Friday, January 31, 2020

Friday Fragments: Impeachment Trials and Other Types of Insights

As another week ends, let me capture some disparate ideas that may or may not come together into a larger cohesive idea--or not.

--I feel like I should be writing more about the impeachment trial, an event which seems to have historic significance but will make no difference at all.  I have been following loosely, which means I've been reading a lot of analysis.  Last night as I drove home I listened to the trial and was astonished at how civil people seemed (writing questions on note cards!--a brilliant way of keeping a modicum of order and control) and how capable of speaking extemporaneously as they answered questions.

--As I drove home, I also thought about Chief Justice John Roberts--I don't always agree with him, but I tend to like him and trust him.  He's got very long days this week and last.  Does he say, "I did not ascend through the court system for this!"  Or does he say, "I was born for this time in history!"  Maybe some of both.

--As I work past sundown, I can see through the windows of the mixed martial arts building across the street.  It's often a charming view:  little children in their white, baggy uniforms, going through their katas.  I often see them in a circle, and their movements look more like interpretive dance than self-defense.

--I have an idea for a poem that I don't want to lose:  Jesus takes the kids to mixed martial arts class.

--One of my high school friends is cleaning out his parents' house after his father died this month.  He's posting interesting pictures to Facebook, pictures primarily of artifacts of his youth.  It's strange to me to realize how these things have such an ancient look, even though I've got some similar stuff in my boxes.

--My sister-in-law is packing up her boxes to move back to Memphis.  We all agree that having her in the cottage has been a great experience, even with a damaging flood.  She's moving back because her true love lives in Memphis, and it makes more sense for them to live there than here.  I wish her well.  I will miss her.

--What I have loved most about having her close is how easy it's been to have a meal together.  It doesn't take weeks of planning.  It doesn't take hours of driving.

--I realize that I don't have lots of time left on the earth, but part of me wishes that I had more time to experiment with the type of communal living that I've always thought would work best:  small cottages around a communal building.  This experience with my sister-in-law living in the cottage makes me think this approach could work.

--This week I've been successful at journaling at work--not every day, but I've seized the opportunity when I could.  I've also used the Poet Tarot Deck (more on this process in this blog post):

--And now I must get ready for spin class.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Feed a Cold, Sweat Out a Cold

I do not own an Instant Pot or its earlier ancestor, the crock pot.  I have owned crock pots of various sizes, but I rarely used them to cook my dinner while I was away--no, I used them as big warming bowls.

Yesterday as I sat at my desk, feeling my cold trying to take over, I thought about the turkey carcasses I brought home with me from our Thanksgiving dinners.  Last night, I made stock.  And this morning, I made a mushroom barley soup with the stock.  We'll reheat it when I get home.  It will be delicious.

Will it make our colds go away?  I did put a lot of garlic in it, but I think that time is the only thing that will make our colds go away.

We had a similar conversation in spin class this morning.  Yesterday someone used the spin room and was coughing so much that the director of the Wellness Center came in to make sure the guy was O.K.  He said he was trying to burn a cold out of his body. 

My spin class was aghast, but I understood the thinking, even if there's no science behind the idea.  If I work hard and sweat, maybe the germs will wash away or not be able to survive the internal heat I'm generating.

We disinfected the bikes and burned our way through class.  On the way back home, I heard news reports of the new corona virus that's burning its way through China; we now have more people infected with this new virus than those infected with SARS during the 2002-2003 outbreak.  The World Health Organization will meet today.  If we were characters in a movie, ominous music would be playing.

Of course, most years the regular old flu will kill more of us than other illnesses.  So I'm washing my hands more than usual and trying not to touch my eyes, nose, or mouth.  I didn't realize how much I touch my mucous membranes until I started trying to be aware every time my fingers strayed to my face.

Making this harder:  my left eye is goopy--it could be part of the cold I'm fighting off, or it could be allergies.  I've been to an eye doctor once during a full-on outbreak of eye goopiness, and it's not an infection.  I might have a blocked sinus tube or it may be the way I'm responding to a new-at-midlife allergy to something.  I do tend to get the goopiness regularly this time of year.

It's the time of year when I'm reminded of the struggles that come from having a body:  post-holiday weight gain that isn't magically vanishing, a cold that wants to take over, achy joints. 

But it could be worse.  I'm always aware of how much worse it could be.

With this new corona virus, I hope we're not all about to find out how much worse it could be.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Two Poem Morning

I am happy to report that I don't have much time to blog because I wrote not one, but two (TWO!) poems this morning.  I tossed and turned and finally got up.  I thought I might get some grading done or work on my apocalyptic novel.  Instead, I decided to play with a poem idea I had:  a woman embroidering names into the hems and necklines of her clothes.

The poems went in completely different directions, as poems do.  Although I had been carrying the image of a woman embroidering in my head for days, that image didn't make it into either poem.  And I wrote even though I only had a whisp of an idea.  Usually I'll let ideas percolate--the risk, of course, is that I'll lose them.

In future years, when I look at my poetry legal pads of purple pages and wonder why I didn't write more poems, let me remember that I've also been writing haiku like creations to go with my sketches.  Here's one that I did yesterday:

The haiku seems a bit bleak--or perhaps it's a collection of images that will later find their way to a larger poem.  The sketching made me happy.  I almost wished that I had saved space for the haiku before drawing.  I had trouble figuring out where/how to fit it in.

And now, let me get on with the rest of my morning.  It's always a good day when I've already written one poem--even better having written two!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Which God Do You Believe In?

One of the more interesting intellectual nuggets that I picked up during the online intensive revolved around people's belief in God.  As spiritual directors, it will be fruitful to determine not whether or not people believe in God--most people do, and certainly people who seek out a spiritual director do.

No, the better question is "Which God do you believe in?"  Or "Which God do you worship?"  I was surprised at the possible answers and how much of the population believes in which God.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to find out that I believe in a benevolent God.  I was surprised to find out that only 23% of the population believes in a benevolent God.

Before I go any further, let me talk about the source for these statistics.  There was a USA Today article some time ago, which I found but then can't find again.  I don't remember who was polled--were these church goers or the general population?  But the statistics do seem relevant, regardless.  The statistic of 23% is a rough statistic, not precise.

So, if one doesn't believe in a benevolent God, then what's left?  There's the authoritarian God, which 23% of the population believes in.  The other two types of God are critical and distant, and 23 % of the population believes in each.

If 75% of the population believes in a God that's on some sort of spectrum from distant to vengeful, it's no wonder that people aren't much interested in going to church or that they're attending out of fear.  How on earth do we minister to people with these beliefs?

I don't have any easy answers, of course.  But it's an interesting way of framing the question.  We tend to think that we need to convince people of the existence of God--but it may be much harder than that.

Monday, January 27, 2020

An Evening with Isabelle Allende

Last night I saw Isabelle Allende at the Adrienne Arsht Center.  Each time I've been to the Arsht Center, it's taken longer and been more of a hassle in terms of getting there.  Last night I thought we might miss the event altogether.  There was a Super Bowl event nearby, which we didn't anticipate.

But we pressed forward and made it through the crowds to get our tickets--again, quite a crowd at the Will Call window.  I was glad to see the huge crowds, and I was happy that the Will Call window handled them efficiently.

I thought I had gotten us good seats, close to the front, but we spent the night seeing Allende from the side.  Still, it was a good evening.

The one thing that was unusual in an author appearance:  she didn't read from her new book at all.  She talked a bit about the inspiration for it, and a bit about current events that might make us think of past times in history that had a despot take over.

She talked a lot about her family, and several times she stressed that we should cherish our families because we never know how long we'll have them with us.  She said that she always answered fan letters, but she rarely entered into long-term correspondence.  I thought it was amazing that she answered fan letters.

She said that she's never finished a writing project that didn't get published--interesting.  She said that by the time she starts writing, she's done so much research and so much thinking about the project, that she knows she's got a publishable book on her hands.

