Thursday, February 28, 2008

Five Months

As of Saturday I will have been at New Church (I really must come up with a blog name for it) five months. In many ways, things are going very, very well. By which I mean, They like me! They really like me! So, ok, that's out of the way.

But I am experiencing a bit of what the former moderator of the session described as a kind of malaise, or low level depression... not in myself, but in the session. I don't think there's a lot of trust inherent in that body. They seem to feel that they've been burned (this is all on intuition, mind you, and not at all on evidence). I know that there were certain tensions with the former pastor (and that's pretty normal). But I know that in very specific ways my behavior in the church is quite different, in ways that should be helpful, I think.

I went into a recent meeting armed with the knowledge that at least one member of the session doesn't like the leadership development I do with them (a passage of scripture, some questions for reflection, a passage from our constitution). I know this because I enlisted a bunch of members of the congregation to get feedback for me on "How's it going." Then, in the course of the leadership development that night (organized around the theme, if you were coming into this community today to found a church, what particular needs in the community would you be seeking to respond to?), I learned something startling about one session member. This individual is not sure church is worth it, is not sure she/he would step into a church again except for the need of the spouse to be involved.

I left somewhat stumped. what do I do with this information, exactly? Do I give it time, assuming it is part of a normal cycle of faith growing-pains? (The person said he/she has experienced a kind of cycle of engagement and distance in the past.) And if this is the session... granted, just one person out of nine. But still...

That said, this person is an articulate, highly intelligent, very funny (in an entirely underplayed way) addition to any church gathering, leadership or not. This may be simply be fatigue and burnout. Time and trust may win the day.

Add to all this: 18 people at the Lenten series last night. Down from 35 the first week. Ouch.

So I guess I got me the "I-got-a-call-but-turns-out-I-have-to-work-with-real-human-beings" blues.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Checking In and Week-Later Sermon Thoughts

How did that happen? That entire week that slipped by? I have been enjoying the privilege of a mid-Lent break from preaching. Last Sunday the youth of our presbytery (including two from my church) led worship; the theme was Hope, based on their experiences at last summer's Triennium, an every-three-years party they throw for Presby teenagers at Purdue University. I say "party" in the best and most biblical sense of the word: gathering together, breaking bread, breaking open scripture, affirming one another as children of God. Every single person I know who has ever gone to Triennium has returned rejuvenated and full of hope for, not just our church, but for the world. So I got to bask in the glow of that last Sunday.

This Sunday I'm preaching the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Because I can, that's why.

I have such a deep connection to this text. Back in (mumbledy-mumbledy)... OK, must have been 1990, I think that was Year A... I was doing a Master's Degree in Pastoral Ministry at Big Catholic U on the East coast. I had just begun the hard slog of trying to grapple with the fact that I felt called to ordained ministry, whatever that meant as a Roman Catholic woman, and I was also the mother of a two-year-old, Larry-O (who had already begun displaying a flair for the dramatic).

Enter... let's call her "Brigid." Brigid was a chaplain at BCU, and she was responsible for overseeing one of the many masses that took place on campus throughout the weekend. We normally had a parade of Jesuits rotate through, some of whom took preaching very seriously, and at least one of whom got his sermon on the way over to the chapel by glancing through the New York Times magazine. I do not lie. Brigid herself also preached regularly... an incredibly gifted poet in the pulpit, and someone who, unbeknownst to me, had placed firmly in the back of my mind the notion that "change was just around the corner" for the Catholic church.

One day Brigid asked me whether I would like to preach the third Sunday in Lent. Almost on auto-pilot, I said, "Sure!" I then proceeded to panic, just briefly. What was I thinking? Even with the idea of ordination flitting around my heart and mind, it had never occurred to me to want to step into a pulpit.

I went to the library. I researched the gospel of the day. I came up with a sermon. I preached it. I started it by singing the opening lines from a song from Walt Disney's animated film, "Cinderella." I had recently watched the film, oh, approximately 800 times with my darling boy, and it was, surprisingly, on point.

So this is love... hmmmm... so this is love! So this is what makes life divine! I'm all aglow... hmmmm... and now I know A vision of heaven is mine!

And... friends, I was hooked. It was so thrilling, so gratifying, so, so, joyful an experience for me! I have never gotten over it. (Obviously.)

