Singing Solo

Anyone who has ever met my Dad has also had the pleasure of encountering his unique sense of humor and his unmistakable whistle.  When I say everyone…I mean everyone.  I’ve heard him tell jokes to physicians, surgeons, nurses, home care workers, customers, neighbors, local shop-keepers, and of course, funeral directors.  All have made note of the fact that he’s a one of a kind guy.  Truth.

As a consequence of genetics, biology, and/or family imprinting, I tend to find myself in situations of dry-witted story telling myself.  I am no where near as quick-witted as my Dad, I must admit, which is probably why I write stories more often than telling them out loud.  Likewise, I have sometimes found myself whistling a familial tune in inopportune places and spaces, but with far more air and less flair than their originator.  On more than one occasion, a story or joke will roll out of my mouth which arguably might have been better left in the family vault.  But, there it is….a tribute to inter-generational wit and whimsy.  Or at least, a solid attempt.

Yesterday, I spent the morning with my church choir at a three-hour retreat to kick off the choral season.  At the same time, another group was gathered in the parish hall participating in a social program with adults from our neighborhood group homes.  Mid-morning, we took a singing break and I strolled in to say hello to the volunteers and participants who were gathered.  There were snacks, coffee, conversation, and even the beloved therapy dog of one of our parish volunteers circulating about in the parish hall.  I sat down at a table with two elder gentlemen who were sipping coffee, but didn’t currently have anyone chatting with them.  I introduced myself, and we exchanged names: Sarah, Isaiah, Leon.  I told Isaiah that I could see we already had something in common…both having being named something biblical.  “Oh yes, indeed” he replied, “and they never let me forget it!”  I told him that was my experience, too.  Being given a biblical name is like being born with an instruction manual: expectations are high.  Leon then introduced himself and asked me if I was in charge of the church.  “Oh no, no…not any more than any one of us!” I quickly answered.  We are, in my mind, all in charge of being Church.  I added that I was there practicing with the choir but we were on break so I thought I’d come and say hello.  “Well,” Leon said in a charming voice, “then you must be the star of the choir!”

Isaiah piped in to offer his agreement.  “Oh no, definitely not!” I chuckled, setting the record straight with the two finely-finessed flatterers.  I wrinkled up my nose, thinking of my performance on the last piece we just sight-read before the break “Let’s just say I’ve been making a joyful noise.”  Leon laughed.  I went on to tell him that I did love to sing but that for me, the joy of singing in a choir is that I didn’t have to hit every one of the the notes, just enough of them so that between all of us, it comes out right in the end.  [I was glad, in that moment, my choir director was not listening to my explanation.]  At this point, Leon said that he remained sure I could sing a solo if I wanted to.  I did confess that I do that in church from time to time, but also that it makes me a lot more nervous.

Suddenly, as if my father had entered the parish hall, I could hear his voice in my ear.  In fact, one of my Dad’s jokes was ringing so loudly in my ear that I laughed out loud.

Both men paused to look at me quizzically as I laughed and shook my head.  I grinned at Leon, “I was just remembering that my Dad used to ask me to sing solo all the time…” I began.  Leon nodded, thinking a nice family story was about to unfold.

I leaned over to Leon and continued, “…he used to ask me to sing ‘So-Lo’ that he couldn’t hear me, that is!”

Well, to say that Leon belly-laughed would be an understatement.  True to my father’s comedic style, I also repeated the joke for Isaiah and soon the three of us were in near hysterics over the incredibly bad pun and its perfect timing.  Leon kept saying, “I ain’t never heard that one…oh my…that is a good one…I am going to remember that…oh, that is a good one!”  It had clearly made his day, and it was probably the hardest I myself had laughed in a week.

My break was over, and choir rehearsal begged me back.  I thanked my two table-mates for giving me some company and conversation and they did the same.

