On the second day of Christmas

One of the gifts of being an Episcopalian is that Christmas lasts twelve days. In planning this trip to see my Bend family, I had all sorts of ideas of ways to celebrate each day.

At the beginning of Advent, I sent my grandboys a homemade Advent calendar, of sorts, with a card to open each day. In each envelope, there was a small card with a food item and a Bible verse. The first envelope had a one hundred bill to buy the food items. The plan was to buy the groceries during my Christmas visit and deliver them to someone who might be hungry.

Today, the second day of Christmas, was the day. My daughter-in-law suggested a local agency that serves those without homes called the Bethlehem Inn (how appropriate is that?). On their website, they had a list of items they actually needed so that became our revised list.

As we had made our plan on how to celebrate the second day of Christmas, the boys talked about sharing God’s love, and we decided to do something for someone else before we did something for ourselves.

We shopped the local Fred Meyer, and the boys used their $100 to buy two $50 gift cards. I matched their gift by purchasing the items on the list. The boys chose which specific meat, cheese, butter, cereal, paper goods and other items we would buy (the ones they would want for themselves) for our friends at Bethlehem Inn.

A quick stop at Starbucks for some personal provisions, and then we were off to the Inn.

Our outing was capped off with a trip to see the new Spiderman movie. One of the gifts of being a grandma is seeing movies I’d never choose to see myself–and enjoying myself immensely.

The second day of celebrating Jesus’ birth was full of joy. Jesus’ love shared. Given and received.

Feast of the Incarnation by a different (snowy) Way

It is my first Christmas in over two decades to have no priestly Christmas responsibility. It’s a whirlwind of change as I move to a brand new place (in every sense). The other night my grandson, Austin, read from his Bible the story of Abram and Sarai traveling from their familiar home to the home God had yet to show them. It feels like I am walking with them.

Instead of writing a sermon, I made Christmas cookies with the grandboys.

We went to church early afternoon, and I sang Silent Night with my candlelit family. As we walked out of worship, the world was wrapped in snow.

Christmas Eve was celebrated with my ex-husband and his family. I was warmly welcomed. That evening ended with singing happy birthday to baby Jesus.

All of the joy is underlaced with sadness. I missed walking up the farolita-lit walk to the Eve of the Incarnation at St. Mary’s. I missed the spiritual anchor of being immersed in the preparation and celebration of liturgy. I am on a new way.

On this morning of the Incarnation, my communion bread was cinnamon rolls made by my son. My grandson was the deacon as he read the Christmas gospel as our breakfast blessing. The congregation was my Bend family joined by their cat.

In the steps of the Wise Ones in Matthew’s Gospel, it is home by a different way. Filled with the love of Christ. Finding new ways to share that love.

Traveling to home

I have been spending most of this season of Advent looking for a new home.

As my time as rector of St. Mary’s has come to an end, the Rectory needs to be readied for someone new.  In this time of transition, I have generously and graciously been allowed to live in the Rectory.  But I know that it is quickly becoming no longer my home.

Since my new office will be downtown, I’ve been searching with my realtor for a place closer into town. I have been surprised how exhausting it’s been–not the Sabbath I expected December to be.  You see, the story I’d made up in my head was that God had a fabulous new place already prepared for me (which I still believe is true) and that the process would go much more quickly and easily.  Now why in the world did I think this pilgrimage would be different than all of the others of my life?

My new job with the Diocese will be ever so much more different than being a rector of a parish.  I’m imagining the kind of home that will fit my new way of life.  I first had to decide whether to rent or buy.  Since I’ve been in packing and moving mode for the last two years, I’m ready to pack one last time and unpack for a good long while.  I’m going to buy and abide.

Part of the challenge of becoming set on my new home is that I’ve spent the last two years reimagining the Rectory and that house, after two renovations in two years, thanks to flood water, is as close to perfect, for me, as any place I’ve ever lived.  Oh yes.  Except that it is prone to flooding.

I’ve had to decide what is essential in my new home, and what I can do without.  As I’ve driven from place to place, walked up and down stairs and opened doors, this has changed.

I’m also aware that any change involves grief.  It also involves trust.

And so I’ll sing the O Antiphon for this 19th day of December:

O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

Today I’ll rejoice that I have a home.

Today I’ll rejoice that I have the resources (money, friends, wise counselors) to find a new home.

I’ll remember what Immanuel means…God is with us.