She also said that she's her favorite author.  I didn't get the idea that she reads much outside of materials she's reading for her own project.

She also said that she doesn't remember her books very well, even in the time just after she's finished writing them.  She recounted being asked about a character and not being able to recall anything about the character.  How intriguing.

So, true confession time:  Isabelle Allende isn't one of my favorite authors.  I like the idea of what she's doing, but I rarely pick up her novels.

Why did I go?  My friend and her sister LOVE Isabelle Allende, and in fact, she is their all-time favorite author.

I also went because I know how old Allende is--opportunities to see her won't be coming my way forever.  And in our current age, I like being able to support female authors in this way.  She doesn't need my support--I'm well aware of that.  But I need to support what's important to me:  books and keeping a record and bearing witness.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sketching and the Perspective Given

Thursday I did some sketching.  I first tried to sketch the sunroom where I spent so much time last week (I have even dreamed of that room).  But I couldn't get the perspective right:

I couldn't decide what to draw next, so I looked back through some of my sketches from the online journaling class that I took.  I felt drawn to the pine trees I had been sketching, but first I drew a vine-like line.  Later, I added trees.

I often try to create a haiku for my sketch.  But I couldn't get the syllables right.  I thought about a longer poem, but I was running out of time during my lunch hour sketching, with the hard deadline of a 1:00 meeting.  I thought about how the leaves of the vine looked like the tongues of flame I had been sketching, the tongues of flames that we think about during Pentecost.

Later I thought about the larger world context, the fires that are scorching so much of Australia.  I didn't have those kinds of flames in mind when I wrote the poem.

This sketch makes me happy, and I'm not sure why.  I love the colors and the idea of the forest it inspires.  I love the colors in the vine and leaves.  But most of all, I love that I seized some time to sketch.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Craft Talks at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Each year, I have plans for attending the Palm Beach Poetry Festival (except for the one year that I forgot that it was happening at all).  Each year, I make a schedule of the events I will attend:  poetry readings, craft lectures, interviews, so much to choose from!  Each year, I adjust the schedule due to my tiredness.

I read back through my blog posts to determine the last year that I actually attended:   2014.  Let me not get lost in the self-flagellation that can come from missing events.  I moved hundreds of miles down here on a quest to have more cultural events, and I'm too tired from working to afford to live here to go to them, and the thought of the traffic overwhelms me too.

This year, I wanted to go to the Joy Harjo events, but my weariness got the better of me.  If I hadn't been gone last week, perhaps I wouldn't have been so tired.  I did manage to get to the festival yesterday.  I really wanted to go to Maggie Smith's craft lecture, which was at 2:00.  That idea seemed manageable.

I met a friend for a wonderful lunch at an Italian restaurant.  We even had a glass of wine, since we didn't have to worry about driving.  And then I went over to the theatre.

Maggie Smith talked about embracing brokenness and error in poems.  She talked about the kintsugi method of ceramics, where cracks and even broken pieces are filled in with metallic lacquer.  She talked about ways to use this technique in poetry through the things we mistype, the spelling errors, the things we hear wrong, and all the other ways we should embrace our mistakes.  If we're open to our imperfections, the poems may take us to surprising places that a rigid poet would never discover.

My favorite quote of hers:  "I don't got to poetry for comfort, as a reader or a writer, but to be changed."

Her craft lecture was paired with Adrian Matejka, who talked about persona poetry and issues of history, culture and appropriation.  I wasn't familiar with his work, but he was a dynamic, engaging speaker, and I enjoyed the topic.  How interesting to be talking about these issues during a week when the nation has been talking about these issues in the latest Oprah book pick, American Dirt.

I got back on the road by 3:45, and I was astonished by the traffic:  lots of stop and go traffic--and then we'd zoom along, and then almost come crashing to stop and go traffic again--I find that kind most maddening.

I had thought I might spend the evening writing or grading or doing something while my spouse was teaching his class.  Instead, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody.  I loved the first part of the movie, when the band is forming.  The end, the descent into drugs and other bad decisions, not so much.  I like a redemption arc as much as the next person, but the last chunk of the movie was so predictable.  I'm glad I checked it out of the library--no cost but lost time. 

Of course, if I hadn't watched the movie, I'd have probably been sleeping by 7:15--a better use of time?  Hard to say.

It was a satisfying day--good to be reminded of the creative life I hope to be having, where I have enough rough drafts that I need to embrace the mistakes along with the drafts that turned out the way I envisioned, the life where I have more source material than just me, and I need to be aware of how I'm using that source material.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Thoughts on Solitude

Before last week gets too far away from me, let me records some thoughts on solitude, which was one of the spiritual focus elements of the onground intensive for the certificate in spiritual direction.  Before last week, I would have thought I had mastered the art of solitude to some degree, but last week showed me how wrong I am.

We had three hours on Thursday that we were supposed to spend in solitude--we entered into this time of solitude in an effort to spend time with God.  We decided that napping was fine, but reading was not--it's too similar to bingewatching movies or TV.  We won't hear God if we fill our brains with something else.

We were allowed to journal, and I decided that journaling was the only writing I would allow myself. If I wrote a short story or worked on my novel, it would be too easy to lose myself in that process.  If I had an idea for a poem, I'd have let myself write that too, but I didn't have anything percolating.

At first I decided to walk around campus taking pictures, which I did.  I did some journaling, but had trouble finding a place where I was comfortable--the library was stuffy, the outside was too breezy.  I walked some more.  I kept checking my watch impatiently wondering when it would be time for dinner.  I was reminded of my mental state at the end of yoga class when we hold the corpse pose and empty our minds.  It's not easy for me.

One of our leaders talked about how solitude could be a practice that we could adopt whenever we needed it--less a place or a state of being alone, but a true mental attitude.

This morning, though, I was thinking about how I need to practice solitude in the traditional sense:  to be alone, with electronics turned off, to be open to hearing something instead of the din of the world.  I am so tired of the yammering and the shouting and the low grade rumbles that are so hard to tune out.

I also want to remember the ultimate purpose.  It's great if I feel some relief from the anxiety that never seems to recede.  But the reason to adopt this practice is to be able to hear God and develop a relationship with God.

I began the week by reading part of this meditation written by Richard Rohr:   "It does concern me how often all kinds of inner work are called contemplation, but they do not lead us to a full contemplative stance. We shouldn’t confuse insight-gathering and introspection with contemplative spirituality. Contemplation is about letting go of what is false and incomplete much more than it is about collecting what is new, no matter how true, therapeutic, or helpful it is. In other words, if personal growth is still our focus, I do not think we are contemplative yet. True transformation demands that we shed ourselves as the central reference point. Jesus said, “Unless the single grain of wheat dies, it remains just a single grain,” and it will not bear much fruit (John 12:24). Self-help and personal growth are not of themselves the open field of grace where we move beyond self-preoccupation."

That paragraph struck me when I read it on Monday, January 13--and then I went off to my onground intensive where these words rang in my ears throughout the week.  How delightful!

I wish that I could say that I have a plan for inviting more solitude into my life.  I don't yet.  But I'm planning to look for ways to seize some solitude time.  I probably won't have 3 hours ever again--or at least not until the next onground intensive.  But if other practices have taught me anything, it's that some small amount of time is better than no time.  If we wait until we have a big chunk of time, we will get nothing done.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

January Funk and Shorter Self Improvement Plans

This month feels like we're hemorrhaging money:  we needed to replace the drowned car, which is a big expense.  My spouse spilled a glass of wine that took out a laptop, so he bought a replacement.  He bought a Chromebook because of the price, only to realize that he couldn't save on the desktop or make it work at all for much of anything beyond Internet work--yes, that's the nature of a Chromebook, but he didn't realize what he was buying because he was so attracted to the price.  So he bought another, different laptop because we are modern people who need computers to do our work.

