Sunday, February 28, 2021

Our Deepest Dreams, God's Deepest Dreams

I continue to be blown away by how many people gave me so much positive energy on my Facebook post about applying to seminary and from such a wide variety of people across my life.  There was a moment yesterday when I thought, Oh my goodness, what have I done?

When I made the Facebook post, I figured that it was a Friday night and most people wouldn't pay attention, if indeed they saw it at all.  I was surprised that it continued to get attention and comments through Saturday.

I thought back to one of the books I read for my certificate in spiritual direction, God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will by Mark E. Thibodeaux.  In fact, during the past several weeks, I've thought about that book often.  It was one of the first times I had seen Ignatian concepts spelled out that clearly.

I read the book back in October, so this morning I pulled it off the shelf, and I was struck by the language of visioning.  Early in the book Thibodeaux says, "Later on, I will define consolation as letting God dream in me.  If that is the case, then desolation is allowing the false spirit to nightmare in me.  I am in desolation when I become preoccupied by false futures of impending doom" (p. 30).

I loved the ideas of consolation and desolation that Thibodeaux explores in his book.  It's an interesting way towards discernment.  He suggests asking these questions:  "What is the most loving thing to do?  What is the most hopeful thing to do?  What is the most faith-filled thing to do?" (p. 47).

Many faithful people will remind us that we're either moving toward God or away from God, and that discernment can help us figure out any number of questions.  Thibodeaux goes even further, saying "But Ignatius held the radical notion that God dwells  within our desires." (p. 167).  What if we trusted that wisdom?  Our deepest, wildest desires are God, talking to us, guiding us, shaping us.

One problem, of course, is that we've been taught that giving in to our deep desires will upend our lives and bring us to a ruinous end.  We might protest that we have been taught no such thing, but I'd instruct us to look at popular culture to see the evidence.  Popular culture, at least a segment of it, teaches us that our heart desires what is not good for us:  drugs, alcohol, the wrong kind of sex, any number of ways to avoid being responsible citizens.

But maybe that teaching is wrong.  What if we started to trust our deepest desire?  What if we started to act to move us to fulfillment of those deep desires?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Seminary Application and My Most Popular Facebook Post Ever

Earlier this week, I got e-mails from 2 of the people whom I asked to write recommendation letters for seminary--they had submitted letters and gotten verification from Wesley that their letters arrived.  I decided that I had better go ahead and get my part done.

Once again, I entered information--I've lost track of how many times I've slotted in all the degrees I've done.  At least I didn't have to enter my job information again.  Earlier this week, I was working on the forms that need to be done before the psychological evaluation for the candidacy process can begin.  Those two forms have spots for similar information (school, jobs), but I couldn't cut and paste.

Yesterday afternoon, I finished the seminary application--the candidacy process will take a bit longer, but I'm on track.  Yesterday afternoon, I ordered my transcripts to be sent to Wesley.

Last night, I made this Facebook post:  "Today, I applied to go to seminary. My goal is an MDiv degree with a track in Theology and the Arts from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. I hope to be ordained in the Lutheran (ELCA) church, so I'm also completing the parts of the candidacy process. I'm hoping to start taking classes in the Fall of 2021."

I think that this will be my most popular Facebook post of all time.  On Saturday morning, at 9:41 a.m., I have 98 likes and 55 comments.  So far, no one has written to say that I am out of my mind or too old.  I've heard from a variety of friends:  high school, college, retreat friends, friends from a variety of workplaces, spin class friends.  It's amazing.

I'm not sure why I'm surprised when I get these votes of confidence, these well wishes.  But I am surprised--and so very grateful.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Go Bags, Muscle Memory, and the Spiritual Lessons of a Podcast

For the past week, I've been listening to episodes in a podcast that looks at Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, chapter by chapter.  The first 6 episodes were recorded before the pandemic.  This morning, I've been listening to episode 7, which is rooted in the book, the pandemic, and how to prepare for an unknown future.

Chapter 7 is the one where the main character creates a go bag, a survival pack, after she realizes that at some point she may have to go quickly.  The podcast talks about what we keep in our go bags.  Of course, some of us are already moving with our go bags.  As Toshi Reagon says, "I travel with a bag that doesn't assume I will come right home."  Her go bag is a back pack.  

I think back to 2005, that tough year of hurricanes and disruption of all sorts, that year where I realized that the federal government and local authorities might not be able to protect us or help us recover.  Even after hurricane season was over, I kept my supply of hurricane water, plastic containers full of water, in the bathtub.  It was not too long after the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the color coded threat system, and again, the knowledge that the hugest army in the world might not be able to keep attacks at bay.  If the water supply was disrupted, I would be ready.  For several years, I never let the gas tank of the car dip below half a tank--I wanted to be ready to go if I had to leave.  I even kept some gallons of water in the hatchback of the car.

I think part of the problem of the current age is that it's hard to know which apocalypse is coming and how to prepare.  The podcast talked a bit about the idea of not only having a physical go bag, but also getting and keeping our spiritual selves in shape so that we can face whatever is coming.  What are our core beliefs?  What will keep us sustained no matter what apocalypse comes?

They also talk about the core beliefs of our team/pod/friends/family--are we all working towards the same goals?  If something happens, will we react the same way and make the same types of decisions?  As adrienne maree brown says, "If you're not [an abolitionist], we're probably not gonna roll together, because the first time we have a conflict, we're gonna feel wildly different about what to do next."

They also talk about how to build muscle memory so that we have less thinking to do--it's built in--"here's what it looks like to go."  If you had 10 minutes to get ready to go, what would you grab and why?  It's a game we could play with our families to train our children, but it's also an important thought process for all of us.

This morning, I wrote this tweet, "I've been writing a poem, but also listening to episode 7 of this podcast on Octavia Butler's 'Parable of the Sower,' which feels like one of the most important/useful discussions about preparing for the future that I have ever heard."

It also has a spiritual dimension in a non-traditional way.  Listening to this podcast, especially this episode, has that kind of spiritual essentialness that makes me want to hear it again and again, with a sense that God is speaking through it.

At the end, adrienne maree brown says, "What belief systems have you learned through observing life, . . .  What is the truest thing you've observed, and have you organized your life around it?"--one of the most essential spiritual questions. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Back Up Plans and the Lack of Them

This has been a week of looking back to the past.  Last year, I didn't know it, but it was the last week of so much normal, the old normal for me:   the last hair cut in a salon, the last time I would see fully stocked stores, the last time of preparing for travel by plane.  Our grocery stores still have a section here and there that's wiped out, and it no longer seems strange to me.  I expect to travel on a plane again, but I may wear a mask, even when a new pandemic isn't raging across the planet--there will always be contagions on the move.

This has also been a week where I feel like I've fallen through a hole in time.  My hair is long, the way it was in high school and college.  I'm doing various pieces of paperwork as I apply to go to school.  Am I seventeen years old?  I even have a zit on my chin.

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with an Art Institute friend; we haven't had a conversation in over a month.  I told her about my plan to go to seminary, the way I would go slow if I still had my job, the way my plan might change if my job disappears.

She said, "What's your back up plan?"

I said, "That is the back up plan."

