27 August 2005

good dogs and their gifts of love

Having a good dog is the closest some of us will ever come to knowing the direct love of a mother, or God....

My life has been blessed and graced by dogs since I was a small child. Although I knew the direct love of my mother and have known the direct love of God through other people since, my dogs were my companions, my best friends. I cried countless tears into their furry shoulders all through my life. Whenever something seemed overwhelming, terrible, miserable, I would pour all of that into my dogs, holding them close to me. And somehow they knew that I needed them, that I was desparately afraid or sad and needed them to be my friends.

My dogs defined my life, giving me friendship and love when I was too shy and too awkward to find it among my peers. They are part of me, of who I am in the world today.

There was Ginger, who was really my mother's dog (from whence does the food come? there lies my allegiance) but who was remarkably patient with my childhood antics. I'm pretty sure she didn't like it when I made scraps of cloth into "tail dresses and paw dresses." She was patient and tolerant beyond all reason. (1985-2000)

Brandy, the first dog who was mine, who rolled around with me in the backyard, and still adores me even though I can only go home to where she lives with my mother a few times each year. She's the big barker of the family, defending us from every school bus, every leaf, every perceived attack on the house.

There was Sarge, who was the most wonderful dog. Fiercely independent, he would try to bark the thunder boomers away, getting thoroughly wet in the process. He would run along the outside fence, barking madly at the thunder, telling it not to come near *his* house. He was so intent on getting his toys that he would race after any ball thrown and go so fast that he would roll over in his attempts to catch it. He liked to carry around his kitty all the time. And if Oliver had a toy and Sarge happened to want it.. well, Sarge would very quietly take it from Oliver, his best friend, and the wimpiest dog known to man. (1996-2002)

Oliver, Sarge's best friend. Now the reluctant leader of our Shelties, it is Oliver who leads the charge against encroaching squirrels. Also known a seal dog, because of how his face looks in certain angles, Oliver adores my mom. He's also terrified of being lifted off the ground and turns as wooden as a board while still struggling, if you can imagine it, thereby increasing the likelihood of being dropped, the silly boy.

Rocky, my mom's rehabilitation project. Abandoned and found wandering the backroads of Iowa, he was passed on to a rescue group in Wisconsin, who brought him 1200 miles south to us. He would only sleep in a little tiny bathroom for weeks when he first came. He's only just beginning to figure out, at the ripe old age of 14, how great being a dog can be when you have someone who loves you and cares for you.

Emma & Fiona: the (well, our) Dixie Chicks. 30 combined pounds of happy, loving, gleeful girls. They're sisters, and Fiona always gets to retrieve the ball (we keep an extra to throw for Emma when Fiona is occupied). They're great friends and part of Team Anti-Squirrel led by Captain Oliver.

This is my tribute to them, to the love they give simply because they exist, to the people who brought all of these dogs into our family's life. They have given the most amazing and continuous gifts of friendship and love to me. Sarge, Oliver, Rocky, Emma, and Fiona all came to us through rescue groups, so my thanks go out to those who, for the love of dogs, welcome in the abandoned, the homeless, the left behind; find them homes; and bring the gifts of love into other families. Their work is never ending, and their sacrifices often go unnoticed, unremarked, and unheralded. But I thank them for the work they do, and the dogs that I have known through their efforts.

The opening quote is from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Annie Lamott (2005).

From left to right: Oliver, Brandy, Emma, and Fiona.

(Rocky not pictured.)


23 August 2005

left behind or going forward?

All my friends still in college are starting to shift into Orientation and then to classes. The patterns and rhythms of beginnings that happened every year are so ingrained in me that I can't really let go. Even though I've graduated, I don't feel graduated. I don't feel like I'm an alum. Things are moving on without me, people and groups will change, time will move on in that place.

Colleges and universities are changing places. People come and go, just as I entered and then left when it was my time. But I can't quite bring myself to let go of the place and the people and the structures that defined my life for four solid years.

I know that this will eventually happen, when the friends that I'm close with leave in their turn, and we all gradually move into a new world, where life is defined on different terms. There will come a distance, which isn't necessarily bad, as we learn the patterns and rhythms of our new lives in the workforce, at other schools, in new families, or in returning to our parents' homes. We'll find new ways to be who we are in other places.

