A priest. Again.

The last time I celebrated Holy Eucharist was at a Wednesday Eucharist in the Diocesan chapel in Houston during Lent, 2020. Two days later the office closed because of the pandemic, and we moved home to work.

For a couple of weeks. Ha.

This third Sunday of Easter, 2021, I will celebrate the Eucharist at St. Paul’s in Navasota, Texas.

Once ordained a priest, always a priest (unless renouncing my vows or being deposed). However, this is the weekend I begin doing priestly things. Again.

First I will travel to Camp Allen on Saturday afternoon to teach at Iona School for Ministry. It will be my first time to teach in person since 2020. As God would have it, I am teaching a class on Reconciliation of a Penitent.

After I preach and celebrate and meet with the Vestry at St. Paul’s, I will return to Camp Allen to meet with the Small Church network on Sunday and Monday. A few members of my team will be leading congregational leaders of churches with less than 75 members to process what they’ve learned during the pandemic and how they can apply that to what God is leading them to do next.

It will be my first time to be part of leading an in-person retreat in over a year.

After thirteen months of driving almost nowhere, I’ll be back in my office on wheels—also called my Prius. Doing prayer and lectio divina on the Diocesan roads.

But first I have to finish my sermon for tomorrow and my PowerPoint for tonight. And ponder again what it really means to be a priest.

carbonated holiness

Anne Lamott says that laughter is carbonated holiness. These past four days have been bubbling grace. Topo Chico, club soda, and Mountain Valley. I feel covered in sparkling water as I return to work tomorrow. In a good way.

Everyday was a new museum exhibit.

Afternoons praying with the Sisters of our Lady of Grace.

Knitting. Reading. Chit chatting. Walking.

And yes. So much laughter.

In the already, still and not yet of the beginning of the second year of the pandemic, I am grateful, so grateful, for this masked, socially distanced, vaccinated opportunity to travel. I yearn it for others as well.

Four days of contemplating art and craft created by all sorts of others was an immersion into the presence of the Creator who began it all. And then when laughter was so often a part, too, that is Holy.

Back where it ended

My best friend and I have been traveling together since 1992. Even when she moved to Georgia in 2003, we still were able to go on trips together, usually at least once every season.

Not imagining that the country was about to close due to the pandemic a year ago, we had decided to take what we call “a lark” to one of our favorite museums, Crystal Bridges, in Bentonville, Arkansas. We wanted to view an exhibit, All Things Being Equal, which featured the art of Hank Willis Thomas. It was a deep exploration of the African American experience.

Little did we know that it would be our last trip together for a year. Little did we know how the exhibit would inform what would unfold in the months ahead as the pandemic deeply exposed the even more serious divides of color, economics, and access in our country.

So many times as my friend and I moved through the year cancelling trips planned together and others to visit family, we would be ever so thankful for that quickly planned and taken trip in February, 2020.

Newly vaccinated, one year later, we booked our first trip together for a new exhibit at Crystal Bridges, Crafting America. This exhibit celebrates the stories told through that which we create with our hands.

The exhibit features craft by people who are both native to our country and who immigrated from a variety of countries for a variety of reasons.

One piece that gave me pause was a chest of drawers created by Gentaro Kenneth Hikogawa, a man imprisoned in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. Needing a place for storage in that prison, he used scrap lumber and packing crates to create something of great beauty. It now sits in a museum and tells a story.

Another part of the exhibit displayed “beaded prayers.” For the past twenty years, Sonya Clark has invited others of all ages to create prayers from scraps and beads to express grief, hopes, and dreams. Over 5000 people from thirty countries have crafted duo prayers—one to keep and one to join the communal artwork.

The exhibit covered four walls, and the room shimmered with holiness when I entered. Each little creation had a story from the depth of a person’s heart.

We may think of crafts as being second to art. The exhibit reminded us that the root of the word craft means “strength” or “power.” In this year that has passed, so many times I have had no words for the depths of my feelings. This exhibit reminded me that there are many ways to express thoughts and feelings through hand work.

From baking bread to cleaning dusty blinds to hand written letters to songs sung to paths walked.

We can find strength. We can find power.

Thanks. Be. To. God.

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