I'm trying to decide whether to use that same little hook this week, or to go in a different direction. I may... decided to honor that early experience, and sing again.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Better-Late-Than-Never Book Meme!

I was tagged by Knittin Preacher to do the book meme.... and here it goes!

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, one of about 6 books I am currently reading, and none of which I am finishing, for some reason.

Find page 123: (Interesting, I was on page 126).

Find the first 5 sentences. Done.

Post the next three sentences.

Tears began to run down my face.


"Auntie, don't ask me."

If you are at all familiar about the book, these three sentences are, in a strange way, very much the heart of the story.

People, tag thyselves!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Sinner: A Sermon on John 7:53-8:11

A huge debt of gratitude in this sermon for Frances Taylor Gench's wonderful book, Encounters with Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John.

“The Sinner”
John 7:53-8:11
February 17, 2008

It is 2008, and at least one very well known woman is making headlines every day. As I write this there is a woman commander aboard the International Space Station, a woman who is a major contender to be her party’s presidential nominee, there’s a woman chancellor of Germany, there are countless women in very visible positions of power and prestige. It may be surprising in this season of so many well-known and powerful women for us to turn our attention to this woman in today’s gospel story. She is nameless, like so many women in scripture. She is powerless, like so many throughout the ages. She is brought before Jesus in an episode, which is full of surprises. It’s surprising that the woman is brought forward alone and accused of a crime which, by definition, usually necessitates the presence of a second party. It’s surprising that this episode, which may be one of the best-known stories about Jesus in the New Testament, may be one of the least preached-on in mainline Protestant churches. It’s surprising that this story is not included in our three-year cycle of readings, the Revised Common Lectionary. And it’s surprising that this episode continues to be linked in the popular imagination with Mary Magdalene, who is not the woman in the story: when she is mentioned in this gospel, she is mentioned by name. This is a story we think we know so well… until we dig a little deeper, and find all these surprises.

The gospel of John locates this story at the end of the festival of booths, also called “Sukkot.” This is a commemoration of the time when the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, following their liberation from slavery. Jews still mark this festival each fall by building open-air structures and then dwelling in them for seven days. During the course of the festival, Jesus has been in Jerusalem, teaching in the Temple courtyard. The content of what Jesus is saying is astonishing, and it’s stirring up the crowds. Here’s an example. The festival includes a procession commemorating God’s miraculous giving of water during the wilderness sojourn. Remember: forty years of wandering in the wilderness, during which time the presence or absence of water meant life or death. At the end of the festival, John tells us, Jesus cries out to the people, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” [John 7:37]. This is a fairly provocative statement. For a faithful Jew to implicitly place himself on a level with God, to say, in essence, “You are commemorating God’s giving of water, but if you are thirsty, you really ought to come to me”… well, this is not just controversial, it borders on blasphemy. John goes on to tell that many in the crowd wanted to arrest Jesus, then and there, but no one laid a hand on him. Before our passage begins we are given a moment as flies-on-the-wall, where we get to observe a consultation between the Temple police and the chief priests and Pharisees. Trouble is brewing.

“Then each of them went home,” our passage begins, “while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple.” Undeterred by the reactions to him the day before, Jesus sits down, which is the traditional posture for a teacher in this setting, and he begins, once more, to teach. What happens next might well be a result of the controversy of the day before. Jesus has claimed such extraordinary things about himself: how will he handle a situation which is not purely theoretical, but which involves human beings, life and death? Answer one way and the religious leaders will want his hide; answer the other and the Romans will be after him. Verse six tells us, a trap is being laid for him.

We can only imagine the state of the woman… caught, the accusers say, in the act of committing adultery. Imagine her state of dishevelment. Imagine her fear… the sentence is death by stoning for both the woman and her partner. I am about to say something shocking to our modern sensibilities, that flies in the face of all those things I was saying earlier about women in the news: Adultery, in its original understanding, was really a crime about property rights. The woman was considered to be the property of her husband. So the sin, the crime is against the husband of the married woman. Of course, that brings us back to that surprising fact I mentioned earlier: why is this woman brought forward alone? Where is the man? We can imagine a number of scenarios that might account for his absence. The man may have escaped in the mayhem of being apprehended. Or, he may have had a friend among the Temple police who allowed him to slip away… special treatment for the friends of the powerful seems to happen in all times and all places. Or, the man may be a Roman citizen. Jews in first century Palestine were an occupied people, and the Romans were their occupiers. Then as now, the men of an occupying force often used the power of their position to exploit local women. The scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman before Jesus have no authority to discipline, say, a Roman soldier. But they do have authority over this woman. We don’t know why no man has been brought forth. For some undisclosed reason, the woman faces her accusers alone.

