Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Three...

... and suddenly I can't wait for Advent Four. The semester ends on Friday, with two large papers due. One in Greek and one in History of Christianity, and both fighting hard to make themselves difficult to finish. The weather is conspiring in my desire to hole up inside with my immense pile of books and my computer by being dark and rather gloomy, but today is the day I am out nearly all day. I start with a meeting at 9:00 this morning and have classes that run until 9:00 tonight. Perhaps the weather will oblige and hang around for the rest of the week so I can curl up with a pot of tea and a blanket while I finish whipping these papers into shape. My goal is to have all but the final touches done by Thursday morning, but since each has already managed to change themselves entirely at least once already I am feeling a bit discouraged about that timing.

With the end of the semester looming, suddenly so is Christmas. Being in seminary has certainly forced me to focus on the preparation and waiting aspects of Advent this year, but I almost feel as if I am missing out. I have watched decorations going up all around me and not done anything here. Finally this weekend we broke down and brought up our boxes of Christmas, and I spent an evening merrily unpacking, making a few repairs, and flinging stuff onto a shelf for later distribution. But our mistletoe is up (careful, you might hit your head on it) and looking festive; the nativity is prepared (all the figures are scattered to the four winds until it is the appropriate time to show up); and All Souls' mice have taken over the china hutch (with a surprise popping out of a nearby basket). There is still so much I want to do, but in a cozy space there isn't a whole lot that can be done until I have time to finish straightening the bookshelves and have made nooks and crannies for our other beloved decorations to adorn. Not to mention the tree debate. We'll have one, but where do we put it and how big (small) will it be?

So while I continue to wrestle deeply with Julian of Norwich and John 14, Christmas is sneaking on to the scene to distract me with anticipation of relief and celebration. It is all about the balance, and not forgetting the sparkles of joy in the midst of the work.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Advent and Counting

Two weeks left. In some cases only one class meeting remains, though for others there will be more. Even as I am deep in the heart of writing my final papers I seek to stay open to the small voice of God in my heart, living into the Advent season of preparation. It is all too appropriate to be hearing about "Last Things" in the Sunday readings as this first semester of seminary ends and I wonder how insane I must have been to select the independent research paper option for my History of Christianity final... but even there, as I stumble through piles of books and challenge myself deciphering the original Middle English of Julian of Norwich, there is a sense of peace and knowing that I am here at this time and in this place for a purpose.

It is all too easy to focus only on class readings, to sink myself into the academic world I know so well and am so comfortable in, but my challenge to myself as I approached seminary was to be open to the formation that this experience brings to me. To allow myself to be challenged and changed by what I encountered within the community and within the readings. In preparing my final paper for Anglican Traditions and Life I am seeing a small part of the fruit of this awareness. We are reading and discussing the current church (many readings on all sides of the current debates/issues), and I find that I am truly struggling to remain even remotely objective while reading the Jerusalem Declaration and other GAFCON documents. I find that there is a place in me that becomes defensive, that physically hurts, reading some of the words that the conservative side of the spectrum are speaking.

Unlike many of my classmates I have been on both sides of this issue, and have been deeply wounded as it has played out within my own diocese. I have lost the church I knew as home for the majority of my life and have been cast out of that same fellowship for having the audacity to question why it was wrong for me to feel that God was calling me, a female, to serve in a way that meant being set apart and consecrated to God's service. Not only am I rejecting the idea that was planted in me from childhood that as a female I am inferior and unworthy to approach God, I am seeking healing for the relationship between God and all people; I am choosing to believe that God loves all of creation and has a merciful and loving heart that aches to embrace everyone. I am refusing to step into God's place by judging whether or not a person is being faithful to the unique life God has called them to live. My parents and I have been informed that we are no longer welcome to even socialize with the parish that, deep in my heart, was still home even as I made a new home in a new parish.

As I read the documents that my childhood parish supports, I find myself grieving again for the loss of that family and the closing of the door in my face even as I had hoped for reconciliation and peace. But I also know that by the very fact that God is continuing to call me further along this path of dedicated service I cannot go back to the days when I truly belonged within that family; I am called to journey onward even as I must embrace the endings that journey brings.

So I struggle with this last paper for Anglican Traditions and Life, letting myself grieve for the past while wading ever deeper into the hope for the future and being formed not only by my experiences but also by my own reactions to the reality of the now. And I am leaning harder than ever into the awkward spaces of praying for my childhood parish family even in the face of rejection, and seeking the loving embrace of God where all hurts are transformed into grace and all sorrow to joy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Begins...

... And so does the frantic feeling of the winding up of the semester, which officially ends December 16. With three major papers, a synthesis project, and several smaller reflections due throughout, I am suddenly very aware of the passing of time and how fast this first semester is moving to a close.

