And it’s still Lent

I have decided that we have been in a continuous Lent since Ash Wednesday 2020. It’s a continuous Lent in that we have been on a wilderness road for the past year—full of uncertainty, surprises, dangers. And full of unexpected joys, provision, and God’s ever presence.

As we liturgically observed a new Lent this past week, it was the first year in forty years that I have not received the imposition of ashes. Without water, internet, or electric power, I decided to create a new practice. For this wilderness year.

A palm cross left from some other year’s observance fell out of a basket as I was tidying up. I decided to burn it as I worshipped via a concert viewed on line from Holy Family HTX. This was my Ash Wednesday worship.

A new Lent.

This first Sunday in Lent I am sitting in an airport preparing to fly to Dallas to visit my mother. She turns 95 tomorrow, and I haven’t seen her since my birthday in September.

I joined the sisters of Our Lady of Grace for Vespers last night for my worship. How grateful I was for electricity, internet, and water, even if it had to be boiled first.

A new Lent.

I’ve got my office in a rolling bag, and I’ll try working from my mother’s house.

A new Lent.

Surprises. Unexpected joys. Provision. And always, God’s presence.

Are you alone?

Christmas Day Eucharist was always my favorite of the 12 Days of Christmas worship.

Entering the sacristy on a quiet morning. The church still full of the smell of incense from worship the night before. Celeste, the music director, and her family providing extraordinary music with at least three different instruments.

The people who came were always a mishmash of folks—some who had worked on Christmas Eve, people who wanted a quiet service, always a guest or two, and those alone for the day.

This year I’m one of those alone for the day.

I had planned to travel Christmas morning to Chambersville to be with my family. My vision isn’t great right now (cataract surgery in January!) so flying felt like the safest way to get there. My daughter was picking me up at the airport (masks on! windows open!). I couldn’t wait to be with my family (masked! outside whenever possible!). But I did the math (circles from pods! ages of us folk!) and listened to the beseeching of our mayor (please only be with your immediate family!).

Twelve hours or so before I was to depart, I cancelled my plane ticket.

Overcome with sadness, a kitchen full of baked goods and presents to be delivered in person, how was I going to do Christmas? Alone?

Granted, this is not my first Christmas alone. For the past twenty five years, Christmas Day was a work day, and family gatherings were usually scheduled for other times. Frankly, on a number of years, I was so tired from the Christmas worship marathon that napping like the baby Jesus in the manger was the most delicious way to spend Christmas Day. But this year, like so many of us, the feast I want was personal touch—being WITH people I love.

As I have done so many times this past nine months, I began to pirouette. If not this, where is the invitation?

Christmas Eve, I joined a friend for Instagram worship, lighting every candle in my house as I listened. Then my Bend family FaceTimed with me before and after I joined them via online worship at their church.

Still, I was so so very very sad when I woke up on Christmas morning. I texted with one friend and another and then got dressed and went to Eucharist at the Cathedral ( reserved seats! many feet apart! masked! no singing!)

As I entered, the usher who was to seat me in a safe place, asked, “One?”, and I heard, “Alone?”

The liturgy began with words I knew by heart. I began to cry, gently. Grief, yes, but also in delight at the beauty of the space, gratefulness for how much more I had than I didn’t have, and just the abundance of doing the best thing one could do on Christmas Day—adore Jesus.

Today is the second day of Christmas. I’m still a little sad. I’m still a little lonely. I’ll box up the presents I was going to hand deliver and mail to my dear family in north Texas. I’m going to drop by some folks’ homes that might enjoy some of the Christmas treats I had made to share with my family.

2020 is the year we all were invited to become prima and primo ballerinas and ballerinos as we mastered pirouetting. Yes, we lost a lot. As for me, in the midst of so much loss, I can see a longer list of what I am gaining as I, we, learn new dance steps.

And I am not alone.

We are not alone.

And then. Waiting.

Have you noticed, that when people fly, there is so much hurrying?

Hurrying through security to put your bag on the X-ray machine. Hurrying to the gate. Hurrying to get in line to board and to quickly stow your bag in the overhead bin. Hurrying to depart. Hurrying. Hurrying. Hurrying.

Except each of those hurryings are usually followed by a pause.

Hurrying through security, bag quickly and urgently placed on the X-ray machine belt, then waiting on the other side.

Hurrying to the gate, and then waiting in an uncomfortable seat, hopefully with an outlet near by to charge a device whose power has depleted in the time passed from home to gate.

