Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Emotional eating

Alas, alack,
what's wrong with my Mac?
It's stony and silent; the screen has gone black.

I'm all agog:
no chances to blog.
Perhaps it's a sign that God wants me to jog

or ride my bike,
or do something like
the dishes or laundry, or go for a hike.

Oh, God, oh please,
I'm down on my knees:
just don't let my motherboard have a disease

that they can't fix.
Give the guy any tricks
that will get me back into the bloggity mix!

Oh, you will see
what a good girl I'll be
if my Apple is not just a box of debris

but comes back whole,
because I'm on a roll
and wishing to blog for the good of my soul.

Alas, alack,
what's wrong with my Mac?
Sigh. Perhaps I'll feel better if I have a snack.

An apple?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another comforter

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

John 14:15-21

There are times in our lives in which we can almost reach out and touch the presence of God. Incredibly, I had two of them today.

One was this afternoon; the kids' music groups at my church presented a concert. By way of setup, nine months ago, we didn't have much of a kids' music program. Thanks to the efforts of two brave, committed, talented, creative women on my staff, we now have two ensembles: a children's choir, which has gone from six to fifteen members in nine months, and a drumming group, large and spirited. Both of these groups have given those kids an opportunity to serve God, to make music, to grow as people of faith, to have fun together, and to learn about living as contributing members of a community.

They offered a full-length concert program of all the music they've learned this year. They sang, danced, drummed, played hand chimes, offered readings, and some kids played other instruments and offered their visual art to the program. They brought their families and friends to hear them...one eight-year-old girl filled three pews with people she invited personally, including her third-grade teacher. But that isn't the best part. The sounds that they made, the message they presented, and the sparkle in their eyes–THAT was the best part. They've made palpable progress as musicians and as people, this year. Kids as young as three stood with their fellow singers for a program more than an hour long, as full contributing members. They were proud of themselves. They were beautiful. It went well beyond cute and into profound.

That was, to me, an experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who was invited by all the open hearts who made it possible, and by the fact that they set their faith "on its feet" to do good work, by God's grace.

The other moment was not foreseeable; it was one of those moments in which, all of a sudden, something profound is happening, having taken us by surprise (well, me, at least). The above passage from John was today's Gospel lesson. I'd led my choir in the Thomas Tallis anthem "If Ye Love Me," the beautiful motet on that text, performed elegantly in the above video by the Taipei Chamber Singers.

We had received a whole bunch of new members at the beginning of the service, just before the Confession and Forgiveness. Wonderful Colleague had unpacked the heart of the John text in his sermon–that God never leaves us alone; that, although Jesus had to go away from his disciples, he was sending another Paraclete to be with them. Now, I'd heard this before, with the associated definitions of Advocate and Comforter, and thought (a bit simplistically) that it was kind of God to make that provision for us, as we obviously need it–need someone to plead for us sometimes (reminding the Creator that we're doing the creaturely best we can), and to give us the occasional reassuring spiritual pat.

New dimensions were added to my thinking about this text today. First, Wonderful Colleague quoted Rosemary Radford Ruether's thinking about how being church together is about two things: the handing on of tradition, and allowing the voice of the Spirit to reshape that tradition a bit in each generation, addressing questions that could not possibly have been imagined by the disciples hearing Jesus' Farewell Discourse in person:
  • is it ever O.K. to use nuclear weapons?
  • is it O.K. for a person in a faithful, committed same-sex relationship, who has been called into ministry, to preach and preside at the Lord's table?
  • what are we to do in regard to the questions of immigration in our time and place?
The Spirit is Advocate, Comforter, and Fresh Breeze. Might ruffle some feathers, but will spur us into new ways of thinking, of being Church and Community together. It made me pay substantially more attention to the Spirit of Truth we'd sung about in the anthem than I had before that moment. It got us all thinking, challenged us.

I could feel the air moving.

And then, a few minutes later, as Wonderful Colleague was about to begin the consecration, paramedics were hurrying up the center aisle. One of our older members had collapsed. From where Beloved and I were sitting with the choir, it was impossible to tell who was in distress, but honestly, there was no good answer to that question anyway. I was fretting and trying to remember who I'd seen sit down in that section, trying to peer over there without staring and drawing even more attention to whomever it was lying in the pew. WC let the medics work for a couple of minutes, holding off on the prayers until we could be more present to them.