I am watching the leaves on the Japanese Maple outside of my window toss in the wind this morning as we are in the midst of wind advisories and a rather strong Santa Ana condition, and feeling quite thankful that it waited until we were back here before it arrived. We had a lovely visit to my parents for Thanksgiving, which was delightful and provided me a much-needed break from paper writing, Greek translating, and general nose-in-book syndrome. We visited All Souls' for the Thanksgiving day service and enjoyed catching up with friends and church family before settling down at my parents house for a quiet feast.

There is so much to be thankful for this year, not the least of which is even being in seminary at all and having this chance to live into the place where God is calling me to be and to serve. If you had asked me last Thanksgiving if I could see myself here in a year's time I probably would have looked at you quizzically and laughed. But when God decides that it is high time something happens, well... just hang on and follow faithfully.

I want to participate in a question that was brought up on another blog: Dream Life Wellness Studio. Lori-Lyn is looking back over 2011 and celebrating it over the next month. Today's prompt really struck me:

Loving 2011: Day One - What surprised you this year and what gift did you find in that surprise?

What surprised me most is the redemption of sorrow and fear that has come out of this year. My husband officially lost his job January 1, 2011. I was only working part time and earning just slightly above minimum wage, and he struggled to know how to proceed in finding another job that would be able to support us. A chance conversation with a neighbor who happened to drop a brief comment about something heard on the news led him to contact a recruiter to find out about returning to the US Army, something he had wanted to do ever since leaving it many years ago. Within six weeks he signed, and the next day the age limit was adjusted again to the point where he would not have been able to return to service. At the same time, he encouraged me to speak to a chaplain recruiter. I humored him, feeling in my heart that after so many tries and denials in formal discernment processes that perhaps my call was either dead or I and my communities in which I had discerned a call to priesthood and service had misread God's direction for me. I made the call to the recruiter the last week in January. I spoke with my rector and diocesan bishop the first week in February. By March I was accepted into seminary and well on my way to doing what needed to be done to be ready to join the Army myself.

Out of this flurry has come a multitude of blessings and reminders that it is not only not in my hands, but also not in my timing. God is truly in control. I am learning so many things about who God is calling me to be, and who I truly am at my heart's core. The biggest gift of all has been the chance to rediscover who God created me to be and to live into that developing knowledge while leaning hard on the unbreakable silver strand of love that ties me irrevocably to my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Almost There...

At this moment Thanksgiving break can't quite come fast enough, though if it were already here I'd be in trouble! It is that time of the semester when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the papers and tests and general information that has been coming my way and am ready to run away for a while.

Yesterday we went down to Moffett Field Chapel again, participating in their monthly fellowship potluck after the service. It was a great chance to start to settle into that community as members and friends instead of strangers. I really feel that there is a sense of belonging developing for me that I hadn't expected to find. Perhaps I am finally settling into my life as a military spouse and realizing that there really are things that my peers outside of the military just don't quite understand. I know that sounds dramatic, and that in all reality my spouse is in the Reserves and not deployed somewhere overseas. But there really are things that set us apart from the people around me both at school and in Berkeley in general.

The afternoon yesterday was spent dawdling over to Hwy 1 and driving up the coast through Half-Moon Bay and up into the City. It was a great way to get away for a little bit, though my papers were never too far from my mind. There is something refreshing about the ruggedness of the coast here that gives me perspective and space when I begin to get claustrophobic about my schoolwork and reminds me that God is the one in charge of everything - even those pesky papers and Greek verbs that I wrestle so mightily with.

Perhaps the reason I struggle so much with my papers is that in my writing of them I am allowing myself to be written as well. I know that my first paper for History of Christianity deeply affected how I have looked at the tools we gain through learning about historical theology and struggles and how that information can affect current ministry and theology. It isn't just that there are words on a page, those words are a part of my life and affect my current and future ministry deeply. They teach me about myself as much as they are my expression of my encounter with the subject being written about and the sources I am writing from.

It is off to class and then more paper wrestling for me...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reading Week Pictures

As I mentioned last post, I wanted to share some pictures from our visit to Oregon. We spent one day traveling along the North Fork of the Umpqua River:

I was utterly fascinated by the color of the water and how clear it is when you are standing on the banks looking into the riverbed itself.

Our first goal was to explore Tokettee Falls. We pulled in and parked near the huge redwood-stave pipe that carries water for some of the many hydro-electric generators along the river and began to hike the trail. I don't remember the actual numbers on the trail head sign but it was close to 124 stairs up and 150 stairs down to get to the viewing platform. Just thinking about the return trip had me a little nervous, but I enjoyed the trail along the river and the quarter to half a mile didn't seem so long. Especially when we stood on the viewing platform and watched this:

A beautiful 40-foot drop that thundered in our ears. I was quite impressed, but Roger said that he remembered a bigger falls and was determined to find it.

