our Lady of Grace, most often twice a year, more sisters have died than have professed Monastic orders. The average age of the sisters is 72. The priest who serves the Monastery is nearly bent in half, and celebrates Eucharist sitting in a chair. As are those who worship in our churches, we are all oldering.

In the Monastery, all serve. At Noonday, the average age of the sisters leading worship must near 90.

Yesterday, at Noonday, I heard a quiet voice during the lengthening silence between the chanting of the Psalms, She’s asleep. So while the celebrant dozed, another sister took her place and began the next section of prayer.

Another sister who I look fondly upon, perhaps because she reminds me of my mother with her sweet face, white hair, and blue top, was prepared for her part in the liturgy of reading the lesson. She had placed a special lamp on the the lectern before worship began.

At the appointed time, she carefully stepped to the lectern using her walker, carefully repositioned herself to read, carefully placed a clipboard with a large print version of the day’s text, carefully turned on the light, and with a clear voice, read scripture.

After she finished the lesson from Daniel, she slowly turned off the light, slowly folded it up, and slowly placed it under the lectern. Slowly she placed the clipboard on her walker, slowly turned, slowly returned to her seat, and slowly lowered herself into her chair.

Care full. Slow. It was all prayer.

It is all prayer.

Community Home

When I return to Our Lady of Grace, there are touchstones that let me know I am indeed home.

Sister Mary Luke always leaves a note in my room and some Texas memorabilia she has found on one of her thrift shop jaunts.

Calligraphy on the wall of my room that is a Word to ponder for the week.

The beauty of whatever season it is– it stops me in gobsmacked joy at each window I pass, and lures me outside for walks.

And then the prayers in the Chapel. The sisters invite us to join with them in the dance of the Hours, and it is a glimpse, for me, of worship in heaven.

When we sing and pray and chant the Psalms, we are invited to do so slowly and quietly. In doing so, my voice blends with those next to me and what we hear is one voice. This is always the most challenging for us women clergy. We are used to leading with our voices in worship. Here, “we who are many are one.”

The intercessory prayers in chapel are not a long list of rote individual prayers but a litany of those who are more often forgotten–children in foster care, those who have been abused by the Church, those without health care, those who will die alone, and on it goes–and always with great thankfulness for their benefactors.

And then there is the gracious hospitality. Who goes to a place where everyone is glad to see me? I am filled with the warm welcome and smiles and hugs. This is because Benedictines believe that all they meet are Christ. Jesus shows up every time someone comes through the door.

It so good to be in my Monastery home.

Traveling. Again.

In October I went to Camp Allen in Navasota. Three times.

To Marlin, Texas. Twice. Waco. Chambersville. Tyler. Lindale. Minneapolis and St. Paul. Many miles around the Houston area.

Including traveling home to St. Cuthbert to preach and celebrate Eucharist, the parish that sent me to seminary nearly thirty years ago.

I am a Missioner, after all.

I begin November on my way to Beech Grove, Indiana for an Oblate retreat at Our Lady of Grace Monastery. A week of prayer, worship, and holy reading. Surprises of joy and play.

I am nearing the year anniversary of my departure from St. Mary’s. This is a good week for my spirit and soul to catch up and rest.

This past week I voted for the first time since moving into town. I was struck by the many colors and shapes of people that joined me for early voting. I was reminded by how much I am loving living in a city where everyday I experience the amazing greatness of the image of God.

Traveling. Again.

Readings

Because I am spending more time in a smaller circumference on this vacation, rather than travels hither and yon, I am having time to read.

I started my third book yesterday (!) while waiting for my friend to finish her massage.

On this trip I’ve read:

And now I’m a few chapters into

I love that I can check out ebooks from the library and download them to my iPad. It’s a light weight way to carry a library of possibilities when I travel.

I’m also having more time during quiet mornings to read the myriad of devotions I receive via email and apps each day. All via iPhone.

A daily email, though not one that would be classified as a devotional, almost always gives me deep spiritual pondering. Its from Seth Godin, and this morning’s gave me pause:

Politics is organized sparring about power, without much regard for efficacy or right or wrong.

Governance is the serious business of taking responsibility for leadership.

When we have a chance to speak up for governance we strike a blow against politics.

Dedication, resilience, and concerted effort have saved us before and they can save us again. Except once again, it’s up to us to speak up and do something about it.

These words had me write a letter to myself in my head. I am one of those leaders after all.

If our country was indeed founded in the belief of the unalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,

Do the decisions I make forward life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Not only for me. But most particularly for others?

Am I, a woman of great privilege, willing to give up some of my privilege for others? Or at least share? Or at least work to break down the walls and open the doors that keep those privileges selfishly close?

And it’s so easy for me to see how someone with many guns might harm other’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, what choices do I make that harm someone else’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What about me?

(From the Harwood Museum: Judy Chicago: The Birth Project)

Priority Traveling

When my best friend and I were deciding in July whether or not we could make our trip back to Iceland and the Faroes, part of what we did was imagine all the steps (metaphorically and literally) we’d have to take. We finally allowed reality to meet romance, and we realized that although it was possible for us to go the Faroe Islands, they would be enjoyed more father down her healing road.

And that’s how we came to decide to do a “pilot” trip instead. New Mexico was an easy flight from Georgia and Texas, and we had a wonderful and familiar place to stay.

And that’s how we came to learn about priority travel–the way we can travel when one person has less mobility than she’d like.

There’s priority parking.

Priority chairs on wheels a friend can push when walking a museum is not possible.

Priority gardens out the back door when the circumference of miles usually journeyed becomes feet.

Priority hiking of 70 steps out the front door to see our neighbors, the llamas.