Last night I got home to see a check on the fridge--money coming in?  How novel!

We got $75 as part of a compensation for the loss of a glorious orange tree that we had in our last house.  That tree was cut down at the turn of the century, much to my sorrow.  It was a healthy tree, but the state tried to control citrus canker, a serious disease that threatened the citrus industry, by cutting down any trees that were close to canker outbreaks.

Now I drive north past the ghosts of citrus fields turned into housing complexes, and I feel sad in all sorts of ways.  The check that arrived yesterday won't make me feel better, but I'll cash it anyway.  It's a strange time not just in our personal lives but in the life of the nation.

These are the days when I think about how glad I am not to be a U.S. Senator or House member.  I wouldn't have survived in the current White House administration very long, but I'm glad I'm not there either.  I can't imagine having to pay attention to a task, even one as important as an impeachment trial, for 12 hours at a time.

I feel like I should have more profound insights than that one.  I am realizing how old I am in some ways--my first political memory was Watergate and its fall out, which means I have memories of 3 of the 4 impeachments in the nation's history.  At the time of Nixon's impeachment, I was 9, and I remember feeling aghast at the idea that the president could be impeached.  Clinton's behavior made me feel queasy--sex with an intern????!!!!  Boundaries, people!  And I still feel queasy about the current administration--I have felt queasy about Trump from the beginning, as readers of this blog know.

Do I think that every administration has some high crimes and misdemeanors that we just didn't know about?  There are administrations that seem more prone to illegal/unethical behavior.  But I do think that it's hard to keep this behavior hidden, especially in the decades since the 70's.

I am not sure of how to conclude this post.  Let me address my January funk by recording two ideas for improvement:

--For the last week of January and the first week of Feb, starting on Monday, Jan. 27, let me count calories in a vigorous way.  I'm doing this because those are the last 2 weeks of the additional Tues-Thurs spin classes.  Let me try to eat between 1500 and 2000 calories a day--veggies are free.

--For the month of Feb., let me focus on getting the front bedroom back into some sort of order.  This chaos of paper and possessions makes me want to get in my car and drive far, far away.  I am yearning for the lovely sunroom where I spent so many hours during my time at Southern Seminary.  Let me try to address those yearnings by inviting some of that spirit into this front bedroom where I am currently writing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Progress Report: The Creativity Bag

A few weeks ago, I wrote this Facebook post:

"So, this week-end, I want to create a to-go bag, a creativity kit. I want a sketchbook and a collection of markers. I want my poet tarot deck of cards. I want an inspiring book that I can read in short snippets. I want a perfect pen. If I carried these things with me all the time, where would I be by this time next year?"
I did create this bag, and I have been trying to remember to carry it with me everywhere I go.  Far harder is remembering to use the tools that are in the bag.

Two days after I put the bag together, I made this sketch during a quiet time at school (some people take lunch breaks or smoking breaks, so I try to take creativity breaks):

The next day was our first day of Winter quarter, and I haven't had many quiet times at school since.  Yesterday I brought my creativity bag to school, but I forgot to bring it home.  Sigh.

Today will be a longer day at school, so maybe I'll be glad to have the bag there.  I will plan to do some sketching at some point.

Last week at the onground intensive, I did carry my creativity bag with me, but I didn't have a lot of downtime there either.  I did lead my small group in a lectio divina type exercise that included sketching:  I read a passage from the Bible and had people listen for what spoke to them.  I suggested they write down the part of the passage, a word or phrase, or even just to draw a line or a shape as they heard the passage.  Then I read the passage again.

One of the treasures of last week was the feeling of time expanding.  I didn't feel frazzled or irritated.  There seemed to be plenty of time to get all the tasks of the day done.  Let me continue to look for ways to insert this spirit into my workday world.  One of those ways may be seizing time to sketch, a practice which grounds and centers me.

Let me also remember not to absorb the attitudes of those around me, to be the mirror not the sponge.  I am aware of how many people are not centered or grounded, how many people are acting from a place of panic or anger. I'm also aware of how easy it is to be infected with those moods.  Let me get back to some spiritual practices to avoid the infection.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Rough Re-entries

Yesterday was a tough re-entry back to "regular life."  I always wonder if the tough re-entry is a sign that I'm living a less than integrated life.  Or would yesterday have been a rough day regardless?

The day began with a fraud alert from my credit card.  I am grateful that my credit card is so vigilant.  I spent time on the phone going over charges, realizing that someone had my credit card number and was using it to buy 99 dollars worth of something at gas stations.

If you're going to steal my credit card, do something fun--fly to Paris!  Have a great meal!

So now the card is canceled, with new ones arriving today.  Now for the fun of setting up recurring payments again.  Sigh.

At lunch time, I met my spouse at the car rental place to return the car, a fairly simple transaction.  But we discovered that the insurance company hadn't extended our lease last week, so we might have to cover the cost.  Later in the day, I spent more time on the phone, and happily, all is well.

From the car rental place, we went to the car buying place.  My spouse had done a lot of the work on Sunday, but there were some additional signatures needed.  It sounds like it would be quick, right?  Well it is a legal transaction and a transfer of valuable property, so no, it wasn't speedy, but it was as quick as it could be.

I stopped at Trader Joe's on the way back to the office, where it was more like Dec. 20 than Jan. 20.  I swallowed my irritation and kept on.

Swallowing my irritation--yes, that's a good way to sum up yesterday.  In a way, my swallowing began on Sunday night, when my spouse spilled a glass of wine which went into his laptop.  Yes, the laptop that we spent hundreds of dollars to fix just three weeks ago.  Grr.

But finally, it was evening, and we settled into our dinner of pasta after a ride in the new-to-us car.  It's a Nissan Rogue, a hybrid which will probably not get the kind of gas mileage that my spouse would like.  But it has lumbar support, a feature that's hard to find in cars that are in our price range and get good gas mileage.  It's a hybrid, so we hope that it's not as tough on the planet as some cars.  Still, we aren't living lightly on the planet, and I remain unsure of what to do about that.

As I moved through the day, I reminded myself to look for the blessings.  I have a job where I can get away, which most people don't have these days.  My re-entry wasn't as rough as it would have been if I didn't have a good team.  We have resources, so we can replace possessions like drowned cars and computers.  We have cooking skills, food, and a lovely front porch on which to enjoy the food.  My spouse and I are still together, even when life gets difficult.

Let me also remember the biggest blessing:  I had a great experience which makes it hard to come back.  I had time with old friends as I moved through last week, and that, too, makes it hard to be back.  I am lucky that I have so many friends, people whom I miss when we are apart.  Last week my soul was fed in so many ways, which makes my hunger this week even more acute.

Monday, January 20, 2020

One Last Look Back at Onground Intensive before Re-Entry to Regular Life

I've had a long car trip and several conversations with old friends, so let me process the experience I've just had in the certificate program for spiritual direction.  I'm back from the first onground intensive and can't wait until the second one in June. 

I don't know that I learned much that I hadn't already been exposed to before.  But as with many subjects, it's always good to be reminded.  And the subject matter was stuff I love, so I didn't mind when I was hearing familiar material.  And there were always new nuggets.

Each intensive will have a different instructional focus, and this time's focus kept circling back to mysticism, the through a Christian lens mysticism.  So we had a session on Thomas Merton and one on icons and one on Celtic Christianity.  We had worship services that incorporated Celtic elements, including a beautiful, candlelit Compline with elements straight from Iona. Ahhhh.

I enjoyed the chance to get to know lots of new people, most of whom were very interesting.  I had some great conversations with pastors and counselors.

I didn't expect to get insight on my seminary discernment process, but I did.  I've been thinking about online options and part-time options. It's becoming clearer to me that I can't really do a part-time seminary process.  It was hard enough getting away for these few days, and I was troubleshooting issues and assisting from a distance.  The online options I've seen have a 2 week intensive twice a year.  It's just not very realistic to hope I can get away for 2 weeks and not fair to those who will have to pick up the work in my absence.