The next turn off revealed Watson Falls. 272 feet of falling water.

We climbed up along the river and rested on a wooden bridge before clambering over mossy rocks the rest of the way to the very base of the falls. Because the drop is so far the water is mostly mist by the time it reaches the bottom and the pressure is so light that a person could stand underneath and use the falls for a shower. The sound was more of a whisper than a thundering roar, and I found myself quite mesmerised watching the water slip over the edge and fall to the ground below.

We stopped at Diamond Lake next, shrouded in a cool mist as the cloud ceiling was quite low.

We walked a bit along the shore and decided that since we were around 20 miles from Crater Lake and I had never seen it we would chance the clouds and finish our tour there.

The drive was quite foggy and cold at that elevation - I am sure some of those little misty droplets were frozen. We pulled on our jackets anyway and walked over to the lodge and the viewpoints beyond. Just as I was lamenting that perhaps the clouds were going to make this a pointless extension to our trip we noticed that even as we were being pelted by wind-driven mist there was a place where the sun was trying to come through.

To our left, we saw this:

A rainbow in the mist as the clouds parted briefly. We were able to see the lake and the far shore, though the mist did continue to obscure Wizard Island. We stayed and watched the clearing as it widened enough to see most of the lake and the startling blue of the water before closing in again and encasing us in more freezing cold mist.

We retraced our steps to return to Roger's Parents feeling blessed and refreshed. I certainly appreciated our time in God's creation as a reminder that God did put all of this beauty in the world to show us God's generosity, glory, and love. So often I forget to appreciate the divinity displayed in beauty. This trip plunged me deeply into the "Book of Nature" and I returned to my classes refreshed and reminded of the totality of God.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Reading Week proved to be a much needed break, as I was able not only to accomplish a whole lot in the first part of the week for school but also to spend the later part of the week getting completely away from the stress and work of school.

We traveled to Southern Coastal Oregon on Thursday to spend a couple of days visiting with my in-laws and exploring some of the places that Roger tells me stories about. As soon as I get the pictures edited I'll do a post to show you some of the places we visited. Driving home Sunday we stopped several times to immerse ourselves in the beautiful misty coastal day and be refreshed by God's creation. It really made me think of the Celtic tradition that holds nature as another Gospel.

Sunday night after we arrived home I dove right back in to the world of papers, readings, classes (this semester Mondays are long days), and preparing applications and their companion essays for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), Fellowships, The Chaplain Candidate Program, and the US Army. Not to mention preparing to register for the Spring semester and Intersession in January.

Busy? Seminary? Nah!

The weather is changing rapidly and we are expecting a cold storm to move through this weekend - my teapot is ready!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading Week Sigh of Relief

Today marks the beginning of Reading Week. No, not Fall Break - this is not intended as a vacation. This is a week when classes and chapel do not meet, but we still have work to do and assignments to finish. It is, however, a big sigh of relief. My brain gets to rest and not work at quite so frantic a pace (until I look ahead to the rest of the semester). I spent today nestled into the apartment and indulging my inner monastic soul with a quiet rhythm of work and prayer as the world went by outside the window.

This past weekend I was refreshed with a picnic at Stinson Beach and a long walk through Muir Woods. What a joy to sink into the silence of that forest and be reminded to "be still and know that I am God". It made a great opening for this week, a day of sabbath after the frantic pace of the last two weeks of papers and meetings.

Sunday we went to the chapel at Moffett Field. There is a lovely history of the chapel at the bottom of this page, complete with pictures of most of the stained glass windows. Having met with the Lutheran Chaplain at Camp Parks (who is also responsible for worship at Moffett Field) I was interested to see what a more liturgical, by the book, protestant service might look like. I felt much more at home, and realized that the appearance of a place has a great deal of influence on me. This was a chapel in the old-fashioned looks-like-a-small-church sense. The chaplain was as delighted as I was when she showed me the fabulous way that this space was built to accommodate Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish services by having a turntable split into thirds where the altars and Tabernacle sit; each is turned to face the congregation for the appropriate time. The Tabernacle is plain, and looks a bit like a cupboard. The Catholic third has a lovely Tabernacle below a large crucifix and large statues of John and Mary on either side. The Protestant third has what I would describe as an altar that has a brass cross on it and some flowers that coordinate with other arrangements placed in the sanctuary. The service was simple but recognizable as a mixture of the various liturgical types of worship and was based on the Order of Protestant Worship in the Book of Worship for United States Forces 1974.