As I walked back to the choir room, I thought about the dozens of times that my Dad has dropped that line on me over the years.  Sometimes I would chuckle, or groan, or roll my eyes.  Sometimes in my angst-filled teenage years, I would feel offended and put-off in the way that adolescents do about air, water, and anything parental.  Today, I thought to myself, it would be fine by me if that joke existed for no other reason than to have planted in my memory so that I could share some laughter with those two kindly souls who were seeking shelter and socialization that day.  It was like a little piece of treasure, perfectly passed along exactly at the time it was needed.  Grace, dignity, and humor all in a precious moment of human connection.  Laughter is, indeed, the best medicine.

So, thanks, Dad.  From me, and Isaiah, and Leon.  Your one-of-a-kind humor was a small point of light where our paths intersected.  Now, go whistle a happy tune.  So-Lo.

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Night Air

There are a few aspects of southern style that have found a soft spot in my Yankee heart. Gradually, my once-standard northerner group greeting “Hey you guys!” has been replaced with the more genteel “All y’all…” Then, there is the perfectly drawled, “Bless your heart” which, properly delivered, can be saccharine sweet and sarcastically biting all in one breath. I have learned to appreciate that I must order my tea “unsweetened” deliberately, with a touch of apology. I need not apologize for my love of magnolia trees, nor for the beauty of wild growing wisteria that has wound around my heart. But, one less spoken of…yet delightful…aspect of traditional southern living is the sleeping porch. Even as I type, I am enjoying its ambiance.

I was raised in a climate where winter extended from October through April. Porches were only in front, or on the side, and I hoped it would get warm enough to sit on the porch for months at a time. Living in Buffalo, there was little need for central air conditioning, and my version of a “window unit” was a double-faced window fan that could circulate cool air on a warm night. I might have called those Buffalo nights “hot” at one point in my life. Bless my heart….

Here in Virginia, the climate is moderate and pleasant, except when it isn’t. When it isn’t, it can feel like a wall of heat has engulfed the region. More specifically, I feel like a potato stuck in an oven set on “roast.”. We moved here several years ago in July, just in time for a record-breaking string of days above 100F. Great timing. We had two window units, and no central air. The daytime was brutal, and the night wasn’t much better. Until, that is, we discovered why the tiny spare bedroom upstairs had an outdoor porch that extended the length of the house. Before there was air conditioning, there was the sleeping porch. In Virginia, it has year-round use.

Our house (and its porch) pre-dated air conditioning. A mixture of cheapness, stubbornness, and a desire to keep a low carbon footprint has kept us from installing central A/C. We have small units for a few specific rooms, and otherwise we live like earlier generations of residents. We have learned to love the night air, most especially on the upper back porch. We have porch blankets for cooler nights, the ceiling fan cranked for hotter nights, and many enjoyed just sitting exactly as it is.

I am in awe of the brilliance of an elevated porch where breezes can circulate. We added soft mesh curtains to keep the sun from heating up the brick exterior of the house; we installed a ceiling fan, bought a double chaise lounge, and scattered candles to softly light the night air. We declared this the grown-up porch and created a space where no toys dared to tread. Even now, only boring grown-up music plays up here, and no streaming netflix videos are allowed. I have sat on this porch in the rain, even a few times in the snow. I have felt the luminous moon casting light over my shoulder, and watched the breeze blow the tree limbs as it wraps around my own body, as if in familiar greeting. The sleeping porch is a sanctuary of calmness, and a place where night air soothes the work-day soul.

Tonight, I pause to breathe the night air….

It is delightfully cool for mid-September. A blanket throw covers my toes and Mary Chapin Carpenter plays on the soundtrack of this evening. Candles glow and flicker. I wonder how many nights were spent in this place, sheltered not quite beneath the stars but seemingly within their reach. My spouse drifts off on the other side of the chaise lounge, in the midst of music and coolness. The glow of my iPad is the only other light and soon, I will close its cover and enjoy the flicker of candles and stars in the night air. Like many nights, this will be the place for my night prayers, the time when my conscious thoughts take rest, and open the doorway to dreams from within and wisdom beyond. The words of compline will find me in this space, elevated between earth and sky.

Night air and night prayer…small points of light in the vastness that surrounds and enfolds me.