There were some moments of anxious silence, and then Thoughtful Organist (seated at the piano) decided to play. Her wonderful choice: the tune BRED DINA VIDA VINGAR, which is associated in my congregation with the following text by Gracia Grindal:

Thy holy wings, O Savior,
spread gently over me
and let me rest securely
through good and ill in thee.
Oh, be my strength and portion,
my rock and hiding place
and let my every moment
be lived within thy grace.

Oh, let me nestle near thee,
within thy downy breast
where I will find sweet comfort
and peace within thy nest.
Oh, close thy wings around me
and keep me safely there,
for I am but a newborn
and need thy tender care.

Oh, wash me in the waters
of Noah's cleansing flood.
Give me a willing spirit,
a heart both clean and good.
Oh, take into thy keeping
thy children great and small
and while we sweetly slumber,
enfold us one and all.

For a few minutes, there we all were in the nest, under God's wing. One of our own was having some trouble, but was being cared for by those around her, by medical personnel, and by a Comforter so big and deep that even the panic of that moment was stilled, dwarfed by a mysterious love so much greater than we are.

She was able to walk out of the room, and went to the hospital for follow-up. Several people are checking on her tonight and tomorrow.

The rest of us little birds gathered around the Table and then sang the hymn. I'll never hear it the same way again. The Spirit—the Advocate, the Wind of Truth and the Comforter—was abundantly present in my community today.

Deo gratias.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday five: nothing endures but change

Thank you, Heraclitus, you wise one, for that nugget of truth.

In honor of my first week in the RevGalBlogPals web ring, I joyfully join in this thought-provoking Friday Five:

1. What modern convenience/ invention could you absolutely, positively not live without?

I am umbilically attached to my iPod. It's the satisfyingly- well-designed little vessel that carries my music with me (for practice, for exploration and for pleasure), and also gives me instant access to audiobooks and various other forms of food for my head--sermons from daily chapel at a couple of seminaries and much from NPR, in podcast form: The Writer's Almanac, Speaking of Faith, This I Believe, Story of the Day, The Splendid Table, American Radioworks, This American Life...and the giggles of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!

Well, and since I started writing this blog and reading many of yours, I'm awfully attached to my Mac, as well. :-)

2. What modern convenience/invention do you wish had never seen the light of day? Why?

When I'm in a public place, my answer to this would unfailingly be "the cell phone." We seem to be losing a couple of things since it came: a groundedness in the present time and place, and a sensitivity to the presence of others in the space around us. An argument could well be made that the iPod isn't helping that, either. True. But the cell phone thing adds the weird intimacy of being in someone else's conversation, in a wish-I-could-figure- out-how-not-to-listen kind of way. And don't even get me STARTED about the driving hazard.

3. Do you own a music-playing device older than a CD player? More than one? If so, do you use it (them)?

There's a tape deck in my car, and a turntable at home. They get used on a very occasional basis...they can't handle most of my present media!

4. Do you find the rapid change in our world exciting, scary, a mix...or something else?

Ummm...yes. Access to information and richness of technology are fantastic, and I'm tickled that my friend Sara and I can have immediate access to one another via blog, e-mail and Skype, though I'm in Minnesota and she's in India. And it's wonderful to get to connect with so many of you and to read what you're thinking about. However, I'm a bit worried in a general kind of way: the constant bombardment with information and the million opportunities present in the world right now suggest that we can have ALL of it, participate fully and assimilate immediately. Which is fallacious and exhausting...and oh, so seductive. Makes it hard to follow Large Thoughts from beginning to end, and that's apparent in every conversation I have about worship planning. That grieves me. We might be losing our collective ability to find and keep silence.

5. What did our forebears have that we have lost and you'd like to regain? Bonus points if you have a suggestion of how to begin that process.

The immediacy and constancy of intergenerational community, for all its joys and woes. Living and growing and aging among the same group of people has a quiet depth that I think we mostly miss in this Age of Affinity and Right Now. I'm always happy to be part of a barn-raising of some kind (though I AM grateful to be past the years in which a different group of friends was moving every weekend). The forms have changed (now it might look like a deck-building or a rehearsal or Meals On Wheels), and it's harder to fit these things in to our modern schedules, but any opportunity to build community is time well spent.

