Monday, January 31, 2022

The Nibble of Anxiety

Anxiety has begun to nibble at the outlines again.  For about a week, I felt blessedly free:  the house was sold, I was caught up on both seminary classes and the online classes that I teach, and the high stress people at work had gone on vacation.  Let me try to write my way out of my anxiety.  And let me also confess that my anxiety is the low grade kind, which makes me feel a kind of guilt for feeling anxious but not feeling like my anxiety warrants attention.

Of course, that is how our anxieties trick us and grow larger, which is why I try to defuse my anxieties early in the process, as early as I feel that nibble.

Today I feel a new anxiety because my spouse has both a colonoscopy and endoscopy tomorrow, which means today begins a process for him:  no food today, only clear liquids, no alcohol, and we'll end the day with a medicine that furthers the cleanse.  Note how I said that diplomatically.  I feel anxiety about this process to get ready for the procedure and anxiety about tomorrow's procedure.

I feel anxiety because two of my online classes finish at the end of February, and so the grading demands have picked up.  This week I will settle into grading; and tomorrow I'm taking a sick day to help care for my spouse, so I'll have time to catch up then.

I should feel less anxious about seminary classes than I do.  Yesterday, my spouse hooked up a laptop to the TV so he could watch the New Testament class lectures with me.  That was a treat.  We both learned a lot about the art of Roman-Greco letter writing and about Paul's approach.

But the nature of seminary classes is that there is always work to do, always reading, always writing.  I did realize during the break between terms that I like having that work to do.  During the break, I felt at loose ends.  I do wish that I didn't feel the need to check and double check and check again to make sure that I haven't forgotten anything.  But that checking doesn't take too much extra time, and it feels less like an anxiety symptom and more like a behavior that keeps me on track. 

Let me also remember the joys to help keep my anxieties tamped down.  At some point in December, our condo building created a game room, and my spouse and I have been enjoying improving our pool game.  He's much more serious about improving than I am, but so far, it hasn't impeded my enjoyment.  He's slightly better than I am, but not so much that we can't enjoy our games.

It's not the rooftop pool, which is still closed for repairs (sigh).  But it's something we wouldn't be doing if we weren't renting a condo in this building.  And we wouldn't be renting this condo if we hadn't decided to sell the house.  And we did finally sell the house!

That knowledge, that we did sell the house, is enough to tamp down most of my anxieties.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Banned Books and All We Cannot See

It is a very chilly morning, 40 degrees with a wind chill advisory.  So I'll stay inside this morning, do some writing, watch the lecture videos for my New Testament class, and generally stay cozy.  While we didn't have the same kind of winter weather as much of the rest of the nation this week-end, it was still a blustery day yesterday, the kind of wind that breaks the palm trees.  During my walk yesterday morning, I hauled huge fronds out of the roads, marveling at the weight and heft of them.

Let me record some of the smaller nuggets of the week, so that I'll have them later:

--It's been one of those weeks where there's been lots of news of books being banned--the latest is Art Spiegelman's Maus.  I bought the book when it first was published, back in 1986.  It was one of the early works in a genre that would come to be called the graphic novel, and I remember lots of conversations about whether or not a graphic novel could be a serious work of art, or were we just elevating -- gasp -- comic strips?  I remember following Allison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For; even back then, I realized that a comic strip was an art form that could do far more than older generations had assumed it could.

--Maus is not being banned because it's a graphic novel.  Someone somewhere is concerned about the nudity.  I thought, there's nudity?  Nude cats, nude mice?  Is it about all the dead bodies?

--And now, because it's been banned, a whole new generation will discover this book.  Hurrah!  I used to tell my students that when I had my first book published, they all needed to go to school boards and get my book banned, and voila!  Instant best seller.  I wasn't kidding.

--In my teenage years, Gone with the Wind was a banned book, and I read it.  It wasn't banned because of its troubling approach to slavery.  No, it was rumored to have hot sex.  If hot sex was there, I never found it as a teenage reader.  I was a teenage reader who read garish romance novels, so my definition of hot sex was likely different.

--In addition to seeing outrage about books and efforts to ban them, I'm seeing people talk about Ukraine or not talk about Ukraine.  I do wonder how we will think about these days in years to come.  Will we be surprised that we didn't see the next twist in the pandemic coming?  Will we wonder how we lost our way when it came to Ukraine?  What am I not writing about now that I will look back and shake my head about?

--It was 2 years ago when I first mentioned the strange new virus in China.  This blog post ended this way:  "With this new corona virus, I hope we're not all about to find out how much worse it could be."

Thinking about other aspects of the week:

--On Friday night, we went over to friends who had invited our old neighborhood group to gather to celebrate the sale of our house.  It was delightful. I felt like I was on the set of a TV show that was being filmed in beautiful light, and that if I had watched such a TV show, I'd have been saying, "I wish I could have a life like those characters in that TV show--look at the delicious food they get to eat and the riotous fun they have with that strange card game." The night couldn't have been much more perfect.

--Yesterday I drove to Total Wine, the first time as a non-home owner.  I remembered the week-end before we put our house on the market, when I drove to The Fresh Market to get some fancy potpourri.  It was several weeks after category 4 Hurricane Laura made landfall, and I heard a news story about a small community far from the larger communities, all of them still struggling to recover.  I remember hoping that we could get our house sold before a hurricane ravages our coast--and now we have.

--We had a seminary class discussion about how our theologian of the week, James K. A. Smith, would feel about our streaming services.  I said that I thought he would not approve, because those types of services, where we can watch in our pajamas drinking the coffee that we prefer instead of what's in the percolator, don't require more of us.  I later wondered how many of my fellow students would know what a percolator is.

--It's been a good week, over all, but I do have this feeling that I'm about to get seriously behind in my seminary work.  Let me focus.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Sketching the Female Tree-Mermaid

For much of my life, I would have told you that I was no good at visual arts.  I was a word person.  But if you could look at my school notebooks, you would notice that I was always drawing.  I would have dismissed those efforts as doodling, the kind of drawing that doesn't count as art.

I still do that kind of doodling, particularly during meetings where I'm having trouble paying attention.  Sketching lines which turn into vines.  I'm also fond of swirls.  Sometimes the lines want to be something else, something larger:  a bird beak and then the whole bird.

This week, I was taking notes during a meeting, and then I drew a box around the date of the meeting.  At the edge of the box, I drew this:

I thought about how it looked like a tree, so I decided to start a new sketch that would be a tree.  I drew a few swirls, and I realized that my tree also looked like a woman dancing, perhaps a very flexible woman with her leg stretching to the sky.  I continued to sketch, and I ended up with this:

As I sketched lines at the base of the tree (or the woman's skirt), I noticed that it had a certain mermaid vibe going, so I emphasized that.

In the end, I liked the sketch enough to save it, which I don't usually do with my meeting doodles.  Maybe I should start calling them illuminated meeting notes.

If William Blake had to sit through some of the meetings that I have attended, he might have sketched a whole different set of doors of perception.

While I'm recording my sketching life, let me also record the words of my teacher from late in 2021.  She said the my swirling style reminds her of Van Gogh.

I think of my 7th grade self.  In 7th grade, I became obsessed with sketching a horse.  I had a friend who could draw such beautiful horses.  I could not.  I just kept drawing the same sad type of horse, over and over.  It was probably that experience that made me think I couldn't draw.  I kept drawing a horse, week after week, seeing no improvement.  It didn't occur to me to try something else.

Many years later, when I was in my 30's, I did try drawing something else, and I was delighted to be able to draw a flower that people could recognize as a flower.

Now I draw any number of creations, and many of them have a bit of whimsy--or a lot of whimsy, in the case of this female tree-mermaid.  They delight me, and they make the hum drum parts of life more enchanted.