Hurrying to board and stash a bag, and impatient with whose who find boarding and getting settled complicated and then sitting and waiting for the doors to close. And then waiting for one thing or another to be tended to before finally departing.

At the destination, hurrying to get your bag from the overhead bin and then waiting in line to deplane and maybe waiting some more at baggage claim and then waiting yet again for whatever your ground transportation is for this trip.

All that hurrying. All that waiting.

Today, as I boarded my plane from Redmond to San Francisco (one of thirteen passageners—Coronatide), I noticed that we were all moving more slowly. At check in. At security. At the gate. People were nodding at one another and even exchanging quiet pleasantries. There just wasn that much hurrying (okay, except for the woman on the plane who realized she’d left her devices at the charging station at the gate and did rush to deboard to retrieve them).

I write this as I wait for my plane to be deiced so we can take off. The plane is quiet. The sun is rising. It’s Advent. Are we learning to not hurry so much? To rest in the wait?

This entire blog. Written in the waiting.

Third Monday in Advent blessings.

Unexpected waiting

I have tried to be extraordinarily careful in the pandemic. I know keeping myself safe is the best way to keep others safe.

So this trip to Bend to see my grandsons is being taken after great thought and prayer. Jonas turns eight (!) on Tuesday which is how this week got on the vacation calendar. But part two is that as the pandemic lingered, I told my daughter in law that I would come over and help with school. This is the week for me to use my Master’s Degree in Education—and hang out with the boys so that Jacob and Lisa can have some time for the two of them.

The tricker part is that the only practical way for me to get to Oregon is to fly. Even in non-pandemic times flying north is fraught with challenges.

Today did not disappoint. Up at 4.00 AM to catch my 7.20 flight, things went smoothly until 7.30. A computer problem resulted in a turn around and return to the terminal. And then we had to deplane so they could find us another plane. And when they found us a plane, they had to do their super duper Covid cleaning. And then they had to wait for the plane to be catered. And then they had to move our luggage to the new plane. And then we had to all get back on the plane for our not on time departure of 10.15 AM.

This is not my first plane flight so I had built in extra connection time— but not enough. That is why I’m getting to spend the first Saturday in Advent waiting in Denver. Eight hours until another flight departs for Bend.

I don’t know if it’s because the pandemic has gotten all of us expecting the unexpected but usually when there’s this kind of delay folks get cranky. But people were kind. People were like—it’s 2020—why not?

Now I’m settled in the United lounge for the waiting. I’m thankful for the pass that gave me free entry. As much as I wish I were with my family on Bend, it’s not a bad thing to have to spend time waiting.

It is Advent. I have music, knitting, reading material and snacks galore near at hand.

And it’s Advent. 2020. After all.

Public Reading of the Gospel according to St. Mark

Saturday, November 28, is New Years Eve.

At least as far as the liturgical year is concerned.

Yay! Ending of Year A. Woo Hoo to the beginning of Year B. Finally.

In the parish where I served, for a number of years, we had a custom of reading aloud, in community, the primary Gospel to be read in the new liturgical year. Early days in the new year, we’d gather in the nave, seated in a circle around the altar, and take turns reading through the gospel, chapter by chapter.

It was usually a dozen or so of us. A family might bring their children, an older couple might come. Clergy, Junior Daughters of the King, random folks.

We’d light some candles, begin with Evening Prayer, and the entire Gospel was our Scripture reading.

I’ve been remembering the gift those readings were, especially since Scripture was written to be read aloud, and in community.

At sunset on Saturday night, a new year begins. I have this wild idea, in this year like no other, to create a zoom event for the public reading of the Gospel of Mark.

If you’d like to join me at 6pm on Saturday night to welcome the new year with reading scripture in community, and closing with compline, contact me, and I’ll send you the zoom link.

In the meantime, New Year’s blessings.

In foreign lands

It was a day in California. Shelley’s visitation. Shelley’s funeral. Shelley’s burial. Shelley’s reception.

This was the most people I’d been with since March. It felt like I was in a land far, far away. Too many people were not wearing masks or wearing them over their mouths only. It was impossible for me to be as safe as I feel at home, though I did my best in case I’d brought germs from Texas. But it was a good reality check of why the pandemic is continuing to spread. Especially in settings of grief.

My therapist had reminded me that in the midst of being responsible for officiating at the funeral that I was grieving, too. After the reception, I had several hours until my flight left. It was time for me to grieve.