My heart, indeed, is blessed.

Sleep, O sleep in the calm of each calm.
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of all guidance.
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves.
Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life.
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life.
(Excerpt from Compline, http://www.northumbriacommunity.org)

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Try to Remember

harasprice:

I posted this last year, and it still echoes my thoughts and feelings about this day. May small points of light continue to shine on the path as we reflect and remember.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart, and especially the hearts of the
people of this land, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)

Originally posted on small points of light:

When I lived in St. Louis, I became a fan of the outdoor musical theatre company called the MUNY, which generally performed 8 shows each summer at one week duration each. The MUNY experience involved 10,000 people sitting shoulder to shoulder in the heat of a Midwest summer night, no air conditioning, giant overhead fans on tall poles that only turned on before the performance, at intermission, and when the curtain calls ended.

The summer of 2002 at the MUNY opened with a play rarely performed in a setting of this nature: The Fantasticks. The Director at the time, Paul Blake, had specifically chosen that musical for that particular year, when the country was still reeling in the aftermath of the terrorists attacks on September 11, 2001. In his opening talk, he reflected that to him, the musical…and one song in particular…captured a spirit of shattered innocence mixed with…

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In Your Eyes

At dinner a few nights ago, my daughter asked, “what is the most important thing to remember in a social situation when you get nervous?” I answered, without hesitation: “Look people in the eyes.”

It seems like simple advice, I know. But, I continue to be amazed at its truth and poignancy.

Last night, it was pretty late. We’d been out to the movies, and I needed to stop at the store on the way home to pick up a few things to prep for coffee hour after church. My daughter is at her social best the later in the day it gets. By the time I had unloaded our items onto the conveyor, she had already struck up conversation with the person in line behind us, giving a “two thumbs up” movie critique. The two were chatting back and forth like old friends by the time the transaction was complete. I love seeing her like this, spontaneously engaged even with adults. I noticed that she was taking the lesson to heart, making eye contact. I was doing the same with the very tired cashier, who also smiled broadly as if seen for the first time when I looked him in the eyes and wished him a good night and thanked him for working. My heart was warmed as I placed the bags in my car, even though there was nothing exceptional about any of these events. Yet, there was something powerful about the connection. We were present…we saw each other…instead of simply going through the motions.

That is an everyday lesson which took on divine significance for me today.

Today, I was humbled and grateful to be in one of my favorite roles, serving at Holy Eucharist. I am always in awe of how much connection is palpable during this sacrament in ways both simple and profound. Maybe it is more noticeable because I grew up with a very different experience. Communion in my childhood was matzoh bits passed down the rows on a plate covered with a paper doily and grape juice in individual, sanitized cups. It had a sterility like those little processed “communion to go” kits that I saw someone tweet the other day. There was no touching, nor any human to human contact. It was a symbolic act, and a meaningful one I will admit. But there was not a tangible, human connection and even then I craved something more. I practiced serving my dolls and my teddy bears, and it was always more like a tea-party than a self-serve buffet.

As an adult, I also remember vividly how I was raised to think of humanity as deeply flawed, wretched, and sinful. Maybe that’s why the action of taking communion involved as little “human” as possible. The goal was to move away from our humanness toward God. It took me the better part of forty years to realize the power present when we understand our humanness…my own humanness…as created by God, and beloved of God. We move through the world differently when we see God reflected in the people we encounter, when we see the eyes of our neighbors as reflecting the Presence of God.

So, it is different for me now, theologically and practically. Everything about serving, assisting, receiving at Holy Eucharist is human-in-divine, and divine-in-human. But, for the purpose and scope of this blog, let me just talk about the practical. Let me tell a few stories…

First, there was the young child who was so excited to dip that bread she had been given into the cup that I held that I thought the whole row might be wearing sacramental wine stains. I looked into her wonder-filled eyes and said the same words as I do to the adults, and her face exploded in a huge smile as she said back, “the cup of salvation AMEN!” and popped that feast in her mouth with unrestrained joy. I think every person kneeling there felt the palpable presence of God in that moment. I certainly did.

