Monday, March 31, 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Immanence and transcendence

It's as if the universe is trying to tell me something. Twice this week, I've been lifted out of myself by a cellist.

I was not exactly ripe for the picking; work has been stressful, I'm still pretty tired from the big Holy Week push, and our house is a mess (to the point that I'd actually be grateful if the dirty dishes ran away with the spoons!). In short, I'm not at the top of my game this week.

Maybe that's exactly when this sort of thing happens.

Thursday night, Beloved and I went to see the Minnesota Orchestra in concert (as it was her birthday yesterday–HB, Babe!). Excellent program, including one of my favorite pieces ever: Dvorak's B minor Cello Concerto. I was a cellist for about 12 formative years, and this piece in particular was a source of complete bliss at a very difficult time in my life. I'd shut myself in my high school bedroom and listen raptly as the conversation started again between the capering cello and the plaintive French horn. Whatever my frame of mind when I started the cassette(!), by the time it was over I'd experienced some serious reframing. Cosmic, consuming joy within my reach.

Hearing the Dvorak in person was an event I'd dreamed of since I was sixteen. And it was an amazing performance. There was a substitute soloist called in to cover for the illness of the original guy, and I liked him before he even began to play. There's a long orchestral exposition before the soloist enters, and this young guy was turned halfway around in his chair, with his eyes closed and a huge grin on his face while the orchestra teed him up. I got the impression that he'd never been as happy to be anywhere as he was in that moment, and that instead of being nervous or stuffy about his role as a classical soloist, he was sitting in with some really great friends, loving every second of it. The music was glorious–he and the conductor received five ovations before intermission. Tears on many faces, and shouts of "BRAVO!" rang through the hall.

And, all of a sudden, I was that kid again, spellbound and at peace, in spite of everything. I saw a singer/songwriter named Rachel Garlin not too long ago who named this experience for me (play track 7 at the link if you'd like to hear it):

Now we're pulling back and forth
on our childhood joy
and our childhood woe
like a long bow
playing the cello.

And then there's August Rush. Simply a radiant movie. Loved the beautifully conceived and shot opening sequence. Loved the soundtrack. Loved the fact that the actors (who were playing professional musicians) had actually learned to play "their" instruments. They also happened to be the ones that I play: there were several guitarists and a cellist, and not once was I lifted out of the story by obvious musical fakery. Gratitude for that...but even more for the expansive, magical feeling of the entire experience. It went well beyond storytelling and became an invitation to experience the music that's present all around us, every minute–witness this conversation between Wizard, sort of a Fagin-like character to a bunch of musical-but-lost kids in NYC, and Evan, an 11-year-old just discovering his prodigious musical gift, as they stare up at a star-filled sky:

W: Know what's out there? A series of higher tones. It's arranged by nature, governed by the laws of physics of the whole universe. It's an overtone, it's an energy, it's a wavelength--and if you're not riding it, good Lordy! You'll never hear it.
E: Where do you think it comes from–what I hear?
W: I think it comes from all around you, really. Comes through us–some of us. It's invisible, but you feel it.
E: So only some of us can hear it?
W: Only some of us are listening.

Tune in, friends. It's the beat of your heart, the song of the birds, the thump of the tires on the street, the cry of the neighbor's baby, the tink-tink of the chain link fence, the roar of the wind, the rustle of the leaves, the bang of the machinery. Stand still. Close your eyes and listen. Really listen. Nature combined with the sounds of our living–the pitch, the rhythm, the random call and the steady groove–what's the soundtrack of your day?

I dare you to find out. It's impossible to know the answer to that question and to not feel connected to the world around you...and also like you're soaring above it.

Miraculous. :-)

Great cloud of witnesses

I'm sometimes moved to tears by hearing my congregation sing together. I've never been able to wrap words around exactly why, but it's one of the great experiences of my life in those moments where they abandon themselves to the music and sing unself-consciously.

One of the books I'm reading at present is Jayber Crow (by Wendell Berry), a loan from my wonderful pastor/colleague. It tells the story of a small-town southern orphan who, after trying out seminary, decides that he can't authentically preach doctrine (his faith is larger than the code) and so becomes his town's barber instead. There's a note from the author at the beginning of the book, sort of gently forbidding academic analysis. So I won't. That wouldn't get where I wanted to go with this text, anyway. I want to get you to buy it and read it, and discover for yourself the serene, elegant beauty of his prose. It's like honey ambling from a jar.