I'm also realizing that my yearning for seminary may be a yearning for a kind of community that I don't have right now.  An online option won't give me that in the way that I want--at least, that's my thinking right now.

I'm very glad to be doing this certificate program.  In some ways, it makes me wonder about what I just wrote in the previous paragraph.  I do feel like we're forming a community, one that I'll feel sad about losing as people cycle in and out of the program.  It reminds me a bit of retreat communities.

I'm also a bit worried that the community that I assume would happen in seminary might not be there.  I was told that Southern has 70 students, 6 of whom are out on internship, but I didn't see many students.  A few days offered beautiful weather, but I didn't see people out and about.  There certainly weren't 70 students at the opening worship.  I only saw 3 students in the library.  Very puzzling.

Well, here we are, on a Monday when the rest of the nation may be observing an MLK day.  I don't have this day off, although many of our students do.  So I will go to pick up the day old bread and treats from Publix, go to spin class, and then go to work.  During my lunch hour, I'll help my spouse with returning the rental car and getting our replacement for the car that got totaled in the pre-Christmas flood.

Yes, it's time to return to regular life--may it be a gentle re-entry.  May I remember this piece of teaching about how to deal with people who may be feeling distress:  "Be the mirror, not the sponge."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

One Year, One Book

While I've been here at the onground intensive for the certificate in spiritual direction, I've come across many great ideas.  To be honest, most of them are not ideas that were completely new to me.  For example, I had a long conversation with a woman about not consuming news first thing in the morning.  I've thought of doing that before.  In fact, I came across an entry in my offline journal that talked about the possibility of doing sketching/journaling in the morning for 30 minutes before turning on the computer or the radio.

I do plan to go back to that plan.  But I've also decided to adopt a simpler approach to the morning.

Yesterday at the end of the morning worship service, the director of our program suggested that we take the next year and read one book of the Bible.  He talked about people who read the whole Bible in a year, but he says that we'll be much more enriched by focusing on just one book.  He suggested Psalms, John, or Philippians.  He suggested that we read straight through and when we get to the end, we start over.

Of all the ideas I've heard this week, this one jumped out at me, and I'm not sure why.  But time after time, our teachers this week have stressed that if something leaps out at us in this way, we should pay attention.

So this morning, I turned on the computer, the way I usually do.  But instead of going to the various NPR sites so that I could catch up on programming, I read the first chapter of the Gospel of John.  I've decided that I'll read one chapter each morning, that I'll read through the book chapter by chapter, one chapter each morning.  When I get to the end, I'll start the book again the next morning.

If I do nothing else, I'll do that.

I like this idea because of the time commitment.   It will take me a very short amount of time to read one chapter, so even on mornings when I'm pressed for time, I can do that.  If I want to read further, I can.  If I want to read the chapter in a variety of versions, I can, if I have a computer.  This morning, I began with The Message, then switched to NSRV and then New English--and just for fun, the Jubilee Bible, which I hadn't heard of before this morning.  As always, I am struck by what Eugene Peterson managed to do with his paraphrase/translation that he gave us in The Message.

I love the simplicity of this plan.  If the weather is bad, I can do it.  It won't require supplies, like a morning discipline of sketching would.  When I'm traveling, I can still read a chapter, and I won't have to bring an extra book along. 

The cool thing about this practice is that it doesn't preclude other practices. I can still pray the liturgy of the hours, which I try to do each weekday morning.  If I have time, I can still sketch or write in a journal or blog.  I can read other books.

Writing about this idea has also made me think in secular terms too.  Many of us have a book that formed us in our practice as artists.  For me, it was Julia Cameron's The Vein of Gold, which I discovered first, before any of her other books.  What would happen if I read a bit of this book each morning?

I've also thought of the value of choosing a classic, one that speaks to me, one that would support a really deep dive of a year of daily reading. 

I don't plan to adopt either of these secular approaches just yet--but they seemed valuable, so I wanted to record them before the idea slipped away.

I do plan to keep reading the book of John, chapter by chapter, over and over again through 2020.  I'm not sure what to expect, but I imagine it will be like keeping a gratitude journal:  at the end of a year, I'll be changed in ways I wouldn't have been without this practice.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Insight from the Second Day of the Onground Intensive

I have now sense a rhythm to the onground intensive for the certificate in spiritual direction.  It's an interesting mix of instructional time, worship time, small group time, and some alone time.  Each onground intensive has a focus on a particular praxis/practice; this time, it's solitude, and in June, it will be silence.

So far, I've been to 3 instructional sessions.  The first, for those of us here for the first time, focused on thinking about how spiritual direction is different from life coaching, therapy, pastoral care, or any of the other types of care.  One answer:  if the Holy Spirit isn't a 3rd partner, it may be valuable work, but it isn't spiritual direction.  One might wonder how this work would be different from pastoral care.  I would say that spiritual direction has both partners listening for God's direction during and between the sessions, while pastoral care could be something different than that, like helping a parishioner after a death in the family or connecting a parishioner to community resources.  There's significant overlap between the types of care, significant borrowing of best practices (that last part is mine, to remind me that it's OK to borrow best practices if one discerns that path).

The 2 instructional sessions yesterday focused on mysticism (primarily the type that comes to us by way of the ancient desert fathers and mothers and medieval mysticism) and icons (the Orthodox type).  While much of the information wasn't new to me, I loved the sessions.

Yesterday we had almost 3 hours that we were to spend in solitude, which meant not only minimal human contact, but no books, no Internet, nothing that took our attention away from this time with God.  We agreed that journaling was O.K.

So, I journaled, I walked around campus and took pictures, I journaled some more, I impatiently checked my watch to see if it was time for dinner . . .  .  Very interesting to realize that when I say I yearn for alone time, I'm likely to fill that time with reading or worse, with vapid Internet reading.  I finally sat down in the converted sunroom of the house where I'm staying and started to sketch:

I was intrigued by how much the sketching quieted my mind--not just focused, but quieted.

We bookended the day with worship.  In the morning, we walked the labyrinth, which is not an easy task in this labyrinth which is really not set up for a group to walk it--it's got very narrow paths:

In the evening, we had Compline, with a liturgy written by our director.  It was lovely, although a little too brightly lit.

I really like my small group, which is good, because I'll be spending a lot of time with them over the next 2 years.  I can't say much about them, because everything in small group is confidential.  But it's a relief to realize that this aspect will work for me--it isn't always the case.

As I've moved through my time here, I've thought about how this experience is like a retreat mixed with a conference mixed with some aspects of a college session.  If I had ever been part of a low residency MFA program, it might be a lot like that.

I've also been thinking about my yearning for seminary.  Being here makes me realize that I'm not sure the online type of approach to seminary is what I yearn for.  If I go to seminary, I think I want it to be the full, on campus experience.  I REALLY miss being on a campus.  I didn't realize how much I miss it.

Yes, in a way, I spend much of my waking hours on a campus.  But it's such a different kind of campus.

I think my seminary yearnings might be the same old yearnings to run away and start over, yearnings I've had since my teenage years.  That doesn't mean that those yearnings are frivolous or that those dreams are meaningless, but I want to recognize this insight.

One reason why I chose this certificate program is that I could do it without exploding all the other parts of my life.  And being here helps me realize how much of this material will be important as I move through the rest of my life.

Will it open new career doors?  I don't know.  But for me, that's not really the point.  I needed something that would help me feel better about the future.  This program does that, and thus, it's invaluable to me.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Onground Intensive: An Overview Based on the First Day

I am writing on a desk in a converted sunroom.  I'm in Columbia, South Carolina, on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary--Southern, for short.  I'm staying in an old house across from campus, the kind of house that's set up for short term visitors.  There are 4 bedrooms upstairs, each with 2 twin beds.  The downstairs rooms have an assortment of furniture:  2 dining areas, a kitchen, and a living room with furniture that has seen better days.  The floors are creaky wood, but charming.