Other moments, I look into the eyes of those I know well and those who know me well. Our roles at that table are to be something to each other that changes the world in ways both subtle and great. There is joy, and yearning, and the beauty and pain of life all wrapped together, intertwined in this community where we worship. This knowing is present, with the real presence of Christ, in the feast that we share. Surely, this sharing is how we become Church, feasting together.

Then, perhaps closest to my heart, I knelt to serve worshipers from a neighborhood group home who are faithful in their attendance even if unclear at times in their cognitive and psychological state. Each person’s eyes met my eyes, focusing even in that singular moment, around wholeness. These are divine moments, filled with palpable humanity and beloved community. Eyes are meeting, and hands grasping to find a place to hold, and my hands are there to meet and steady their fingers that would otherwise tremble. Wholeness, together, in that holy moment. It is so clear to me, so real, to know that we were all seen as whole, and human, and partakers together in Divine Presence. Amen, my sister the last person I served whispered to me as we shared this sacred feast.

Amen.

Friends, neighbors, strangers….in the grocery store, and at the communion rail…we have one craving, one human need that outweighs the others. We need to be seen. When we are seen, we can be known. When we are known, we can be loved. When we are loved, God is there in our midst.

small points of light.

In Your Eyes.

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The Week Back

There have been very few years of my life that haven’t involved a significant shift in schedule immediately following Labor Day. In all honesty, there have been only two years of my life since my own start of Kindergarten where I didn’t notice the significant shift in cadence of life this time of year. One was lost in the blur of my first year post MSW where I was transitioning from student to both practitioner and administrator. By the next year, I had learned the ropes enough to take on student interns, and two years later I would find my way back to the class-room as adjunct faculty…thus, bringing my cadence back to the school year pattern. The only other year without an academic cadence was the birth of my daughter…I took that Fall semester off after her August arrival while I was fully immersed in mothering. That was learning of another form and cadence altogether.

So, this year I indulged the last days of summer wistfully. My semester actually began a couple weeks ago, but I remained in semi-denial until my last long-weekend of summer vacation faded off into the tropical horizon. This week, it was back to alarm clocks, carpools, parents nights, and a full load of academic meetings and responsibilities. Within the crucible of the week, I have experienced some of my worst and my finest moments of parenting. I have arrived in my office in the morning, shut the door and relished a moment of silence where I could think with my own brain and not repeat, “is your homework done yet???” for the millionth time. Yet, by the end of my own work week, I practically fled my own campus today in wild anticipation of a quiet night of pizza, wine, and a reprieve from meetings, appointments, planning, and teaching. This is a crazy, busy whirlwind time while we await…and struggle with…the return of a cadence of life that we shed along with our sweaters as we forged from spring headlong into summer.

I am not blogging about this because I propose some grand solution to slow down the pace. I am writing because tonight I was realizing the beauty in this time of motion, and chaos, and exhausting new beginnings. I have found an inner calmness emerging within the chaos. I love feeling the energy of incoming college cohorts, seeing Facebook feeds full of shining, small faces filled with the promise of learning, and yes…even daily doses of the angsty, annoyed eye rolling of the adolescents (like my own child) who are caught in the crazy transition between innocence and maturity. This week I have been threatened with being flipped the bird whenever I produce a camera, and begged to take pictures of crazy moments like raccoons in trash cans in the middle of the city. I have been summoned into a messy room with a scream, then quietly asked, “can I have a hug?” It is a crazy whirlwind of time, energy, emotion, and relationship. It is crazy beautiful, too.

The week has been non-stop. But, tonight is calm. The moon is bright and reflects against my iPad as I write under her luminous glow. The stars are out, and the crickets chirp. The air is still warm, but the breeze has a hint of coolness, and I am reminded that the winds have shifted. In a few weeks, I will be waking just before my alarm instead of waking in a startled panic at the unfamiliar noise. I will be remembering intuitively what days I should see my daughter wearing PE clothes when she heads out the door, or when to pack a snack so my stomach doesn’t rumble when I teach into the evening. Routine will slip in, unaware, and it will feel like I let out a sigh as I move into the cadence of daily life.