I also want to thank Mr. Berry for articulating so perfectly the beauty I find in that moment of everyone singing together. I'll let two excerpts from his text speak for themselves. By way of setup, Jayber has taken on the job of church janitor, in order to supplement his barbering income, and is attending church so that they may know that he cares about his work:

What I liked least about the service itself was the prayers; what I liked far better was the singing. Not all of the hymns could move me. I never liked "Onward, Christian Soldiers" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Jesus' military career has never compelled my belief. I liked the sound of the people singing together, whatever they sang, but some of the hymns reached into me all the way to the bone: "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," "Rock of Ages," "Amazing Grace," "O God, Our Help in Ages Past." I loved the different voices all singing one song, the various tones and qualities, the passing lifts of feeling, rising up and going out forever. Old Man Profet, who was a different man on Sunday, used to draw out the note at the ends of verses and refrains so he could listen to himself, and in fact it sounded pretty. And when the congregation would be singing "We shall see the King some-day (some-day)," Sam May, who often protracted Saturday night a little too far into Sunday morning, would sing, "I shall see the King some-day (Sam May)."

I thought that some of the hymns bespoke the true religion of the place. The people didn't really want to be saints of self-deprivation and hatred of the world. They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all it had given them, but they still liked it. What they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another's help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude. I loved to hear them sing "The Unclouded Day" and "Sweet By and By":

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blest...

And in times of sorrow when they sang "Abide with Me," I could not raise my head.

Sometimes Jayber would go to work and, completely at home in the sunny silence of the place, take a nap before he began his work:

One day when I went up there to work, sleepiness overcame me and I lay down on the floor behind the back pew to take a nap. Waking or sleeping (I couldn't tell which), I saw all the people gathered there who had ever been there. I saw them as I had seen them from the back pew (as a child), where I sat with Uncle Othy (who would not come in any farther) while Aunt Cordie sang in the choir, and I saw them as I had seen them (from the back pew) on the Sunday before. I saw them in all the times past and to come, all somehow there in their own time and in all time and in no time: the cheerfully working and singing women, the men quiet or reluctant or shy, the weary, the troubled in spirit, the sick, the lame, the desperate, the dying, the little children tucked into the pews beside their elders, the young married couples full of visions, the old men with their dreams, the parents proud of their children, the grandparents with tears in their eyes, the pairs of young lovers attentive only to each other on the edge of the worlds, the grieving widows and widowers, the mothers and fathers of children newly dead, the proud, the humble, the attentive, the distracted–I saw them all. I saw the creases crisscrossed on the backs of the men's necks, their work-thickened hands, the Sunday dresses faded with washing. They were just there. They said nothing, and I said nothing. I seemed to love them all with a love that was mine merely because it included me.

When I came to myself again, my face was wet with tears.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

You go, Zoei. Got a place in my choir any time! :-)

Thursday, March 27, 2008


For one human being to love another: that is the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test of proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

--Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke. Yes. Wow.

I believe this to be true, and find that, like many truths, it positively seeps from our daily experiences. The ability to love another person is also dependent upon one's ability to participate authentically in her own life--to experience genuine pain; to acknowledge fear without being consumed by it; to perceive a real I/Thou boundary, across which genuine dialogue is possible.

I've known several people who are purely incapable of perceiving a "thou." Admittedly, we all have our days, but this impairment is particularly pronounced in some. They tend, in my experience, to create eddies of chaos around them, in order to obscure (and perhaps to appear to justify) their own inability to cope with the separate needs and viewpoints of any "other."

It is not easy for me to relate to this in an ongoing way, and there's someone like this in my life right now. Wears me out. Too much time & energy must be spent on border patrol, and not enough is left over for the good stuff. Am trying to extricate myself from the situation, but in the meantime, here I stand at sentry duty, trying to keep my powder dry and my compassion intact.

However, it also highlights just how wonderful it is to encounter people who are at home enough in their own skins to participate in I/Thou relationship. It is a gift to be authentically seen, engaged, nurtured and valued. And it seems to me that, the better we are at cleaning up our own emotional yards, the easier it is to invite others drag out our picnic tables and have a block party, relationally speaking, and to truly commune with one another.