But the process isn't easy. I want the comforts of a familiar pattern, but because of going forward in my life (albeit within the fairly formalized structure of education) I have to change, to grow, to develop at a pace that is not my own. As glad as I was to graduate and leave, I miss what I had. In three weeks, I'll begin my own orientation, my own new life. I can then find my rhythms, my bearings, a new community to structure and frame my experiences. But in the meantime, I feel left out or left behind, by my going forward alone.

These moments of liminality are hard, aching, and difficult. I'm on the cusp of something new, in the very threshold, and all I seem to do is look back with fondness and with sadness at leaving instead of looking at the way before me, the opportunities that wait for me to discover them. I'm captivated by the past instead of embracing my future, at least in this moment.

I'm hoping to find enough balance that I can look fondly backwards while equally being enthralled by the future. Maybe I need an internal rearview mirror.

19 August 2005

thoughts on ordinary time

I've been wanting to write about what the title of this space signifies to me. I've been thinking this through for the last week while I've been too busy to really sit and write. My summer course is over, so now I have a chance to try and put the swirling thoughts into coherent sentences.

I'll begin with what "ordinary time" technically refers to, because that was and is my starting point. Ordinary time is the season after Pentecost. The time after Pentecost is counted time, measured within our knowledge of the liturgical year.

This is the core of what ordinary time means: we are living with the knowledge of the resurrection, in the shadow of Easter. In the same moment, we are living in expectation of the advent of Christ, the incarnation of the Word. We are caught between times of great moment, marking the Sundays as we travel simultaneously away and toward something extraordinary.

But we are also learning to live out the Gospel in the world that surrounds us. We are revisiting the life and teachings of Jesus and assimilating those into the framework of a crucified, buried, and resurrected Messiah. We re-examine the miracles, the parables, the teachings in expectation of Christ the incarnate, the God in man made manifest in midwinter.

Ordinary time is about living and being the extraordinary in the regularity of life, about seeing the extraordinary in the smallest, the simplest, the most commonplace. It is bracketed by two extraordinary events, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and lives in tension between the two. But the center of ordinary time is the message of Christ and how to live out that message in the midst of life: the everyday, the high points, the moments of despair. How can we live the Good News in every day? How can we manifest the teachings of Jesus? How can we be the extraordinary people God call us to be in the seemingly most ordinary moments?

That is what ordinary time is to me: living with the knowledge of the Resurrection, living in expectation of the Incarnation, and living out the good news of Christ in the world as it finds us.

11 August 2005

reading notes: The Dark is Rising Sequence

I checked out the entire series from the library to reread it... By author Susan Cooper, this is a fantasy story of good versus evil, the Light versus the Dark.

It's a good story, and I would strongly recommend it for children and people of all ages. Although it is a fantasy series, it has a lot to say about the world we live in and how we act. It's based on the Arthurian legends of England, Cornwall, and Wales, but I think there are also some Christian elements, framed in abstract language, that come through.

A few observations: These are a very quick read, since they're written for a younger audience. There are five books in total, and they probaly don't add up to even one Harry Potter book, but the action moves quickly, and the plot is compelling. (In order: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree.)

I liked Cooper's observations about the Dark, which I think are quite true: that the Dark acts according to its nature and takes advantage of the normal human emotions of anger, fear, spite -- twisting them into something beyond normality. It doesn't mean that these emotions are good, but they are normal and people will feel them.. but they leave us vulnerable. It also says a good deal about the inclinations of human beings, that we can be inclined toward good or bad by our nature and also that our inclinations and the result are not always in line. That is, that we can intend to do good or to do evil, but the result may be the opposite of what we set out to do for a variety of reasons. The ending is nice, of course, because the good wins of course, but also because the characters have to make some sacrifices and have difficult choices facing them. It's not necessarily an easy ending, for all that the obvious and expected overall outcome is the end result.

It's a good series, and I'm glad I've read it again as an adult, because it has just as much to offer me now as it did when I was young.

Notes: The Dark is Rising (2nd book) was a Newbery Honor Book in 1974 and The Grey King won the Newbery Medal in 1976.

09 August 2005

what I'm meditating on this week:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

08 August 2005

reading notes: A Walk in the Woods

I've been a reading fan of Bill Bryson for a long time, so when I ran across this book in the library display, I decided it was fate and picked it up.