I'm here for the first of 4 onground intensives as I work on a certificate in spiritual direction.  Yesterday was our first day together.

The group is larger than I expected--and more diverse.  We are mostly Lutheran, but we have a smattering of Methodists and Episcopalians, plus some non-affiliated and a Franciscan male in a brown habit.  We are mostly white, but there are some African-Americans.  I am surprised by how far away some of us live--more people from the middle of the country than I expected.  We are older, which makes sense.  Younger people likely can't get away for a Wed-Saturday intensive.  I had some trouble myself.  I used vacation time, but I've still had to log in to try to assist with issues.  There are more women than men.

We've had one instructional session, which was fascinating.  We've met several times in small group.  I like mine, which is fortunate, because they will be my small group for the next 18 months.

Yesterday, I went to two worship services.  I got to campus early, and as I walked around taking pictures, a man in the chapel told me they'd be having a service at 11:30 and invited me to come.  So I did.  The light streaming through the stained glass into the beaming white marble interior was stunning.  Here's a shot of the rear of the chapel, with the tall wall above the door to the vestibule:

Here's the front of the chapel:

Our evening service was more subdued in terms of color, but still moving.  It was created with a Celtic theme, so we sang "The Canticle of the Turning," (and others) and we had prayers based on the writings of St. Brigid, St. Patrick, and others.

I love being back on a traditional campus--LOVE it.  It reminds me of my undergraduate campus, Newberry College.  I could move into the library and never leave.  It has great spots to read, to write, and huge windows.  And what a great collection of books.  Of course, they're all categorized around religious themes, so if you wanted a research/university type library, you'd be disappointed.

It's very strange, too, to be on this campus.  I thought I had visited it back in the 80's, but maybe not--it doesn't feel familiar at all.  But many people I know have come to this school, as have some of my family members.  As I walked around campus yesterday in the hours before the intensive began, I felt almost breathless with the homecoming aspect of it all.

I am so glad I decided to do this, even though it's not easy to get away.  But it's never easy to get away--there would never be the perfect time.  I'm glad to have this opportunity and grateful for those holding down the fort (the fort at the office, the fort at home, so many forts which need holding down) in my absence.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Yesterday, I was up and on the road by 4, and I arrived at my friend's house at 1:45.  Even with some stop and go, rush hour traffic around Jacksonville, it was a delightfully easy trip.  It is very strange to travel north in January and to get out of the car to discover that the weather is just as balmy in South Carolina as it was when I left South Florida.  I saw red bud trees along the way that are already starting to flower, and it's much too early.

Or maybe it's not.  Maybe this weather is the new normal.  Or maybe the trees have adapted to the fact that we can't trust past weather to predict the weather now.

As I drove, I was intrigued to watch my thoughts.  You would think I'd be having contemplative thoughts as I drove to the first of my onground intensives for my certificate program in spiritual direction.  Perhaps you imagine hour after hour of prayer.

Alas, no.  For much of the trip, I found my thoughts circling back to work.  I thought about creating some sort of poem that linked runaway slaves to how hard it is to get away from modern work, but I'm not sure I can pull that off.  I always have the history of the nation on my mind as I drive through the U.S. South, especially during foggy mornings like yesterday.

I listened to the radio for much of the trip.  When John Cougar Mellancamp's "Jack and Diane" came on, I thought of Sandy Longhorn's recent pair of poems that imagines both Diane and Beth (of the KISS song) grown up.

I also thought about the decisions we make in late adolescence and how they feel so fraught--one wrong move, and we're doomed.  Date the wrong person, have unprotected sex which immediately leads to pregnancy, choose the wrong college, take the wrong high school classes--those are my memories of high school conversations in the 1980's. 

When do we get to a point where our choices don't seem so fraught?  I feel like I'm having similarly weighted conversations today:  will this job last me until retirement?  At what point should I sell the house?  Is it too late to have the kind of life I've always wanted?

Of course, maybe it's just me feeling the weight of my decisions throughout my life trajectory.  I imagine me 20 years from now, in an older and wiser place, seeing that all my decisions weren't so weighty, that all along I was moving towards where I needed to be, even if I couldn't see it at the time.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Day Before Travel to the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program

Today is the day before I leave to go to my first onground intensive for the certificate program in spiritual direction.  Yesterday at end of the church service, my pastor invited me to the front, told the congregation of my plans, said a prayer of blessing, and then anointed me with water that he brought back from his Holy Land trip.  I felt surrounded by love and support from my congregation.

It was the Sunday that we celebrate the baptism of Jesus before his ministry began in earnest, so much of the service felt meaningful, from the music about listening for God's call and wading in the water, to the reading/sermon to the ways that the sanctuary has changed (last week we still had the Christmas trees up).

I am headed to Columbia, South Carolina, to the seminary where my grandfather went 90-ish years ago; he was significantly younger when he went there than I am.  I am headed to seminary, the way my mom did when she was my age; like me, she was going to seminary for a non-ordination track.  Unlike me, she got a chunk of time off from the church where she worked, and they continued to pay her.  It was a different time, and we have very different employers.

I feel a bit anxious about leaving my school for 4 days at the beginning of the term.  But to be honest, I always feel that anxiety, except for when I leave between Christmas and the New Year holidays, the one week when nothing is likely to happen.  Outside of that week, there's never a good time to leave; various situations can unravel very rapidly.  I remind myself that even if I was on site, situations could unravel. 

This morning I realized that I don't really know what kind of housing I'm headed to when I stay in seminary housing.  Will it be like a dorm where we have some communal spaces?  I'm sharing a room with a pastor friend that I met through the Create in Me retreat.  Future scholars take note:  the Create in Me retreat has done more to change my life than anything outside of my experiences in school.

I will take a towel and washcloths, just in case. I also wrote my pastor friend--maybe I don't need to bring linens with me.  But I am in a car, so I am happy to be able to travel with excess.

Yesterday I was wishing that I had time to create a mix tape of sending music--what do we call mix tapes these days?  In old days, I had the music in my collection, so it was easy to make a mix tape.  These days, I would have to buy some music.  I'd like "Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something," that wonderful song from The Color Purple.  I'd like "Children Go Where I Send You," from the Peter, Paul, and Mary Christmas album.

But I am running out of time, so I'll just sing those songs as I drive up I 95 tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to time away, to immersing myself in this new program, this new seminary setting, and hopefully a new approach to discernment.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Car Quest

When I look back on this month, will I remember the countless conversations that we've had about which car to buy to replace our drowned car?

We quickly agreed that it would be good to have a car that sits higher off the ground.  Could we also find one with decent gas mileage?  And how do we define decent gas mileage?

We've been researching hybrid SUVs.  We thought we had made a decision:  the Toyota Rav4 XSE hybrid.  We had a dealership that assured us they had one on the lot and that we could have it if we would agree to a white color.  I asked the price:  "Low 30's."  I asked for more specificity:  "$30,000 to $31,000."  My spouse wanted to know if that included dealer fees.  Yes it did.

We went to the dealership yesterday for our appointment.  I knew we were likely being set up, but I wanted to believe.  I had been specific on the phone and asked for confirmation several times. 

It was too good to be true, since the MSRP is just under $33,000. But I was supposed to be eligible for any number of special deals.  I wanted to believe.

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that the car actually would cost us just under $39,000 to drive it home today. We got up and left, just as I said we would do if the deal described on the phone wasn't the deal. Twenty minutes wasted in the showroom, plus the time to drive to the dealership and back. It could have been worse.