I’ll remember what Israel means…..God prevails.

Gracious!  Holy Immanuel and Holy Israel.  The Advent unexpected pilgrimage continues.  God with.  God prevailing.

Using what we have to create something new

I missed sharing the beginning of Advent with my St. Mary’s family. With the ear of my heart, I heard the music of the community. With the eyes of my heart, I saw the nearly bare manger and the new Advent wreath. As are so many things this year, it was bitter sweet.

I decided to create something new from things I already have. I had seen the idea of a living Advent wreath planted with succulents. I mulled the idea around in my head and used what was available to make my own.

I emptied a pot from outside (carefully moving the plants that were already in it). I gathered small live plants from around the house for the greenery:

A small plant that I’ve kept alive for probably nearly three decades. It came from a piece that broke off and was left behind on the floor of our car. The plant was a gift from my then husband and me to our sister-in-law as a thank you for hosting Thanksgiving.

A jade plant that has grown from a small branch that had fallen on the floor of an Episcopal Church in Washington. I had attended worship there on an early weekday morning during a long ago vacation. Later that day my traveling friend and I would receive the news that her mother-in-law had died. I almost lost the plant in the Tax Day Flood, but was able to nurse it back to health.

Two plants from an arrangement given to me by my son and daughter-in-law to thank me for caring for my newborn grandson, Jonas.

A new plant, given by a dear St. Mary’s parishioner, as a goodbye gift.

After Christmas, I’ll remove the candles and hope to keep this arrangement of plants alive until next year. It will be one of the items that will move into my not yet found new home. In the year ahead, if one or another of the plant dies, I know there will be something new that can grow in that no longer empty spot.

A good beginning

Advent at the Monastery began with Saturday night Vespers. One blue candle was lit, and we began to pray.

It is now the morning of the first Sunday of the new Church year. I walked in the dark and the rain to the Monastery from the guest house for coffee and silence before Matins and then Eucharist.

My first spoken words this morning will be words of praise to God. After worship our silence will be over.

The #Adventword for this day is journey.

It has been good. It is good. It will be good.

From a silent retreat

Now the silence.

Now the peace.

Now the empty hands uplifted.

From a hymn by Jaroslav J. Vajda

On a silent retreat words spoken aloud are in the context of worship and spiritual direction.

For an introvert like me this is not that big a challenge. Of course when I include silence from social media, that becomes my stretching place.

The spiritual practice of silence doesn’t stop the chatter and foolishness in my head. That’s why fasting from all but spoken holy words is essential. Surrounding myself with words that are windows and doorways into God is an opportunity to shape the murmurings in my mind into words that are more compassionate, full of loving kindness, and appreciative joy.

Off to Diurnum (noonday prayers). Time to get another mind full of the. holy.

Traveling towards Advent

Since I spent my final Sunday as rector of St. Mary’s, it’s been a whirlwind of change and last things. As I worked on my transition plan, I knew I had a gift of an empty Sunday on the first day of Advent, when the Church celebrates a new year. I decided to go on a silent retreat with the sisters of St. Helena in Augusta, Georgia.

The podcasts and devotionals that have begun my mornings have been full of words about beginnings and endings. I feel a gift of opportunity in this time as I move from one part of my life to another.

There’s no direct flight to Augusta, so a friend offered to meet me in Atlanta and drive me to the Monastery. We went via one of my favorite towns, Athens, with time for coffee, a movie, a visit to a favorite potter, and a couple of great meals.

We walked into town for breakfast this morning. The need for silence was coming upon me, and my friend was wanting to visit a museum. As God would have it, my friend saw a notice for mindfulness meditation at the Georgia Museum of Art. Starting in twenty-five minutes.

We power-walked back to the hotel for the car and drove to the museum with five minutes to spare. Nothing like rushing to be still for meditation.

Inside the museum, we walked to a small gallery. We sat on folding stools and cushions with a group of people while a professor led us in an hour of meditation. For part of the time, we were invited to continue our meditative practice as we gazed at the art on the walls surrounding us.

The room where we sat in stillness was an exhibit of works created by Ted Kincaid called “Even if I Lose Everything.” On the walls were his digital images of clouds.

Using words like compassion, loving kindness, and appreciative joy, we meditated sitting, and then we stood or sat in front of the art and joined what we saw with the silence within.

The blues of the paintings and the intentional mindfulness was an unexpected beginning for my Advent retreat.