The first part of this week is being spent catching up on school work, papers, and assorted paperwork. On Thursday we head out for a brief but overdue visit to my in-laws in Oregon. I am truly looking forward to the trip as we will be driving through some beautiful scenery and have a couple of side trips planned. A true break from the work of seminary and a lovely breath of time to rest in God's grace apart from the "usual" places.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Adventures

Today we finally made good on our plans to join in worship at Camp Parks. I was a bit apprehensive since I knew it wouldn't look like anything I was intimately familiar with. It didn't dissapoint on that count. A nondenominational service is exactly what it says. It takes parts from a variety of denominational traditions and weaves them together into a whole. Some parts, like preaching on a selection from the Bible, are familiar. Other parts, like a long time of singing and extemporaneous prayer prior to the sermon, are not so familiar. For a cradle Episcopalian there seemed to be a lot of emotion involved, which certainly took some getting used to. We aren't nicknamed the "frozen chosen" for nothing when it comes to that!

Talking to the Chaplain afterward we discovered that this group that gathers for worship is truly diverse. They range from Catholic to LDS and everything in between. He showed me where his learning edges are, coming from a non-liturgical background, and how serving this community is about finding what is important for people and incorporating into the worship life. I really appreciated his honesty about how he is bringing pieces from a wide variety of worship expressions and learning to hold all of that without compromising his own tradition and faith background. It really makes me look at my seminary experiences a little bit differently, and the blessing of being a part of the Graduate Theological Union.

My first big paper was due on Friday, and I am so glad to have it finished! It really stretched me, and I told my professor that I think it wrote me instead of the other way around. As a reward I had signed up to go to a "yarn tasting" at a yarn store near Camp Parks. Apparently Bergere de France is one of the only companies that offers something like this, and I have to admit I really loved their yarns. There were just a handuful of us and we had a blast playing with samples of their beautiful yarn, thumbing through their pattern books, and nibbling on french-inspired snacks. It was a great little break for me before I stick my nose back into my books!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Exploring the Area

This weekend we discovered the beauty of Muir Woods along with nearby Stinson Beach and Mt. Tamalpais. I had already fallen in love with the glory of Coastal Redwoods while on retreat at St. Dorothy's Rest and enjoyed seeing them at Tilden Park, just up the road from school. But this was new. This is old-growth ancient forest primeval. This is walking quietly along a trail to bask in the deeply cool and moist shade and listen to the chuckle of a small creek. Stopping periodically in awe to see the fingers of sunlight slipping through to illuminate the emerald green of moss and ferns against the red bark of a giant tree.

Even more than church has been recently, this was a place where I felt the presence of God. I was reminded of the words in Eucharistic Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer: Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Only it is the Table of the Book of Nature and not the Eucharistic Table I was experiencing. Walking determinedly deeper into the park and up side paths to escape the tourists crowding the main trails close to the entrance I felt soothed and comforted. Standing at the roots of these giant trees and looking up my soul was reaching for heaven with them and peace was drifting down like the soft sunlight. But deliver me from the presumption that this place, this peace, is only where I go for comfort and pardon. I come to this place for strength and renewal also - for the courage and restoration to return to my everyday world and continue to do what God is calling me to do in the community in which I find myself.

Working with Incarnational Theology this week for a paper in History of Christianity is certainly a form of wrestling. I am reminded, and laugh somewhat sheepishly, that God has a way of bringing us to a place where we come face to face with what me most need to learn or embrace. Though Tertullian is not the easiest of reads, and the form this paper is taking is not the easiest choice I could have made when determining how to approach this assignment, it is teaching me more than I could have imagined about my own living experience of God in this time and place in history.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Greek Flashcards

Just a quick dispatch from where I sit, knee deep in Greek flashcards and potential thesis statements for my History of Christianity paper...

I am settling into the rhythms of classes and work more easily now, and finding peace in the routine that is developing. I am reminded of how much I find comfort in a fairly predictable routine, and how it feeds me to know more often than not what I am supposed to be doing when. It is making the other stuff- the work that God is doing, the wrestling that we are doing together - a little more manageable.

My week will be off and running in a bit when I head over for Old Testament Foundations, but before I dive headlong into my Monday Marathon I thought I'd share this picture from one of my classmates. It is the chapel at Saint Dorothy's Rest, where we spent our class retreat tucked in peacefully among the stately coastal redwoods.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Update