I spent the rest of the day returning to that interchange.  In a way, my approach here is a change for me.  I've always said that I'm the person who has a plan, a back up plan, and several other back up plans in case the first one didn't work--and then a satellite plan and then the plan I keep in deep reserve, in case the apocalypse comes.

She did finish the conversation by saying, "I wish my 28 year old son had your kind of passion."  He's been living in her home almost a year with no job and no plan for the future--he, too, must feel like he's fallen through a hole in time.

I need to think about the times I've moved toward a vision for the future with certainty and the times when I've had lots of back up plans.  I wonder if the lack of back up plans means I've come up with a good plan--or am I being blind to some aspect?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Octavia Butler and All the Realities

Today many people will be writing tributes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and with good reason.  He was an amazing poet, founder of the Beat movement, founder of City Lights bookstore, publisher.  What an amazing life, and how fortunate that he lived to be 101.

But today I am feeling the deep loss of Octavia Butler, who died 15 years ago today.  I've written about her often, it feels like.  But there's a reason for that--she wrote her most important work decades ago, and it feels more relevant now than it did when I first read it, decades ago.

Consider this passage from Parable of the Talents, published in 1998:

"Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery." (p. 167)

I heard Octavia Butler reading it this morning on this Democracy Now interview that was broadcast in November of 2005, and I thought, wait, I don't remember reading this, and I've read these books multiple times.  I haven't read Parable of the Talents as many times as Parable of the Sower, but I've read it several times.  

I went back to the book, which happens to be by my desk side, waiting to be put back on the shelf.  I realize how much I've skimmed over or not read in my haste to find out what happens to the characters--specifically, all the Earthseed passages.  I remember reading the Earthseed passages in Parable of the Sower, and finding them strange and wondrous and almost obvious yet profound.  I don't remember reading any of those passages in the sequel.

Not for the first time, I am reminded of what a sloppy, careless reader I can be.  But let me not get into that circle of self-loathing.

At the end of the Democracy Now episode, the broadcaster mentioned a tribute at Symphony Space tonight, so I went to the website to find this information.  I was happy to find out that it will be at 7 p.m., not later.  I'm not able to stay awake very late these days.  It's not free, but it's fairly cheap, so I bought the $15 ticket.  My spouse will be at choir rehearsal, so I should be free to see it.  And if the technology gods are not looking upon me with favor, I have a few weeks to view the recording.  

It feels good to have something to mark this day, to have the company of others who will be thinking about the power and prophecy of this important writer.  

As I think about the writers whom I have loved, I see two main categories:  writers who document the realities of life and writers who make me think about those realities in a way that I might not have if I hadn't read their work.  And perhaps a third category:  writers who explore a different reality, one which might be rooted in "real life" or perhaps not.

It's the rare writer who can do all of those things well.  Octavia Butler is one of them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Chariots of Fire, Chariots of Toilet Paper

A year ago this week, I'd have been buying toilet paper for the last time until May.  I wouldn't know that, of course.  I didn't have powers of prophecy or foretelling the future.  I am not that kind of Cassandra.

No, I stocked up because my favorite brand was on sale, and my habit was to wait to stock up until it was on sale.   In the months that followed, I often thought about the luck I had that the sale happened close to the nationwide panic buying of toilet paper.

This morning I spent some time looking at my blog posts from March 2020.  It's interesting to me that in a month I went from asserting that more of us were in danger from the flu (which was true in a certain way at the beginning of March) to being under stay at home orders by the end of the month.

I have another anniversary on the brain--this spring marks the 40th anniversary of the movie Chariots of Fire.  I went to see it in the theatre with my family and a group from church when it first came out.  I was livid that the movie allowed both of the main characters to win, even though historically, that's what happened.  I'm not sure why I wanted the Christian athlete to be punished by losing the race, but I did.

And yes, I was chastened when I learned years later, about Eric Liddell's ordeal in China.  I've watched the film in years since, and I cannot for the life of me remember why I had such a dislike for the character when I first watched it, except for that adolescent belief that a Christian who behaves in accordance with his/her values must be hiding some sort of deep, evil secret.

I think of my adolescent self and how astonished she would be to learn that I am working to get myself to seminary.  I remind myself that the church of 1981 is very different than the church of today.  In 1981, we hadn't been ordaining women very long in the Lutheran church.

I think of the historic events in that movie, World War I just over, but those of us who know our history know the trials and tribulations to come.  I wonder if someone 100 years from now, reading this blog post, will say the same thing:  "She thought they were almost out of the woods in 2021.  Little did she know."

Or will it be a time of blossoming, a new Renaissance?  

Perhaps some of both.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Week-end Captured in Facebook Posts

 Let me sum up my week-end in a few Facebook posts:

On Friday night, I wrote:  "Spouse Carl is in the back of the house teaching his Philosophy class online, and I'm in the front bedroom listening to this podcast about the brilliant Octavia Butler and doing a bit of grading for my online class before turning my attention to my apocalyptic novel that I'm writing. When I thought of my ideal of being an academic couple, I didn't think it would look quite like this, but it's close enough."

In fact, I found all kinds of interesting podcasts on Butler, like this one that explores Parable of the Sower, chapter by chapter.  I listened to 3 of them and plan to listen to the rest.

Saturday morning, I wrote:  "Cooler weather at last! I'm eating grits for breakfast, washed down with sweet tea--a pan of biscuits about to go into the oven. Yes, I did spend my formative years in the southeastern states of the U.S."

We ended Saturday by playing Yahtzee on the porch--it was the odd game where we both got multiple yahtzees--and twice I rolled a yahtzee twice in one game.  I wrote:  

"We are playing Yahtzee on the front porch, and spouse Carl and I got the exact same score. I said, "What are the odds of that?" and went inside to fill my mug. When I came back out, Carl had figured out the odds. On paper. With a pen. And no calculator.

Was he correct? I don't know. I don't have those kind of mad math skills."

If I had made a Facebook post yesterday, I might have written about having ice cream for dinner after a lovely late afternoon reading on the porch.

In short, it was a regular week-end in many ways, while at the same time, there was a whiff of melancholy:  the last of the apple cider, the last of the cooler weather that made me think about having a warm beverage.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Taking Inventory of Creativity and Discernment

When I look back on these weeks from a distance of years, I wonder if I will remember it as a creative time.  When I look at my poetry notebook, I see fragments, but not as much fruition.  But there's been a lot more going on in these past few weeks.  Let me take note here so that I remember:

Seminary/Candidacy Journey

Four weeks ago, I heard about the Arts and Theology track at Wesley Theological Seminary.  Since then, I've filled in the candidacy form on the ELCA website, and I've lined up the people who will write letters of recommendation.  My church's Council has given me approval.  I've had my pre-candidacy interview with a representative from the Synod.  I've been in touch with the agency that will do the psychological evaluation and this week, I'll get those forms completed, which will feel like a huge accomplishment.  I've started thinking about the writing assignments and expect to write those soon.

Video Sermon Creation

I created the sermon for today's service.  I think it's the best video sermon that I've done yet.  You can go here to my YouTube page to see and hear it.