It was a super funny read, with some interesting factoids inserted along the way. Let's begin by saying that Bryson, a rather un-outdoorsy kind of guy, pushing middle age, is not the hiking type. But he uses the hiking experience to explore other topics and occasionally simply for humor.

Wisdom bits:
"In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature as an either/or proposition -- either your ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart..."
It's a funny book, filled with interesting information and funny moments, along with some deeper insights about himself and our culture. His umor is more in the British vein, somewhat dark and very sarcastic... also quite pessimistic. I enjoyed it, partly because I love British humor, but also recommend his earlier books, especially The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, which is a bit more light hearted.

07 August 2005

a good day

I went to church this morning, and the commute of 1.5 hours each way was not so bad. It was a good lesson: I can use that time productively, in prayer or in reading or in homework, so I shouldn't look at it as a giant pain but more as an opportunity, a time set aside. It was good.

I met a wonderful priest, who took me to brunch and made some time for me pastorally. It was a great conversation, and I am glad I met him.

A good day.

06 August 2005

reading notes: Real Sex

I've just finished Lauren Winner's most recent book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Her writing style is as accessible as in her other books (Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath).

Winner properly located the relationship of singleness and marriage within the Church. It often seems that the Church focuses on those who are married to the exclusion of those who are single. Winner's point that both married and single Christians have wisdom to offer the Church is important, because it redresses this imbalance.

Wisdom Bits:
  • "No matter how clearly we see ourselves and our fiances, marriage will prove difficult. We will both change. We will argue and feel broken, and wonder why we ever married in the first place -- and it is God who will sustain us in those spells."
  • "This is how sin works: it whispers to us about the goodness of something not good. It makes distortions feel good."
  • "[Society] has defined sex as something unsustainable -- bodice-ripping, stupefying, and nightly." (She goes on to point out that sex can be enriching and fulfilling in the habitual, the routine, and regularity of life. It doesn't always have to be mind-blowing to be good for us.)
Although she doesn't address other questions of sexuality and ethics, her reliance and, indeed, emphasis on the Genesis account in support of marital sex suggests to me that homosexuality, even of the married/covenanted kind, does not fit within her paradigm of sanctified and licit sexual relationships.

Which leads me to the central question that remains: Is the line that Winner draws between illicit/nonmarital and licit/marital sex as clear and well-defined as she would have us believe? Can a relationship outside of marriage vows but functioning as a covenanted equivalent of marriage be licit?

As Paul wrote:
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
If a relationship manifests the fruit of the Spirit, that is, if it is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control: is this relationship not a representation of the life to which Christ has called all of us? If marriage is to reveal "God's love actualized among God's people," then can relationships that manifest the fruit of the Spirit also reveal the love of God?

Winner's book is thought provoking and often insightful, but she loses the distinction between promiscuity and other, potentially licit nonmarital sexual relationships that may exist. She has something important to say, but it neglects the grey areas that do exist and that are the most difficult to navigate.

05 August 2005

Entering into Joy

Imagine if all the tumult of the body were to quiet down, along with all our busy thoughts about earth, sea, and air; if the very world should stop, and the mind cease thinking about itself, go beyond itself, and be quite still; if all the fantasies that appear in dreams and imagineation should cease, and there be no speech, no sign: Imagine if all things that are perishable grew still - for if we listen they are saying, "We did not make ourselves; he made us who abides forever" - imagine, then, that they should say this and fall silent, listening to the very voice of him who made them and not to that of his creation; so that we should hear not his word though the tongues of men, nor the voice of angels, nor the clouds' thunder, nor any symbol, but the very Self which in these things we love, and go beyond ourselves to attain a flash of that eternal wisdom that abides above all things: And imagine if that moment were to go on and on, leaving behind all other sights and sounds but this one vision that ravishes and absorbs and fixes the beholder in joy; so that the rest of eternal life were like that moment of illumination that leaves us breathless:

Would this not be what is bidden in scripture, Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord?
Saint Augustine

04 August 2005

When were you called?

I can't answer that question in a simple, pat way, because God has been calling me all my life. (I also don't like how it privileges religious vocational callings over everything else God calls us to be, or those who are vocationally called to teach, or to heal, or to do whatever wonderful things God asks of them and graces their lives with ... but that's a post for another day!)