I thought of the ways I could spend the open time. Since I was only twenty minutes from the border, I decided to drive to Mexico to see the “beautiful” wall.

Well. I didn’t actually go into Mexico. I was a little concerned about some glitch that might not get me back into the US in time for my flight. But I drove along the border and saw all the ways we’ve made sure that those we don’t want to enter are kept out.

My best photos of that not beautiful at all wall were from the parking lot of the outlet mall that backs up to Mexico. Yet another strange land on this unusual day.

I am now in the midst of the two flight long home that includes a three hour layover in between (last minute plans have limited options). I have more space to sit and ponder.

It was good to have time to be with my California cousins. I had fine conversations with all sorts of folks about life and death and God. I listened a lot. I loved the San Diego weather experienced from the hill top of my cousin’s home.

I was particularly aware of the cloud of witnesses surrounding us in this mourner’s land. As I prayed before the service, I could feel the prayerful presence of relatives who I love so dearly that have welcomed Shelley home. Dear ones like Uncle Jamie and Aunt Frances, her grandparents; my dad, her great uncle; and Grandma Blanche, her great grandma.

As God would have it, part of Grandma Blanche’s farm is still in my family. We rent our portion out to be farmed, and the rent check came in a week or so ago. My mom generously offered to pay my brothers’ and my way to the funeral and to treat the whole family to dinner in California. I loved thinking that Grandma Blanche was taking care of her family, and of the great granddaughter she was meeting for the first time in heaven.

I did have to wonder how Grandma Blanche, a devout Southern Baptist, felt about treating us to margaritas and beers with our dinner.

I can’t help but think about the hospitality that thrives in heaven. No walls for sure. Welcoming arms. And I suspect toasts abound.

After all, scripture tells us that crying and tears of sorrow are not to be found in heaven.

From Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away….God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Tears, mourning, and death are for us who are still traveling in this foreign land.

Leaving the Pod

I’ve been very careful since the pandemic began. Masking, social distancing, washing hands, rarely leaving my home. Except for one Sunday when I was one of three persons at a live-stream worship, I’ve worshiped via the Internet. I haven’t received communion since Lent, 2020.

But today I am in a motel in San Diego, California. My 28 year old cousin died unexpectedly, and I have come to be with my family and to officiate at the burial. We’ll be outside and masked, but this is another pandemic first for me.

I know that funerals can be hot spots, and I will do every safe practice I can. But when I heard the news, I knew this was what God would have me do.

I won’t say I’m not a bit anxious. I am. A good part of my job this past six months has been helping churches plan how to gather safely. I know the challenges.

I’m also grieving. New grief on top of all of the other grief that my heart has been carrying. Like so very many of us this Coronatide.

This morning while I was on the plane to San Diego, a sermon I preached and recorded Friday before I left, live-streamed during worship at Grace Episcopal, Houston. It was a stewardship sermon about how we live our lives loving God and loving our neighbor.

So I’ve left my pod for two days, and then I’ll return to my pod again. But today and tomorrow I’ll be loving God and loving neighbors in California.

M

The Bells Toll

Almost everyday at 4.15, I stop whatever I’m doing, put in my ear buds, and log into Facebook.

The sisters of Our Lady of Grace, Beech Grove, Indiana, livestream their evening prayers. They began inviting us to join them early in the pandemic, and it has become my Coronatide worship.

Those that have had the gift of worshipping with the Sisters know the Benedictine rhythm of evening prayer —opening words, a hymn, a slow chanting of Psalms, a scripture, silence, Gospel antiphon, singing of the Magnificat, Gospel antiphon, intercessory prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, a blessing, the closing words, and then a soft bell to let us know that prayers are over. You can tell I’ve done this a few times to know the liturgical drill.

Except a few weeks ago they added more bells. Rung with purpose. With an exclamation mark of sound. Before the gentle bell at the end.

When coronavirus deaths began mounting in Indiana, the Sisters decided to end their evening prayers by ringing one bell to remember each person from Indiana who had died from COVID-19 that day. They did it to honor each Hoosier (their words) who was no longer with us because of the pandemic.

I have to admit. Sometimes I want to skip out early. It’s hard to hear those bells. To count them. To know the grief associated with each bell. And to know that if we had better health care in our country, for all people, and if we’d had had a thoughtful national plan for fighting the coronavirus in the spring, that there would most likely be fewer bells rung each evening at the Monastery. Maybe there would be nights when the bells didn’t ring. Maybe we’d whoop an Alleluia! instead.