On these shoulders

I saw an extraordinary play last night, with Beloved, Young Poet Friend and Seminarian Friend. It was part of August Wilson's Century Cycle, which also includes the Pulitzer-winning plays Fences and The Piano Lesson. Last evening's play was called Gem of the Ocean. Its depth and power were riveting, and each actor truly honored that wonderful script. A privilege to witness, and a thoroughly revelatory, wrenching experience. Local readers, get on the phone and get yourself a ticket--you won't be sorry!

At the center of the play was a rich and wonderful quilt by textile artist Cecile Margaret Lewis. It was the vessel of so many themes present in the text:
  • the continuing effects of slavery and its aftermath on the black community (and, by extension, on the larger community)
  • living and dying with honor and beauty, whatever your circumstances
  • the fire in the hearts of the oppressed, and the power inherent in the ability to be subtly, humorously, defiantly true to yourself and your people (the ones who are yours through inheritance and/or simply through the bonds of love)
  • the scarring and redemption present in every human life
  • as is apparent in the poster art for the program, the idea that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us...and that we have an obligation to honor their memory in both the living of our own lives and the nurture of the next generation
Which has me thinking today about all of the shoulders on which I stand--about the building, teaching, the suffering, the sacrifice and the generosity of:
  • the generations of my family, whose DNA, culture, social system and ethics inform my whole existence in a most basic way
  • the builders, maintainers and reformers of the Christian (Lutheran) faith
  • the great thinkers and innovators of every age
  • those who settled and led this country (in all those good and bad ways)
  • the musicians, poets, writers, artists of all kind who have helped me to see and to hear
  • my teachers (of all stripes)
  • civil rights activists (of all stripes, but particularly GLBT) who have made my relatively open and fear-free existence possible
  • those living examples in my life...Beloved, friends, loved ones, colleagues, community members--all who keep me growing.
I sat and tried to make a list, just first names, of all the people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, and to whom I am therefore answerable on some level. I thought I might make a text cloud of those names and post them here. It quickly became evident that this was going to be an impractically long list...and that posting it isn't the point.

The remembering is the point. Honoring their gift to me by passing it on to others: THAT's the point. I'm going to try to live inside that idea for a while.

Who's on your list?

What are you going to do about it?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Haven't we all had this hair day?

It's like Bill Bryson says:

I have very happy hair.
No matter
how serene and composed
the rest of me
no matter
how grave and formal
the situation,

my hair
is always having
a party.

Here's to happy hair.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A jar of Olivers

A friend sent this to me today; I've done this once with Mary Oliver's work already, but this is far too wonderful not to share:


It doesn't have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try

to make them elaborate, this isn't

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

--Mary Oliver

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Collective hunch

This made me laugh; I love Oprah, but she has traveled a bit past ordinary icon status in the American consciousness. :-) Got me thinking, though (as all funny things will do if you let them), about how we're each traveling in our own little reality on one level.

Just came from a church meeting in which we were discussing the worship folders (bulletins) that we create for use at Sunday worship. We're trying to re-examine our assumptions about what they can/should/must do, in light of:
  • our context as a liturgical church; giving enough direction to be helpful, but not so much as to lead people to just read along and disengage on a real level
  • the view of the person coming to worship with us for the first time
  • the views of various worship leaders/participants
  • stewardship of our resources (staff time, supplies, how-much-paper-should-we-use)
I've noticed that questions about worship often become questions about the worshiping community as a whole, and tonight was no exception. The views from the pews were diverse and passionate, and led to interesting sideline discussions about the whys of our current worship and missional choices. This could easily become a MUCH larger discussion.

They're a good group of people, the souls who have come together to address this set of questions, and they're all "correct"...and each represents one viewpoint of many. So the question becomes one of prioritizing, and of our collective reality as a worshiping community. It seems that the following questions are in play here:
  • Who do we say that God is?
  • Who do we say that we are?
  • How do we welcome the stranger?
  • What is essential to our shared worship life?
  • Are we brave enough to really find out?
I'm looking forward to finding out where this leads.

Because, as the cosmically brilliant Lily Tomlin asks in the voice of one of her characters, "What's reality but a collective hunch?"

OK, Friends, questions for you: what's the Worship Folder Reality in your congregation? What works (or doesn't) about your current practice? All wisdom gratefully received. :-)

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Let me begin by saying
I never once had the upper hand,
but I gave it everything I had.