Haiku-Like Creations

I continue to exchange haiku-esque creations with old friends by way of e-mail.  Here's a sample:

Rain clouds rolling in
The sky, a Turner painting
Run a bit faster

Rust, smash, dust, or ash,
All we love will fade or end
Carbon based sorrow

Soggy Shrove Tuesday
No pancakes, parties, parades
Pandemic penance

Longer Poems

I've written a few poems that have potential.

Sketching with Copic Markers

This month, I worked on a sketch for over 2 weeks, which delighted me.  

And yes, I do realize that the 2 windows are looking at completely different scenes -- it's a surrealistic touch that I did on purpose.

Apocalyptic Novel Goal:  Writing a Minimum of 1000 Words 

I have done this each week, on Friday night, as my spouse teaches.  It's become a writer's date with myself, and I really look forward to it.


Have I pursued publication?  Not in the encompassing way that I once did.  But what I'm doing feeds me in a way that publication doesn't.  

It's good for me to take inventory like this.  I spend lots of time thinking that I'm accomplishing absolutely nothing with my precious life.

But I am accomplishing in a wide variety of ways.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Travel in a Time of Plague and Snow

Yesterday I got an e-mail from a hotel chain where I had signed up for free to get rewards so that I could have free wi-fi.  And now, some of those rewards are about to expire--but of course, they're always about to expire--and I got an e-mail offer of a great deal to go to Cancun.

To no one in particular, I quipped, "Who do you think I am, Ted Cruz?"

For those of us who read this post in later years, when all the hubub has died down, I'll remind us of the scandal of the day, everyone in every part of Texas affected with a winter storm, power out, water dwindling, and one of the Texas senators goes off to have a jolly time in a resort in Mexico.

Ted Cruz has always seemed to delight in being hated, but this seems supremely stupid, even for him.  Was he not feeling reviled enough?  He had to do this?

I've thought of people's social media despair at crowds of people traveling, at unmasked people in restaurants, at all the social media outrage at all the ways we're not behaving the way we should in the face of the pandemic.  I've thought of this as my sister-in-law has come for a visit.  I've thought of this as I've posted pictures.  I've thought of the pictures that others have posted.

What people might not realize from the pictures I've posted is that my visitors weren't staying in a guest room in our house.  We have a small cottage in the back yard--my sister-in-law lived there for five months, and she returned for a vacation.  It's not as fixed up as I would like, but we also didn't charge them to stay there, the way they would have had to pay for an AirBnB option.  When we spent time with them, we were outdoors and most of the time, we were 6 feet apart.  So we weren't sharing the same air very often.

And yes, I realize that there were still risks, and I'm not trying to minimize that.  As always, when I write in this blog or in my journal (as opposed to when I write poetry or fiction), I try to be honest, so that people coming after us will know how it really was.

It's strange to say goodbye to my sister-in-law and her significant other, strange to know what a different climate they fly back to today--it has been snowing in Memphis all week--strange to know that with the travel disruptions of the past week, they may have quite a lot of aggravations yet to come, outside of the usual aggravations of airline travel/airline travel in a time of pandemic and winter weather.

Friday, February 19, 2021

A Year on Twitter

A year ago today, I joined Twitter.  The following morning, I wrote this blog post about why I joined.  It's interesting to think back to that time in mid-February, when the world was about to change radically, but it hadn't yet.  I had a few weeks of "normal" Twitter, when we were all at work away from our homes, when children were in school buildings, when we got on planes without too much worry, when we ate meals together in homes or in restaurants, on and on I could go.

I can't foresee a time when I'll get all of my news from a social media platform, but I have gotten glimmers of what's to come because I'm on Twitter.  If not for Twitter, I might have arrived at last March's AWP and been surprised at how many sessions had been cancelled.  Because I checked my Twitter feed in the days leading up to the conference, I saw lots of presenters changing their minds and deciding not to come.  I wouldn't have been completely blindsided, as the AWP did send an e-mail about their decision to proceed with the conference, but frankly, by then it was a bit late, for people like me who were traveling from a distance on my own dime.  I'd have been paying for the hotel anyway, which is the largest expense.

Because I follow poets on the west coast, I saw shortages coming before they arrived on my coast.  I remember picking up a few extra bags of flour because some Seattle poets tweeted about how they could not find flour in any store.  I didn't pick up toilet paper because I had stocked up on a sale.  I continue to be surprised that flour returned to stores before toilet paper.

I had spent years hearing about how mean people were on Twitter, and I joined with some trepidation, worrying that I'd get a lot of vitriol.  But so far, I haven't.  Of course, I'm fairly careful about what I post--I haven't directly attacked Donald Trump, for example.  If there are people writing fiery responses to haiku, they haven't commented on my haiku-esque creations.

In fact, joining Twitter reminds me a bit of my early blogging years in 2008.  There, too, I was late to the party, and I spent some time feeling like I had found a sort of community and wishing I had joined earlier.

I know of at least one call for manuscripts that I wouldn't have seen any other way unless I had been on Twitter.  It led to the publication of a poem.  Has being on Twitter led to other opportunities?  I want to believe that it's still too early to know.

Let me also acknowledge the negative parts of adding another platform to my life:  it is distracting.  For all the good information and inspiration I get, I do get annoyed with yet another item that wants my attention.  I do get annoyed with myself for scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.  I do get weary of how mindful I have to be to avoid tumbling into that trap.

But that's true of any online site these days, if I'm being honest.  It's not a bad thing to be mindful about how I'm spending my time, particularly as I face more demands on that time and a dwindling amount of years left on this side of the grave.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Power and the Loss of It

We have had a series of days that feel unseasonably warm, but in fact, warmth is always in season down here in South Florida.  I realize that much of the rest of the nation would pay me good money if I could ship them some of this warmth, and I'd be delighted for a smidge of snow.  But that kind of trade is not within my power.

I woke up thinking about the power situation in Texas, where much of the state has no electricity, and some Texans are also without water.  I've been seeing lots of outrage on social media, and part of me thinks, how nice that we're not feeling outrage about the executive branch these days.

I'm not as outraged about power outages--Texas doesn't get this kind of weather except once in a generation, so why would a power company prepare for it?

Of course, the larger question comes as we get more and more weather that we can't anticipate--how do we prepare for that?

Yesterday brought news of the loss of a different kind of power:  Rush Limbaugh died.  In some ways, it wasn't a shock; for over a year now, we've known that the man has terminal lung cancer.  And yet it seemed like the end of an era.

In so many ways, it's the end of an era that's been dead for years, if not decades now.  Talk radio?  Do people even have old-fashioned radios anymore?  Talk radio paved the way for much of our influencer culture today:  social media and podcasts and more streaming services than one can keep track of.

An speaking of loss of power:  yesterday, I found out that one of our EMS instructors has tested positive for COVID-19.  In a way, that's not strange, as most of them have.  But this instructor has had both shots of the vaccine.

But let me end with a piece of good news:  a poem publication!  I saw a call for submissions and thought of poems that would fit--and "Flights of the Family" was published a few days ago.  Go here to this site to read it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I've been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There's the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, "We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash."

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we've built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn't leave us clinically depressed?