There is a deep sense of peace and safety present in an authentic relationship--with God, the eternal Thou, and with each other. Much groundwork, honesty and courage is required of each of us, but isn't that moment and arena of connection the real glory of being human?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

--John O'Donohue

I heard this poem recited by its author on my favorite public radio program, Speaking of Faith. Krista Tippett, the creator and host of the show, is a special talent. She truly honors her guests with her preparation for each interview; she really internalizes their work, and asks excellent, evocative questions.

This particular interview brought me out of my post-Holy-Week stupor today, with its exploration of the poetry and theology of Irish poet John O'Donohue. There are a number of absolutely gorgeous morsels in this interview, and I commend it to you (click the link above to access the program). Meanwhile, I'll lift up this one idea by quoting the interview directly:

Ms. Tippett: You wrote about time, "Possibility is the secret heart of time. On its outer service time is vulnerable to transience. In its deeper heart, time is transfiguration." I wonder how you are able to have—I don't know, I think a larger sense of time, because of—as an inheritor of—the Celtic tradition. I have this…

Mr. O'Donohue: Yeah, I think that's a bit of it, you know? That old Celtic thing, because, I mean, there is in Ireland, like, still even though it's getting consumerized so fast. There is still in the west of Ireland, where I live, a sense of time, you know? That there's time for things.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. O'Donohue: And that when God made time, He made plenty of it, and all the rest of it. And you see, I think that one of the huge difficulties in modern life is the way time has become the enemy.

Ms. Tippett: Time is a bully. We're captive to it.

Mr. O'Donohue: Totally, and I'd say seven out of every 10 people who turn up in a doctor's surgery are suffering from something stress related. Now, there are big psychological tomes written on stress. But for me, philosophically, stress is a perverted relationship to time. So that rather than being a subject of your own time, you have become its target and victim, and time has become routine. So at the end of the day, you probably haven't had a true moment for yourself. And you know, to relax in and to just be. Because, you know, the way in this country — there's all the different zones. I think there are these zones within us as well. There's surface time, which is really a rapid-fire Ferrari time.

Ms. Tippett: Yes, and over structured.

Mr. O'Donohue: Yeah, over structured, like, and stolen from you, thieved all the time. And then if you sit down, like, Dan Siegel, my friend, does this lovely meditation, you know: You imagine the surface of the ocean is all restless and then you slip down deep below the surface where it's still and where things move slower. And what I love in this regard is my old friend Meister Eckhart, 14th-century mystic.

Ms. Tippett: Right. German mystic.

Mr. O'Donohue: German mystic. And one day I read in him and he said, "There is a place in the soul—there is a place in the soul that neither time, nor space, nor no created thing can touch." And I really thought that was amazing, and if you cash it out what it means is, that in—that your identity is not equivalent to your biography. And that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there's still a sureness in you, where there's a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

This program was a beannacht, a blessing, to me today. I was tired and grumpy, having been a bit of a hostage to time over the last couple of weeks. And listening (twice!) led me back to my inner sanctuary. Thank you, Krista. Requesciat in pace, John.

Peace, y'all.

Heads will roll

So I'm driving home from work this evening, and I'm at a stoplight in front of a cosmetology school. There are students coming out the door, each carrying a clear plastic bag containing three brunette mannequin heads (shades of my little sister's Quick Curl Barbie!).

The young woman at the vanguard of the group is in a hurry. In her haste, she drops her bag, spilling the contents onto the sidewalk. She instantly gets the joke, catches my eye and we start to laugh.

Is there anything so delicious as a moment of shared hilarity with a total stranger?

Saturday, March 22, 2008


con·cin·ni·ty (kən-sĭn'ĭ-tē) n. pl. con·cin·ni·ties
  1. Harmony in the arrangement or interarrangement of parts with respect to a whole.
  2. Studied elegance and facility in style of expression: "He has what one character calls 'the gifts of concinnity and concision,' that deft swipe with a phrase that can be so devastating in children" (Elizabeth Ward).
  3. An instance of harmonious arrangement or studied elegance and facility.
My church choir sang Fauré's Requiem last night, in cooperation with two neighboring churches, as part of our Good Friday service. I'd originally wanted to do it during Lent; I was a bit worried about including such a big choral work as part of so solemn a service. Part of the power of Good Friday is the fact that we locate ourselves unflinchingly at the foot of the cross. I didn't want the congregation to be distracted from that stark experience by extra commentary--even beautiful musical commentary.