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Items We Lock Away

I have not locked my keys in the car since I was 16 years old.  Yesterday, that 40 year streak came to an end.  Let me ruin the dramatic tension and just say this story has several types of happy endings.

First, some background.  I am co-treasurer of our church, and I am the one who writes the checks.  If our church was meeting in person, I would leave the paychecks in the mailboxes of our staff on the Sunday before pay day.  But since we're not, I needed to take the paychecks to church, and since my work office is close to church, I decided to zip over there yesterday afternoon before my important 3:30 work meeting.

I had the 2 paychecks on the front seat.  I keep my car key and house key on a carabiner, so that my heavy ring of work keys doesn't damage the ignition hanging there every day.  The church keys live in the car.  Somehow, I ended up outside of the locked car with the paychecks in my hand, the work keys, and the church keys, and my car key on the front seat.  My purse and my phone--also in the car, hidden away in the glove box.

I checked the car doors--yep, locked tight.  I went inside the church office and put the paychecks in the mailboxes.  You might say, "Make a phone call from the church office."  Years ago, we canceled the very expensive phone account because everyone was using their cell phones, and we never got phone calls on the traditional phone.  So that option was out.

I knew that if I had to, I could walk back to my office.  It's only about 1.5 miles, and I was wearing sandals that are well-cushioned.  But I decided that first I would check at the parsonage, which is several blocks away, and in the direction I'd need to be walking back to the office, if it came to that.   

Happily, my pastor was home, and he was able to give me a ride back to work.  We had a great chat about the crazy real estate market.  He thinks we were wise to sell our house, not because of the profit that we could make, but because of climate dangers, and it was good to hear that.  I have this feeling that people in other parts of the country that aren't dealing with hurricanes and flooding see me as this crazy Cassandra person who sold her house on the off chance that her house might be damaged by future sea level rise.

My house has already been damaged by a variety of climate dangers, but I digress.

I headed to my office to call my spouse, but before I got there, a stranger said, "Could you take me to your server room?"

Hmm.  Can I take a strange man down the hallway to our server room that's full of expensive equipment?  I said, "Let me make a phone call first."

The first IT person I called said he didn't know anything about it, so I called the head of IT and said that a man I'd never heard of was here to install equipment I knew nothing about.  The head of IT said, "That sounds right."

I said, "So I should go ahead and let him in the server room."

The jovial head of IT said, "Sure!"

Long story short, the stranger would eventually need access to a room of electrical equipment and no one on site had the key, so he'll come back.  At least I'll be expecting him when he returns, and I'll know that he's got IT's permission to access the server.

But I digress.

I called my spouse, and we did not lose the extra car key in the move.  He was able to swing by the church and get my key off the front seat of the car so that no one walking by would see it and smash the window.  He came to my office and waited for my 3:30 meeting to finish.  

We went back to the church, where my car was unbroken, and we got the money that had come since the last time we made the deposit.  My spouse headed home, and I headed back to the office, finished up, and then came home to eat dinner and "go" to my seminary class on Speaking of God in a Secular Age.

Yesterday was surreal in so many ways, and yet, it leaves me wondering:  when day after day is surreal, at what point do we begin to think of our daily life as not surreal but as real life?

Thursday, January 27, 2022

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is also the anniversary of the day that the concentration camp Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.  I remember a high school history class where we talked about the shock that those soldiers felt as they tried to understand what they had discovered.

I remember the first time I saw a photo in a book of those bodies stacked like cordwood.  I know it's hard to believe that one could get to one's teenage years without seeing such a picture, but in the pre-Internet days of my youth, it happened.  I had read about the Holocaust, of course.  But that first picture that I saw hit me in a visceral way.  Was I seeing human bodies or something else?

When I was in high school in the early 80's, I thought that the Holocaust was the only genocide of the 20th century, but sadly we know that's not true.  It becomes increasingly easy to wipe out whole populations, and whole populations increasingly do not care about basic human rights, which makes it increasingly easy to wipe out whole populations.

Today some people will light candles, some will write letters, some will pray, and some of us may not remember at all.  I'm thinking of a poem that I wrote in August of 2016, as the campaign season ramped into high gear. I couldn't get the Sylvia Plath quote out of my head. Did I read Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" before I wrote it? I think I was writing it, and the title came to me, and I looked it up and proceeded to read it; Ray Bradbury was such an expert storyteller.  Later, the literary journal Adanna published it.

History’s Chalkboards

“Every woman adores a Fascist,  
The boot in the face, the brute  
Brute heart of a brute like you.”
                            “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Every woman adores a Fascist.
Turns out men do too.
But we imagine the boot
on someone else’s face,
a face that doesn’t look
like ours, the face that arrives
to take our jobs and steal
our factories, while laughing
at us in a foreign language.

No God but capitalism,
the new religion, fascism disguised
as businessman, always male,
always taking what is not his.

Brute heart, not enough stakes
to keep you dead. 
We thought we had vanquished
your kind permanently last century
or was it the hundred years before?

As our attics crash into our basements,
what soft rains will come now?
The fire next time,
the ashes of incinerated bodies,
the seas rising on a tide
of melted glaciers.

And so we return to history’s chalkboard,
the dust of other lessons in our hair.
We make our calculations.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Jezebel, Air Fryers, Filing Cabinets of Doom, and Other Observations

These past 2 weeks, I've gotten back to reading for seminary classes, and it's led to some interesting observations, while at the same time, our whole campus has been sorting, trying to determine what is worth saving and what is detritus.  As I occasionally do, let me preserve these Facebook posts/Tweets.

--Back in the seminary swing of things, reading 1 and 2 Kings, as one does on one's lunch break. When I read that King Omri sinned more than all those before him (1 Kings: 11), and those before him killed all of the royal families that they replaced, among other problematic deeds, I ask, what did Omri do that was so much worse? The text doesn't give specifics, and perhaps I should be glad about that.

             (a later response by me to my previous post) As I kept reading, the sons kept getting worse and worse. I have to assume that the authors will soon come to the logical conclusion that it's time to let the daughters have a chance at ruling. Surely they can't be worse? (and yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek; I realize the authors of 1 and 2 Kings will come to no such conclusion).

--Today for my lunch reading, it's Jezebel, yes, that Jezebel, plus a NYT review of how the air fryer took over the U.S. Interesting juxtapositions abound, but I will likely leave some of them out of the response video on Jezebel that I need to create for this week's seminary class.

--Queen Just Adele--Blackboard LMS heard my seminary professor say Queen Jezebel and captioned it this way.
                    And later, Jezebel is Joseph Bell. Hmmm.

                   God is Guide, according to closed captioning.

                   And to finish Jazzy Bells speaks to the profits

--When I took this college administrator job in 2016, I inherited a filing cabinet full of files of past faculty members and potential faculty members. Today, I am finally sorting those files--by which I mean I am putting them in a box to be shredded later. Even if I had a job to offer, those people who were interested in part-time teaching work in 2014 are likely not waiting on me to call with an offer.

--Why does every administrator's office I've ever had come with a filing cabinet of doom? Is it a poem waiting to be born, a portent, or just coincidence? Maybe every structure comes with a filing cabinet of doom, but I only noticed when I became an administrator and started looking for past secrets.

--I thought about this day a year ago, even before I saw this post, about how incredibly moving it was, but even more so, sharing it with others in the conference room, people who were weeping just the same way I was(Biden inauguration anniversary)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

You Whisper Chaucer to Me

This morning, I read Kelli Russell Agodon's tweet.  She posts "Sleep," a poem by Brian Quirk, and then she says, "Let's write more sleep/goodnight poems...we need to."

I immediately thought of my spouse, who can still quote the first twelve lines of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales--yes, in Middle English.  How do I know this?  He did it just the other night.  And thus, a first line came to me:  "You whisper Chaucer to me as we drift off to sleep."