I shouldn't have expected
to reach Canaan unscarred.

It has not come easily,
this life.
I had to fight, to scheme
for my birthright
(worth so much more
than a mess of pottage)
for my Rachel
(my beautiful,
scrappy stealer-of-gods)
for my visions
(born on pillow
made of dreamless stone).

I shouldn't have expected
to reach Canaan unscarred.

It did not pass quietly,
this night.
I thought this dream, this fight
was with my twin
(older, stronger,
though I can outwit him)
with my past
(my emulous,
scrappy stealing-of-blessing)
with myself
(born to hold on
to my brother’s heel).

I shouldn't have expected
to reach Canaan unscarred.

He did not give quarter,
this Warrior.
I met Him with everything
I could muster
(cunning, swiftness,
my best feints and holds)
through the night
(stubborn darkness
to the straining dawn)
(finally) that
I need His blessing.

I certainly don't expect
to become Israel unscarred.

Let me end by saying
I never once had the upper hand,
but I see, right here, the face of God.

The poem is mine; the painting is the work of
Eugène Delacroix (1861).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nunc dimittis

Krister Stendahl has died.

A creative, visionary thinker and leader, a boldly spiritual, yet humble man--he was a bridge builder. He will be missed by a church and a world dearly in need of voices which remind us to look over the walls we erect around ourselves and our traditions.

Thanks for the boost, Brother Stendahl. Requesciat in pace.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sprung rhythm

I am a slobbering Benjamin Britten fan.

Like many people, I first encountered him in his Ceremony of Carols, which resurfaces every Christmas season...usually via children's or women's choir, and accompanied by a harp. Lovely and austere. But he truly rocked my world in grad school, when I was introduced to his War Requiem. Britten was horrified by war; a conscientious objector in WWII, he was later commissioned to write a work for the consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral (which was erected next to the bombed-out original–an extraordinary story in itself). Britten did a number of brilliant, gorgeous, innovative things with the composition and the premiere. You can read about some of them here. Oh, and the music is heartbreakingly beautiful, too.

My orientation as a choral director is to groove on the interplay between a worthy text paired with a truly complementary musical setting. If this frisson doesn't exist in a piece of music, I don't want to bother with it, or bother my singers or listeners with it. Britten excels at choosing interesting texts and then marrying them to musical settings which bring out the flavors of those texts.

Thus, he winneth my undying esteem. And he has introduced me to another artist with a unique voice: the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

One of my choirs is working on a set of Britten pieces right now: Ad majorem Dei gloriam (translated: for the greater glory of God–the Jesuit motto), based on Hopkins' poetry. He was a Jesuit priest, trying to honor both the radical, innovative artist and the humble priest halves of himself...a little tormented by both his artistic drive and his homosexual one, especially as they chafed his rather stern personal theology. He probably also struggled with depression, possibly bipolar disorder.

Hopkins was an innovator who broke through the Victorian poetic strictures to create sprung rhythm, which alters traditional poetic scansion to allow for speech rhythm. This dovetails beautifully with Britten's compositional style. And, as it happens, with my biggest area of interest as a conductor.

As we've rehearsed these pieces, the concept of sprung rhythm has stayed with me. Hopkins took well-known structures and found a way to simultaneously honor them and challenge them...to make his home in old forms and still let his unique voice be heard. He took elements of poetic structure such as scansion and word play and Biblical allusion, and rearranged them like so many scrabble tiles. He created a way of writing poetry in which the structure actually changed the shape of the imagery...and he accomplished this not by howling in protest at what didn't suit him (he didn't publish anything in his lifetime), but by quietly staying true to the new music in his own soul.

I have a number of GLBT Christian friends and loved ones who are trying very hard to do the same thing: to be themselves authentically, and to continue to live within the forms of the church. This attention to the sprung rhythm of their own lives costs them something every day:
  • the repeated occasion to experience "helpful correction" from Christian brothers and sisters with a different sexual and scriptural orientation–sometimes in the form of anonymous blog posts, sometimes from the pulpit, sometimes in conversation, as if the G, L, B or T person had never heard of a thing called a Bible, and must just have overlooked society's "traditional" take on the family unit–and, sadly, as if this were not already a source of great pain and soul-searching for them
  • employment difficulties, which range from staying in the closet so that they may also stay in a beloved ministry...to finding a radically smaller pool of available jobs after coming out...to watching others, no more called/beloved by God/gifted for ministry than themselves, sail through the ordination process while they must stand by and wait (for...what, exactly?) because they are honest about themselves
  • family difficulties, from outright rejection to willful ignorance to being left out of family gatherings and decisions to sterile, unmoving silence...all of which are grounded in church "teaching"
And yet...