This disheveled, frightened, nameless woman. There’s something about the way she is accused...the setting of the trap for Jesus…that tells us, she is at least on some level, a victim. She is certainly being used… used as bait in a trap, perhaps used by a hostile occupying force. She arouses our pity. She is brought before Jesus, as he sits teaching, and the charge is laid against her, and Jesus is asked for his opinion. “‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’” [John 8:4-5]

Jesus does something rather remarkable at this point. Jesus is the same eloquent speaker and preacher who didn’t hesitate to speak boldly to those attacking him just the day before. But now he remains silent. Instead of speaking, he bends over and writes with his finger, in the dust on the ground.

One of the first sermons I ever remember hearing was about this text. And the preacher, I recall, sat, and leaned over and used his finger to trace shapes in the ground, just as Jesus is said to have done. Scholars have been wondering for two thousand years exactly what it was that Jesus wrote. One woman, talking to a minister in a bible study, said, “I know what he wrote: It takes two!” Other speculation has included the possibility that Jesus was writing down the sins of all those who were present. Others imagine that Jesus may have been writing a pertinent quote from scripture, such as this line from Exodus, “You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness…” [Exodus 23:1b].[i] But ever since I saw that preacher writing on the ground, I have been convinced that the words Jesus wrote are not important. Rather, the writing was a way to take time to let tempers cool, to let harsh words finish echoing in the courtyard, and then float away on a breeze. One scholar gives this interpretation of Jesus’ writing in the sand:

He hesitates. He does not draw a line, fix an interpretation, tell the woman who she is and what her fate should be. He allows a moment, a longish moment, in which people are given time to see themselves differently precisely because he refuses to make the sense they want. When he lifts his head, there is both judgment and release.[ii]

Jesus hesitates. In so doing, he throws a lynch mob off its original plan. He allows space for a breath, a thought, a new understanding. And then, he speaks. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” [John 8:7b]. One by one the members of the mob drop their rocks and go away, the text tells us, the oldest departing first of all, perhaps because when you have lived a little in your own skin, you know better than to think yourself entirely righteous.

Eventually Jesus and the woman are left alone, as he has resumed his writing on the ground. Jesus sends the woman on her way, with… advice? warning? instructions? “Go your way, and from now on, do not sin again.”

This story of the nameless woman has so captured our imaginations. There are countless paintings depicting it, showing the woman as everything from a shy, demure waif to a seductress, defiant and half-naked. Why is this a story that is not heard so often in many Protestant churches? Well, one answer has to do with the text itself. This little passage is a kind of homeless wanderer in the New Testament. If you look it up in most bibles, it’s bracketed, and a footnote appears along with it informing the reader that this story is not found in the most ancient manuscripts. In fact, when it is found, it appears in all different places: sometimes here, at the beginning of chapter 8, sometimes in chapter 21, and sometimes, in the gospel of Luke! The story is a kind of scriptural orphan with no home that anyone is satisfied with, though there is no doubt it is very ancient and traces back to the earliest Christian witness of Jesus. Why should that be?

One theory is that this story made the early church so uncomfortable that it was suppressed. The freely given, gracious forgiveness of God shown in Jesus… well, it’s not very satisfying for most of us, is it? We tend to be a justice-loving people: we want the justice of God to rain down on evildoers. There’s a problem with that desire. If we are honest with ourselves, not one of us would be safe if God’s only move was the move of vengeance, the move of punishment. The early Christians feared that people hearing this story—especially women—would take it as a blank check to misbehave. But it is a misreading of the story to imagine that Jesus condones sin. He does not. He tells the woman to stop sinning. But in the same breath, he reminds those of us who are inclined to judge the sins of others that we might try remembering our own culpability before we start picking up stones and warming up our throwing arms.