My poem goes to fictional territory, with rocking chairs and colicky babies, which we don't have, and have never had.  Well, we have had rocking chairs, but not babies.

It may become a poem series.  My brain has gone in multiple directions, which I've written down, but I'm not sure I'm writing one poem.

Or maybe I should try.  I too often break my ideas into smaller poems, and my spouse has occasionally suggested that I go deeper.

My spiritual director said something similar when we last met in December.  She said that she often feels that we're on the brink of going deeper, but then I back away.  How can we tell that we're on the brink?  Tears come to my eyes, my voice wavers, and then I change the subject or shift the focus away from me.

Back to poetry writing--I am thinking of Lucille Clifton, when asked why her poems were so short, she said something about childcare duties meant she wrote in shorter units, but she was able to write longer poems as the babies grew up.  I feel similarly, that I only have a small amount of time to dive deeper, whether it's into poems or my inner life or my relationships or . . .

Still, in most aspects of my creative life, I remember what can be done even in small chunks of time.  I sketch for 5-7 minutes most days.  Some days I do more, but often not.  As I look at what I've done over the past 5 years, I'm amazed at how my drawing skills have improved.

But more important, I'm seeing the world in different ways.  I'm paying attention in ways that I wouldn't, if I wasn't trying to sketch or to write poems or to know myself deeply.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Body Politic and the Parts of My Brain

I have spent the last two days being intensely aware of my joints--so achy.  I know it's likely about either changes in the weather and/or the fact that I've been on my feet more than most week-ends, but it's unsettling.  The part of me that has read every book on the body keeping score even as the mind isn't aware of all the stress, that part says, "You sold the house, and now you have to deal with all the difficult emotions you've been suppressing and delaying."

The Apocalypse Gal part of my brain says, "The U.S. has just ordered the families of diplomats to leave Ukraine.  Your aching joints are not what you will remember when you reflect on the early part of 2022.  Enjoy these halcyon days while you have them."

I think of the Body Politic.  Are there small countries feeling fretful this morning?  Countries beyond the current locus of conflict?  I think of all the countries of Central America, countries that are more familiar to me because they were the settings of proxy wars of my college years.  I think of our college conversations about what we would do if the U.S. suddenly went from a cold war to a hot war status and tried to make all of the men of our generation go to war.  We were in the early years of men being required to register for the draft in order to be eligible for student loans.

Those years seem so distant--and it is a shock to realize how long ago those days were.  I hear an occasional dispatch from those Central American countries, an election result for example, and then the news moves along.  Those stories don't merit more than just a mention at the top of the news hour.  

The Sensible Woman part of my brain says, "Are you sure you've completed every task for seminary that you need to have done right now?  Have you thought about your seminary tasks for the coming week?  Don't forget to check on your online class that starts today, the one that you're teaching; make sure to send that welcoming e-mail."

The Foxfire part of my brain works in concert with the Apocalypse Gal.  They want to start canning.  They wonder if we could raise chickens in this condo, if it all comes to that.   They made a huge pot of yellow split peas and barley yesterday.

Sensible Woman thinks about the days to come, when she will be tired of this concoction that she will now be taking to work.  She has lunch for days, months, but part of her just wants to eat Beef and Guinness Stew or maybe a lovely ricotta cake.  She hasn't made a ricotta cake yet, but she's aware of the tub of ricotta cheese in the fridge with a pull date just past.

All of these selves will now suit up for a walk in the chilly morning, a walk before work, the last chance to let all of these thoughts swirl before heading to the office, where these thoughts can swirl in a different setting.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday Snapshots from a Week of a House Sale and a Video Sermon

It's been a week of ups and downs.  Let me write a blog post to capture some of it.

--We were supposed to close on the house on Tuesday.  As we were at the lawyer's office signing documents, the request for more time came from the buyer--ugh.  So we spent time redoing documents throughout the week, and not being sure we would actually close.  But we did.

--We sold the house.  The money was disbursed at 4:50 on Friday afternoon.  The owner was supposed to sign her part of the documents at 2:30, so it was an anxious few hours on Friday.  But we sold the house!

--So, how does one celebrate selling a house?  By going to bed early, of course.

--Yesterday, we spent hours in the afternoon watching Love It or List It, which we might have done, whether or not we sold the house.  I would have really liked to have known where each house was located.  From show to show, such variation in housing costs, for houses that all looked similar.

--It's also been a week of interesting creativity.  I wrote this poem, which seems both like a rough draft to me, yet also finished.  I tend to overexplain, in both poetry and life.  Maybe I should shut up.

Late January
last remaining Christmas lights
a bit more bedraggled
than festive, like the last maple
tree blazing into December,
hoping to convince
the others who have already shed
their leaves.

--I also created a video sermon that considers Simon Peter's mother-in-law.  You may or may not remember that she is healed by Jesus, and then gets up to serve everyone.  My first and more traditional response is to see her as an oppressed woman.  But since I spent much of the week thinking about her, this thought bubbled up:  what if she's a wise elder, teaching Jesus, showing him a new direction for ministry?  Here's that video segment.

To see the whole sermon, go here.

--There's also been some cooking.  Later today, we will eat the Steak and Guinness stew which is bubbling in the oven, and will bubble in the oven for the next several hours.   Ah, the joy of a chilly day!

--Looking back, I'm amazed that I could get anything done this week, with housing anxiety and construction noise at work.  But I was able to do some creative stuff, along with starting seminary classes again.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

House Sale in a Historically Hot Market in a Historically Hot Climate

We finally closed on our house yesterday.  We have had it on the market since mid-September, and it has spent most of that time under contract.  But this historically hot housing market is not your parents' housing market.  In SE Florida, we have this hot housing market because of so many investors, and those investors are different from people who are buying a house where their families will live.

We had at least 5 contracts--I have lost count.  Two investors backed out of the contract because of concerns about flooding and the cost of flood insurance.  I was surprised at first--hadn't they thought about this aspect of the property before they made an offer?

We have come to realize that many investors make an offer first, and then do their research afterward.  It's all legal; there are spots in the contract where the buyer can back out for a variety of reasons.  An investor makes an offer so that nobody else has a chance, and then the investor tries to decide whether or not the property is worth the offer just made.  For those of us who are regular homeowners, it's exhausting.

I don't know if other real estate markets are similar right now.  I would guess that in the big cities, the market is investor driven.  I don't know if it's true in say, Columbia South Carolina or Salisbury, North Carolina, or any other medium size town in the U.S.

When we thought about putting the house on the market, we worried that we would sell the house quickly and have no place to live.  So we found a great deal on a condo to rent and moved and then put the house on the market.  I still think that plan made sense.  But I am now looking forward to having only one set of living expenses.

I keep waiting to feel some sort of elation now that we have finally made it to the finish line and actually sold the house.  We had so many hiccups along the way that I didn't let myself get my hopes up yesterday.  And the closing yesterday, which was scheduled for 2:30, took longer than I was expecting.  By the time it was done, I was more wrung out than elated.

Perhaps today, some elation will take the place of the exhaustion.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Younger Student, Older Student

We are almost at the one year anniversary of the day I discovered Wesley Theological Seminary's track on Theology and the Arts.  I spent much of the rest of that week-end exploring the school and the track, and I was so inspired by that week-end that I started all the processes that led me to being a seminary student.  

And last night, I started my first class in that track:  Speaking of God in a Secular Age.  We began by introducing ourselves, then we had an introductory lecture, and then our professor highlighted aspects of the syllabus to keep in mind.  Wow--we are in for quite an exploration!  We will be looking at language itself, and the limits of language as we try to describe the Divine.

I chose the class in part because it fit with my schedule, in part because my advisor recommended it, and in part because I really wanted a class in my specialty track.   It also seems like a class that will be a good fit with the virtual synchronous delivery format.  While I would love to take a class in Chapel Visuals, that seems like a better in person class (and it is being held in person, if the seminary shifts back to in person meetings this term).