But the opportunity to commit to a "serious" piece of music, the benefits of that stretch for my choir, the chance for them to do something "special," the fun of studying and teaching a piece with so much depth, and finally, the opportunity to collaborate with our neighbor churches (one Methodist, one Episcopal) won out. It's good for us to work together, to build a neighborhood presence, to move out of our own comfort zones a be a community.

So...the musicians got to work on the Requiem, and the three able presiders worked out the rest of the service. Let me interject here that these three guys are fit together extraordinarily well; it's a happy combination of Fr. Theo's Episcopalian sensitivity to liturgy and quietness, Rev. Cooper's Methodist passion for justice and community, and Pastor Drew's Lutheran groundedness in the Word and lived grace. Their complementarity was evident in their chosen readings and prayers, and music, of which there were three selections, each representing one community's worship practice: a sturdy Lutheran hymn (What wondrous love is this, O my soul?), quietly plaintive Episcopal psalmody (#22 was the order of the night: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) and finally, a serenely confident Taizé chant from the Methodist congregation's Friday-night service: Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away.

The service was powerful, in a very different way than I'd expected. I got to just sit with all the elements of the service for a while yesterday afternoon, and let them work on me: the Good Friday story of the crucifixion as told in Luke, the text and music of the Requiem, and the "within our darkest night" chant got to me, in a way that opened the possibility of a new experience of Good Friday, and deep gratitude that I get to do this work, especially with as many gifted partners as I've been given.

I've been reading the wonderful memoir The Florist's Daughter, by local author Patricia Hampl. In it, she describes her experience of growing up in St. Paul, the child of an immigrant florist with a true vocation for his work. About him, she writes:

Beauty wasn't simple loveliness for my father. It was the highest token of reality.

It doesn't GET much more real than Good Friday. At the foot of the cross, it's hard to hang on to the illusions and rationalizations that get us through most days. The stark reality of humankind's fearfulness and inventive cruelty is right in front of us. Not much beauty there.

But that's not the only reality present there.

Even on Good Friday, the darkest of days...even within our darkest night, God is at work. God is kindling the fire that never dies away--not even in the moment of Christ's death on the cross.

The gift of music is that we got to sing that light into being last night. Beauty truly became that highest token of reality...and I'm not talking here of perfect musicianship, because it's too easy for that goal to point us toward ego, in the end. It's our job as artists to "chip away all that is not art" (Michelangelo), but that is secondary to our humanity. Our primary task as human beings is to bring our true selves, warts and all, to relationship with God. Music serves as a form of communication within that relationship: honesty, courage and beauty work in concinnity.

There's a moment during the Agnus Dei, for example, when we've been singing a plea for mercy, addressed to the Lamb of God (which certainly takes on added power when sung on Good Friday)...and then, sweetly and softly, a shaft of light breaks that dark moment. The light is sung into existence as the sopranos enter with a sustained note on the word lux: lux aeterna (light eternal)--in other words, the light that never dies away. The light arrives in that musical, human moment, through our openness and effort in tandem with God's grace.

Hampl again:
Only poems and music ... could express the real things, which were the unsayable things.

On Good Friday, the Christian's darkest night, our singers' voices became the instrument of God's grace in space (our sanctuary) and time, measured out in triple meter. The beauty that all these 65-or-so singers, instrumentalists and worship planners and leaders worked so hard to create became, in that moment, both the token and the vehicle of our deepest reality:

God's eternal light that breaks every darkness.
Even the darkness of death.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Poetic women and muscular birds

I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right.
--Anne Lamott

It snowed last night. It was the wet stuff, the kind that perches on anything that will stand still, making doilies out of the trees: the perfect backdrop for the cardinals at Beloved's feeder. What a gift to discover that scene as I peered over my yogurt this morning, especially since I'm a little bit anxious at present. I'm in a situation that has abraded some emotional scar tissue...hearing an echo of my heart at its most broken, reminded of a time in the not-so-distant past when I was most decidedly Not At My Best.