Happy Sunday from a land buried more deeply than usual in mist. Not quite the predicted rain but certianly a very heavy mist. Really good weather for staying in and sticking my nose back in my books, which is what is up next.
Since I am on my own this weekend I went to the closest church possible, just a few blocks away. All Souls Parish. Most of the parish was away on their retreat this weekend so it was pretty quiet. Because it is so close to school there are several CDSP students and faculty deeply involved in the life of the parish. Today the deacon, one of the eucharistic ministers and the presider were all from school and it almost felt like another community Eucharist. I could also draw a lot of connections with my home All Souls community, and certainly made me ponder the connection of name to personality of the parish on my walk home.
We had our "prom" on Friday and it was a lot of fun. The main idea is that it is a time when the "newbies" get introduced to the continuing students in a fun setting and we all relax and socialize. With an 80's theme the commons were decorated with streamers, pac-man cutouts, and real vinyl records and we all had a blast.
I think I am finally starting to settle into the academic and worship routine here, which makes things go a lot more smoothly (at least I like to pretend that it does) with fewer panicky moments of "What day is this and am I missing a class right now?!"
I am off to go stir my soup, refill my teacup and dive back into the readings for Old Testament Foundations.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Worship and Experience

Today I took a giant leap out of my perceived comfort zone. I joined a group of classmates who were heading over to here:

Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. I'd heard about this place. They have the Liturgy of the Word in one place and dance to another place where they have the Liturgy of the Table. They're touchy-feely. They are not as orderly as most Episcopal parishes. They're different. Did I mention that they dance?! As part of the service! I was expecting a disaster in terms of how I felt about this place. I am trained in a set liturgical style, highly ritualized and pretty rigid, and that is where I am comfortable. Dancing? In church? Not me.

What I was not expecting was the vibrancy of the place. You walk in and are engulfed in an icon-style mural of saints, all dancing. Some of those saints are pretty recognizable, even if the Church doesn't particularly call them Saints or celebrate their feast days. Some I had to look up in the little booklet. But all of them holy in the eyes of the parish members. Lady Godiva. Shakespeare. Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. Desmond Tutu.

The dancing saints are not the only colorful part of this building. There is color everywhere from the fabulous fabrics on the crosses to the brilliantly colored vestments to the sparkly parasols used to place the Gospel Book and the Presider in the crowd gathered. People were friendly, and I assume rather used to those of us hanging around the door wide-eyed and a bit skittish about this whole thing. Please wear a nametag - use the red pen if this is your first visit - so that we can call you by name when we share communion with you. Here is the book you'll need, we'll tell you what page as you go. Have you seen our dancing saints? Want more information about them? How does our service move? Let us help you.

One fascinating thing is that we were there for a baptism. Actually two, twins. The baptismal font is just outside in a small courtyard off of the main rotunda space; a large dark grey rock with water trickling down the face and gathering in a small pool before dribbling down the rest of the way or being re-pumped to the top. Simple and beautiful against a backdrop of vines and other plants growing down and covering a very tall wall. In the sunlight I noticed some berries that glistened like rubies, perhaps under ripe blackberries or maybe they were raspberries. It made me think of the abundance of God's love and nourishment of all of us.

I surprised myself by not feeling quite so out of place as I expected. There is no organ so the music is acapella, and there is a lot of it. The majority of the service was either sung or chanted, and I found myself relaxing into it after a bit. Even the dancing wasn't as scary as I was prepared for it to be, though until I get the hang of it I think I will have to focus on either singing or dancing.

All in all it was a good experience. I have been hoping to explore the breadth of the Episcopal tradition as lived out here in this area and this was one of the places on my list. By far the most intimidating to me as it was the farthest from my comfort zone, but I am glad for the experience and just might go back a few times to shake myself up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And So It Begins...

It is time for an update. I now officially have a week of classes behind me. It started last Tuesday - day after Labor day - with Fundamentals of Worship. My classmates and I gathering in the chapel not really having any clue what to expect. Today we gathered in the chapel with more of an idea, looking at our teachers with less fear and trepidation in our hearts, feeling a bit more confident about our places here in the rhythm of this community.

CDSP gathers for worship as a community 13 times per week with occasional drifts into higher numbers if there are special needs or new things we wish to try. Daily Morning and Evening Prayer (except on Thursday there is not Evening Prayer). Holy Eucharist Monday, Tuesday, Friday. The only exception to our motly daily rhythm is Thursday when instead of a midday Eucharist and Evening Prayer the whole community intentionally gathers for Holy Eucharist in the evening followed by dinner and other community activities. While I am not able to be as consistent as I like in participating in all of these worship times I do my best.

I carry a full class load with Old Testament Foundations, Anglican Tradition and Life, Elements of New Testament Greek, History of Christianity I, and Fundamentals of Worship. This means a whole ton of books plus readers full of information copied for us. Aside from somehow managing the book load there is figuring out Moodle, a useful and helpful (once you get a grasp on it) online tool where you find the syllabus, readings, forums, interesting tidbits from the teachers and all kinds of goodies all put together for each class you register for. I'm just glad there isn't a grade for how quickly you figure it out, because I've needed a lot of help!

Aside from our first week of classes, we also had our class retreat this last weekend. It was held at St. Dorothy's Rest, an Episcopal Camp and Conference center up among the coastal redwoods. What an amazing experience! I loved the company of the giant trees, the hush of the forest, the dripping as the fog condensed and fell from the branches. I can't wait to go again soon.