This week, as I've written out my introductions for each class, I've reflected on my seminary journey thus far.  In August when I wrote my introductions, I talked about going to the University of South Carolina for graduate work, but I didn't say that I earned a Ph.D.  I left that out for a variety of reasons: because I didn't want to brag and because I didn't want to sound pretentious and because I didn't want anyone else to feel intimidated (go ahead and laugh, but I really did think about that) and because when people find out I'm an English major, they often comment about how they better watch their grammar around me.

But as I made my way through my first term in seminary, I have realized how many students are here after earning a different set of advanced degrees and having had at least one non-pastor career.  At least two of my fellow students have Ph.D.s in Linguistics, and many of them have advanced degrees in some variation of Psychology.  Many of us are coming from education fields, which are likely pastor adjacent for most of us, meaning that we are living our faith in similar ways as a teacher as we would as a pastor.

Part way through last term, I thought about the older students I had met in my grad work in English.  Most of my fellow grad students were my age, in our 20's, most of us fresh out of undergraduate school.  But there were a few who were older.  I think of one woman, we'll call her LH, who returned to grad school after she had done the bulk of the work of raising her children; she seemed easy going and full of wisdom.  When my spouse got his first motorcycle, one of my friends hopped on, but said he couldn't actually operate it because he had hand injuries; come to find out, he was a Vietnam era vet, who had gotten injured as he trained to go to Vietnam in 1975, back when I was in 5th grade.  He is the reason I understand the difference between a Vietnam vet and a Vietnam era vet.  

As I think about my years at USC, I wonder how many of my fellow students were older, but they just didn't let the rest of us know.  I think of a creative writing guy who seemed young because of the age of the women he pursued, but come to find out, he was in his 40's or maybe older.

I thought of my USC grad school years again last night during the first class lecture, which covered ideas about language that I once might have found intimidating and baffling.  Now, even though I'm aware of all that I don't know during a lecture like that one, I have faith that I will figure it out.  When I was in my 20's, I didn't have that faith while at the same time feeling that I should already know what I didn't know, which would have made me feel even more insecure.

While I miss some aspects of my 20's, like my ability to run long distances on non-arthritic feet, I feel lucky to be able to see this time of my life, my mid-50's, when I feel secure in my intellectual abilities and mostly secure in my emotional abilities (more prone to anxiety than I would like to be, but better able to soothe myself).

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Thursday Snippets

Today, let me try to capture some of this week in some snippets and snapshots.  Let me see if a coherent theme emerges.

--Last night I had my first seminary class, which was the second half of a fall term class.  It was so good to see everyone again.  For those of us who wonder if community can be created in an online class, I am here to say that yes, we can create community.  And yes, it is likely different from a face to face community, but it's not insignificent.

--The construction noise at work can lead to really frayed nerves.  Yesterday I thought I might have to go work at home, and then I remembered that I had a late afternoon in-person meeting, so I couldn't.  Happily, the noise stopped.  But only half the floor tiles have been removed, and so I suspect the noise will continue.

--I heard some of Biden's press conference on my way home from work, and his stamina impressed me.  Just listening to it exhausted me, and I'm decades younger than he is.

--He talked about a minor invasion of Ukraine triggering different consequences than a major invasion, which has led me to think about a poem.  So far, I've only come up with anasthesia-free surgery and noncustodial kidnapping as word pairs to make a poem.  But it intrigues me.

--I solved yesterday's Wordle in 2 guesses, 2 words that were completely unrelated and random as my guesses.  I shouldn't feel so proud about that "accomplishment."

--My knees are sore and achy.  My week of crawling on floors is catching up with me.  Why did I crawl on the floor?  Why this prostrating?  I had computer cords to sort out when my keyboard just stopped working.  And then, a colleague needed speakers, which I scavenged from a different office.  And a pendant came off its chain and bounced under the bed.

--I feel like I should start carrying my seminary books with me everywhere I go, in the hopes of having a spare minute to read.  But which ones?  Sigh.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Hello Anxiety, My Constant and Different Friend

Today is my first day of my second semester of seminary classes.  Last week, when I was cleaning out a pile of papers at my desk at school, I found a note that I had written in August, a note on a to do list that said, "Please let me be able to do all of this, plus seminary classes."  Happily, I was able to do it all. 

I feel similar anxieties today.  And yet, they are also different.  Since time is short, let me write about my anxieties, in the hopes of banishing them.  Tomorrow, I will write a more upbeat post about what I'm studying.

Back in August, I was still expecting to be losing my job at some point, although there was talk of keeping the Hollywood campus open.  I didn't feel particularly anxious about my ability to do my job, or about my job interfering with seminary.

Today, my campus is under construction, which produces its own anxieties.  At some point, my job duties expand, and I can't decide whether or not they will require significantly more time.  There will be more people on campus, another feature which makes my anxieties bloom.

Back in August, I had some fear of not being able to do the work.  Now, having done the work for one term, I don't feel those same anxieties.  But I am taking one additional class, so there will be more to do.

Back in August, I worried about the pandemic and all the ways it might interfere.  Then and now, I'm taking classes remotely, so there's some safety.  But if I get a case that lingers, I do worry about what that will do to my progress.

Back in August, we hadn't yet put the house on the market, although we had hoped to put it on the market in early August.  We spend all of fall semester hoping that we were close to selling it.  Today, we still have that hope.  We signed our share of the paperwork yesterday, and hopefully we will finish this process in the next few days.

Well, let me start the work of the term.  Let me write go write my self-introduction for my seminary class Discussion Board threads--the term begins!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Full Moon Drumming

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it's on the night of the full moon, which means that if I'm in class, I can't go.  If it's rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn't a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn't have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn't need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn't matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It's a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

I have never been to the kind of drum circle where we lose ourselves in the ecstasy of it all--or maybe others are, but I'm not.  It's hard for me to get out of my head that way, and probably impossible for me to do that in a public place with strangers around.  During these times of raging pandemic, we stayed spaced apart, drumming in our chairs, and I was just fine with that.

A drum circle doesn't feel pagan to me, although I know that there are others who might not participate for fear of what spirits we're summoning.  But there is a bit of a mystical element, where I lose my sense of being a lone actor, where I am integrated into the larger rhythms, both the drum rhythms and the life rhythms. 

And here is a tiny video that I recorded:

Monday, January 17, 2022

Remembering to Continue to Arc Towards Justice

It is strange to be one of the few people I know who is working in an office on this Martin Luther King day holiday, an office in a school no less.  In the past at the school where I currently work, we haven't had classes, but full-time people still had to work.  Today, under new ownership, we have classes.

Most of our programs require a certain amount of hours practicing skills, so if we didn't come to campus today, we'd need to make up the time somewhere else.  But we could do that.

I wish I could tell you that I'm one of those citizens who celebrated the federal MLK holiday with a day of service, back when I worked for schools that observed that holiday.  But usually on that Monday, I treated it as a day off.

I wish we looked to this holiday as a day to dream even bigger than service projects, to dream the way that Martin Luther King dreamed.  Like King,we could change our society. We could make it better, bending towards justice. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

And we have to be patient and realistic. We have to realize that the work that we do may not yield results right away--perhaps not in our lifetimes. Years ago, this episode of On Being featured an interview with John Lewis, an old Civil Rights worker and a member of Congress. He ends the interview this way: "Well, I think about it, but you have to believe there may be setbacks, there may be some disappointments, there may be some interruption. But, again, you have to take the long, hard look. With this belief, it's going to be OK; it's going to work out. If it failed to happen during your lifetime, then maybe, not maybe, but it would happen in somebody's lifetime. But you must do all that you can do while you occupy this space during your time. And sometime I feel that I'm not doing enough to try to inspire another generation of people to find a way to get in the way, to make trouble, good trouble. I just make a little noise."