This nameless, powerless, surprising woman. Someone has suggested that every anonymous character in the gospel should be considered a kind of invitation, an invitation to see ourselves. I hope and pray that none of us will ever be dragged through the streets by an angry mob. But as horrible as that would be, truly, I think the greater danger to our souls would be for us to be the ones doing the dragging, convinced of our righteousness. Jesus has words and deeds of challenge and comfort to us in either case. By his deeds he shows us how to stop, to breathe, to hesitate when being called upon to pass judgment. And by his words he tells us that every day, every hour, every breath we draw offers us the possibility and hope of a new beginning. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Frances Taylor Gench, Encounters With Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 53.
[ii] As quoted in Gench, Rowan Williams, Writing in the Dust: After September 11 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 78.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Early Morning Dreaming

We did have a snowstorm yesterday, into last night. This morning I set my alarm clock for 6:30 in order to listen to the list of delays and closings. Duly satsified, I set the alarm again for 8:00 and drifted back off to sleep.

My mom's voice came to me. Not saying anything particularly earth-shattering... things like "Hello dear," and "I'm fine" (when I asked "How are you?").

I told her that I'm worried about Larry-O, and would she please let him know how wonderful and talented and what a good person he is.

It was very real.

I asked a dear friend if she thought I was losing it. She said no, which I'm glad to report to you.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Almost exactly two years ago, give or take 15 minutes, my brother called me from our hometown to let me know that my mom had died. She died at home, a hard death, from mediastinal cancer (a fairly unusual lung cancer-- she was a lifelong non-smoker-- that was probably secondary to breast cancer, of 15 years earlier). The one thing she didn't want was to choke to death, and that is exactly how she died, as the tumors encroached on her larynx and trachea.

I was in the living room on the couch, as I am now, on my laptop, as I am now. It was a Saturday night, and I was looking over my sermon for the next morning.

I had known she would die soon. I had spoken to her earlier in the day, her words nearly unintelligible at that point. I'd been in Big City with Petra and Larry-O at a college audition that day. I spoke to her as we headed for the highway, driving home in advance of a big snowstorm-- and we're supposed to get one tomorrow, I understand. That was the last time I would hear her voice, driving through the upper West side towards the bridge.

When the phone rang I leapt to my feet. I knew what was coming, and I needed to take the news standing up, I guess. I wailed. Larry-O and Petra came running, and as I sank down onto the couch again, they sat tightly around me, one on each side, and I sobbed. She was nearly 86. She was ill and miserable and sick of life and ready to go. And she did.

That's one anniversary.

On Wednesday it will be four years from the day Petra and I got into the car to drive to my parents' house so that I didn't have to watch my husband move out. (Larry didn't want him to move alone, so he stayed with him).

So that's the other anniversary.

I don't know why these are hitting me so hard this week. I'm just feeling it, is all. And I do covet your prayers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Tempter: A Sermon on Matthew 4:1-11

“The Tempter”
Matthew 4:1-11
February 10, 2008

Do you believe in the devil? If you put a group of seminarians together in a room, this question inevitably comes up sooner or later. And the first answers you will hear from the people who are studying to be ministers will be all about the development of the idea of Satan, or, in Hebrew, Ha-Satan, the Tempter, which has been around for several thousand years at least. And someone will point out the fact that, in the Hebrew bible, this figure wasn’t originally conceived of as a yin to God’s yang, an equal and opposite partner of evil to counterbalance God’s goodness. Originally, Satan was a member of God’s heavenly court, as he is in Job, a tester entrusted with the job of determining who is truly righteous. And then someone will point out the origins of this story in the New Testament, and how the battle between Jesus and Satan was originally depicted in Mark as a test of strength, representing the cosmic battle between good and evil. Bring in some wine or beer and a pool table or a Yahtzee game, and trust me, the seminarians could go on and on like this all night long.

But then ask the seminarians if they believe in evil. The tone of the conversation changes. Oh, yes, they will say. They believe in evil. They’ve experienced it. They’ve seen it with their own eyes. And someone will remember when they were the case worker for a woman whose husband eventually beat her to death…and someone will remember the young gay man, Matthew Shepard, left to die on a fence post in Laramie, Wyoming… and someone will talk about a sister who is a heroin addict…and someone will detail a picture they saw on the internet of a child blown to smithereens in Iraq… which, of course, will cause someone else to remind the group that Saddam Hussein probably gassed thousands of Kurds… and someone, will, of course, mention the Holocaust.