Routine will sustain us until the urge to be free of it is so great that we rejoice again at our release. And so it goes, the beautiful and elegant cadence of a life lived fully.

Small points of light, within both the chaos and the cadence of life.

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“A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?”

― Mechthild of Magdeburg, Meditations from Mechthild of Magdeburg

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Labor of Love

It’s Labor Day, that American holiday where we celebrate workers, summer, and back to school all rolled into one. My family and I spent most of the weekend relaxing at the water, but we came home in time for a day of transition before heading back to work and school tomorrow.

Even though Labor Day is associated with not working, I woke today with one intention: writing. Writing is my labor of love, and the book that has been forming inside me was clamoring to be released in words today. This sense of being compelled to write is new to me, and it is wonderful.

It was 6:30 this morning when I poured some coffee and made my nest in the sun room facing out to my patio at my laptop. I started strong on this book a few months ago and have been pushing myself forward chapter by chapter. It’s been sluggish, though, and I have been struggling a bit to find my voice. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, because I have always known what I wanted to say. I haven’t been sure how to find my voice in a new genre, so I have been experimenting with tones from the highly academic to the extremely colloquial.

I took a break for a few weeks to work on the “spiritual autobiography” which is part of my application to be considered for ordination. At the time, I was surprised that I was so compelled to write my own story when this book had been knocking at my soul for so much longer. I also have no time pressure on the autobiography, so it goes against my grain to have prioritized it. But today, my writing took me to a place where I was discussing the importance and meaning of autobiographical writing. My writing about this had an authenticity that had been missing before. I realized that other than these short excerpts on my blog, I had never paused long enough to put my story into words. Suddenly, the meaning and significance of what I was writing about clicked in a deeply personal way.

I have been learning to honor wisdom on my journey, so this realization together with the events that transpired from Friday through today make sense in that context. I have been feeling a tug in my spirit about a framework for my book. Floating in the brackish waters I recently wrote about solidified who I am, and how to embrace convergence in my identity. That gave me the inspiration today to sit, and write, and allow the voices of my experience to converge into words.

At around 5:00 this afternoon, I finally stopped writing when I realized that the words that my fingers had just finished typing were the same visual image that I had been gifted with a year ago. It was like that gift had been percolating deep within me, and had finally found the right time to spring to life. I moved from writing, to praying. My prayers were sheer gratitude.

This Labor Day, I am exuberant about the emergence of this labor of love as it begins to take shape. I am grateful tonight for the small point of light that emanates in writing, from words that flow from my soul.

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Brackish Water

Until I moved to Virginia, the term “brackish water” wasn’t a part of my vocabulary. I had visited oceans with crashing waves and salt-laden shores. I had spent time splashing in the fresh water Great Lakes and watching barges push along the muddy Mississippi. I had floated down the Missouri on inner tubes and basked in the cool river currents during the heat of Midwest summers. Yet, I had never navigated brackish waters.

The little cinder block beach cabin on an estuary of the Chesapeake Bay was an accidental find while I was trying to locate an affordable beach rental for a weekend family get-away. I went through several searches of private and public listings, hoping to find some rental of less than a week that was available in late summer and didn’t cost half my summer salary. Quite accidentally, I booked a beach house in a different town than I had intended. We researched the destination and somewhat hesitantly tried out the not-quite-beach, not-quite-river location. Instead, for us, it was both. Now, it’s our yearly escape, a pilgrimage marking the end of summer and ushering in a new year of school for a family of teachers and students. Like the brackish water of the bay, it has also become our place in-between.