Here's one of the video segments that tries to do all of that:

I confess that I don't know if I've been successful.  The video sermon is too big to put in this blog post, but you can go here to see it.

When I went to my YouTube channel to get the link to the sermon to post,  I was surprised to find that the video had 53 views, far more views than any other video I've posted to the channel.  How did people find it?  What Google searches brought them to my little video sermon on Ash Wednesday?

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

No Parades, No Parties, No Pancakes in a Pandemic Year--Let Us Eat Cake!

Here we are on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday--but it's a pandemic year, so we already know it will be different.  You may have been seeing houses in New Orleans that have been decorated the way that parade floats would have been decorated in years past.  I admire the "let's make lemonaid out of these lemons we've been given" spirit.

Today is Mardi Gras, and it's also Shrove Tuesday. It's the day before Ash Wednesday, the day before Lent begins. Mardi Gras and Carnival, holidays that come to us out of predominantly Catholic countries, certainly have a more festive air than Shrove Tuesday, which comes to us from some of the more dour traditions of England. The word shrove, which is the past tense of the verb to shrive, which means to seek absolution for sins through confession and penance, is far less festive than the Catholic terms for this day.

In the churches of my childhood, we had pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesday.  I am guessing that there will be few pancake suppers in church fellowship halls across the nation today.  Even if we could make it safe to assemble, much of the northern 48, as I like to call the rest of the U.S. that's not Florida and Hawaii, are dealing with snow and ice today.

Maybe this year is the year to have this wallop of a winter storm when we can't do much as a group:  no parades, no parties, no pancakes.  But we could do something on a small scale at home.  The holidays of Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, and Mardi Gras have their roots in the self-denial of the Lenten season. These holidays are rooted in the fasting traditions of Lent and the need to get rid of all the ingredients that you'd be giving up during Lent: alcohol, sugar, eggs, and in some traditions, even dairy foods.

Many of us have baking supplies on hand--why not make a Mardi Gras treat that's a cross between a bread and a cake?

Here's a recipe for a simple, yeasted bread that requires no kneading and is relatively healthy, but also sweet.  I'll walk you through it.

Epiphany/Mardi Gras Bread

2 pkg (5 ½ tsp.) active dry yeast
¼ c. warm water
2/3 c. milk
½ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ c. butter
3 large eggs
4 c. flour (can be part or all whole wheat)
2 c. candied fruit, and/or raisins, and/or nuts

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a tsp. of sugar and the salt.  Give it a few minutes to foam, and then mix in the eggs. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the milk, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil. Once it’s cooled a bit, add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture, along with the flour, and blend.

Add the 2 cups of candied fruit, nuts, and/or raisins—or leave them out. I’ve used candied ginger with great success, and I really like dried cranberries and pecans. You can use more gourmet items, like citron. Or use the candied fruits that make an appearance during the holiday baking season.

The dough will be very sticky; fortunately, you don’t knead it.

Simply let it rise. Grease 2 tube pans or bundt pans.

When the dough has doubled in size, spoon it into the pans. Let it rise again.

If you want to put prizes in the bread, you can do so before you put the bread in the oven. The traditional prize for Mardi Gras is a baby Jesus (if using plastic, stick him into the bread after baking). For Epiphany/Three Kings Bread, some bread bakers include a coin (wrapped in foil) that indicates good luck for the person who finds it. Some put a china baby into the bread. Other customs include a bean, a clove, a twig, a piece of rag. Some traditions have the person who finds the embedded item doing the clean up, some have the person hosting the next party in February at Candlemas or the next year's Mardi Gras party.

Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes. The dough should be golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

The bread is delicious plain:

but it’s also good with powdered sugar frosting or glaze.

For Mardi Gras, traditionally you’d sprinkle the icing or glaze with sugar colored purple, green, and/or yellow. 

You can make colored sugar easily at home by stirring food coloring into white granulated (table) sugar:

Based on a recipe found in Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Holiday Baking Book

And keep this bread in mind as Christmas rolls around; it's easy for gifts and a reason to celebrate Epiphany on January 6.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Valentines with Slingshots and Sangria

If you saw this picture of the end of our day of three wheeled vehicles, you might assume our day had gone very differently:

We had a plan with lots of moving parts, so there was much potential for things to go wrong.  We had 4 groups of people, each group renting a 3 wheeled vehicle.  Most of our group was interested in the slingshot, with 2 wheels in the front and 1 in the back.  You may have seen them, in bright colors or looking like the Batmobile.  My spouse and I wanted to try a trike, with 2 wheels in the back and 1 in the front.  We were renting 4 vehicles from 4 different places, heading to my brother-in-law's house in Homestead, and taking a cruise to the Keys.  It was Valentine's Day, but we hoped that if we showed up at one of our favorite restaurants in the middle of the afternoon, we might be able to get a table in the open air near the water.  I hoped for social distancing but felt a bit worried about safety.

Three of our group assembled at our house to ride to Homestead together.  And then--the orange slingshot didn't start.  We thought maybe it was a dead battery.  Three of us pushed the slingshot, with one person steering, and it started.  But then it stopped again.

We repeated this process several times, hoping against hope that it was a simple dead battery, that if we could just get it running, we could recharge that battery.   Since that didn't work, we deduced it was an alternator or worse.  We called my brother-in-law in Homestead and had them head to us in their slingshot.

The owner of the slingshot came to try to charge the battery--over and over, he tried to charge the battery.  It didn't work, of course.  We moved the dead slingshot out of the driveway.  

We spent a lot of Valentine's Day pushing vehicles.  When I thought of all the ways we might regain our youth, pushing dead vehicles with dead batteries is not one of the scenarios I was dreaming of.  

We were heading to the middle of the afternoon, still not having gone very far, still not having eaten.  We thought of various places to eat, both north and south, and made phone calls to restaurants who very politely did not laugh at us when we asked if it was possible to get a table.

We started calling restaurants further inland who didn't have a water view, but did have outside seating.  And finally, success!  Off we went to the Chimney House, which is near the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Ft. Lauderdale.  For our whole table, I ordered a pitcher of Sangria made with white wine--delicious!  I thoroughly enjoyed my meal:  skirt steak with an amazing chimichurri sauce--I expect to reek of garlic for days.  The restaurant was fairly empty, another bonus in these days of pandemic.

We came back and there was discussion about how to spend the rest of our time with our rented 3 wheeled vehicles.  My brother-in-law needed to return his before 7, so off he went back to Homestead.  The younger folks in our set went off into the post sunset to enjoy nightlife with a slingshot.

My spouse and I sat on our front porch, discussing what to do.  We could do a short ride south and enjoy the high-rise lights.  We could head further, to the Keys.  In the end, when asked how he wanted to spend the evening, he said, "Like this."  He was serious:  a lovely breeze, twinkling lights in the rosemary trees, a cigar and a drink, and time together.  It's a sweet sentiment for Valentine's Day.  Time zooms by, and it's hard to know how to spend it best:

We may go for a sunrise ride before it's time to return the bike.  Or perhaps not.  

It's not the way I thought our Valentine's Day would go--it's not what any of us planned.  But my hope is that when we look back, we'll be happy with the way we made the best of it.