Today is a good day to think about how to make that noise--and to think about the next generation. History will bend in some direction: how can we help it arc towards justice?

Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Universe, in Fabrics

One of the highlights of the week-end intensive that I attended the first week of January was the chance to spend time with a good Create in Me friend on the day before the intensive began.  We are both quilters, so on that Tuesday, we went to find a quilt shop in Lexington, SC.  We ended up at Jessamine Quilt Shop, a space which had more compelling fabrics under one roof than I've seen in a long, long time, a universe in the form of fabrics.

I didn't have my camera with me, so I couldn't capture the clever way that the quilt shop transformed the bottom level of a house into the shop and the studio space for lessons.  

The owner told me about this fabric, a story so compelling that I had to buy a yard.  Each small strip represents a batik pattern used in the past year.  I love the idea of preserving a year of batik this way.

Oh, who am I kidding?  It was the colors that drew me in, and I'd have bought a yard, even without the compelling story.  And yes, the above picture is blurry.

I was attracted to the other two fabrics because they reminded me of the sketches I had been creating throughout the past 15 months.  Here are all 3 fabrics:

And here's a sketch from December 2020:

And here's one from more recently, in late 2021:

I don't have a plan for the fabric, but it delighted me, and I'm happy that I got it.  I have a vague vision of a quilt, like this one, which is my favorite that I've ever made:

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Competing Apocalypses

This morning, I wrote this tweet:  "An autocrat in Moscow, troops on the border of countries that once would have been called satellites, NATO pondering. Modern politics or the script of "The Day After"? Jason Robards, comforting his wife, sure everyone will back down. Me, writing a blog post. #5amwritersclub"

I thought of that scene last night as I drove home from work, hearing that there is still no diplomatic solution to the issue of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine.  This morning I looked up the plots for both The Day After and Threads--both feature nuclear wars that start over standoffs at distant borders, East/West Germany for The Day After and Iran in Threads.  In Testament, that other great 80's nuclear war plot movie, we never know what happened to make the bombs fall on big cities nearby.

The plot line of not knowing seems more plausible.  If there is a nuclear exchange, I imagine that most of us will look up from our phones, wondering what just happened while we were solving today's Wordle or watching the shenanigans of the rich and famous.

This morning I thought of Testament as a metaphor for our pandemic times.  Testament is a movie that I can't watch the way I watch the other 2 nuclear war movies.  I watch Threads and The Day After the way that some people watch horror, with the comfort of knowing that it's a highly unlikely plot.  Watching the characters deal with demands of daily life (what to cook for dinner, when to give up on missing family members) in Testament makes the movie almost unbearable, as I suspect it is designed to do. 

I have always been an apocalyptic gal, although the plotlines I gravitate to have changed as my life has changed.  As a child, I loved the child surviving in the wild after disaster strikes plotline.  As a preteen, I couldn't get enough of Holocaust survival stories.  In late adolescence, I shifted to nuclear war scenarios, expecting to be living them in any moment.  As I started teaching British Lit survey classes, I explored what diseases had done to societies in the past, but until recently, I didn't see much of that in contemporary fiction.  

Our fictional (so far) apocalyptic stories tend to imagine mass death all at once, with a band of hardy survivors figuring out how to move forward.  They don't often describe the slow grind of an apocalypse.

And it's rare to see characters who have to deal with a competing apocalypses.  I hope it's not something we're all about to experience.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Dream Jobs in a Different Category

A few days ago, I saw a job posting for Dean of Chapel at Berea College, and I can't stop thinking about it.  I won't apply because I'm not qualified.  It requires an MDiv degree, "Traditional ministerial/chaplaincy credentials (ordination, etc.)," and 10 years of chaplaincy experience.  I do have teaching and higher ed administration experience, which some candidates might not have, but that's not enough to make up for not having the MDiv degree and ordination.

Although I did cherish my time in campus ministry as a college student, I haven't really thought of myself as the best candidate for campus student ministry, so why am I intrigued by this posting?  It might be these parts of the job:

"Provides leadership in the planning of ecumenical worship, convocations, and other special services

Builds relationships with religious professionals assigned to the campus (Intervarsity, FCA, Newman Club, etc.), and together with the President, serves as liaison with local pastors and churches

Regularly offers sermons/homilies/messages during weekly noon worship services and other events on and off-campus

Oversees the daily administration of the Center and its programs, and provides supervision, support and guidance to CCC staff members in their specific roles and areas of focus

Teaches 1-2 courses a year in the area of academic expertise and/or General Studies"

Or is the appeal of this job the fact that it's at Berea College?  I have always found that college so inspiring.  It would be so great to be part of a school like that.

As I think about my trajectory over the past 10-15 years, I remember the times that I wished that I was teaching at a school with a religious focus, so that I could talk about some aspects of faith and literature and regular life without feeling like I need to censor myself.  So it makes sense that this job would appeal.

I also like the idea of developing special kinds of opportunities for students, the kinds of stuff I would do for retreats.  In the pre-pandemic times, that was one of my favorite parts of my job, creating decorate a pumpkin tables and a vision board drop in station.

In some ways, it's a moot point, so you might wonder why I am writing about this at all.  I want to remember the wide range of jobs that are out there.  I often get fixated on a certain type of job, and I forget that there could be other possibilities.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

What I Read on My Winter Break

A week from now, my seminary classes start again, and I will once again have very little free time.  But what I will really miss is the week at Marco Island, which gave me lots of time to read:  no chores, no big projects, no home repair, no meetings.  Bliss!

I was also lucky to have great books to read.  At some point in the fall, I saw a Twitter thread about the best sci fi books that included some sort of spiritual thread.  My mind immediately went to Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, which many Twitter commenters mentioned.  Someone else suggested Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, which I had idly thought about reading again, since it involves both a modern outbreak of a new flu strain and the first arrival of bubonic plague in England in the 1300s.  The Twitter commenter mentioned that it was a great book for Advent.

So, the first book I read was that one, since we were midway through Advent.  I had read it before, but it was over 10 years ago, so it read as a new book to me, although I did remember the ending.  I remember having trouble getting into the story during my first read, but I was traveling and didn't have another book with me, so I slogged through and then was consumed by the plot.  For my second read, the plot consumed me right away.  

I was aware of my reading experience on some meta level, as a woman entering year 3 of a highly contagious pandemic that's not wiping out 50% of the population like the bubonic plague of the 1300's but is still quite lethal for many of us and disruptive in so many other ways that I didn't realize a pandemic would be back in my innocent days.

I finished that book before we left on vacation, and I decided to tackle The Love Songs of W. E. B Dubois by Honoree Fannone Jeffers.  When I read the reviews at the end of summer, I wanted to read it right away, but seminary classes had started, and I knew I wouldn't have time.  An 800 page book isn't exactly beach reading, but it was perfect.  The main story set in our modern time was deeply compelling, but so were the historical plotlines.  If I hadn't already known that Jeffers writes poetry, the lyrical nature of the work would have made me wonder.  I can't always read books that deal with such heavy topics, but her work managed to maintain a tone of hope, even when delving into deeply depressing material.

I also found the book inspiring because it was written by a woman who is my age, who teaches for a living.  I am even more astonished that she was able to write this kind of important work of art while holding down a full-time teaching job at the University of Oklahoma, which is not the usual teaching setting for people who write this kind of book.  It made me wonder about my own writing career and what might be possible.

I finished my Winter Break reading with Matrix by Lauren Groff, another book I wanted to read the minute I heard the reviews.  I found the story of a 12th century young woman who rises as an abbess and transforms her nunnery into a stunning success both compelling and oddly chilly/detached.  I didn't find myself as engaged with the main character as I had been with the previous two books, even as I found the trajectory of the plot interesting enough to keep me reading.