I was thinking about the nature of brackish water today as I submersed myself into its depths. It was nearing high tide, and the sun began to burn through the overcast clouds of the morning. It has been a cooler than usual summer, and the water was surprisingly chilly for the south. I hesitated briefly as I waded, then quickly decided to go all in, swimming past the seaweed of the cove and out past the rocky barriers demarcating the shallow tidal basin. I swam just past the point where my toes could touch the bottom. There, I extended my legs downward, stretched out my arms, and turned my face to the sky. I was carried completely in this position by the waves of the tides, the currents of the river and the slight salinity of this place where fresh water and salt water converge.

Brackish water is neither purely fresh water, nor salt water. It’s name was purportedly derived from the Dutch brak meaning “salty.” But, I can also imagine that after an accidental mouthful of something assumed to be drinkable, people would wildly shake their heads after spitting it out, with mouth still pursed, and pronounce it brackish simply by taste. Either way, the non-potable brackish waters of this particular place are nonetheless soothing to my soul, and nurturing to my spirit. Today, that was true more than ever.

As I floated, arms outstretched, I closed my eyes as the water carried me in a trusting embrace. As the brackish waters lapped around me, my head and my heart converged in the realization of how these waters are a metaphor for my life. For a long time, I thought of myself as living in a place where I was apart from belonging. Caught in the middle waters, I have spent various points in my life being neither religious nor atheist; neither practitioner nor researcher; neither straight nor gay; neither an only child nor a person with siblings; neither Christian nor Pagan; neither micro nor macro. In my profession, in my faith, in my living…I have often found myself on the journey in a place somewhere in-between. For a long time, I chose to wear my separateness as a badge of honor. It was also a way to distance myself from full belonging with either group for fear that I would be found out, rejected, considered an outsider. This was with good reason: it was a self-protective response to having been hurt, rejected, and not fully known nor understood.

But, as the brackish waters lapped around my floating form today, I could feel their fullness. My life, like these waters, has become a convergence. Currents cool and warm brushed my skin, and tidal pull and river current worked in tandem to keep me suspended, upright with arms extended in open welcome to the river and the sea. My brackish form, floating in brackish water welcomed the “Both/And” of this time in my life, echoing my soul’s belonging as I continue to unfold into simple, authentic being. I realized, without a hint of irony, that even my posture held the most archetypal symbolism of my Christianity surrounded simultaneously by every element of the natural world in which my spirit is nurtured in repose.

In my floating meditation, I heard a splash close by and saw a fish leaping and gleaming in the sunlight. As I closed my eyes again, another splash caught my attention over my other shoulder. I leaned in that direction, opening my eyes expecting to see another fish. Instead, a Great Blue Heron had lighted from the rocks to the water. Now only an arm’s length from me, the majestic bird met my gaze, stretched out its neck and dove deeply into the brackish waters in which we swam. We continued this dance, circling each other without fear or hesitation. We both belonged.

You don’t have to love the brackish waters. You may love the ocean’s rush, or the river’s constant flow. But the brackish nature of my being flourishes in this space between, where convergence produces wholeness in the intermingling of the waters. Here I belong; I am baptized into the fullness of embracing the Both/And of my being.

Radiant points of light, glistening on the brackish waters.

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Unconditional handshake

Parenting a precocious tween has many moments that are probably best left off my blog. But, to my surprise and delight, small points of light still accompany my days and nights even at the end of a summer of (occasionally too much) family togetherness.

My daughter has pretty much had her fill of me. At some points this week, even my breathing in her general vicinity has been too much for her to bear. My jokes aren’t funny, my dinners are repetitious, and far too many of my conversations begin with, “So, let’s set some goals for this school year…” She rolls her eyes as she bemoans to anyone that’s listening, or even if they are not: “why do I have to have a social worker for a mother!”

It’s a tough lot, I know. She’s not any happier about my college teaching gig, nor the journey-toward-priesthood thing either. But, life deals us these parental cards. I tell her often, while smirking, that I realize I am her burden to bear.

The night before last, I had popped in her room to say good-night and was greeted with, “why do you have to STARE at me like that! UGH!” It was obviously time to call it a night. I went to bed and quickly fell into a sound sleep. At 1:00 a.m. I felt a tug at my sheet.

Mom!”

I groggily turned over wondering what was going on.