And it could have been worse.  At least the slingshot died outside of our house.  It could have been otherwise:  in the Keys, by the side of the turnpike--or worse, in a far lane of the turnpike.  It could have been even worse--but it wasn't.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Valentine--AND the Feast of the Transfiguration--on a Sunday in a Pandemic Year

This isn't the first day that Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday. It is the first day for most of us that Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday where it isn't safe to assemble the way that we once did. It is also the Feast Day of the Transfiguration, which falls on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Catholics celebrate the Transfiguration feast day on August 6, and we could spend lots of time analyzing whether or not Saint Valentine deserves to be a saint or deserves to have a feast day or whether or not this day that celebrates romantic love should be mentioned in church services, the church services that a lot of us won't be attending in person for reasons pertaining to disease or snow.

Once I would have written a blog post about how we hope our earthly relationships would transfigure us. In fact, I've written variations of that blog post over and over again. Once I would have written about all the ways we wish we could be transfigured--but do we want to do the work?

Today I'm thinking about this past pandemic year and all the ways it has changed us and our society profoundly. I'm also thinking about the dangerous message that so many of us hear about love, the messages beamed at us that tell us we are not worthy of love, that we must make profound changes so that we can find the love we crave.

I think about what God says about Jesus on the mountain: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” It reminds us of what happened at the baptism of Jesus, that declaration of love at the beginning, before Jesus has done a thing in terms of ministry. The good news of the Christian gospel is that God feels the same way about all of us.

Many of us (all of us?) crave this kind of complete love. Imagine: we don't have to transform ourselves or bend ourselves into pretzel shapes or become someone we're not to be worthy of this kind of love. We don't have to do a certain set of practices. We don't have to behave in a certain way, in ways that we know we can't sustain. We don't even need to say a formal acceptance. God just loves us this way.

Many of us spend our whole lives yearning to find this kind of love from our fellow humans, and occasionally, we find it for a bit--but most humans find this kind of love unsustainable, particularly when we're trying to love humans who aren't on their best behavior.In the past, I've worried about how Valentine's Day might make people feel excluded. I've thought the church should just ignore this holiday that is designed to make us feel like we must spend gobs and gobs of money to demonstrate our love. But maybe I've overlooked an essential message that preaches well.

Every day, ideally, should be Valentine's Day, a day in which we try to remind our loved ones how much we care--and not by buying flowers, dinners out, candy, and jewelry. We show that we love by our actions: our care, our putting our own needs in the backseat, our concern, our gentle touch, our loving remarks, our forgiveness over and over again.

And sustained by the love that sustains in our homes, we can go out to be a witness that glows with evidence of God's love to the dark corners of the world. Every week, we are reminded of the brokenness of the world, and some weeks the world feels more broken, unfixable. But we can kindle the fires that can transform the world.

On this Valentine's Day, let us go out into the world, living sacraments, to be Valentines to one another, to illuminate the wonders of God's love to a weary world .

Saturday, February 13, 2021

New Spiritual Disciplines and Practices for the Twenty-first Century

For my program that will lead to my certification as a spiritual director, we read one book a month and write a report.  With some of the books, it's like falling through a hole in time; for example, one of them talked about talking to one's spiritual director with a long distance phone call, if one could afford those high rates.

For the last review I wrote this, in response to the question about what stirred my spirit most:  "It may not be the fault of the book, but not much about this stirred my spirit. I liked the reminder that there are a variety of disciplines, but at this point, I’ve heard a lot about these particular disciplines, and I find myself wondering about the kind of book I’d write for the 21st century, the disciplines that are important for our current time. Thinking about that question has stirred my spirit—and in a good way."

We turn in our responses to our small group leader, and she writes the most wonderful replies.  Here's what she wrote to the above response:  "Now, I am wondering when you will be writing a book about current spiritual disciplines!!!!!! What a wonderful gift that would be to all of us - and everyone!!!!! And I have no doubt that you could do just that!!!! Especially with the direction that you are taking right now……Kristin, you have so very much to offer to the Church - Lutheran and United Methodist!!!!! - the entire Church. God has no boundaries for you……This is such a beautiful time of discerning for you…..Blessings are with you as you continue on your journey."

I'm recording this exchange in part because of the praise.  I like having positive voices in reserve for when the negative voices in my head get too loud and shrill.

But I'm also recording it because I like to keep a record of potential writing projects and books.  Of course, I have more ideas than I have time to write in my current lifetime.  But this idea spoke to me:  what are the spiritual disciplines for the 21st century that will take us to the 22nd?

Some of those practices might be the same.  Some are timeless.  But we likely have new practices that would be very unfamiliar to a time traveler arriving from the year 1927--or 1427.

What are they?  I'm not sure yet.  But it's a question that stirs my soul.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Coming Crash?

As I'm writing this morning, I'm listening to a riveting podcast about the collapse of the late Bronze Age, which happened very quickly, and all at once--it wasn't just one part of the civilization, but all parts (7-9 thriving societies, depending on how one counts). There was an extended drought, which led to a collapse in trade routes, which was disastrous in a world so interconnected.  If trade routes collapse, and your individual society isn't self-sufficient, well disaster falls fast and hard.  It's hard not to see parallels to our own time.  

Perhaps I see the parallels because I'm wired that way.  I've always been on the lookout for impending collapse.  Those signs are all around us.

Of course, in many ways, those signs have always been there.  Even in my early years, I remember people discussing the fall of the Roman empire and the parallels to the U.S. of the 1970's.  It has been that way decade after decade.

But it's hard not to feel that we could be on a brink of something much more catastrophic.  Maybe I feel that way because I've spent several days listening to bits and pieces of the impeachment trial of former president Trump in the U.S. Senate.  I am horrified, and I didn't experience it firsthand.

I don't understand how any of those Senators could vote to acquit.  I realize that I'm predisposed to agree with the House impeachment managers/prosecutors.  I worry about what happens if there aren't severe consequences.

I worry about what happens if there are severe consequences.

The podcast ends by talking about the times that civilization does not collapse, and that humans in groups are much more resilient than we think we are.  We have technology and intelligence on our side--plus we have times in history that serve as a cautionary tale.

Are we on the brink of collapse or n the brink of transformation?

Perhaps the answer is yes. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Practicum in the Art of Staying Present

As the pandemic worsened throughout 2020, I often thought back to a manager's meeting in February of 2020.  I went back hunting through my blog, and found this post which let me figure out that the manager's meeting happened a year ago today.  At the time that I wrote, I tried to write neutrally, hiding identities somewhat, just in case.

Now I look back and think, oh Kristin, you had no idea what was coming down upon you.  I'm thinking not just of the pandemic, but also of my job.  At the time, I had no idea that the tenure of my boss was coming to an end, and while I suspected that my school was in the process of changing, I continue to be surprised that a one campus school in Brooklyn would buy our 5 campus school in Florida.

Back to that manager's meeting:  my boss at the time was the kind of man who would say, "My sources tell me . . ." or "My economics guys say . . . ," and at meetings, he would hand out photocopied articles from non-conventional sources (non-conventional for a traditional academic setting).  I can't tell you much more about them, because I never took the time to try to trace the authors and their sources, to do the work it would take to figure out if the articles were legit or not.