I am looking forward now to finally being able to settle into the rountine I am craving to help me get all of the reading and writing done that needs to be done. Although I had arrived in Berkeley early to settle in I had no idea what my weeks and days would look like. Now I have some idea and am moving forward into that rich rhythm of community and study that called me into this particular place for my education and formation.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Musings of a Transplant

Some days it just feels as if the boxes, the smallness that my life has been reduced to in this transition will never end. I am counting down the days until these boxes and stacks get piled into a rental truck to be driven 500 miles to my new life.

While the physical space of the new cottage is smaller it feels as if I am being transplanted from a cramped pot into a spacious and roomy new pot with wonderfully nutrient-rich soil and plenty of room to grow. I can't say that this wild oak is being transplanted back into the wild just yet because I know that seminary is just a container for the next three years of intense training and formation where I will be strengthened and prepared to be transplanted into my true habitat.

Somewhere in my boxes there is a precious little bronze cross with a tree growing on it. If you look carefully there are places along the trunk of this cross-shaped tree where you can see the wounds of pruning. It reminds me that I am constantly being tended to by a Gardener who sees my potential and exactly what I need in order to fulfill the deepest purpose of my soul. I resent the pain of pruning, but it helps when I can somehow manage to return to the perspective that it isn't being done with malice but with love.

In 12 days that truck will be taking me to my new home and I will begin the process of settling into my new pot; setting new roots and strengthening my growth. Not only am I looking forward to this awkward transplanting time to be over I am looking forward to the new adventure that is ahead of me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Finally Some Unpacking Among the Packing

On June 15 I boarded a plane with no real idea of what I was heading for. This was not the first time God had put me on a plane with spiritual destination unknown, but for some reason I thought I knew what to expect. I was going to spend four days with other young Christian leaders, doing some sort of service project and learning about where the church seems to be heading. Pretty simple. Except that all I really knew was that I was going to New Orleans and everyone told us to pack for heat and to bring bug spray.

It has taken me nearly a month to begin to unpack the lessons and experiences of those few days in New Orleans as part of the Fund for Theological Education 2011 Leaders in Ministry Conference. Sure, I had the experiences. I had the notes I took and the notebook with handouts and schedules. I read blog posts by others who had been there and listened to the recordings of various talks. I also pondered. There has been a whole lot of pondering.

The first day with all of the travel and assorted confusion of checking in and getting situated took me completely out of my comfort zone. The group I was assigned to arrive with was late, so we were unable to check in prior to beginning the conference. This meant that while everyone in our Round Table groups were forming the foundations of those small communities a couple dozen of us were down in a stuffy office while staff members continued the struggle to find acceptable housing among the apartments we had all been assigned to. Jocelyn Sideco, one of the leadership team members, finished off any expectation I had that this would be just another conference when she looked at us standing in line for apartments that may or may not be ready for us and said “at least you know you have a place to stay, even if you don’t know where it is or if it has linens and toilet paper waiting for you. That is more than some people in New Orleans still have even now”.

As I stumbled off the shuttle with my fellow students into the dark courtyard of the apartments we had been assigned to I realized that I needed Jocelyn’s very honest reminder of my surroundings. As I would discover later the physical scars of the storm were everywhere, including these apartments where we lived and gathered as small Round Table groups.

Worshipping with 108 enthusiastic young leaders from across all denominations was truly inspiring, as were the discussions it often started. It was also a way to discover that there is so much more common ground among Christians than we often give ourselves credit for. I can’t even begin to count the times in my life where worship styles have drawn lines in the sand that have caused argument and dissention where there should have been peace and compromise. I am not saying that I would like to worship in that style all the time – I am, after all, a cradle Episcopalian who loves high church liturgy – but it was truly refreshing to find a middle ground that was nourishing enough that it seemed that everyone could not only participate but learn something new in the process.

New Orleans itself became our teacher outside of worship. The heat and humidity forced many of us to slow down even more than the usual disorientation of a new city, and New Orleans embraced the chance to really force us to pay attention. Our first full day we were out and about getting personally involved by taking a bus tour on our way to various service project sites. It was an incredible experience to stop at various churches and ministries to hear their stories of ongoing recovery and struggle as well as their stories of hope and everyday miracles. As I listened to these stories wash over me and stood in places where so much change was taking place I was able to begin to wrap myself around the scope of the disaster. Like so many people I remembered watching the news about Katrina and the disastrous flooding that had destroyed so much of the city, but I also remember being utterly baffled at the sheer size of what was happening. Now I had no choice but to see the reminders everywhere. The houses still damaged and vacant in so many parts of the city; the marks still spray painted on homes that had been searched one by one for dead bodies, even homes that were inhabited still bore these marks; the contrast in recovery from area to area.