God spoke through Hopkins' poetry and Britten's music (and yes, both men "batted for my team," each in a different century). God is still speaking every day through the lives of GLBT Christians. One of Hopkins' most common poetic elements was that of epiphany...an experience that most GLBTs (pronounced in my world as "glibbits") I know understand well: a still, small voice that speaks in the deepest recesses of the heart–healing, urging forward, daring each soul to find its own rhythm, sometimes even when it doesn't fit into current forms and established patterns.

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.


Blessings, grace, and courage to all you churchy GLBT folks out there...and to all our straight brothers and sisters, too. God is with you, singing in your ear. Find and trust the rhythm of the Spirit...and let's dance!


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Baton envy

...though I don't think much of his stick technique (or his ethics)...

Now there's a conductor I never want to work with. :-)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Don't know whether to laugh or to cry...

Or...I dunno...maybe Jesus' face is pink because he just got embarrassed by this, as some vocal Christians tried to shut down a Hindu religious leader's invocation in the Senate:

I'm continually amazed that people really believe that God needs our "protection." Sounds like righteous hubris to me. Any time we approach God with a "Yo, JC, lemme get this one; I got your back. Let me straighten these fools out..." kind of peer-to-peer attitude with God, we should stop in our tracks. It's usually a sign that we're about to do something (at best) dumb, or (at worst) destructive.

UNLESS–and this is important–that protection we're offering is for the hungry, the outsider, the sick, the weak, and we're addressing God's presence within that person, and humbly trying to get them the things that they need. And we know about those needs because we have extended ourselves, taken the risk of truly listening even though that person might smell bad/like the wrong TV shows/be sinful(!)/see things differently than we do.

That's work that genuinely needs doing. There's no shortage of it, either. Maybe, once everyone's safe and sheltered and clothed and fed–maybe then we could sit down together with a loaf of bread and a glass of wine and argue doctrine?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

That's Matthew 25:31-40. Nothing at all in there about purity, about doctrine, about the "right person" bearing or receiving God's message. Time and again in the Gospels, Jesus wants us to recognize God's presence within our neighbor. Much of the time, it's a neighbor outside our regular circles. Jesus models it, he preaches it, he suffers for it.

Why is that so hard for us? Why do we continue to believe that we have to get somehow Certified that all our doctrinal/dogmatic ducks are in a row before God can act through our lives? Holy cats, if that were true, God would have been on the sidelines since 32 A.D.

Let's try to keep our eye on the ball, people, huh?

As our Hindu brother in the video clip would say, Namaste.

Friday, April 11, 2008

April morning snowstorm haiku

"thirty-six degrees,"
the silver column shivers
like my pinking neck

wafting from the sky,
birds and flakes nearing feeders
jostle for position

fragrant breakfast tea
cozy in my idling car
steams up the windshield

gray-faced commuters
dodge and weave through slushy lanes
with colorless protest

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ruth's song

Entreat me not to leave thee,
or to return
from following after thee:

for whither thou goest,
I will go;

and where thou lodgest,
I will lodge:

thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die,
and there will I be buried:
the LORD do so to me,
and more also,

if ought but death part thee and me.

Ruth 1:16-17 (KJV)

We'll make our way in blithe, concerted grace
within the sun's refracted benediction
which warms the tender, tiny, arcing space
wherein resounds my heart's truest petition:
that we, though stumbling dazed through rayless reach
of night and loss, hold fast to covenant
which binds our hollowed hearts, defying each
reverberation of our keening chant
and as we glean the fields of gleaming gold
and taste their hard-won grains of honeyed wheat
that seeds of fresh joy bloom within our souls
and melodies invite our knowing feet
back to our allemande of blue-tinged leap,
until we rest on wings of cloudless sleep.

Just for the joy of it

I LOVE this idea from Scotland. What fun! :-)

Just proves to me that the shared joy of making music is not necessarily affected by the individual success of making music. How completely counter-cultural, in this, our "up by the rugged-individualist bootstraps" country. You don't have to be a professional musician to access the heart of the music. You don't even have to be good.