As I look back over my reading, I'm realizing that I chose, unintentionally, books set in different historical time periods.  I'm also seeing spiritual themes:  what does it mean to have a spiritual vocation and still live in the world?  How do we reconcile ourselves to the misery around us?  How can our faith sustain us?  And all three books look at gender in interesting ways.

It's the kind of reading that I cherish:  books with a compelling plot and lyrical writing, books that make me feel happy to be alive and reading such good books, books that give me nourishment for the nonfiction days ahead of me.  I know that a lot of us are wrestling with diminished attention spans for all sorts of reasons, and I'm always relieved to find that I can still lose myself in a good book.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Despairs of Mid-January

I was going to write a cheery "What I Read on My Winter Break" kind of post, but I am feeling a bit of despair this morning.  Let me try to write my way out of it, or at least write my way into making sense of my despair.

I am also feeling a bit of guilt, because I feel like the things causing me despair aren't life shattering, the way a death would be.  But let me get it on the electronic page, for the good of my mental health.  In future years, I'll be happy that I recorded my life with some degree of honesty.

--The main thing causing me despair is that it looks like another contract on our historic house that we are trying to sell has fallen through.  It is a very strange housing market in South Florida.  The presence of so many investors means that it's a hot market.  But it also means that buyers aren't afraid to change their minds or make demands that will make sellers change their minds.  Ugh.

--I remind myself that we've only had the house on the market a total of 2 weeks.  We get an offer, the house is tied up for 4-6 weeks, the deal falls apart, we list it as for sale again, we get a few offers 24 hours later, and the cycle begins again.  Ugh.

--We are lucky, in that we have resources.  We are not desperate.  I do begin to understand why houses in our neighborhood go on the market and then later sell for so much lower than what it seems they should be worth.  It's exhausting, and I see why sellers might settle for a much lower price, rather than face the process again and again.

--I am also feeling despair about the state of the pandemic.  Here, too, I realize I'm fortunate.  I can limit my exposure to other people.  I am vaccinated and boosted.  I have masks.  In the commuter student seminary student housing, I saw an old poster that listed the COVID symptoms, and once again, I realized how futile it seems to know if we might have symptoms or allergies or psychosomatic aches or stress.  Not a day goes by when I don't feel sniffly or headachy or sore throaty.  Even if I could get rapid tests, it doesn't make sense to use them each time I feel this way.

--Part of what's making me feel headachy is the construction at work.  That's also making me feel despair.  I worry that all that made our campus cozy and welcoming is being destroyed.  There's not a thing I can do about it, but try to keep everyone's spirits up.

--I suspect that another underlying part of my despair is post holiday despair.  I've spent the last 8 weeks seeing family and friends in person, which I don't get to do very often these days.  We've had better food, twinkly lights, time to read, time for conversation.  I've used up every scrap of vacation time that I have, and now I need to accrue more.  And in my current job, I will never be able to accrue the amount that I need.

--I hear the voice of my spiritual director asking, "How are you praying about this?"  Let me remember to pray about all of this, the despair and disappointment, the dreams for the future, the restlessness of my soul.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Commissioned and Back from the Last Onground Intensive

I am sitting here at my grandfather's desk, trying to pull all my bits and pieces together before heading into my work office, and my later in the morning trip to the lawyer's office to sign closing documents.  I would likely feel a bit discombobulated anyway, but having a closing today does add to the sense of whiplash.  Let me try to ground myself by writing.

It is strange to think that a week ago, I had just taken my parents to the airport, which was more hectic than I had ever seen it from the drop off vantage.  My parents managed to get home to the Richmond airport and then over the snowy roads to Williamsburg.  It is strange to think that two weeks ago, our Marco Island time together was just beginning.

As I sat in the chapel of the seminary on Saturday, I thought about how 2 years ago, my church blessed me and anointed me with water from the Holy Land before I started my certificate program.  I thought about sitting in the chapel at the commissioning service feeling happy at the thought that I would be returning to seminary three more times before my own commissioning service in June of 2021.  And then the pandemic descended and one onground intensive was canceled, and I only just returned to the seminary campus in January of 2022.

My own commissioning service on Saturday was different from the one in 2020, and vastly different from the one in January of 2021, which was done by way of Zoom.  For my commissioning service, those of us being commissioned came to the baptismal font:

Here's a longer view of that space:

We stood between the font and the iron ropes.  The leaders of the program gathered behind us, and they said words of blessing over us.  I hope to get a copy of the words, so that I can savor them more fully, since I can scarcely remember them today.  We did not get anointed with oil, so that the Zoom experience and the in-person experience would be similar.  That was fine with me; I am happy to be anointed with words.

All too soon it was over, and we all went out into the Saturday sunlight and drove away.  I drove to my grad school friend's house.  We had a lovely lunch and talked about the future of higher education and housing issues.  Then I left her and went to another grad school friend's house.  We went for dinner to Motor Supply Company, a restaurant that was one of the first to open in the Vista district, back before it was the revitalized strip that it is today.  We have been eating there for decades, dating back to when it first opened and seemed so upscale, so glamorous, such a great use of a space that had once been a mill or a warehouse.  It still is.

I spent much of yesterday driving home.  The trip back almost always seems zippy at first, as the states fall away, but then there's the long slog down the peninsula of Florida.  You would think that a long drive would give me time to process all these changes and to think about the future, but that is not my experience.  

And now it's back into the intensity of "normal life," along with campus renovations.  At least my seminary classes haven't started yet.  There's still time for a bit of regrouping before "regular life" becomes even more intense.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Second Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive, with Icons

I am tired this morning--this morning, it's a mix of the bad tired of not getting enough sleep in a bed that's not my own mixed with the good tired that comes from getting modules completed and staying up late to have good conversations with a Create in Me friend.  So let me try to capture the second full day of the intensive.

I tried to tell myself that it's called an intensive, not a relaxive, but I did feel myself racing from place to place yesterday.  We had a morning learning session on Native American spiritual practices.  I didn't learn a lot that was brand new, but it was interesting to hear it presented in the form of story and Native flute.

And for those of us reeling from the latest pandemic developments, here's an interesting note:  because they were suffering an outbreak of smallpox, the Catawba tribe was not relocated to Georgia with the rest of the South Carolina tribes.  Because they were not relocated to Georgia, they were spared from the trauma of the Trail of Tears and from being relocated even further west.

We had two small group sessions, and in between, I enjoyed a post-lunch walk with my spouse's brother.  I wasn't expecting him to be on campus because seminary students don't return until later in January, but he had to return to work on his externship--a happy surprise.  It was good to catch up.  I'm not sure we've ever had one-on-one time.  I usually see him when there are gobs of family members around.

The highlight of yesterday was the trip to the Greek Orthodox cathedral:

It was actually 2 cathedrals.  We started out in the smaller, older one.  

We got an information session about spiritual direction in the Greek Orthodox tradition, and then we went to the new cathedral that was finished in 2015.  We got an information session about the tradition of icons and about the specific icons in the cathedral.

This icon of Jesus is in the main dome, seven stories from the floor.  The distance from one tip of his nose to the other tip is 15 feet, although it doesn't look that big from the ground.

He is depicted as having no lower body, because the church filled with believers makes up the lower body.

There's a lot of information about the cathedral and all of the icons here.  My favorite piece of information that's not included is that the iconographer met with the Sunday school students to find out what specific animals they wanted him to include in his depiction of the creation story:

I was surprised that there weren't any dinosaurs: 

Two years ago when I first started this program, I heard about this field trip, and I am so glad that I finally got to go and see for myself.  It was one of the parts of the intensive that I was most looking forward to.

We returned to campus for dinner and Compline service.  Even though we were all tired after Compline, a group of us came to our on campus ramshackle house and enjoyed some treats and wine--and most of all, some good conversation.