I tended not to take my boss too seriously when he forecast doom, because he was the kind of doomsayer who predicted that banks would close, and we wouldn't have access to our funds ever again.  I once asked him how he saved for the future if he didn't trust banks or Wall Street, and he said that he bought silver bars--literal bars of silver, not precious metal funds.

A year ago, my boss brought up the new virus and said, "I don't know that we need to make any plans yet, but I wanted us to be aware."

I was aware of the virus, aware of the shut down in China, but at the time, I thought it was the sign of a repressive regime, not of how serious the virus was.  I dismissed the concerns of my boss.  My post from 2020 makes it sound like I was a virus denier.  I wasn't, but at the time, I didn't have as much information as I would 6 weeks later.

In an interesting swap, not much later, my boss would become a type of virus denier.  He saw the virus as something being overhyped so that there could be repressive behavior by governments.  He spent the spring expecting troops to show up to order us back to our houses.  For a week or two, I did too.  The other day, when I was looking for my rarely-used ATM card in my purse, I came across the letter that I carried that identified me as an essential worker in my school, the one that was on site helping to keep the online classes running smoothly.

As I look back at that manager's meeting, not one of those managers in attendance is still employed by my school except for me.  When I feel a bit whipsawed, I tend to think of large events, like the pandemic, like the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol building followed by the inauguration of Biden and Harris.  But my job situation has contributed to that whipsawed feeling too, and I often neglect to remember how many changes have happened at the workplace.  And then there's the matter of how many local friends have moved away.

I often say that I do OKish when I focus on the day at hand.  When I look back to think about what has been lost, I could get bogged down in sorrow.  When I look ahead to realize how hard it is to plan in the current environment, I get frozen in fear.

This past year has been a huge practicum in the art of staying present, although it might not have been how we would have chosen to be taught.  I wish I could say it was a finishing school, but I sense there are lessons still to come.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Three Weeks in Haiku

I've been part of an e-mail group that's been exchanging haiku-like creations.  I haven't been great about collecting all of mine in one central place.  Let me do that here.

First, my standard disclaimer:  yes, I do understand that there's much, much more to haiku than the pattern of syllables across 3 lines.  Yes, I am aware that calling some of these haiku cheapens the form--thus my term, haiku-like creations.

I contributed my first one on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20:

High noon swearing in
Blessing and promise and prayer
Hinge of history

On Friday, Jan. 22, I sent this haiku:

Coffee on the porch
Late afternoon slant of light
Safe to stay awake

The next day, I summed up my week-end plans this way:

Bought a lot of eggs
Planned to make Christmas cookies
Making flan today

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, I got several different e-mails about seminary (one from my pastor, one from an Admissions rep at a seminary that has a track in theology and the arts); some of you may remember that seminary is a possibility that my brain keeps centering round. Hence, this haiku:

Seminary thoughts:
daydream or question or call?
Am I too far gone?

On Friday, Jan. 29, I wrote this one:

Full moon setting west
Glowing wafer, creamy clouds
Coffee scented dawn

On Feb. 1, I wrote a haiku for St. Brigid's Day:

Dawn, Saint Brigid's Day:
May our lakes of deep gloom turn
into nourishment.

And this one, for Groundhog's Day on Feb. 2:

We forecast futures
with shadows and small creatures.
All in our burrows.

Feb. 3 is the Feast Day of Anna, the Prophetess, who was in the Temple when Jesus was presented to Simeon.  I wrote this haiku:

Temple of old bones:
the work of a prophetess
ever more needed.

We had an exchange about words and hope and how to vanquish hate.  I wrote this e-mail:  "I was going to write a non-haiku e-mail that said 'life into words--I love this!'And then I realized I was close to 5 syllables--and then the rest came."  I included this haiku:

Breathe life into words,
words to worlds, offer new hope,
hate vanquished by love.

This past Monday, I wrote this haiku, when I reflected that a good chunk of the nation was enjoying a snow day, while I enjoyed rain on my day off, taken before my PTO disappears (not as dreary as it sounds):

Dreary rain, no snow
Bread baking to cheer the day
Tea kettle singing

Yesterday morning, I was answering questions about worship committees and bishops and looking at the website of a seminary when this haiku-like creation came to me.  It's both a different direction and similar:

Sacramental grace
sorcery, science, or love.
Daily miracles

How interesting--before I went combing through my old e-mails, I didn't realize how many of these I had created.  Wow.  Are they all good?  I doubt it.  Are they furthering my poetry publishing goals?  In that they get me thinking about language and imagery, yes.

And it's a fun way to stay in touch with friends--that's enough of a plus, even if there weren't other benefits.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Days Off, Days on My Feet

I have decided to take another easy day today.  In part, it's because I have to be at work slightly earlier today.  In part, it's because I wanted another morning of hot pumpkin pecan cinnamon rolls and fresh coffee and the potential to do some writing.

It's also because yesterday wasn't quite as much a day off for my aching legs as I expected.

My sister-in-law is coming for a visit, and she arrives on Thursday evening.  She's staying in our cottage, the one she was living in until a year ago.  We haven't made any improvements since she left, but my spouse did use it as a workspace, so there was a lot of clean up to do--saw dust, regular dust, some griminess that accumulates when no one lives in a space.

Yesterday was the day when we got the cottage livable again.  We had planned to do some of that in the past 2 week-ends, but we didn't.  Yesterday we dusted and wiped down with wet towels and dusted some more and vacuumed.  The cottage is still far from perfect, but it's ready.  And since my sister-in-law lived there, she knows what to expect.  And she gets to stay there for free, which is much cheaper than a hotel or an AirBnB would charge.

We also did some other chores.  My spouse has been needing new shoes, so off we went at a time when we expected the store to be less crowded.  Happily, we encountered no crowds, and we got a great deal--plus, my spouse found shoes, which is not always something that happens.  Along the way, we went to Home Depot for flower seeds and garden hose repair kits.

Once we got the cottage ready, we did some sorting of our various garden sheds and benches that are also storage space for pool supplies.  We weren't storing as much junk as I was afraid we were, but we did sort and reorganize.

By the end of the day, my legs ached, along with many of my joints.  I thought about how sore I felt for a woman who had taken a day off.  But then I realized that it wasn't really a day off in some ways, because I was on my feet for most of the day.  

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" (a Lead Belly tune also known as "In the Pines" perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It's not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory--why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?
It was a good day off--as is the case with many days off, it was such a good day, I'd like a repeat.  But it is not to be--the campus awaits.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Rest Day, Renewal Day

Yesterday was my 38th day of running, 38 days in a row.  As faithful readers of this blog know, I am using the word "run" loosely.  At best, it's a slow jog that I do.  At worst--well, let us not think about how sloggy my slow run can be.  

For the past several days, I've felt achy and cranky and so low-energy.  Yesterday, I could almost hear my body literally speaking: "If you don't take a rest day, I'll force you to take a rest day, and you won't like it."

I am prone to laziness of a sort, so I often ignore that voice.  But yesterday's voice felt different, so I decided to take today completely off, in terms of exercise.