Now, before you freak out on me, I'm not suggesting that it's OK not to practice, not to really apply yourself. Improving your technique and respecting the music and your fellow musicians are critical groundwork; it is, at least, our job as musicians not to stand in the way of the music. But in the moment where the magic happens, something fleeting is at work that isn't about technique. It's about honesty and abandon and the aspirational delight of locating yourself in beauty...and locating beauty in yourself.

You just have to be willing, and a little bit brave.


I also heard something inspiring this week. It's the story of Jeff Bauer, a local guy who saw a need on the other side of the world and tried to meet it through visual art. He started a foundation for kids who have survived the madness in Darfur, teaching them to make art as a step toward healing and growing back into their lives. Stop by and visit his website to find out more about (and support) The Beautiful Project.

Now, could we please fund arts education programs? I mean the ones in the public schools and the ones that spring up in communities. My choir is doing a benefit for one of the latter this Saturday. Y'all come, if you're in Minneapolis...and if you're not, it's still possible to support the program through their website. Let's provide opportunities for the next generation to find their way into colorful, musicky joy, huh? Or at least to help them access their inner beauty when there isn't much beauty around them.

Peace, friends--

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The history of the church in six minutes...

...followed by a hilariously astute analysis of church music.

WARNING: Not for the easily offended nor the faint of heart. But if we can't laugh at ourselves, we might as well just sit down and cry.

Blessings, Brother Eddie-and thanks for the gutbusting laugh! :-)

Friday five: Theotokos

That's a name, used mostly in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for Mary, the God-bearer. I first read this term in Penguins and Golden Calves, a spiritual memoir by Madeleine L'Engle. Theotokos is usually translated with sort of a maternal cast, with the emphasis on the "birthing" sense of bearing.

But there are so many definitions of "bear." Dictionary.com lists 33 of them; here are just a few:
  • to produce by natural growth (bear fruit)
  • to hold up under, be capable of
  • to press or push against
  • to carry; bring (esp. in the mind or heart)
  • to render; afford; give
  • to have and be entitled to
  • to tend in a course or direction; move; go
  • to be located or situated
There are many ways to bear God. It's with that in mind that I join in the RevGalBlogPals' "Friday Five" meme this week. In the spirit of today's Gospel lesson, where the disciples on the road to Emmaus encounter a friendly and wise stranger who, it turns out, is the resurrected Christ–this week's Friday Five asks us to list how God has made Godself known to us through the following:

1. Book
The tower of books that would fit this question is so tall that its top is a tiny speck from down here. :-) Wendell Berry's fiction is a current favorite (see this post for further comment), but I've always loved Madeleine L'Engle's poetry and memoir, which describe her experience of a God so vast that God's voice echoes among the nebulae, and yet so intimate as to comfort a lonely child who's riding a train home (alone) to her father's funeral. There is music in her spirit, and it dances across every sentence. Its melody bears God into my own soul.

2. Film
There are many–any time there's a genuinely honest, human moment, I'm moved by a feeling of connection with my fellow travelers and, by extension, with God. The aching loss at the end of Brokeback Mountain, the joy of discovery and of listening to your own inner music in August Rush.

There's another, though–the image of Christ on the cross, filled with "what-if" questions in The Last Temptation of Christ. That one was a big nudge for me–God prodding me to dip a toe into my pool of theological questions, to not try so hard to color within the lines. It was the beginning of my journey into a more honest relationship with God and with myself. It allowed me to acknowledge that wisdom requires risk–that life must be lived in order to be understood (and that's still no guarantee of wisdom!). It had never occurred to me that Jesus might have had doubts, even in that last moment. That he was marked by both his choices and by the shape of his character within his context, and that I needed to be willing to be marked, as well. To bear God, in perhaps the more difficult sense. Transformational.

Also, the series Planet Earth from the Discovery channel never fails to fill me with wonder. Fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed.

3. Song
I heard a local choir perform Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque in concert last year (video clip below). The translated text is thus:

warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn baby.

I refer to that hearing as my "near death experience" now, because I closed my eyes and it was a moment of purest communion. I swam up from the darkness of the concert hall into ever-expanding light and love and color and warmth–and a feeling, as Julian of Norwich said,

that all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.