But it shouldn't be that way at all.  I spent 20 minutes or more on the phone on Friday in hopes of avoiding what happened yesterday.  I feel a bit like an idiot, although I realized that the dealership was hoping to deploy the old bait and switch technique.  I'd feel more like an idiot if we hadn't left.

We have had mixed success buying cars at dealerships.  When we bought our pair of Priuses, we showed up, and the deal we got was the one we made on the phone.

I spent much of yesterday going back to our research.  We are narrowing in on a used 2019 Nissan Rogue hybrid that's available from CarMax.  They'll drive it to our house for a test drive with no obligation.  We have a rental car that we can keep for a bit longer.  I don't want us to be overly pressured.

But the pressure is there.  And I realize that I'm lucky.  I have time, resources, computer access, and knowledge.  I understand how so many people get into trouble as they navigate these issues.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Latest "Little Women"

Before I talk about the latest movie adaptation of Little Women (created by Greta Gerwig), let me think about my history with the book.  I first read it during our family trip west, the summer after 5th grade.  Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, a book first made me cry, the scene where Beth dies.  I was the type of child reader who returned to favorites on a regular basis.  How many times did I read this book?  Probably not as often as the books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I also read Little Men and Jo's Boys, but I don't think I reread them more than once.

I hadn't seen a film adaptation until the one that came out in the 1990's, the one with Wynona Ryder as Jo.  I loved that film.  I bought a cheap DVD because the first time I watched it in the theatre, I wanted to go home and write all night.  I don't think I've ever watched it again.

I tried to read Little Women again after seeing that movie, but I couldn't make my way through it.  Sigh.

I had a vision of seeing the later film with my mom and sister, but our Christmas vacation wasn't a movie watching one.  I knew that if I didn't see it in the theatre I likely wouldn't see it, and I felt it was important.  I want movies like this women-centered one to be made, and if we don't go see them, they won't get made.  I know that the movies that I like won't last long at the movie theatre.  And I thought it might be the kind of visually stunning movie that should be seen on the big screen.

I'm not sure that it needed to be seen on the big screen--it was beautiful, as if it the whole movie took place in that magic time just before sunset, when the world seems shot through with gold and cinnamon.  But I think that would have come through on the little screen.

I enjoyed the movie immensely, but I do wonder if I would have loved it more if I hadn't heard so much hype.  I was glad that I had heard about the movie switching back and forth in time--the appearance of the characters doesn't change enough between scenes to cue me that the time change happens.  I do think it was a brilliant way to solve problems in the text, particularly the way that so many of us hated Amy.

I know that Gerwig took liberties with the ending of the book in making the ending of her movie, and I thought it was brilliant.  I loved the costumes and the scenery--breathtaking.  I wanted to live in those houses, read in the library, sip tea--and never leave that magical attic where Jo does her writing.

When I saw a preview, I wondered if the movie might be pushing the envelope enough to break the text.  For a minute, I thought that Laurie was being played by a female--could Laurie be a female?  When I first read the book, I found the naming problematic--my childhood self read Laurie as female, in part because of the name, in part because of the plot.  That tangle worked itself out as I continued reading the book, and I was open to a director doing more in that direction.

Jo doesn't strike me, in the book or in the movie, as gender fluid--she's not a male trapped in a female body.  She's weary of the ways that living in a female body limits her, but I don't get the idea she wants to be a male.  Jo doesn't strike me as bisexual, so much as she wants to be by herself or to stay in the land of childhood before sexuality makes it all so complicated.

The casting of Timothee Chalamet intrigued me.  I hadn't ever seen this actor before, so when I first saw the trailer, I thought a female might be playing the role of Laurie.  I thought that the slim wispiness of the body worked, the lush lips and the eyes that were made to be defined by the word "limpid."

I liked the way that Gerwig developed the relationship between Amy and Laurie.  Gerwig gave Amy and Meg a depth that they don't usually get to have on screen.

Of course I loved the depiction of Jo as a writer--the scenes of the book being made at the end delighted me too.  Did I go home and write all night?  No, I stopped by Home Depot to return the dehumidifier that was too small and we couldn't get to stop leaking.  Ah, the life of a modern woman!

Most of all, I appreciate the way that the film depicts how that there is not a perfect life, not for a male, not for a female.  We're all trying to make a way that's best for us. We're all trying to find that balance between our family duties, our creative lives, our need to sustain ourselves.  Some of us can do that better than others--some of us have more resources, some of us have better luck, some of us have the mental/emotional stamina that others don't.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Looking Back on a Decade

I began writing this post in the waning days of 2019, and then I forgot to post it.  Since I'm running late this morning, let me post it now.  Let me look back not just on the year, but also on the decade.  Let me think back to 2009.

Biggest Surprise in Terms of Housing:

In 2009, I'd have assumed we would never move, unless we moved out of state, or in our later years, if we needed to move to some sort of continuing care place.  In 2009, we lived in a paid off house  But in 2013, we moved to a house in a neighborhood I've always loved but assumed we would never be able to afford.  Thanks to a housing crash and cheap interest rates, we were able to make the leap.

This house, too, we planned to never leave, unless we move out of state or to a continuing care place.  But global warming and sea level rise may botch those plans.

Other Housing:

At times, it seemed we would never sell the condo that we bought for my spouse's mother.  She died just before real estate prices started to plummet.  Finally, in 2013, we sold it for exactly what we bought it for in 1999.

People gone:

Let me not go over the list of famous people or make a list of all the people who simply moved away.  Let me remember people like my grandmother and my best friend from high school.  Let me remember my former boss and good friend.  Let me remember the colleague who drowned in a diving accident.

But there are also all those people in my life who moved away.  It's still rather staggering.

Job Changes:

This was the decade that my spouse returned to teaching Philosophy.  I changed schools because I didn't think the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale would survive.  Yet I'm still surprised that it didn't survive.

In 2010, I stopped teaching for the most part as I became more entrenched in my administrator duties.  In 2013, I had a chance to teach online, and I grabbed it.  I wanted to diversify, in case the Art Institute went belly up--but I have been surprised by how much I've loved teaching online.

January 10, 2020:  I remember why I stopped writing this post--it began to feel overwhelming.  Do I talk about the motorcycles which once brought us joy but now have been flooded 2 times?  Do I talk about the internal shifts that make me ready to start my certificate program in spiritual direction?   Do I talk about how part of me still longs for seminary?

Do I talk about how many days I just want to liquidate it all and start over, if only I knew what starting over looked like?

Do I talk about the best 10 books of the decade?  How would I even begin?

Do I talk about the substantial changes in the weather and the climate?  I mean not only in the sense of literal storms and temperatures, but the political scenes, the worldwide situations?

Do I talk about physical changes?  Menopause and arthritic feet?  I recoil, but honesty might compel me. 

I am out of time.  Do I post this or postpone?  Hitting the Publish button and then off to spin class.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Writing Report for the Week so Far

Hello Poetry Muse, I've missed you!

Before I go further, let me say that I don't believe in a muse in a classical sense.  I believe in showing up to the page/screen/mediums, on a daily basis if possible.  But when I'm not showing up or when I'm feeling strangled/dessicated, I understand how the idea of a muse takes hold.

Yesterday was a particularly rough day in the office, but I don't want to spend much more time on that other than to say it was a day of power struggles over ARC (average registered credit).  I've worked for a variety of white men, men who have never taught a class or haven't taught in year, lecture me about how all our school's financial problems would be solved if we could just get students to take another class.  You need to know that so that you will understand the poem that emerged.

This morning I woke up thinking about the show Thirtysomething and an idea muscled my thoughts of the old TV show out of the way.  What if Noah's wife went to work at a school and found herself with a boss like the one I have?

I've been writing an interesting series about Noah, about the arc, about Noah's wife and Noah's daughter and Noah's offspring.  Sometimes the poems take place in the Biblical setting in which many of us first encountered Noah.  Some bring them up to modern times.