No one, it seems to me, doubts the presence and reality of evil. No one doubts its existence, its power, its fearsome threats to rob us of all hope. We just don’t, most of us, know what to call it exactly, we aren’t sure it has a name and an address. One thing we’re usually pretty sure of: it’s not us. From Adam and Eve and the Serpent to Blackwater USA and beyond, most of us who are caught doing something we know perfectly well is out of bounds for decent human behavior will find a way to pin it on someone else.

If we are to take today’s gospel passage seriously we will find ourselves listening to a story about Jesus and some of those boundaries for human behavior. One of the interesting things about this story is the fact that the Tempter doesn’t seem, on the surface, to be asking Jesus to do anything particularly horrible. Surely for this man to provide himself with lunch after a 40 day fast is hardly the story of a prison guard at Auschwitz. So what is this story about? What exactly is the Tempter tempting Jesus to do? How does this story inform our understanding of good and evil? How does it instruct us with regard to temptation?

I wonder what the Tempter looked like. Our text doesn’t give us any clues. The stories of the desert monks are filled with the devil coming in the form of a beautiful woman. But I wonder, in Jesus’ case, whether he didn’t take the form of someone trusted… a rabbi. A Temple priest. Jesus’ father. Whatever his appearance, he had an unnerving opening line: “Since you are the Son of God…” One gets the distinct impression that the Tempter was there, by the river, forty days earlier at Jesus’ baptism, when God’s voice announced: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Seeing as you are the Son of God, the Tempter says… turn these stones into loaves of bread. Not “this stone” into “a loaf.” “These stones,” into “loaves.” The Tempter isn’t just trying to help Jesus to fill up after a long fast. One loaf would be plenty for that. No, he’s trying to get Jesus to do something impressive. Satan is trying to get Jesus to show off.

Jesus responds with words from Deuteronomy, that part of the Old Testament that tells of the people of God wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, enduring their own temptations: “It is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Our translation, in an effort to be inclusive, obscures the point of what Jesus is saying. Jesus is really saying “man,” or “human beings” live by God’s word. Satan tempts Jesus to show off the fact that he’s God’s Son. Jesus responds that the best way he can show that he is God’s Son is by being a human being.

Then the Tempter takes Jesus to the holy city, to the pinnacle of the Temple, and even more vividly, tempts him to demonstrate his godliness by a great display. “Jump off, he chides Jesus, “the angels will catch you.” Actually, his words here are a quote from Psalm 91. Never forget: even the devil can quote scripture. And again, Jesus resists the temptation to show that he is the Son of God by a fabulous display that will leave the people oohing and aahing. For Jesus, being the Beloved Son of God means embracing the limitations of his humanity. Jesus is here not to lord it over us, but to join in solidarity with us.

The last temptation is, again, something that seems almost reasonable. Why shouldn’t Jesus be in charge of everything instead of the Roman occupiers or the corrupt little potentates of Herod’s family? Wouldn’t Jesus be just, good, and compassionate? But the cost—bowing down and worshiping anything or anyone other than God—is far too high. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,” Jesus replies, and the Tempter is vanquished. For now.

Jesus is tempted by things that are not so horrible in and of themselves—by hunger, by the desire to know that God is truly with him, by the desire to live into his identity as Messiah. But these things can be accomplished only at the cost of altering his relationship with God, even severing it. I think the hard and deep lesson of this story is this: first things first.

Look at Jesus’ responses to the Tempter. In each case, Jesus is pointing away from the reasonable little miracle, the harmless display of fireworks, the self-aggrandizing parlor trick, and instead pointing towards God. The Tempter is really asking Jesus three questions: How do we live? By the word of God. How do we relate to God? By accepting that God is God. How do we judge between what is good and what is evil, or even between what is good and what is better? When in doubt, choose God. God first, God last, and God always. There is a prayer traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick that really captures the Spirit of how Christians are to encounter life and all the complex moral choices that go with it. It is called the “Breastplate.” It expresses a desire to be completely surrounded, and thus protected, by Christ, in all situations of life. This is the way Jesus the Christ relates to his Father. God first, God last, God always. I think, at the heart of it, this is a story about putting first things first, and letting them inform everything else. Jesus does this so simply, so directly, and so perfectly.