And, as I was able to wrap my little consciousness around the beauty of that moment, I caught a glimpse of such joy and grace awaiting us as we cannot yet bear. It was a divine encounter. If I never have another like it, I'll never outlive my gratitude for that moment.

4. Another person
Too many to mention (again), but topmost in my mind today are the two older couples at my church who have lovingly assumed "surrogate parent" roles with Beloved and me, since we've had such difficulty with her blood family–their inability to accept us, the return of her mother's cancer, their absence at our wedding and in our marriage. These four souls have been a clear, loving presence in our lives, in celebration and in sadness. S & J, B & D–thank you. You are God-bearers for us.

5. Creation
S & J have lent us their lakeside cabin several times, and there's a hammock there in which I love to lie, reading a book and hearing the sound of the waves lapping the shore, watching and hearing the birds who visit their many feeders. Last time we were there, a little brown one hopped onto a rope at the "feet" end of the hammock and sang to me for a moment. Lovely, lovely. I was at rest, one tiny part of a much bigger, beautiful creation.

Bonus answer: your choice–share something encouraging/amazing/humbling that has happened to you recently!
I was pretty depleted last Wednesday when I arrived at church for rehearsal. I'd had a difficult couple of weeks: church musician's post-Easter hangover; stalled weight loss; my other choir–to my mystified frustration–still unprepared for our upcoming concerts; lonely for and concerned about Beloved, who had traveled to be with her family for five days, in order to deal with various difficulties; stress at my day job; and, to top it off, a vertigo-inducing virus preventing me from doing securely anything that required large-motor movement. Honestly, I was wishing that I could just go home and collapse on the couch.

But I started the evening with a lovely check-in conversation with Wonderful Colleague, which helped me to switch gears. I was then cared for by S & J, B & D. And finally, I enjoyed rehearsal (conducted from a stool instead of my customary podium) so thoroughly that I was completely refreshed by its end. It was partially the spirit of play that overtakes me in even my most cranky moments as a conductor; partially the lovely human beings who come together to form my choir. This is truly community, and it's a privilege to be a part of it.

So, friends, there are many ways to bear God. Mary did it maternally, but I can't escape the idea that we're all Theotokos sometimes, and that our task as children of God is to become God's bearers in as many ways as possible–to say whatever "yes" (as small as a bird's song or as radical as Mary's Magnificat) or whatever "no" is required (yep, you heard me–no is sometimes the right answer), in order to bear God into this broken, beloved world.

Best of all, to "bear" God according to the last of the above definitions: to be located or situated in God.

May it be so, for each and all of us.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


So...just after last post, as if by Divine intervention, Young Poet Friend forwarded this poem to me:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

--Mary Oliver, in Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Oh, YUM. Thanks, YPF. :-)

Put down WHAT duckie?

OK, I'll admit it. I'm tired. I'm having trouble distinguishing between the duckies and the saxophones. What should I put down at any given moment, and what should I play?

Don't get me wrong here--I'm happy and grateful to have so many choices and interests. However, the following versions of me are in competition with one another, at present, instead of cooperation:
  • Physical Me--still in weight-loss mode; have become better at eating and sleeping, but still working on finding time to exercise regularly
  • Spiritual Me--Child of God, in communion with my Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier, not quite managing to find enough quiet time for that communion
  • Married Me--loving (and blessed) partner of Beloved, and member of both our larger families
  • Ministry Me (oh, beHAVE)--expresses my deeply-held value as Child of God doing my bit for tikkun olam (repairing the world) and trying to hold open the windows for the Holy Spirit
  • Friend Me--also about living out relationships as Child of God and member of the Human Family, and besides, it's warm and wonderful and satisfying
  • Musical Me--expresses my gifts, teaches me and mostly feeds my soul
  • Literary Me--expresses my gifts, teaches me and feeds my soul
  • Student Me--always wants to know more, to keep growing
That's my little flock of selves, all real, all of value, and so none of those duckies will gather dust on a shelf over the long term ('cause it'd make me quack up--snicker).

Really need to work on proportion, tough. Have been working much harder at self-care, and it's helping, but not the full answer. Maybe should try for a retreat of some kind...hmmm. But that's not going to happen until mid-May at least.

Meanwhile, Gentle Reader, any interesting resources on centering prayer and/or Sabbath keeping would be gratefully received.