We traveled to the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit in the flooding and still one of the least recovered areas of New Orleans. I spent that afternoon at Viet New Orleans, a group that is working to provide a safe place for the children of the neighborhood. In this case it is a primarily Vietnamese population, with the recovery effort led by Mary, Queen of Vietnam church. We picked up debris from when this location had served as a construction dump during the rebuilding of the neighborhood, cleaned playground equipment, painted a volleyball court, and installed fake turf on the beginnings of a mini-golf putting green. Other groups in other locations were helping to cut back overgrown vegetation from lots where houses had been swept away by the flooding, picking up trash, and helping a congregation prepare for a Vacation Bible School. For so many of us, we felt that it was a small drop in the bucket of what was needed and that our efforts wouldn’t have much of an effect. For the communities it was an affirmation that they were not forgotten and that somebody still cares about them even if the media has moved on. In the end it was a potent lesson about the gift of presence. It may not seem very big or important to us, but to the person or community we are with our mere presence may be the biggest gift God could give them at that moment.

The rest of the conference was spent on the campus of Dillard University in discussions, practical workshops, and small groups. Within the context of disaster and recovery we learned about new ways to help make the church relevant to a world that increasingly describes itself as spiritual but not religious and sees churches as irrelevant. In a potent video we watched a couple of times during the conference and is still posted on the FTE website Rev. Dr. Lois Dejean tells us that “I am not just here to talk a scripture. I’m here to do a scripture. To be a scripture. Ministry is no longer just at the pulpit”. This became a powerful reminder that sticks with me as I move forward in my discernment and ministry journey.

One of the tools the conference put into our toolboxes is the VocationCARE practice, which provides a framework for taking a community as well as an individual deep into discernment and acts as a catalyst for ideas and action. CARE is an acronym: C, create space to explore Christian vocation together; A, ask self-awakening questions together; R, reflect theologically on self and community; E, enact ministry opportunities. This formed the foundation not only of the small group discussions but also our large group times and even the way the conference was shaped.

My workshop time was spent with Enuma Okoro, who taught us about writing not only as an agent of community building and storytelling but also of being a faithful witness to the community. We did some writing exercises and discussed the role writers have often held as a reflection back to the community of what it is doing both right and wrong.

In the end, it is the experience of the community as a whole that was the most dynamic piece of this conference. Within that framework God took me and turned many of the things I thought I knew on their heads while also confirming things where I had felt so much doubt and concern.

Once again, God placed me on an airplane home with so much more than I expected and more than just my luggage to unpack. In the chaos of returning home and the sorting and packing involved in my preparations to move and begin seminary I have been quietly unpacking the lessons learned from four days in New Orleans. I have been changed by this experience and I am only now beginning to see those changes emerge. With God’s help they will grow and lead me closer to the heart of the purpose God has laid out for me in this path.

Since Blogger is not allowing me to embed the link to the page with the video and conference information I will do it this way:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dispatch from The Edge of the World

As one of my friends keeps reminding me, I need to work on my tendency to just drop off the edge of the planet when things get busy! So here is my latest update:

Tomorrow I fly out early on my way to New Orleans, where I will spend several days at Dillard University. This is a really exciting trip, not only because I have never been to New Orleans but because I am taking part in a conference for fellows chosen by the Fund for Theological Education. The unique combination of discussion and hands-on service is something I am truly looking forward to experiencing. The downside is that all anyone can tell me is to bring bug spray and pack for the heat. Two things I don't get along with very well. This will truly be an adventure.

In the meantime I have begun my summer reading for seminary and am enjoying getting back into the study mode. It is a change from my most recent reading which has consisted mostly of re-reading favorite classics and young adult books which I returned to after I decided to give up the fluffy brain candy that wasn't doing me any good. So far I am deep into a memoir by an Army Chaplain called Faith Under Fire as well as A Short Introduction to Anglicanism and have finished Plato and Platypus Walk Into a Bar. There are several more that are beckoning to me, but I still want to have time to crochet a little to keep the meditative balance in my life.