The poem I wrote this morning has Noah's wife getting a job in the student advising department of the local community college and taking yoga classes to recover from her work day.  I LOVE the poem I wrote, even though it's unfinished.

It's been a good writing week.  I've returned to my apocalyptic novel and written enough to get excited about it again.  Yesterday I wrote a poem about taking a walk on the morning of Epiphany, before dawn, looking for holiday lights and looking for the wisdom of the stars.  That poem, too, made me happy.

Very few things make me as happy as a good writing session.  Even a bad writing session is better than no writing session.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Assorted Facebook Posts from December Worth Saving

Before we get too far away from December, let me go back through my Facebook feed and preserve posts worth saving, while I can still find them.

Why are they worth saving?  They make me smile.  They help me remember a specific time.  They may contain seeds which could be developed into interesting larger ideas.

Dec. 21, 2019

I am watching a Nigella Lawson Christmas special, and I'm struck by how many PBS cooking shows end with a group of disparate people around the table, eating what the cook has been preparing. If anyone ever needs an eclectic looking woman at the outer edge of midlife for one of these shows, I'm available! I promise never to upstage the chef! I am gifted at the art of feeling ecstatic as I toast the cook or eat the first bite of something delicious.

Dec. 18, 2019

I would like a grant to study the effects of having a working kitchen (with baked goods regularly emerging from said kitchen) on college student retention. The grant would cover both the cost of installing a working kitchen on my campus and the cost of baking supplies and ingredients. An administrator can dream of such things in this holiday season . . .

Dec. 17, 2019

From a distance, this patch looks like a strange corner of grass outside the parking garage.

Look more closely, and you will see the leaves of pumpkin plants. How did they get there? From the rotting pumpkins that I tossed over the wall of the second floor of the parking garage. Just call me Kristin Pumpkinseed!

earlier on Dec. 17, 2019:

If you had the power to prevent sad partings/departures, would you want that power? Would you see it as a terrifying responsibility or would you prevent all sad separations? No, not a philosophical conversation over the dinner table, but a philosophical prompt based by the departure of a colleague who is moving away to be closer to family.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A Week from Today: Travel to Spiritual Direction Certificate Program Onground Intensive

By this time next week, I will be on the road to my first onground intensive in my certificate program in Spiritual Direction.  The intensive lasts from 2 p.m. Wednesday to 11:45 a.m. on Saturday.  The relatively short time of the onground requirement was one of the attractions of this program.

That said, I'm still finding myself fretful about being out of the office.  It's the end of the first week of classes, and while my active presence isn't usually necessary or needed, it's one of the times when I'm more likely to be needed.  I didn't choose programs that meet in early January for that reason.  When I chose this program, I thought we'd be starting winter term on the first Monday after New Year's Day, as we always have.  A Wednesday winter quarter start threw a slight wrench into my plan, but I held firm on my wanting to get to town the day before the intensive begins.

I also know that there's almost no time in the year when I won't feel fretful; the week of Christmas to New Year's is the only time I can be fairly sure my absence won't impact those left behind.  We have such a small team that when one of us is out of the office, chances are good that others will notice.

I'm trying to see my full-time job as a fairly self-sufficient child.  I can't be gone for weeks at a time, but I'm leaving my child in good hands with all the care needed.  Like modern parents, it's good to have a life apart from the children.

A few days ago I talked to one of my fellow Mepkin Abbey online contemplative partners, and she mentioned that she had done the program at St. Thomas, a local Catholic university.  My first thought was one of dismay--could I have done this program locally?

I went to research it, and I realized that years ago (like 15 years ago), I had stumbled across it and decided it wasn't for me.  It seems to revolve around the Ignatian exercises.  This morning, I looked at the schedule for next week and felt a rising excitement at the thought of what we'll be doing.

As I've been thinking about this upcoming time, I realize that I've been holding my breath in a way, unable to believe that I will actually be allowed to do this.  I've been researching programs for so many years and waiting so long for the perfect time.  This time may not be perfect, but I need to make the leap.

For those of you wondering what my onground intensive will look like, here's the schedule:

Schedule, January 2020

Theme:  The Spiritual Disciplines

Theme verse:  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in                             you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  (Philippians 2.12-13)

Key reading:    Celebration of Discipline. Richard Foster

Praxis Point:    Solitude

Special Worship Foci: Celtic Worship and Native American Worship

Wednesday, January 15
12:00 – 2:00              arrive and check in – Voigt hallway
  2:00 – 2:30              welcome and introductions – Voigt 2
  2:30 – 3:30              small group 1 (introductions/reconnecting) –
Group 3A (Harvey’s group) – Alumni Hall
Group 3B (Kathie’s group – 2nd floor Price House
Group 4A (Shirley’s group) – 2nd floor Price House
Group 4B (Sam’s group) – 2nd floor Price House
  3:45 – 5:00              instruction session 1 for 2019-2020 Cycle 3:
   “The Ethics and Logistics of Spiritual Direction,”
Pastor Gary Dreier, Dr. Harvey Huntley, Pastor Kathie Nycklemoe, Sam Rahberg, Pastor Shirley Wells,  – Voigt 3
                                                                                    instruction session 1 for 2020-2021 Cycle 4:
                                                                                    “What is Spiritual Direction”? 
Dr. Amy Montanez – Voigt 2

  5:15 – 6:30              dinner and welcome reception – Alumni Hall
  6:30 – 7:30              small group 2
  7:45 – 8:30              evening Eucharist – Christ Chapel
  8:30 –                                  free time

Thursday, January 16

  7:30 –   7:45            sunrise morning worship
  8:00 –   8:30           breakfast – Student Union
  8:45 – 10:00           instruction session 2: “Mysticism,”
Rev. Dr. Melanie Dobson– Voigt 2
10:15 – 11:15            small group 3
11:30 – 12:15            lunch – Student Union
  1:00 –   2:15            instruction session 3: “Iconography”  
Dr. Harvey Huntley – Voigt 2
  2:30 –   3:15            praxis: Solitude,
Rev. Dr. David Hill – beginning introduction in Alumni Hall
  3:15 – 5:30              Solitude
  5:30 –   6:10            dinner – Student Union
  6:15 –   7:15           small group 4
  7:20 –   8:00           evening worship in the Native American tradition – Alumni Hall
  8:00 –                                   Solitude

Friday, January 17

  7:30 –   7:45            morning worship
  8:00 –   8:30            breakfast – Student Union
  8:45 – 10:00            Instruction session 4: “Thomas Merton,”
 Rev. Dr. Mark Bredholt – Voigt 2
10:15 – 11:15            small group 5
11:30 – 12:15           lunch – Student Union
12:15 –   2:45           Solitude
  2:45 –   3:45            small group 6
  4:00 –   5:15           Instruction session 5: “Celtic Traditions”
Rev. Dr. Susan Prinz – Voigt 2
  5:30 –   6:15           dinner – Student Union
  6:15 –   7:15            small group 7
  7:30 –   8:00            Celtic Worship – Alumni Hall
  8:00 --                                  free time

Saturday, January 18

  8:00 –   8:30            breakfast – Student Union
  8:45 –   9:45            small group 8
10:00 – 10:30           feedback – Voigt 2
10:45 – 11:45            closing Eucharist – Christ Chapel

11:45 –                                   departure

Monday, January 6, 2020

Poetry Monday for Epiphany: "Border Lands"

Today is the feast day of Epiphany.  Not for the first time do I wish that I worked in a setting that celebrated these feast days.  I have a vision of having special Epiphany events--the eating of the 3 Kings Bread, for example.

Instead I will go to my workplace where I will get ready for the term that starts on Wednesday, do some accreditation writing, and then have a New Student Orientation.  I'm tired just thinking about it.  There's shopping to be done (supplies and food for New Student Orientation) and paperwork--lots and lots of paperwork.  Sigh.