The difference, this time, is that I am older, wiser and less invested in my own need to be right. I'm better at taking care of myself, this time around; though this is a stressful situation, I'm finding that I'm not unhinged by it as I was last time. I truly am hearing an echo, instead of experiencing the pain afresh. That's helpful. That little cardinal this morning was able to give some of my baggage a good shove, too; he was surprisingly strong. :-)

I think Anne Lamott is right, and most of the time it's reasonably easy for me to keep track of the beauty in my life; it is abundant, and I'm richly blessed. And yet...sometimes it just isn't possible or appropriate to dance. One of my dear ones is in that place right now. She's been in a chronically painful situation for some months, and though she's moved out of harm's way, there is substantial grief, anger and loss with which she must grapple on her way back to the dance. And the best the rest of us can do is to say, "Talk, and we'll listen. Cry, and we'll hold your hand. Wait for this to pass, and just keep breathing in and out, because the music is still playing. You'll be able to enjoy it again, once that roaring in your ears stops."

My friend is not religious, but we seem to just get one another anyway. The part of me that lives in theological language lives poetically in her, and she has a lovely, honest, artistic spirit that inspires and enriches me. Further, she is a deeply kind and generous soul, whom I know to be resilient. She has faced down larger beasts than this one and survived...flourished.

She reminds me of another wise woman/poet to whom I got to listen last week: Maya Angelou appeared at Orchestra Hall, and Beloved and I went to hear her. She told a number of her own stories, read from her work, and best of all, she sang to us. It went straight to my church musician's heart that the thematic thread tying the evening together was her repeated refrain of "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." She told us about the little bits of other people's light that have illumined her own darknesses. She called out the light in each of us and reminded us of our imperative as human beings to blow on those sparks, for all our sakes.

It was a little bit of the bright Epiphany season, interpolated into somber Lent. Luminous. Powerful. Brimming with hope. And this piece of Maya's light is with me still:

Don't carry with you unforgiveness.
Refuse to pay its passage.
As soon as is possible, let it go.

And so I can say to my friend with some assurance that she will find her way through this particular wilderness, because I've been there, too--and my light did not die out. I can keep reminding her that the anger and sadness and screaming injustice she's experiencing at this moment will not define the rest of her days. I can point her toward the day, not too long from now, when she'll be able to offload that heavy cargo...when something as small and bright and fleet as a bird will help with the heavy lifting, bringing her back to the dance.

Emily Dickinson was right: hope is the thing with feathers.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Aural grace

Even before we call on Your name
To ask You, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify
You hear our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Your name,
And through all the days that follow so
We trust in You;
Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and for ever,
And unto ages and ages,

- Michael Dennis Browne

This is the text to Pilgrim's Hymn, set to the music of Stephen Paulus (local composer and frequent collaborator with Browne). Click the link to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's version; turn it up and close your eyes. You'll be glad you did.

Some days, it's so easy to get caught up in the ordinary hassle and pain (or simple "attitudinal arthritis") of the moment, that we forget the beauty that underlays every breath. Vast, silent, shimmering...and ours to dial into.

This text comforts and reassures me, in a cosmic sense. Not in the "if I just trust, everything will come out right" sense, because that denies so much of the experience of being human--the painful part. But rather, I believe in our connection to an immense, generative web of love, which binds and weaves through the Creator, creation, and one another. And that we're all pilgrims, when we're at our best: we seek out the relationship that draws us further into the light, and we keep on climbing up to it, and making our offerings along the way.

The heart of Holy Week is in this text--Christ was sealed into death and darkness, in order that we may experience the light of unceasing love, surpassing all we know.

Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unusual personal ad

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rejuvenation. Must be drama-free and restful.
Nutritious, tasty, pre-cooked meals and pre-
supplied clean laundry a plus. Smoking,
thrumming bass beats and petulant behavior
will not be considered. Will supply own reading
material. Apply in person. RIGHT NOW.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In the darkness

God, is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
To be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you're there!
If I go underground, you're there!
If I flew on morning's wings
to the far western horizon,
You'd find me in a minute--
you're already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I'm immersed in the light!"
It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

--Psalm 139, vs. 7-12,
translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message

I've had two conversations in as many days with dear ones deep in despair. The triggers are different, but the root cause is the same: depression.