Now arrived at the Monastery, the silence begins.

What God Has in Store

When I was called as rector of St. Mary’s, I committed to stay for at least three years.

Each year since, I’ve intentionally prayed about whether or not I was still called to serve as rector.

I had some opportunities to test that call–three times candidate for bishop, invitations to serve in other rector search processes, a couple of invitations to consider whether or not to serve on the diocesan staff.  I’ve even asked God if it’s time to retire.

Each testing of the call was another yes for St. Mary’s.

For twenty one years God has said yes to my call to St. Mary’s.  Few rectors receive the gift of a long pastorate.

Last spring I was at the Diocesan Center at a meeting, and I thought about how very grateful I was to be serving at St. Mary’s.  I recalled the times I’d wondered about serving on the Diocesan staff, and was thankful that God had kept me in the center of St. Mary’s parish life.

I should have known.

Later that week I was invited to be part of discernment for the position of  Missioner for Congregational Vitality.  I have to admit.  It was lovely to be wanted and to have my gifts affirmed by people I respected.  However, almost immediately, it appeared that door closed as the diocese decided to look in some wider circles.

I was thankful to have my call to St. Mary’s be another yes.  I was grateful after all of the moves of the past two years because of a twice flooded rectory to settle in and be present with the people I love in a house that feels like a gift everyday.

I couldn’t have been more surprised (really!) when late this summer, returning from my mini-Sabbatical, I was asked to be the Missioner for Congregational Vitality.  I hadn’t applied.  I hadn’t sought it out.  I was simply called.

I went through one of the most difficult months of discernment of my life.  I met with my therapist and spiritual director.   I sought the counsel and prayer of trusted friends.

I grieved deeply, deeply the thought of leaving the parish I have loved and called home for the past twenty-one years.

Frankly, the thought of moving yet again felt daunting beyond measure.

God and I had a lot of long, heart-wrenching talks.

And then, there it was.  The peace where I knew what my next call was.

When I was about ten years old, I heard my first call to ministry.   God spoke in my spirit and told me that I was called to be a missionary.

That call has shaped deeply who I was as a lay person and as I am as a priest.

It is not lost on me that God has now called me to actually have that title, more or less, as Missioner for Congregational Vitality.

My heart breaks to leave St. Mary’s.

There were things I thought I was called to do at St. Mary’s that will not be complete–building a labyrinth and leading a capital funds mission to renovate our aging campus.  I did not achieve the goal for which I had hoped and prayed–for our whole parish’s commitment to sharing all of the gifts God has given us; there are still friends who live out of a theology of scarcity.  We are still revisioning our ministry with children, youth, and young families.  As I write this, I am not sure what our discernment will be about same gender marriage.

And then there are the precious, precious people of St. Mary’s.  There are no words, only tears.

And yet joy–at a God who continues to surprise.

This weekend I will make public my next call–knowing that my new call gives St. Mary’s a new call, too.

May we all be blessed.

Art pictured in this blog are photos I took on my trip last week to Chrystal Bridges Museum and Bentonville, Arkansas.  

Broken beautiful things

In Little Rock, I happened upon an extraordinary exhibit, A Piece of my Soul. It contained quilts created by black women of Arkansas. In a room with walls covered in quilts made from leftover pieces of fabric, I sat on a repurposed church pew and watched a video of black women telling how sewing quilts had been a means to share and transform their lives.

Although the quilt tops were made by individuals, they were finished by groups of women who quilted them in community, continuing their story telling as they completed the quilt.

The women interviewed recounted a time when their people were too poor to buy ready made quilts, and so they used bits of fabric they had on hand to create something beautiful to keep their loved ones warm.

I was particularly moved by these women and their quilts made from what others might discard or thought waste because of a poem I had read that very morning. It was I Will Keep Broken Things by Alice Walker. Among the lines of the poem were these:

I will keep 
In my house 

On which 
I will 

Their beauty 

A quilt that most held my attention was a pattern called Broken Dishes. It was finished by
Dorothy Lambert White in the 1950’s. Scraps of color as pieces of discarded pottery: the art of the quilt was full of life and joy and order in what could have been chaos and disappointment.

This is what God does. Takes the broken bits and the scraps of our lives. Fits them together with love and forgiveness. Finishes them through the love of community. Creates beauty and comfort. Through it all tells the stories of the deepest parts of our souls.