Let me cheer myself up by remembering last year, when I wrote what would be one of my favorite poems of the year.  I had been listening to news stories about various immigration crises, and I thought about the 3 Wise Men and if they had come to the U.S. Border.  I made this sketch:

And then I started thinking about a poem with multiple strands:  Epiphany, this crisis on the border, the crisis between east and west that ultimately led to the taking down of the wall between East and West Germany, a bit of the underground railroad.  Ultimately, this poem arrived, and Sojourners just published it in the latest issue.  It's a perfect fit.

Border Lands 

I am the border agent who looks
the other way. I am the one
who leaves bottled water in caches
in the harsh border lands I patrol.

I am the one who doesn’t shoot.
I let the people assemble,
with their flickering candles a shimmering
river in the dark. “Let them pray,”
I tell my comrades. “What harm
can come of that?” We holster
our guns, and open a bottle to share.

I am the superior
officer who loses the paperwork
or makes up the statistics.
I am the one who ignores
your e-mails, who cannot be reached
by text or phone, the one
with a full inbox.

When the wise ones
come, as they do, full of dreams,
babbling about the stars
that lead them or messages
from gods or angels,
I open the gates. I don’t alert
the authorities up the road.
Let the kings and emperors
pay for their own intelligence.

I should scan the horizons,
but I tend the garden
I have planted by the shed
where we keep the extra
barbed wires. I grow a variety
of holy trinities: tomatoes, onions,
peppers, beans, squashes of all sorts.
I plant a hedge of sunflowers,
each bright head a north star.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Star Words

In some congregations today, people will get a star word.  If you're unfamiliar with star words, you can read this post on the RevGalsBlogPals site.  I've done star words with my church, but it does require lots of cutting out of stars.  This year, so far, I have not prepared any stars.

Last year, on a Facebook site, a pastor offered to select a star word for us, if we let her know that we wanted one.  Of course I said yes.  She sent me my star word for 2019:

I put it on the windowsill above my writing desk, the space that has become a sort of altar for me.  Every so often, I took a few minutes and thought about that star word.

I always saw the word as meaning a metaphorical journey.  As I look back over my sketch books from a year ago, sketch books which are a form of journaling, it's clear to me that I was already on this metaphorical journey.  I had done the online journaling workshop which helped me to realize that I was filled with yearning for a different kind of life.  That yearning has only grown more intense during 2019. 

When I think back to 2019, I will remember it as a time of discernment.  I would joke that saying that I was in a time of discernment sounds so much better than saying that I have no idea what to do next.  But of course, I had ideas--I just felt paralyzed by not knowing which one was best.  Eventually, the way became clear.  And choosing the path of the spiritual director certificate doesn't mean that I can't do the other paths that appeal to me.  I fully expect that doors may open to take me a direction I wouldn't have known existed if I hadn't done this program.

I have 2 star words for 2020.  The one chosen for me is "pardon."  The word that I chose for myself is focus.  My sister and I have often chosen a word for the year.  Some years, we can make a rhyme out of it:  "Worry free in 2003!"  As we moved into the teens, we didn't rhyme as much.

Yesterday, I wrote this e-mail to my sister:

"I came across a word this morning that I thought should be our word of the year: Focus. It fits in with the year itself: 20/20. But it also seems to be what we both need this year, to focus on what's important, to avoid getting distracted by other stuff that's less important.

It doesn't immediately rhyme, the way some of our past words have. But I like it, I think.

The one thing that makes me a little worried about it is that it might make us too rigid: focus on this, not that. I don't want it to be a way for us to judge ourselves and find ourselves lacking. Like for me, if "thin" was our word--I'd always feel inadequate."

This morning, I thought about my other word for 2020:  pardon.  My first thought was all the ways I wish I could pardon myself.  And then I thought about the people who might need me to forgive them.

But pardon is different from forgiveness.  It has a sense of absolving, of correcting an injustice.  Here, too, I sense the work I need to do.

To close, I'm going to post this picture from a pastor friend of mine.  

I admire her ability to cut out these stars for her congregation which is larger than mine.  And I love the abundance they imply.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Saturday Snapshots: The End of the Holiday Season

--I don't wish it was a week ago.  No, I have my standard early January wish--if only it could be seven weeks ago, when we still had our delightful Thanksgiving plans to look forward to, when the delights of Christmas still seemed very far away.

--Most people in my immediate social circle have been commenting on what a good holiday season we've just had.  I, too, have been surprised by how well the holiday season has treated us, from the small gatherings to the travel to the larger gatherings.  I have gone into typical analysis mode:  "Why did this work so well and how can I duplicate it?"  I don't have answers right now.

--It reminds me of my younger years as a long distance runner.  When I'd have one of those rare effortless runs, I'd try to think about what I had been eating, how many hours I slept, how could I position myself to get more of those runs?

--My online classes start today.  If I was queen of the education universe, I would declare that a school term could only start on a Monday.

--There were times before Thanksgiving when I marveled at how I no longer seemed to have a sweet tooth.  Ah hubris--that sweet tooth has decided to show me who is boss in the past few weeks.  I would be happy if I could consume these kinds of sweets without consequence.  Sadly, I am already seeing consequences.  I don't even want to think about the pounds I've put on.

--I will continue to try to course correct on my own.  A week from Tuesday, I leave to go to my first on-ground intensive for my certificate in spiritual direction, so I don't want to make grand resolutions that I will immediately break during that time away.  But I am prepared to do a shred in late January if need be.

--There are many events I should write about, perhaps, events with real weight (pun intended).  I'm hesitant to write about the split/schism that seems unavoidable for our Methodist friends since I'm not a Methodist.  There's the assassination in Iran that seems to be a portent of a ratcheting up of hostilities, a horse or a rider or some other symbol of apocalypse.  I suspect there will be many more opportunities to talk about heavier topics in the days to come.

--It's been a strange work week, a mix of gently easing back into rhythms and the amping up of those rhythms.  On Monday, we had no internet and no e-mail.  I could still access some Word and Excel documents, so it wasn't a total loss.  By the end of the week, it was back to analyzing numbers and some of the other tasks which don't come as naturally to me.

--I've also been thinking back to my first months on this particular job.  I'm remembering how it was terrifying:  I didn't make a lateral move to take this job, and I moved forward in faith that I had the gifts and skills that would be necessary, since I didn't have the full range of experience that I would have had with other job shifts.  I miss the exhilaration of realizing that I could do these tasks, that I wasn't going to crash and burn.  I miss the days when if there were naysayers, I didn't know about them.  I am already weary of the "Why does this have to be so hard?" feeling that has come crashing back post-holiday.

--But let me not get bogged down in work weariness.  Let me record this idea that I had yesterday and recorded in a Facebook post:  " So, this week-end, I want to create a to-go bag, a creativity kit. I want a sketchbook and a collection of markers. I want my poet tarot deck of cards. I want an inspiring book that I can read in short snippets. I want a perfect pen. If I carried these things with me all the time, where would I be by this time next year?"  One of my friends said, "Like a sewing kit, only for writing?"  Yes, sort of like that.  But maybe I'd even have some fabric.

--I want to have more creativity in my life, but I'm not sure I want to lug my laptop everywhere.  I want to make it easier to take creative opportunities with me.  I want to take advantage of chunks of time that I didn't necessarily anticipate.

--But I'd also like to get my novel written, and I haven't figured out the best way to do that.

--Because the liturgical calendar is always in my brain, let me also note that we close in on Epiphany, that time of wise ones following a star and sidestepping murderous kings and other agents of empire.  A year ago, I'd have been writing the poem "Border Lands," which is one of my favorite poems that I wrote in 2019.  It came from a series of sketches:

with color added:

I was pondering the crisis at the border and Epiphany and the crisis that brought about the end of the wall in Germany and the poem bubbled up.  On Monday, which is the true feast of the Epiphany, I'll post the poem.