Damned depression. How I'd love to wipe out that disease. It drifts over competent, wonderful people like a toxic a dementor, in J.K. Rowling parlance (see above), and hisses in their ears (these bright, talented, loving people) that they are worthless and alone, and that it will never be any different for them. That their best efforts are simply not good enough. That no one will ever really love them. That they are powerless to change this. And, for good measure, that they'd better not bother anyone else with their problems, thereby reinforcing the "you're all alone" message. Damn and double damn.

That is the way, it seems to me, that evil works, too. Divide and conquer. Keep us off balance and alone and aching for relief and connection, and believing that we don't deserve goodness and life and love.

Do we deserve goodness? It's a fascinating question, actually-- and I mean fascinating in the sense of being gripped by a question with no answer, being held in thrall because you can't resist.

I can really only speak for myself here. On my best days, I still mess up countless times. I'm selfish, I'm an idolater and a liar and something of a glutton (at least where chocolate and my carbon footprint are concerned). I don't do particularly well at Sabbath-keeping, and what I don't know is a lot. For every flower I water, I've tromped on countless blades of grass to get there. But I'm also loving and funny and gifted and mostly well- intentioned, and willing to take seriously my relationships with God and my neighbors, to live deeply, and to try to find joy and share it.

In other words, I'm human...broken and beloved in the sight of God, here by God's good grace, cared for by the grace of other broken, beloved beings.

Do I deserve the goodness in my life? I think that's the wrong question--a distraction from the sheer gift we've been given. I try hard to participate in it, and to stay open to the beauty and pain that each day brings. Some days it works, some not so well, but always, is a gift.

It's pretty hard to keep track of that with a dementor hissing in your ear, though. You can ask Harry Potter if you have any doubt.

And if it's a matter of deserving goodness, aren't we sort of done before we start? Part of our American "consumer" consciousness is driven by the idea of getting what we "deserve" to have, but holy cats--what if that actually happened? I submit that a tally of our respective successes and failures as a basis for participation in God's purpose would be a disaster for every one of us.

Besides, that's not where Jesus would land: Jesus who hung out with the rabble, who chose ordinary dopes like me as his disciples and who died for us. That alone makes me and you and each of us a pearl bought at a great price.

So please don't talk to me about what we deserve and don't deserve. That's been asked and answered on the cross. We do the best that we can to be part of the Great Song of sing our part with beauty and intention, and to acknowledge that some days, the song starts as a wail. Especially at times of death...and at times of new life just being born.

I love my friends. I salute their courage in dealing with this sometimes-overwhelming feeling of despair. I know that brain chemistry is a crucial, world-altering factor here. And please, friends, please hear me when I say that you are not alone. Keep trying, keep working the treatment questions, and keep reaching for a hand to hold, no matter what. There are lots of us who will reach back, hold on, sit with you until the darkness passes, and give you a piece of chocolate, such as we have. And, darkness or light, God is there, can see you clearly, (even when you can't see or feel God), and loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Friday five: signs of hope

I'm a fan of the RevGalBlogPals, particularly LutheranChik (we lesbian Lutherans have to stick together!). Every Friday, they do a "Friday Five"--questions to think about a bit. I really like this week's theme, so I'm going to hop on their bandwagon and answer them, too.

If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged.

Because anything that points us toward hope is

1. Sign of hope?
After years (decades?) of apathy, the American electorate has awakened, stretched, looked around, and decided that they do care, after all, about how the country's being run--and are NOT happy with its current direction. Better still, they're finding ways to make themselves heard. Alleluia.

2. A word of light in a dark place?
Can't help but hear the sopranos of my church choir, as we're working up Faure's Requiem for Holy Week, singing "Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine" (let your eternal light shine upon them, O Lord). Lovely, lovely moment in the Agnus Dei--go & listen to it, if you have a recording! It's a moment where the music turns on a dime, and their entrance is a musical shaft of light breaking through clouds of grief, like in the above photo. (After all, a requiem is a Mass for the dead). Mmmmm.

Also, the examples of several dear ones gracefully working through/waiting out various stages of grief with various causes is inspirational to me without fail. (See posting What You Get.)