In a few hours, there will be a commissioning service, and I will be a certified spiritual director.  Tomorrow I will drive home, and hopefully on Monday we will sell our house in the historic district.  Then I will get ready for seminary classes.

Let me focus on staying present to today's delights.  Let me not get overwhelmed by what is coming in the rest of January.

Friday, January 7, 2022

The First Full Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive

As I moved through the first full day of the onground intensive, the one that will leave me a certified spiritual director, I had to remind myself several times that it's called an "intensive," not a restful retreat, not a reconnect with every old friend you've ever had week, not an explore Columbia voyage.  We went at an intense pace yesterday, and today we won't have the afternoon break that we had yesterday.  But I am looking forward to exploring icons in a Greek Orthodox church this afternoon, so hopefully, we won't need a break.  

During yesterday's break, we went to the Fresh Market to buy wine and treats.  By the end of the evening, we were too exhausted to set out the treats.  But it was the good kind of exhaustion, the kind that comes from being fully engaged.

I began the intensive in the chapel.  I had volunteered to help with the morning service, and I wrote some Epiphany prayers (for more, go to this blog post and scroll to the end).  The other volunteer whispered, "Beautiful prayers" when I was finished, and that made me so happy.

The day was filled with a mix of educational sessions and small group work.  I've had the same small group for 2 years, and I feel fortunate that I like them so much.  This program would be impossible if one didn't like one's small group, or if a small group had a divisive person in it.

Yesterday's educational sessions addressed the history of spiritual direction in the Roman Catholic and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions (morning session), and in the afternoon, we explored the history of spiritual direction in the Protestant tradition.  They were good sessions, very informative, almost overwhelming at times.  I didn't know about John Wesley's mother Susannah, who had 10 children who lived and who ran the family home like a monastery of sorts, thus giving John Wesley some of his most inspired ideas about how to live in Christian community.  I must remember to read more about this remarkable woman.

Along the way, I made this sketch, and a haiku to go along with it:

I created it after hearing/reading the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew several times throughout the day and a session of lectio divina; here are the words to the haiku:

Take another road
Become overwhelmed with joy
The true treasure chest

In the evening, after a wonderful dinner, we heard from Axiom Farms, the ones who prepared our meal.  They have all sorts of initiatives to reach out to underserved, minority populations, to bring them healthier food and information about how to grow one's food and most importantly, to inspire people to have hope.  They have created a garden on the grounds of the seminary.  There's plenty of room--the seminary sits back from the road, and between the buildings and the road is a huge expanse of lawn.  The partnership with the seminary made me want to change all my plans--and do what, exactly?  Come to this seminary?  Buy a plot of land and farm it?  Give them money to support their work?  Yes, to all of those.  I'm not likely to act on any of them, at least not this month, but it was good to feel that hope for the future myself, even if I'm not the target audience for Axiom Farms.

We adjourned to the courtyard for our evening worship.  There's a Native American group that we'll learn more about today who came last night.  They had a smudging ceremony in the courtyard.  We each stepped forward to be smudged with sage that smoked in what looked like a giant shell.  The elders swirled the smoke around us with big feathers.

I wish I could have heard better.  At first I thought the same words were repeated with everyone, but as I watched, I realized that wasn't true.  I was second to be smudged.  The female elder of the tribe said, "Oh, such strong shoulders" as she touched them with the feather.  She said, "And a good heart."  I'm not sure of the rest, although at one point, she did say, "We're getting rid of all negativity."

Later she told me that there are 4 types of smudging smoke:  tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar.  I wonder if those smudging ceremonies are different.

The one we experienced last night was very powerful.  Many of us cried a bit, and a few of us were deeply shaken, and I'm not sure whether it was in a good way or a bad way.  Once again, I was reminded of how cerebral most of our mainline Protestant worship services are, and how it might be much more powerful/effective to do more embodied practices.

We then went into Alumni Hall for a drum circle, which is different from many drum circles.  There was a big, round drum in the center of the room with 6 people around it.  Their drum sticks looked like they had big cotton swabs on the end.  Around this drum circle, we sat in chairs that were much too close to each other, but this room is the largest on campus.

It was interesting to be in a room of Native Americans, after hearing from African Americans, all of whom were trying to reclaim cultures and practices that can heal both people and land.

We learned that some hymns, like "Spirit of the Living God" and "Amazing Grace," can be sung to Native melodies played on the Native wind instrument which I think is called a flute but looks more like a recorder.  We learned some Native phrases so that we could sing refrains to other songs and chants.  For one song, two women did a bit of a dance between the drum circle and our seated circle.  It was a meaningful experience, but nothing can compare to the smudging ceremony.  

It makes me want to create/recover similar ceremonies that draw from Protestant traditions.  I'm aware of the dangers of appropriating the culture of others, but I'm also certain that Christian communities have done something similar with incense and thuribles, so I don't think I'd be in the dangers appropriation territory.

I am ready to see what today brings.  I am so glad that I decided to attend in person.  In fact, knowing that we would experience the Native American version of Christian worship and that we would be going to a Greek Orthodox church to see icons in their home setting--those were two main reasons that convinced me that in person would be better for me than remote.

And if anyone asks if these experiences would be worth it, even if I get sick, I would say that yes, barring long COVID, it has been worth it.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Dreams Dismissed, Deferred, Discarded, Differentiated

Yesterday, I decided that I needed to change my cover photo on Facebook; my old one had Christmas themes.  I had Epiphany on the brain, or more specifically Epiphany Eve.  I hadn't snapped a picture that would have been good for Epiphany on Christmas Eve, so I looked back through my trove of pictures.  I chose this one from an Epiphany star project that I did for a church a few years ago; I chose this one because of the twinkly lights:

When I chose this picture yesterday, I couldn't see the words on the star.  I feel like I've gotten an important message.  Of course, back in 2017 when I took this picture, I also felt like I was getting an important message.  I don't think it bothers me that the message hasn't changed.  I am pondering saying yes to a whole different set of questions five years later.

It is strange to be here at this last onground intensive to earn a certificate in spiritual direction, to think about what has changed and what hasn't in these past two years since I started.  My view of spiritual direction is so different than that of many of my fellow students and our teachers.  While we all understand how we are not counselors in the sense of psychiatry, I worry that one on one direction goes too much into that territory.

My group that is finishing met during the last session of the day yesterday to talk about best practices and logistics.  Since I have psychologist friends who are interested in the possibility, I asked if any spiritual directors went into practice with psychologists.  Later, the workshop leader asked me how I envisioned my soon-to-be future as a spiritual director, and I said that I was more interested in working with groups of people and leading them through practices, like lectio/visio divina, which might help them hear the voice of God or sense God's presence more directly.  He said, "Now your question about going into practice with a psychologist makes more sense."

It is strange to be here, knowing that I am heading off in a different, yet connected, direction (an MDiv) at the same time.  It is strange to be here in this old, ramshackle house, which triggers my yearnings for old houses, while at the same time, I've had to make arrangements for the Monday closing (hopefully) of the historic house that I have been trying to sell.  It is strange to be here as the anniversary of the attack on the Capitol draws near--that was an epiphany, and I'm still trying to sort out what to do with what we learned that day.

At yesterday's evening worship in the seminary chapel, we heard about homecomings of all sorts, that God's heart is our home.  What an interesting image, this idea of living in God's heart.  What would that look like?  What would that sound like?  Does blood pump through the chambers of God's heart or something else?  There's something very Julian of Norwich about the image.

The height of the Christmas season comes to a close with Epiphany, since most of us don't observe Candlemas on Feb. 2, which is the true close of the Christmas season.  Each Christmas season I am thinking of the ways that God gets our attention:  a visit by a single angel, a celestial choir of angels, the steady light of a new, yet distant star, dreams.  I am thinking of  the angel warning Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, and he does.   Did other parents in Bethlehem that night dream of angels with strange messages about their infant boys?  Did they remember their dreams?  Were they haunted by the memory?