Priority body care including hair cuts, facials, and today, massages.

A day short of a week into our trip, we still have half a tank of gas, most of that used driving from the Albuquerque airport to Taos.

Priority travel has been about listening. Slowing. Asking for assistance. Receiving help. Nearly unceasing prayer. And lots of laughter.

From Agnes Martin’s gallery at the High Museum:

Friendship. Perfect Day.

Sacred spaces

Today I had the gift of starting the day early (time zone difference!) doing FaceTime Live prayers. Usually I’m rushing into the office for prayers. Today I walked out to the casa garden to pray.

It’s a gift to gather with friends across the miles and hold those we love in prayer. Today the bells rang from a church down the street as we began our prayers.

Yesterday, on the way home from an outing, we passed by one of those tiny Roman Catholic churches that are so frequent in New Mexico. Another find only a few blocks from the casa. We stopped, hoping to go inside to pray. Sadly, as is so often the custom, the door was locked.

Sunday on the way to worship at St. James, a man in a tie dyed shirt had approached us as we were getting in our car. He asked us if this was where the overflow parking was for the Hanuman ashram.

Well. No it wasn’t, but it got us curious. After church, we googled “ashram near me,” and discovered there was a Hindu temple one block away. All the years we’ve come here, and I never knew.

We decided to make a stop at the ashram after the pause at the chapel of San Antonio de Padua. I was a bit uncomfortable going into such a strange place. How would people respond to us? What were the rules?

We drove through the gates and parked. It was quiet and peaceful. Yes, taking a breath. It’s more or like monasteries I’ve visited so very often. Of course I can go in.

Remembering to take off my shoes, we walked in. A woman was kneeling before Hanuman-ji chanting a prayer in a language I do not know accompanied by an instrument I did not recognize.

It is a holy place. After our own prayers, we went outside to watch a peahen and a peacock. Other members of the community joined us to watch delightedly with us. One was wafting incense before her. We were greeted with smiles.

As we left, a man was entering to pray. He removed his shoes, rang a bell hanging above the entrance, knelt to touch the threshold, and then reached to touch the transom.

I was thoughtful of the outward spiritual practices that are clearly stated as unequivocal.

Washing before entering the sacred space. Shoes off. Body postures. A meal offered everyday at noon to which all are welcome.

As I walked the path around the temple, two sticks had fallen on the path. In the position of a cross.

What holy, sacred thing is Christ speaking to me here?

Worships on the first day of the week

A gift when traveling on a Sunday is watching for opportunities to worship. For me, even as an introvert, worship always has to have a community piece.

That said, as someone who, even as a nonparochial priest, a Sunday without responsibilities is a rare gift.

So I had a slow morning. Coffee, cinnamon toast, and quiet time in front of the sunflower fireplace. Then off to Coffee Apothecary for public coffee. Okay. And second breakfast.

We met the owners of Coffee Apothecary right when the store first opened. They became among the first of those who received a gift to the charity of their choice for my 24 project—24 gifts of $100 in thankfulness of 24 years of ordained ministry. In talking to them about this gift, I had come out of the closet as a priest. From their response, I’m pretty sure they aren’t part of any worshipping community.

I pray for them every morning I am here (and others times, too). They have a true spiritual gift of hospitality and do such good work serving those who come into their shop.

I’m usually pretty open about saying some word of faith with folks I meet. Something, and I do believe it was the Spirit, gently held me back from telling them I’d prayed for them today. Too churchy. In not a good way. The faith part of our relationship is mainly with actions.

They remind me of so many good and fine people for whom Christianity is not particularly palatable.

We Christians have done this to ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about how much courage it takes to walk into a church for the first time. I’ve been thinking about how insider most churches are. I’ve been thinking about how the only way most folks who don’t have a church will ever have the courage to walk into a church is if someone they trust invites them to accompany them.

It’s why we must seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as Christ loves us.

It’s why we are going to have to reimagine how we are Church and how we do church.

After our visit with our coffee friends, my best friend and I went home to pray some more in our garden at the casa. An invitation had gone out from the Episcopal Church to ring a bell for 5 minutes at 3 PM EDT in remembrance of the arrival of the first slaves in what would become our country 400 years ago today. I knew my friends at St. Mary’s we’re doing so at 2 CDT, and so we joined them in silence (no bell to ring) at 1 MDT after praying prayers for midday.

At 5, we joined our neighbors at the local Episcopal Church for a Healing Service in the style of Taize.

I must say. Yes, I worship in unfamiliar places often, and yet I am always a bit anxious when I go to a new place. Yes. It even takes courage for me to go worship in a place for the first time.

Thankfully parking was clear. The music was lovely, and all the ends and outs of worship were clearly rubriced in the worship booklet. It was a gentle service.

I wondered. Would our coffee shop friends felt welcome? Comfortable? The beauty of the space and the carefully planned liturgy I think would have been holy for them. Still. How would they have even known to be there? It would have taken more relationship than we have for a trusted invite.

I’m wondering.

Oh. This is why people love summer.

For the past twenty five years or so, New Mexico has been a winter destination. Luminarias. Piñon fires. Watching snowflakes dance from the sky. Walks on crunchy snow paths. Cappacinos in front of the fireplace.

I’d forgotten how beautiful New Mexico is in the summer.

Instead of a fire, sunflowers.

A morning spent at the Farmer’s Market loving the sights, conversations, and buying food fresh from farms and bakeries for meals later.

A pleasant walk to visit our neighbors, the llamas.

Meals eaten, inside or outside? Outside, please.

Doors and windows. Open.

And flowers. Ah, the flowers! Everywhere.