I am also taking this day off from work.  A school in Brooklyn is in the process of buying my school, and we've been told that when this happens, we'll lose all our PTO, while being paid for vacation days.  So we've all been trying to use our PTO--at a small campus like mine, where only a few of us have the keys to open the campus, that can be tricky.  So today, I'm using up the last of my PTO, since Mondays are usually a bit slow until after midterm, when more students come back to campus to do their labs, the ones that must be done in person.

So, I'll be doing some baking today, some errand running, some cleaning of the cottage in advance of my sister-in-law's arrival later this week for a vacation.  I already have pumpkin pecan cinnamon rolls in the oven; I use this Smitten Kitchen recipe adding pecans filling mixture, and double the recipe so that I can bake the extra dough as loaves of bread.  Either variation is delicious.

I spent part of the morning reading about the death of George Schultz and marveling, as I often do, how the waning days of the Cold War years so often feels more stable than our own time.  I also read a bit about Amanda Gorman, the first poet to be part of the Super Bowl.  I'm all for anything that gets more of us thinking about poetry, but I'm even happier when it's a positive anything.

Early this morning, I figured out an approach to the sketch I'm creating.  It had 2 big chunks of white space, and the realistic options didn't thrill me.  This morning, I realized that an additional window with a view of a different landscape solved one problem and would announce a subtle surrealism.  This solution has made me so happy.

I was also happy when I was trying to whistle "Shine, Jesus Shine" and had trouble hitting a high note, even when whistling.  I commented on that fact to my spouse, and then, just like that, we're whistling in unison, having trouble hitting the high notes.

It is POURING rain--all yesterday I felt this rain coming and felt that irritability about an impending storm that refuses to break.  This morning, there's not the thunder that I was expecting, but it's the kind of tropical rain that would have made me cancel a run or a walk--so I'm even happier that I had planned today as a rest day.

Update:  The pan of cinnamon rolls is one of the more beautiful baked goods that I've made recently.  And it tastes as good as it looks, which is never a sure thing.

Sunday, February 7, 2021


What a week it has been!  In future years, I might see this week as one of those hinge moments, the time when one part of life opens from another part of life, the one where I look back and say, "That's the week that led directly to where I am today."

Just a week ago, I was exploring Wesley Seminary's Arts and Theology program.  I was feeling thrilled, in part because of the week that had come before.  I had spent the last week of January looking at programs at other seminaries and feeling such a sense of despair.  I had just the opposite reaction to the program at Wesley:  I wanted to pack my bags and get started right away.

I wrote some blog posts, and early in the week, an Admissions rep from Wesley reached out to me.  We exchanged e-mails, and she put me in touch with the person who is in charge of the center for Theology and the Arts and in charge of the specialization track.  

By Monday, I decided it was time to reach out to the woman at Synod who is in charge of candidacy (candidacy is the process by which both the person and the Church determine what God is up to--and to be bluntly honest, to make sure that it's a good idea to have a person go to seminary and become a pastor).  By Thursday, I had a variety of candidacy documents to explore.  

By the end of the day on Friday, I had submitted the application for candidacy to the national church.  I've still got lots of documents to submit to the Synod office, but I've taken the first step.  I clicked that submit button at the end of the 7 screens of information/submission that make up the application online.  

Now to write the paper that explores my spiritual life.  That part won't be as hard for me as it might be for some.  In some ways, I write parts of that paper each and every week.  

I'll also need to do some other activities:  get a psychiatric evaluation, get 2 letters of recommendation, have an initial meeting with a member of the Synod candidacy committee.  But today it feels more doable than when I was first sifting through the materials on Thursday.

It's also been a week where I let people know what I'm thinking about:  friends and family, my pastor, my spiritual director, my small group that's part of the spiritual director certificate program.  Not a one has responded by asking if I'm sure, asking if I've lost my mind, asking if I've thought this through.  No one has told me that I'm crazy.  No one has suggested that I can't do it.

On the contrary, most people are happy for me and overwhelmingly supportive.  That, too, seems like a sign to me.

Here's one of my favorite responses (from a grad school friend):  "I think you're right to pay attention to the flashing signs that are clearly trying to catch your eye. Mepkin Abby, a seminary in a city where you have family, a pandemic that's altered the way we approach course work, and a Lutheran seminary right here in Columbia plus my guest room in case you need additional classes at the end! It's been your heart's yearning for decades now. The universe is saying go forth. Now is your time."

And here's a close runner up, from my atheist friend:  "even IF you sounded crazy, Kristin - the most important sound I hear is happiness. And crazy happiness is beautiful right now. NOT THAT I AM SAYING YOU ARE CRAZY!!!! of course you are - taking on this much work is insane. but if insane work makes you happy ... go for it."

I am going for it.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Desolation and Consolation, Discernment and Candidacy

 I spent the week-end rapturously exploring the website of Wesley Theological Seminary.  Earlier this week, I decided it was time to be in touch with the Synod people in charge of candidacy.  Yesterday, I decided to explore seminary, more specifically the MDiv degree, through the lens of candidacy.

As I clicked my way through the Synod materials sent to me as e-mail attachments and the ELCA materials on the ELCA website.  I felt my stress and anxiety levels rising.  I noticed my frustration at how difficult it was to navigate it all:  was this form named this way actually that form referred to over there?  Did I need to sign up here or here and once I did this, why could I not log on again?  Did clicking here in this e-mail that I wasn't told would be coming mean that I could get back to the website where I could start to fill in forms?  For the record, clicking on the e-mail verification did get me access.

Unlike clicking my way through the Seminary site, my internet ramblings yesterday left me feeling deflated and a bit frightened.  I heard that familiar voice in my head, that voice that I have learned to ignore, saying, "Who do you think you are?  Why do you think you can do this?"  That voice quickly spirals down into all sorts of harsh criticism along the lines of too old, too late, too stupid, too fat, too female, not enough resources, not enough time, not enough, not enough, not enough.

I will ignore that voice.  I've gotten good at ignoring that voice.  But I wince a bit at how often I've had to ignore that voice, the one that told me I couldn't possibly get into grad school, the one who told me I couldn't write a dissertation, the one that told me to avoid tenure track jobs because I would surely perish in a publish-or-perish job, the one that told me an MFA after getting a PhD wouldn't be worth the effort, the one that told me going after this grant or that grant would be too much effort--I could go on and on.  Sometimes I ignored that voice and did the thing anyway.  Sometimes I ignored that voice and wished that I had explored an option.  

And what makes this all particularly painful is that sometimes, the voice was right, but I can't always be sure.  The road not taken remains the road not taken after all--the road that might have changed everything for the better or changed everything for the worse or might have changed nothing.

I think about the books I've been reading about Ignatian spirituality, about the idea of consolation and desolation.  To explain it in an overly simple way, if a decision/answer makes one feel inspired and fulfilled, like one is living into one's purpose for life, that one is moving closer to God, it's a decision/answer made in consolation.  If it makes one feel otherwise, it's a mark of desolation.

And here's where it gets tricky.  One can come to a decision/answer in consolation, but still feel some tinges of desolation as one goes on.  I feel like I am seeing that in real time in the past week.