So how does this story expand our understanding of good and evil? May I say it again? “Even the devil can quote scripture.” What seems on the surface to have the purest of motivations can sometimes take us into the realm of what is truly evil. That’s the thing about evil: it can promise something that looks so good—a strong country, say, or life-saving research. And the next thing you know, we have everlasting detention camps, and African American men in prisons being injected with pathogens. This problem—the good promised through evil means—is captured well in a very funny movie, actually a remake of a film from the 60’s, called “Bedazzled.” In it a hapless guy named Elliott (played by Brendan Fraser) is seduced by the devil (played by Elizabeth Hurley) into selling his soul for a shot at seven wishes. And, of course, what Elliott wants is perfectly understandable, and not evil-sounding at all—he wants the girl of his dreams to fall in love with him. But the thing about the Tempter is this: no temptation is ever what it seems. Elliott makes his first wish: to be married to Allison, and to be rich and powerful. Then he wakes up to find he is a Colombian drug lord, and Allison, his wife, hates him. It goes on like that through 6 wishes, with Elliott refining and re-thinking his wishing formula, until finally, he is sitting in jail confiding his problems to a cellmate. “I sold my soul,” he says, “and I got nothing for it. Nothing turned out the way I planned.” His cellmate, looking at him with eyes full of love [and isn’t that the point of the incarnation? That we will have a Divine Cellmate, who will look at us with eyes full of love?] tells him, “Brother, you didn’t sell your soul. It was never yours to sell in the first place. No way, no how.”

We can’t sell our souls… they are not ours to sell. They are God's When the Tempter comes calling, when the Spirit leads us into the wilderness for some spiritual exercise, Jesus points the way. And perhaps unexpectedly, the way through temptation is the way of being human, of letting God be God, And when we are faced with the temptation to despair, because despite all our precautions we have, of course, failed miserably, we can remember the words of that Divine cellmate: “Brother, Sister, your soul was never yours to sell or lose in the first place, no way, no how.” We will fail. We will give in. We will get it wrong. And so our greatest hope is to know in whose hands we are, succeed or fail. And our deepest wisdom is to wrap ourselves in that protection, trusting that God can make it right.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort me and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Friday, February 08, 2008


In honor of your homecoming, Wyld Man:
a poem... wishing you many a day like he describes:
steaks hissing on a grill,
cold beers
and philosophy.


My philosopher friend is explaining again
that the bottle of well-chilled beer in my hand

might not be a bottle of beer,
that the trickle of bottle-sweat cooling in my palm

might not be wet, might not be cool,
that in fact it’s impossible ever to know

if I’m holding a bottle at all.
I try to follow his logic, flipping the steaks

that are almost certainly hissing
over the bed of coals – coals I’d swear

were black at first, then gray, then red –
coals we could spread out and walk on

and why not, I ask, since we’ll never be sure
if our feet burn, if our soles

blister and peel, if our faithlessness
is any better or worse a tool

than the firewalker’s can-do extreme.
Exactly, he smiles. Behind the fence

the moon rises, or seems to.
Have another. Whatever else is true,

the coals feel hotter than ever
as the darkness begins to do

what darkness does. Another what? I ask.

by Philip Memmer

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Study Leave Experience (As Contrasted With Little Mary's)

I personally would not have said a word about bodily functions. But hey. That's what makes the world go 'round, right?

Little Mary and I had the opportunity to take some study leave time in a lovely little Victorian house, in a green, green place (which abutted a suburb, fascinating), in which herds of deer wandered quietly through the backyard, along with flocks of wild turkeys. We had three stories all to ourselves, and we were most productive. (Again, not saying a word.)

I managed to do just about every task I'd set for myself, with one tiny exception (I'm still looking for a story to end my Ash Wednesday meditation).

But the productivity was not the point. We managed, somehow, to make all that work feel like Sabbath. We rose when our bodies told us to rise. We ate what we wanted (which was pretty healthy, and cooked by us, until we succumbed, on the last night, to what our hostess assured us was "the best pizza in the United States." She did not exaggerate.). We said morning prayer together. We worked according to our own rhythms (and not the ringing of the phone). Little Mary chose the room with the best light. I chose the room with the best bed. I could have stayed about 10 more days.

And we made surprisingly good roommates, LM and I. We are different... very, very different, in so many ways. But we worked well, quietly and companionably, and with some measure of hilarity, always good. And then at night we watched wildly... unexpected TV shows on CD. No nightmares though.

The only nightmare was getting back to the office and having about six administrative emergencies to deal with, plus a lovely 84 year old woman hospitalized with... chicken pox!

A blessed start to your Lenten season, friends.