I think of God, keeping us sheltered in the Divine heart, God who must develop new ways of getting our attention.  What does that look like in our modern age?  How do we differentiate which dreams come from God and which ones should be discarded?

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Traveling to the Last Onground Intensive

If it was this time yesterday, I would have been on the road for two hours.  I got up, brewed some coffee for the thermoses, and headed north to Columbia, South Carolina for the last onground intensive for my certificate in spiritual direction.  By Saturday afternoon, I will be a certified spiritual director.  Two weeks from today, my next round of seminary classes start.

As I drove, I reflected on the past 2 years.  As I've made my way through this program, it's become clear to me that seminary was really what I wanted to do.  I have liked the certificate program well enough, but the way that many people approach the practice of spiritual direction is a little too close to therapy for me.  I am not trained to do that.

I had a fairly easy trip up I95 and I26.  Along the way, I listened to NPR, with stories of rising COVID rates and the snowstorm that shut down part of I95 in Virginia.  I listened to analysts looking back to the storming of the Capitol on January 6.  I thought about my trip two years ago to the first onground intensive and how much has changed since then. 

As I drove through South Carolina, I saw an unusual amount of downed trees, and I got to the campus of Southern Seminary (LTSS) to discover that power was out on the campus.  Happily, the commuter house where I'm staying still has power, water, and wi-fi.  I'm not sure what will happen as the week progresses if the power isn't restored.

I am guessing that we will move to an alternate site, which will make this strange intensive even stranger.  It was always going to be strange, as this new, more contagious variant has made more people decide to do the intensive remotely.  Half of my small group will be attending by Zoom.

I did think about whether or not it was wise to be attending in person.  But I really yearned to be at the seminary campus, even though it will be a different experience than last time--perhaps it will be even more different than I was expecting.

One of my Create in Me friends is also working on her certificate, so she came over the mountains yesterday.  In the late afternoon, we went to a really cool cloth shop (we're both quilters) and then to a Latin place for dinner.  We ordered the Latin Sampler for 2; it could easily have served 4 or 6 or 8, depending on appetites.  We have a kitchen in our commuter house, so we brought leftovers back.  Will we eat them?  Meals are part of this intensive, so I suspect that I will not.

After we returned, we had a long and satisfying conversation with our other housemate who had arrived while we were out; one more will arrive today.  We talked about how this certificate program had changed the trajectory of our lives.  We talked about backpacking and hiking.  We talked about health and the pandemic.  

Throughout the day, I keep thinking about how I had envisioned this January unrolling, back when I first realized my job would be ending in September or December, and so I applied for seminary.  Back then, the intensive was scheduled for MLK week-end, so I planned to go to the intensive and then to keep driving up to study in person at Wesley for the Spring 2022 term.  Much has changed since the planning that I did in the spring.

I want to do some writing while I'm here.  As is often the case, I'm astonished at how long it has been since I have written in my offline journal.  I need to start doing some deep thinking.  It is the day before the feast day of the Epiphany, after all.  I am ready for epiphanies (to which my epiphanies reply, "And we are ready for you to notice our steady light that has been trying to guide you)".

Monday, January 3, 2022

Back to Regular Life, This Week's Version

I am at my computer at my spouse's desk in the main living area in our rented condo.  My parents are steps away; they spent the night in our guest room, and in an hour, I'll take them to the airport, where their flight to Richmond, Virginia is still listed as "on time," despite the winter storm warning.  It's a morning flight, so we're hoping they can get to Richmond and get home to Williamsburg before the worst of the weather sets in.

We've had a lovely time together.  They flew in on Christmas day, and then the next day, we drove over to Marco Island for our vacation time with my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and nephew's friend.  It was the perfect vacation for me:  unstructured, with good food, and plenty of time to read and sleep.  I loved the beach views from every window.  It was restorative.

Yesterday, we loaded up the car, checked out of the resort, and got home by noon.  We unloaded the car, made lunch out of the leftovers, and checked various weather sites, channels, and apps.  My folks are flying Spirit, which has exactly one flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, the first flight of the morning, each day, so they couldn't try to switch tickets to fly out yesterday afternoon or evening, the way they might if they had flown Delta.

We decided a walk was in order, so we went out into the January heat (85 degrees!) and walked down Hollywood Boulevard to see the classic car show that happens on the first Sunday of every month.  For me, the main attraction was that we could walk down the middle of the street, since it is closed to traffic.

We decided to stop at the Tipsy Boar because they have outdoor seating, and we needed a bit of a break from the walking in the heat.  We were delighted to discover that they offered 3 beers for $3 each because a Florida team was playing, and they had a special on nachos.  What a great midafternoon treat, and since we didn't particularly care that the Miami Dolphins were losing in a spectacular fashion, it was mildly interesting to be surrounded by the game on big screens.

We walked back home, and a bit later had wine and cheese on the balcony--not as glorious as our vacation balcony of the past week, but still lovely.  We have a string of lights wrapped around the railing, and we could see a neighbor's lighted Christmas tree across the way.  Our huge Christmas poinsettia survived--bless those band kids that my purchase supported!  I will miss these Christmas sights.

Today is a strange day for me, after the airport transport.  I will go to work, where I will work one day, and then I will be out the rest of the week to go to the seminary in South Carolina (LTSS) to wrap up my certificate program in spiritual direction.  COVID cases are spiking, and that may or may not have implications for all of our schools.  My onground intensive at the seminary is still meeting in person, but with online options for people who need it.  I feel a strong yearning to be there in person.

I know that many of us return to "regular life" today, whatever that looks like, and we know that what it looks like this week may not be what it looks like next week.  Another year of pivoting is likely in store.  May we continue to face the challenges with grace and skill, and may there be fewer challenges than we expect.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Epiphany Sunday, Epiphany Week

 Although the actual feast day is January 6, on January 2, many churches will observe Epiphany, the day when we celebrate the arrival of the magi from the East to see and bring gifts to the baby Jesus. We may or may not remember the rest of the story. This year, even more than other years, I am thinking of the murderous Herod. I am thinking of those travelers, those academics who studied the stars but not human behavior, who inadvertently set a crisis into motion. I am thinking of Herod, unbalanced Herod, so threatened that he killed all those children who might have grown up to be a threat to him.

Literalists may protest that there's no shred of evidence that this massacre actually happened. Surely history would have recorded this slaughter, this genocide. The story about Herod's murder of toddlers and babies may not be literally true, but it wouldn't be behavior that would be out of the realm of possibility for Herod.

Like many stories in the Bible, even if it isn't factually true, the story points to a larger truth.

But even if we don't think that Herod's story speaks to us, it offers a powerful testimony to the corrosive effects of power. We would be wise to think of our own power, our own feelings of inadequacy, how we attempt to control the elements of our lives or how we don't. We would be wise to think about how these stories play out on larger stages.

These past decades, many of us have had a closer look at the behavior of rulers who have felt threatened, and it's not a pretty sight. We see many people killed in the crossfire and killed by the fall out. We see lives diminished and potential stamped out.

We see the truth of that proverb that warns us that without imagination, the people will perish.

We would be wise to think about all the strangers who show up to tell us of a different way, a different paradigm.

We would be wise to keep our eyes trained to larger vistas. Sometimes the Good News comes in ways we can't ignore, like those angel choirs in the sky, but for some of us, the message is more subtle.

Now is also a good time to think about wisdom, about gifts, about staying alert and watchful. Let us not forget these important Advent and Christmas messages. Most of us have already bid good-bye to Christmas and returned to our every day lives. Today is a good day to take one last Epiphany moment, to recover our capacity for wonder, to delight in the miraculous, to look for the unexpected, and to rejoice in the amazing Good News of a God who loves us so much that the Divine One comes to live with us.