3. A sign of spring?
The lilac bushes at the side of my driveway have BUDS on them, despite the fact that it's been below zero for a weirdly long time. Talk about perseverance in the face of adversity! :-) Oh, and it's 21 degrees right now, according to the thermometer on my garage. Just maybe, spring will come after all.

4. Challenging/surprising?
Dealing simultaneously with Beloved's family's issues with our Horrifying Gay Marriage and the recurrence of her mother's cancer is challenging. Prayers would be gratefully accepted here.

5. Share a hope for the coming week/month/year...
There are so many:
  • health for many ailing loved ones
  • healing for loved ones in grief
  • progress in relationships with Beloved's family
  • a completely new administration in the White House, headed by either our first woman or our first person of color...and progress on marriage rights for GLBT folk, at long last
  • progress/healing around GLBT issues in The Church, in my own congregation and wherever they appear
  • my weight loss goal (20 down, 40 to go!)
Bonus play: a piece of music/poem guaranteed to cheer you?
Too many to list, really, BUT anything by Earth, Wind and Fire or Aretha Franklin, or Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" will always get me bopping, as will African choral singing (or any other kind). Really, anything that's got beautiful poetry, well-crafted music and inspired singing will usually do the trick. See, I can't stop. New music is great, too--discovery is a joyful thing.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Music, healing and community

So...I'm sitting in the doctor's office, leafing through a magazine, and I come upon an article about Operation Happy Note. This is a group of people who send musical instruments to deployed US troops as a morale builder. One soldier mused that people who formerly would go off by themselves with their iPods were now sitting around together, playing and singing and laughing. What a lovely thing.

Music has a way of forming connective tissue between us. I see and experience it several times a week, and it's one of the best things I know of. Making music is one of very few human activities that's simultaneously mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and social. A group of people making music works together with both intention and spontaneity. They are working on something beautiful, lifted out of themselves, swept into a spirit of play like preschoolers with a Crayola 64-pack and some really big paper. The best perk of my job as a conductor is to witness that joy and creative absorption on their faces (even Lutherans become expressive when they're singing!). No wonder conductors live long lives--we get to live in the center of positive, generative energy.

Feeling badly? Go sing something, and do it as if no one was listening. Don't worry about being gorgeous and perfect; just DO it. You'll feel better. :-) Better yet, join a choir or a band or an orchestra. PLAY, and make it possible for others to do the same. We'll all be better for it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Letting go

My friend Peg introduced me to the music of Peter Mayer, a local singer/songwriter, last winter. I bought his Midwinter CD so that I could learn and sing one of the songs with her at our church during Advent worship. Every track is well-crafted, and they represent many different moods and ideas. Plus the music is creative and really well done. With a nod to Art Linkletter, who said something similar on the cover of my childhood Life game, I Heartily Endorse This CD. More on that in a bit.

I've been pondering a question in recent weeks (well, years really, but the wheel has turned again and this is back at the top). The question has to do with the souls who find themselves standing at the intersection of Faithful Dogma Avenue and Fresh Justice Road. In truth, as a partnered lesbian who remains in the Church, I've made a home at that intersection. Besides which, many people I care about a great deal seem to spend the majority of their time on one or the other of those streets, and they keep crashing into one another...and sometimes, into me.

I wonder if it's possible that we might learn to live together without so many of those painful collisions.

It's my experience (at least where GLBT issues are concerned) that most of the power seems to rest in the hands of the residents of Faithful Dogma Avenue, and most of the yearning seems to live on Fresh Justice Road. Because of that (as well as my personal location as both object and observer of some of the crashing), I will confess up front that my sympathies lie mostly with the Justice crowd. I can give lots of Biblical and theological justification for that position, but that's not my purpose today...besides which, neither group is free from prejudice and bad behavior toward the other.

What interests me today is whether or not all of us can learn to loosen our grip our own personal mythologies enough to reach out to one another in faith. We cling to our respective dogmas and desires so tightly that we often miss the opportunity to connect with one another. From an ELCA Lutheran lesbian's perspective, I'm a bit weary of being considered an Issue To Be Studied. But I do understand and appreciate the need to bring the Issue to a more dispassionate, reflective place for everyone's sake. And real connection across the divide is worth whatever road we must travel to get there. Those moments of connection are so full of grace that they take my breath away. And it's possible to remember, in those moments, that we are one Body of Christ; many parts, but one Body.