The fewest bells rung on an evening that I’ve been with the Sisters is 4. The most is 29. Each bell is a grief-filled prayer.

In Texas, where I live, ringing daily bells to remember Texans that have died from Covid-19 would take a long, long time. Much longer than those Hoosier bells.

In America, ringing daily bells to remember all of our brother and sister Americans who died from the pandemic—would the bells ever stop?

And if we rang one tone of bell for people of color who had died? Or for the death of people without insurance? Or people who died alone? Would we begin to appreciate how much we must change and how deep our sorrow is?

Yesterday, 1,164 Americans died from COVID-19. That we know of. By the Sisters bell ringing rate, we’d be ringing bells for 95 minutes.

Today, in Texas, 189 people died from COVID-19. We’d ring the bells for 16 minutes.

And in Houston, where I live? 18 people died today. The number of bells we would ring in my city would be more than than the number of Hoosier death bells I heard at prayers tonight from the Monastery.

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The Lord Almighty grant is a peaceful night and a perfect end.

AMEN

May the Divine Assistance be always with us and with our absent sisters and brothers.

AMEN

No words

This is the third blog I’ve begun in as many days. The past two have gone into the draft folder:

A white lady of privilege. Wearing a mask in Ascensiontide.

Sunday night I joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace for their Taize worship vía Facebook Live with prayers for healing. I lit candles.

I sat quietly praying with the Sisters, and as they sang I began to sob. Sobs from the depths of my spirit.

I had not wept that deeply since an afternoon years ago many weeks after my dad had died. As it does, unexpectedly when we think all is well, grief hit, and I sat on the stairs of my home and cried with tears too deep for words.

There are no words to express the sorrow, the grief, the anger, the loss of these days.

I can pray, adapting this litany of peace from the Archdiocese of Dublin by Kevin Pearson

A litany for those without words

When peace is fragile, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When tempers are raised, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When atrocities occur, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When talks break down, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When agreements are broken, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When darkness weighs upon us, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When we cannot see you, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When hope seems faint, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When faith seems difficult, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit, so that we can breathe.
Receive all who have died, particularly from disease, especially the disease of violence, so that we can breathe.
Comfort their families and communities, so that we can breathe.
Chasten the violent, so that we can breathe.
Champion authentic leadership, so that we can breathe.
Renew the peace of our cities, so that we can breathe.
Come Holy Spirit and breathe new life into our ailing world. Amen

In the silence, may we listen for how we are to be the answer to this prayer.

It is wellish with my soul

I’ll admit. My Lenten disciplines didn’t play out the way I’d planned. I didn’t get very far in the book I’d planned to read everyday. I didn’t do my daily prayer walk. I did pretty well fasting from unkind words. Mostly. The almsgiving was actually the star of Lent with endless new opportunities to offer my tithe.

So now it’s day two in the 50 Days of Eastertide. I’m not sure what day it is is the season of coronaboundtide. Still I am thankful for the reworked words of St. Benedict, Everyday we begin again.

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent, I prepared for Easter.

I mixed together whole wheat flour and filtered water in a glass bowl. I had decided to create my own sourdough starter.

I filled a whiskey barrel with dried leaves, packing peanuts made from corn (thank you Rebecca Wood), and potting soil.

On the Sunday of the Resurrection I made a flower garden with my morning coffee.

The first worship of the day was with the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace. The schola sang words of the resurrection gospel from Luke of women and fear and spices and bowing faces to the ground and being perplexed and remembering his words and idle tale and my soul was lifted. Later I listened to a wise sermon from our bishop. And even later I worshipped with my Bend family and their church beautifully named New Hope. Imagine—worship in Indiana, Texas, and Oregon. It was like Jesus appearing through locked doors to the disciples.

Between worship, I planted seeds in my new driveway garden. Job’s Tears. Sunflowers.

The miracle of wild yeast had begun to transform the whole wheat flour and water into something new. Now full of life and bubbles, I began the process of throwing a bit of the starter away each day, and feeding it new flour and water (there’s science and best practices that explain why some of the living starter has to be removed and disposed of before it can be fed again). It will be a twice a day process until the starter is ready to be used.

On this Easter Monday, the starter I fed last night has grown twice it’s size and is now waiting for its morning discard and feeding.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The wild yeast, too.