My husband has gone ahead of me and is in training to become a trainer in the Army Reserves. He is doing quite well and is able to give me some hints about the weather I am preparing to move into.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Packing Up

I have been putting off this part of our transition with all of the excitement I can muster about the newness of the life I am called to step into. Partly because I really don't like the idea of living out of boxes for a while. But mostly because I am very afraid of the struggle to let go of what isn't working for me anymore. Living simply is something I have felt called to in my life for a very long time, but there is an inner part of me that is terrified of how free and honest I could be if I truly did live into that call. What gifts and energies I might open up to use in God's work around me, and what might be the next step after giving up the stuff that is holding me back. So now, as I am invited to step into that call in a deeper way than ever before as part of following a larger, more fundamental call I find that I am both exhilarated and terrified. The physical weight that I need to lose (body clutter) is coming off faster than I thought possible, but I know that I am still stuck behind the clutter in my house and my life. Don't get me wrong, the beauty and special things that have no other purpose in life but to make me smile and feel good will most definitely be sticking around. But the other stuff - the stuff I hang on to in the fear that if I get rid of it I'll need or want it or disappoint someone - carries the energy of being stuck. It keeps me trapped in the fear of not enough. Of not being enough, not having enough, not able to give enough. Of wanting and not being able to have. The flip side of that is my new found and slowly strengthening ability to look at things, admire them, dream about how they would make my life more whatever, and then leave them where I found them until their true owner comes along. Unless it truly makes my life sing - like a flattering new pair of pants in a color and fabric I enjoy wearing is on sale for an incredible price just as my stock of wearable pants is down to one or two. It isn't that I am opposed to having things. But as I am packing my things they must pass a new test. Do I need it? Things like the vacuum cleaner fall into this category. It may not be beautiful and I may not smile each time I see it, but I certainly need it to keep my carpets clean. Do I use it? Our Rotisserie oven and upright freezer probably fall into this category. We don't really need them but we use them constantly. On the other hand, the terracotta chicken roaster that sits unused in the cupboard doesn't pass this test. Do I love it? Does it make me happy? The ultimate in the final whittling down of stuff. I have a lot of knick-knacks and heirlooms. Not to mention beautiful teapots and crystal. But some of that crystal and pressed glass has no meaning to me. They were bought at discount stores for no reason other than I wanted a vase or a bowl and didn't have any at the time. Those can go since they have been replaced by wedding gifts and heirlooms that my family has generously shared with me. Even some of the heirlooms will be returning to my parents, especially to my mom, for whom there is much more meaning attached than for me. So while the thrill of answering a deep call carries me forward, I am also dreading the sorting and separating. I know that there will be guilt about some of the things I plan on donating. There will be some anxiety about paring down to the things that actually mean something. In the end I know that it will be worth the work when my surroundings support and energize my husband and I instead of serving as a reminder of all of the stuff that we need to be taking care of.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Update: Beginning of a New Journey

Hello again!

It has been quite a while since I have checked in here at the virtual cottage, and I find that now that I am back things will be changing to keep up with the developments in the non-virtual cottage. I know I hinted at some big changes, and many of the changes that are happening are ones that I had not even dreamed of when I wrote my last post.

So to the changes:

I have been accepted to seminary. Starting in the Fall. While this is a huge step in a direction that I have felt called to for a good portion of my life it is just now happening and I am beginning to finally accept that my acceptance there is real. It is the first step in my particular journey to priesthood, and I could not be more thrilled that God has finally allowed me to take this step.

As such the cottage will be pulling up roots and moving to Berkeley sometime this Summer. In the meantime there will be a huge state of flux here as we sort and separate things to toss, things to donate, things to store, and things to take. I'm not a big fan of chaos (or of moving) so this is a big test for me. I've always wanted to fully embrace the simple life and this is offering me a chance to truly evaluate that desire and to put it into practice.

It also means that the virtual cottage will be changing a bit. I'm hoping to post here to help my friends and family keep up with some of the things going on as I begin this new stage in my journey and there will be a decidedly more faith-based accent to my writing. I have a lot to explore, and this is a great place to be a part of the online community of others on a journey within themselves and their faith lives.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year

Things here at the cottage have been a bit hectic of late, and computing time has been quite limited. The four-legged ones are quite demanding in making sure they get their share of lap time daily, and with the hurry and scurry of working retail during the holidays that time has been severely curtailed! Somehow, providing the necessary lap time has been more important than computer time and I find that it has been a blessing to simply unwind when I get home late at night with a cat on my lap and a dog beside me.

There has been much discussion about the future here at the cottage as well. The four-legged ones haven't really had much to say, but those of us who have two legs and are responsible for it all have sure been talking about it! Not only because it is a New Year, but also because it marks a season of new beginnings in all of our lives. My husband has lost his job - and the backstabbing involved in my firing was a massage and spa day compared to what the same people are putting him through! - which is necessitating a very new beginning for us along with a time of grief and turning inward to heal and figure out what next. One or the other of us (briefly both of us at the same time) have worked for this group since we met, and so there has been no time in our relationship that has not been under the shadow of this group of people. While it is very much a blessing to not have them watching over our shoulders and judging our private lives as well as our work lives it is a bit disconcerting to realize that there has never been a time when we were not somehow under their influence!

Dreaming big, praying, and a good bit of shuffling things around are the order of the day here!