Yesterday, as I started feeling extremely overwhelmed at the candidacy process, I felt this temptation to give up, to sink into my midlife comfort, to listen to that inner voice that hopes I can make it to retirement with a full-time salary and benefits package.

I reminded myself of the wisdom that I found in one of the books, that I can't find again right now, the wisdom that says not to let a decision made in a spirit of consolation come undone when one enters a period of desolation.  

I am familiar with this cycle, although I usually experience it over the course of months or years, not over just a few days.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Phone Log

When I think of these first weeks of 2021, what will I remember?  I feel like I've spent a lot of these weeks on the phone trying to straighten stuff out.  Just for fun, and because I will forget, let me make a list:

--I mailed the December mortgage check, which didn't arrive, and didn't arrive, and didn't arrive.  I was in contact with the mortgage company several times, and we determined how long we could wait on the U.S. mail.  Finally, in late December, I cancelled the check and did an electronic funds transfer.

On the last Friday of January, the check arrived at the mortgage company.  But it took a long phone call to determine that the payment that the mortgage company notified me about was that check.  I couldn't imagine who was paying off my mortgage--turns out, it was me.

Last night I spent more time on the phone.  I wanted to do an electronic funds transfer for the February payment, but because of the check arriving, the automated phone process wanted to give me credit for March, not February.

I expect to spend more time on the phone before it's done.

--My sister-in-law is coming for a visit, and we're hoping to do a ride to the Keys.  Our other family members rented a type of motorcycle, a slingshot.  We wanted to rent a trike.  I made phone calls Saturday, and then made a reservation online.  I got an e-mail a few days later that the bike wasn't available.  I called the phone #, talked to some nice people in Las Vegas who couldn't help me, and tried again the next day.  Come to find out, I had to push another number, which meant another round of phone calls.

Last night I spent time looking for other options, but they would all involve a bit of a drive to get there.  Happily, this morning I got an e-mail that the bike is available after all.  

I will try to focus on the aspect of plans working out, rather than the irritation at making a plan, having it fall through, making other plans, stressing over how those plans would be less workable, and then returning to the original plan.

So my list is not that huge--but it represents hours and hours and hours out of a normal week.  Let me be happy for happy resolutions.  Let me not focus on lost hours. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Scraps of Extravagance

I am looking at the quilt that I finished back in October.  I folded it in a different way this week-end, and I've been delighting in a different view of small scraps:

I'm remembering when I got these scraps.  These scraps came from a bag that I bought knowing that it was only composed of small scraps.  I used to go to a very fancy cloth shop which had many bolts of cloth that I wouldn't have afforded--$25 to $30 a yard, back in the early years of this century, when that price would have made me gasp.  But for $5-$10, I could get a bag of scraps that had gorgeous bits, many of which I could use.

I only bought a few of those bags.  In part, it was because they were organized by color, and some colors, like the bag of black and white scraps, for example, I couldn't foresee having a use for..  In part, it's because I always ended up with more scraps than I could use, and then I had to figure out what to do with them.  But it was primarily because I thought it was an extravagance that I shouldn't be affording.

And yet, each bag brought such joy.  Often I bought them during a trip to the store with fellow quilting friends, and the best part was when a friend would buy one too--and then we'd trade scraps.  I remember giving my friend all the red ones, while she sorted out the autumnal colors for me.  And then there was the joy of shifting each scrap into longer strips, seeing which colors went best together, followed by the calming stitching.  And now I remember the happiness of the October 2020 quilt retreat when I look at them--happy memory upon happy memory.

I try to fast forward myself 20 years into the future.  What extravagances will I wonder why I denied myself?  Wine?  Better quality sheets?  Will I approve of some of my extravagances?  Books?    Which extravagance will I wonder what took me so long to indulge?  Another graduate degree?  

And the most important question:  where will I look back with sorrow, knowing that 2021 Kristin saw extravagance, when she should have been seeing necessity?

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Seminary Dreams: an MDiv that Combines Theology and the Arts!

On Saturday, I stumbled across another seminary program that combines a focus on the arts and theology. I thought I had done a thorough search and found the one seminary (in Minnesota, a UCC seminary) that did--and it doesn't offer much on the arts side. I've spent much of the days since Saturday exploring the website for Wesley Theological Seminary--in Washington DC.

Their MDiv program (the one that gets a person ready for ordination) has this focus. Some schools have a track that's not part of the MDiv track, but this one is. The whole website looks fascinating--they have so many cool possibilities.

They're part of the consortium, which means they have partnerships with all sorts of other seminaries and universities, but none further south.  One of their programs offers a chance to study in Stockholm, Sweden

I've spent some time searching, but I can't tell how much they offer online in non-Covid times.

Could I go there while still working my current job? Maybe, depending on online offerings--at least for a year or two. If my job ends, I'd be tempted to figure out a way to go full time. If you research the cost, it's mind blowing, but the catalog says in many ways that very few students will pay the full price, that most students will pay no more than half. I think that separate from what the seminary would provide, the ELCA might also have assistance.

I know that I would have 10 years to complete the program once I started--so I could start small. And they have a cool program, where you can try out the school by taking a class--and then if you like it, you do all the entry paperwork and such.

For the MDiv degree, I would probably not start earlier than fall--I should call not only the school but the church synod office. There's a candidacy process I should follow so that I can become ordained by the Lutheran church. I will make that phone call this week. This may be a great year to do this--in past years, there would have been required time away at a retreat center meeting with the candidacy team, but this year, hopefully it's happening remotely. I'm not opposed to time away, so if that's still required, it's not a deal breaker. But our synod has been very careful when it comes to in person gatherings.

You might be wondering why I'm thinking of any of this. You might think I had chosen against seminary/ordination when I went the spiritual direction certificate route.  I have always been keeping that option open, but I really wanted to find a program that thrills me.  

And now, I think I have.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Feast Day of Saint Brigid in a Time of Raging Virus

It is the morning of St. Brigid's Day.  For information on this intriguing Irish saint, go to this post on my theology blog.  This morning, as I was running, these lines came to me:

Dawn, Saint Brigid's Day:
May our lakes of deep gloom turn
into nourishment.

I've written better (in the sense of more traditionally developed poems) about her.  Go to this post on my theology blog to see for yourself.

Late yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:   "It is the eve of the feast day of St. Brigid, and just today, I came across the tradition of Brat Bhride: leaving a cloak or a piece of cloth or a ribbon outside the door for Saint Brigid to bless and give healing powers."  One website said that a red silk ribbon was preferable.

Just before Christmas I was awash in red ribbons, but yesterday afternoon, they all seemed to have disappeared.  Happily, I was able to find one in a stack of paperwork, a little scrap of glittery red ribbon.  So I left it outside overnight, and this morning, before dawn, I retrieved it.  I'm not sure what to do with it now--carry it with me at all times?  Put it back in the stack of paperwork?

It says something about the past year that I went looking for a red ribbon.  Most years, I'd have read about these ancient customs and thought they were charming and given them not another thought again until next year.

This year, with new strains of the corona virus burning their way through the nation, I decided it wouldn't hurt to get extra blessings any place I could find them.

May we all be blessed with extra healing powers on this feast day of Saint Brigid!