I'd like to offer a simple framework by which life at the Intersection may be approached by all people of good will. I think that this is a time for all of us to step out in faith:
  • faith that God is with us always, even to the end of the age
  • faith that we don't have to be right in order to deserve the love of God or one another
  • faith that we as individuals don't have to (and usually can't) really understand the work of God, and
  • faith in one another as fellow children of God, without the need to change each other's minds or to score points off of each other...just to allow each other space and time to grow as we (and God) will; in fact, to insist upon that space and time for one another.
I understand that this is more easily said than done, BELIEVE me, but what's our alternative? If the "Dogma" gang could trust that the "Justice" gang doesn't want to dismantle the Church, the Family or their personal theologies, perhaps they could relax a bit, open a window and let the Holy Spirit into the room. Likewise, if the "Justice" crowd could recognize that there is real fear involved on the "other" side as well as our own, maybe we could keep from becoming strident.

We could all stop labeling one another.
We could all admit that disparate, equally faithful Biblical interpretations are possible.
We could all quit singing about how the Sharks or the Jets are going to have their way tonight.

If you ask me, both sides could use a healthy dose of patient humility so that power can be shared, fear quieted and the Gospel advanced. What would happen if we all stopped shouting and tried to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves?

I'm just sayin'.

What if we could learn to trust and let go of that which is non-essential, in order to return to the Gospel center of our faith? Peter Mayer must have experienced it at some point; he sings it into existence for me every time I hear "God Is a River."

In the ever-shifting water of the river of this life
I was swimming, seeking comfort; I was wrestling waves to find
a boulder I could cling to, a stone to hold me fast
where I might let the fretful water of this river 'round me pass...

and so I found an anchor, a blessed resting place
a trusty rock I called my savior, for there I would be safe
from the river and its dangers, and I proclaimed my rock divine
and I prayed to it "protect me" and the rock replied:

God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids and a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage and a peaceful, sandy shoal
God is the river, swimmer, so let go.

Still I clung to my rock tightly with conviction in my arms,
never looking at the stream to keep my mind from thoughts of harm
but the river kept on coming, kept on tugging at my legs,
'til at last my fingers faltered and I was swept away...

so I'm going with the flow now, these relentless twists and bends,
acclimating to the motion and a sense of being led
and this river's like my body now; it carries me along
through the ever-changing scenes and by the rocks that sing this song:

God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids and a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage and a peaceful, sandy shoal
God is the river, swimmer, so let go.

God is the river, swimmer.
So let go.

Peace, friends.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Refrigerator wisdom

Our kitchen is, in general, a joyful profusion of color, with nods to Beloved's penguin collection and our shared propensity to pile up clutter. I'm talking CLUTTER, until we're moving a week's worth of mail around on the counter like Scrabble tiles, in order to chop vegetables for dinner. But I digress. :-)

Near the entrance to the kitchen is our riotous refrigerator, covered in my magnet collection: besides numbers for pizza and the nurse line, features include Snoopy and Charlie Brown and a Norwegian flag, souvenirs of trips to Chicago and the North Shore, and the assorted wisdom of many, many sages ranging from Dilbert and Opus to Gertrude Stein to Walt Whitman to Eleanor Roosevelt. Some favorites:
  • Do one thing every day that scares you. (Eleanor Roosevelt)
  • No use being pessimistic; it wouldn't work anyway. (Phillip Mueller)
  • There ain't no answer. There ain't never gonna BE an answer. THAT's the answer. (Gertrude Stein)
  • Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
I'm generally suspicious of any theology or philosophy that can be summed up in an aphorism, but I can't seem to resist these various bits of humor and wisdom, either. And, word junkie that I am, I'm instantly seduced by poets and writers with a gift for metaphor or an elegant turn of phrase.

I've been a lover of Rilke, in particular, because he gave me the courage to live into a truly scary time in my life. I quote him regularly, and try diligently to live out my own questions. Incidentally, I think that Letters to a Young Poet should be required reading for every human on the planet, along with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. I love to believe that we'd be elevated by reading them--that we'd be a little braver and a little kinder to one another in this broken, blessed world.

Anyway, last night, I found the perfect magnet. It trumpets the pinnacle of refrigerator wisdom:
  • When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.