“Mom, please. Help me. It’s my tooth and something is wrong and I don’t know if its bad, please look…”

I got up with her and tried to adjust my eyes to the light. After a late night dental exam with flashlight and mirror, it turned out to be a loose primary tooth that had been dislodged a bit by a wayward pita chip on which she’d been snacking. Some water, a cold cloth, and reassurance that it was a normal loss and not an adult tooth catastrophe calmed her nerves.

I reached out to give her a hug. Forgetting her angst for an instant…and possibly even feeling a hint of gratitude…she moved toward me and almost accepted my maternal embrace. But, she caught herself in the act, and reclaimed her fierce independence. Instead, she stood up straight, and extended her hand to me in a formal handshake. I shook her hand, said, “I love you” and went back to bed.

Only back in my room did I erupt with laughter at the hysterical formality of my daughter fighting so hard for her independence, even while almost painfully acknowledging gratitude for support. What a metaphor, truly.

I think of all the times that I have been angry with God…the Universe…fate…just for being there. I want my way, on my terms. Even the acknowledgement of Divine Presence has felt like hot breath down my neck. And then I wake, frightened. I need that closeness, crave the knowledge and direction, the nurturing and support. I call out and always, my cries are heard. My hurt is held in larger hands, and what cannot be fixed is still soothed in a radiant realness that reminds me: this is being human. This is feeling, and living, and yes…even hurting. I am not alone.

God is reaching, extending unconditional love while I struggle with my own need for independence. Sometimes, I too I have managed only a hand-shake, a formal thank-you of gratitude. And I am met, exactly as I am. The embrace is always there waiting, whenever I am ready to unfold within it.

The unconditional handshake of our humanity. The eternal embrace always present, always reaching, patiently persistent. Through it all, the ever-present gratitude of knowing we may be able to stand on our own, but we are never alone. I think on these things as I drift back to sleep reminded that, in parenting and in life, all will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

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What I Love

All summer, I’ve been in a state of mentally realigning myself with a new role this academic year.  I have a non-administrative role now but in a larger sense, I stepped down and away from something that wasn’t serving me and into the great unknown of re-making myself.  I equate that with standing at the bottom of a waterfall, looking up and thinking “Great, time to get back up to where I started!”  Great idea, but getting from one place to the other is daunting and counter-intuitive.

I realize that, in going back to what I love, it is helpful to put into words just what it is that I love as I make this uphill climb back to water where I want to be swimming.  So, I thought I would compose a list of what I have loved about this trial-by-fire first week back in my “new” old role.

  • I love being able to have someone stop in my office and be able to say, “Come in!” wholeheartedly, and mean it.
  • I love being in a classroom with 26 diverse, young, smart, funny undergraduates who are willing to trust me just as I trust them to engage with me in a joint process of learning.
  • I love eating lunch.  Eating a real, healthy, calm lunch…not stuffing a granola bar in my mouth as I fly down the hall between meetings as a sorry excuse for lunch.
  • I love that I was able to say “yes!” to a new opportunity that inspired me instead of feeling a pit of “I want to, but I can’t possibly…”
  • I love that when something unforeseen came up on my research project team, I felt confident that it would be OK.
  • I love that I have been able to meet people for coffee and lunch who are outside of my usual group and have given me interesting and challenging ways to think about my research and teaching.
  • I love that I am laughing again, regularly and from my heart.
  • I love that I bumped into a student on the campus quad and she excitedly told me about a new service project that she and her friend decided to do after our last night’s class.  Hooray!  I LOVE that.
  • I love that I was able to retain the aforementioned student’s name after only one class, something I cannot do when my mind is racing on overdrive.
  • I love that I had time to develop a placement and supervise a student in a community field placement where I myself invest my time and service with people that I love working with and an organization I am deeply committed to serving.  Win-win-win.
  • I love showing up to one of the field sites with the aforementioned student today and being able to work carrying food into the food pantry for 20 minutes without feeling like I needed to text an excuse about why I was late for a meeting.  I could just be where I needed to be.
  • I love it when people tell me I look happy, that “I’m back again” and that I can walk through the hallways and tell people good-morning.
  • I love scouring the web and finding inspirational things to share with my students so that they begin to see diverse people and oppressed groups in new ways.
  • I love it when a class ends and a student says, “Wow, that three hours went by so fast!”
  • I love feeling like I am my authentic self as I move through all of my day.
  • I love being able to devote time to this vocational work, and to my formation for new vocational roles that are emerging.  I no longer feel “root-bound” in my container.
  • I love that one week in, I can still see the surface of my desk (that may change, but it’s nice for now).