God called me out of the Unitarian Universalist Church into the vibrant and living Body of Christ. I became an Episcopalian when I was 12, because I believed. I will always be grateful that my parents were able to support my conversion, not only with their practical help but with their blessing. I found the truth in Christ, and I believed. God called me through the people that I met and knew, the relationships that nurtured my emergent faith, and the support that others offered.

God called me back when I fell away from the Church after the Oklahoma City Bombing. New in my faith, I could not understand how God could allow such a terrible thing to happen, to my friends and their families. I lived at the time 20 miles to the south, and I had friends who lost their parents. I lost my faith, but God still called me. Eventually, I paid attention.

I first felt a calling to a religious vocation when I was 15. I had never met a woman priest (or a female pastor or minister of any sort, for that matter). I had no idea that women could answer a vocational call in the world... as in, outside a convent. "I like boys," I informed God. "You can't possibly be serious." And I stopped listening.

I managed to tune God out for a while, but He's relentless. I met women who were in discernment, in seminary, and in the priesthood. God kept calling, revealing their lives as an example and an instruction to me. I had doubts, I thought (and still think sometimes) that I'm not good enough, not churchy enough, too sarcastic, too irreverent, too ... something for this calling. But God keeps after me.

He's always calling. He's always reaching out with arms of love from the cross. He's calling each and every one of us into something deeper, each day and in every way. He never gives up on redeeming every one of us. No matter how often we reject the redeeming message of the good news... no matter how we damage His creation, each other, and pretty much everything in the way of what we want... no matter how far we fall... He is always working in our midst, in our lives, and in our hearts to bring us into the fullness of life.

He calls us from doubts into His love, from darkness into the light every day... every moment of our lives. How will we answer? Will we turn away, tune Him out, reject His calling? Or will we live into the mystery of a calling, whatever it may be? Will we welcome the doubts and the fears? Calling is not easy.. recognizing the presence of grace in our lives is never easy, and sometimes that grace seems like a burden. Sometimes it IS a burden. But ultimately, we all are called.. and the God who never ceases to love, to renew, and to invite is calling on us.

May your calling, whatever it may be, challenge you, enrich your life, and allow you to fulfill your potential as a child of God. Amen.

03 August 2005

a meditation from Hildegard

No creature has meaning without the Word of God.
God's Word is in all creation, visible and invisible.
The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity.
This Word flashes out in every creature.
This is how the spirit is in the flesh - the Word is indivisible from God.
Hildegard of Bingen

02 August 2005

at church today...

... I was struck by one line in the leaflet. Those six words have stuck with me all day, and I'm going to be thinking them over in my mind for a long time:

The Worship ends; the Service begins.

We are called to honor God in every moment of our lives. Our common prayers to God are only one aspect of our relationship with Him. There's a whole other side of honoring God in all persons that we tend to neglect. I could do more. Most of us could probably do more. My pledge to the Church is meager and will likely stay that way for a while, but I could do more with my hands, with my time, and with the gifts that God has graced my life with. Those gifts aren't so I can feel good about myself or so I can enrich my life. They're not even really for enriching the lives of people I love (although they do, and it is good).The gifts of God are for the people of God. The gifts God gave to me are so that I can best serve others. I am called, as are we all, to live a life of service. No matter how much I argue that I'm busy or I have no money, I could and should make room to work in God's name.

This could be as simple as saying hello to people I normally take as part of the scenery: the teller at the bank; the women who process my paycheck; Ken, who lives on the street and sometimes in a car, with his cat Charlie and his dog Penny; the men who go through my recycling bin on Monday night so they can collect plastics and get enough money for rent. These are the people of God. And the gifts in my life aren't so I can have a good time. It's so that people who are forgotten, marginalized, and pitied... can be loved, honored, and accepted.

I shouldn't do these things merely because they're good, although they are. I should do them because I am called to it as a child of the light, as a believer in Christ in whom we find truth and redemption. Every thing I do and everything I say should honor God. In this way I can offer prayers of service to God and grow into the person I am called to be, because "prayer is responding to God, by thoughts and by deeds, with or without words" [BCP 856].

O Redeemer of all our works, help me to serve you in every person, to be your representative in my daily life and work, and to become the person you created me to be, so that I may honor you in every moment of my days and in every action I undertake. When I am busy, grace me with your calming presence; when I am tired, grant me strength to continue or time to rest; when I am frustrated, remind me that all things work together for good for those who love God. Bless, O Lord, my hands to your service and my deeds to your Name, through your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.