Final wrap up advice to my friends and readers:  whenever you can, follow your heart.  It is a beautiful thing to be able to invest yourself fully into work that you are called to do.  It isn’t about the social advancement, or the paycheck, or someone telling you they really need you to be in a particular role.  It is about following your heart and being willing to admit failure, to bow out gracefully (or even, not gracefully) in order to regain your footing.  Sometimes we are not in a place where we can follow our heart, or at least not right away.  Last year, that was how I felt.  A wise mentor told me, “Sometimes you have to say yes to something you need to do, but don’t want to do.  But, you are in control of how long you keep saying it.”  So, when the time is right, be brave and be bold.  Do what you love and small points of light will find you.

 

 

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Message from the Midwives

Today, I was reading the Old Testament lesson from the lectionary, a familiar tale to many of baby Moses, hidden in his basket among the bullrushes. It seemed appropriate for a day with two baptisms, one sweet baby boy and another sweet baby girl sitting in their sweet white christening day outfits in the front rows with their families. I had already practiced the reading last night so I didn’t trip over my words. But, as the words formed this morning, I had a small epiphany…a small point of light…about the midwives in this very familiar Judeo-Christian story.

Midwives are some of my favorite people, I have to say. The midwives I know in my own life tend to be both gentle and sassy. They have knowledge they have acquired that augments wisdom emanating from their depth of experience. Midwifery has been an occupation of women before women were socially allowed to have occupations; the midwife goes where many men fear to tread. For any of us who have given birth with the support of a midwife, we will attest to their association with the divine. It was my midwife that stood ground with the medical staff for me when I was meditating my way through a longer-than-anticipated transition in my labor. It was my midwife that spoke to me about the meaning of the music that I chose to play during childbirth, and how it reminded her of the birth of her own daughter. It was my midwife that faded into the distance when my own child was placed into my arms so that the wisdom of my own mothering could breathe its life, even in the midst of my exhaustion. I know from my personal experiences with midwives just how much trust, honor, and power is present in that exchange.

Today, as I read this story, I heard the midwives telling the tale. They seemed to whisper through the story, and their steadfast faith and gentle resistance to oppression and injustice are rightly credited as the way in which an oppressed people thrived in their history. The midwives had a message, I think, and so I went home today and listened to their words again as I read in the quiet moments of the afternoon. This is the poem that formed in response. I hope it conveys this message from the midwives, a small point of light in the midst of a familiar tale for all who wish to read.

Reference: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

Message from the Midwives

I have heard about that basket in the bullrushes
ever since I was a child,
ever since I was old enough to realize
babies couldn’t swim once they left the womb.
And I was really glad, even then, that Moses’ Mom
had a basket and a good idea.

But today, my message came from the midwife.
She spoke to me of wisdom,
of following a heart’s calling instead of a ruler’s decree.
She knew how to twist a tale
just as well as how to deliver a baby;
she used both of those talents to save the sons’ of mothers,
and to honor her God.

She told me about strength,
not the kind that comes from making laws that oppress,
or the kind that comes just because you’re feared.
She told me about strength,
the kind that comes from wisdom within,
the still small voice that resists with subtlety
and sets her people free.

Time passes, and the story floats away in its papyrus basket.
The midwives’ tale is silent and still
standing like bullrushes
surrounding the child,
nurturing mystery,
birthing serendipity and discovery.
Honoring wisdom across generations,
even now, as their story crosses my lips.

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