Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The beginning of the Lenten Journey

Last night, my younger daughter bolted into our room, after she should have been asleep. She has been having stomach distress the last couple of days. With my husband downstairs watching TV, she confided that she doesn't think it is a virus. In fact, as soon as her head hit the pillow, her heart started racing and she couldn't sleep, or get comfortable and her stomach started acting up. Knowing the answer she asked the question she might have not dared- "Do you think I am having stress?"
We honestly evaluated the facts: she is in honors classes; she is going to team building sessions for the Youth trip to New Orleans; she is in pit orchestra for the musical and the rehearsals are becoming excessive and tedious. She is trying to still have a life and her art ( which is her release) has suffered. She can never seem to get to it unless she is illustrating or creating for the art class at school she took for fun, but which has become a drudgery. Sounds like stress to me.
SO she resorted to the old stand-by: to come see Mom and climb into the fluffy comfort of the featherbed and unleash her fears- and to go one step farther and own that she really didn't want to leave after that because it was a warm embrace by someone she knew really loved her, no matter what.

This Lent, I am engaging in the Book of Faith Lenten Journey
Over the next 40 days I will contemplate the Lord's Prayer. But for today, I am contemplating the command to "pray like this" as both law and gospel, and the place of prayer in my life of faith in the here and now.
As a seminarian, I would love to tell you that my prayer life is consistently rich and I am constant in my conversation with God. If I did so, I would be lying, more than a little. The truth is: there is prayer in worship at Chapel, but sometimes I am thinking of what comes next in the service, or I am chasing away thoughts of what needs my attention this day. I pray on the way to Seminary, but if it is in the car, God does not have my undivided attention. As a parent I know how frustrated I am when I am not being paid attention to. At the end of the day I am praying, but I am falling asleep, just like those first disciples. On Sunday, if I am serving in worship, invariably I may find I have one eye open to what is needing attention. While this is not all of the time, it is more than I would like to confess.
And I admit that while I open my prayers with thanksgiving, sometimes the race to "Lord, fix this" is sometimes a fast pace.
I try to set aside other time, and to be intentional. Some times this time is in fact rich and rewarding and sustaining, times where I not only talk, but listen. But the truth is I really wish I was better at climbing up into God's proverbial featherbed and just hanging out, even when I am just glad to be in God's presence with nothing else to discuss.
So as I engage myself in this journey, I hope to be more mindful. One of the life-altering events for me was becoming a parent. To see in my child how helpless I was once, to realize this relationship with God; to knowing deep unlimited love and to grasp a whole new dimension of comprehending God; to think of how mere presence without words is rich and sustaining. To see myself, warts and all, in this context with God as the loving and forgiving parent who I yearn to have embrace me.
Tonite when I sink into the featherbed, it will be with a new focus.
SO today's question is : How is your prayer life as you enter Lent?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lenten Disciplines

It's that time of year again. Here in Central PA, today is Shrove Tuesday and involves a)pancakes; b) fasnachts ( and the variant spelling fausnachts); or for the trendy, King Cake with purple, yellow and green sugar ( the safest version of NOLA, but a good way to get the Chicks ready for the Lutheran Youth gathering in the "Big Easy" this summer).
Often times people give something up for Lent, as a way of invoking discipline and returning to God, and a way to conjure up the sense of separation from blessedness in this season leading up to Easter. A time of penitence and contemplation.
While I hope to be diciplined, my thoughts are these: First, I should repent of the things that keep me from maintaining relationships, real and virtual. So to that end I hope to be more faithful in nuturing the true sense of my life with God and with those in my midst- be less self-absorbed, and less distracted. I also hope to pay more attention to my physical self which seems a little out of kilter these days. There is a sense of giving up, but it is a giving up of the things which draw me from God and those whom I am blessed to know.
If I am able to be attentive to this, I will not feel like I gave up as much as I gained. For those Lutheran among us, I encourage you to also join me in the Book of Faith Lenten Journey, which focuses our hearts and minds upon the Lord's Prayer. Each day of the journey involves journaling. I hope to do some of that here- and hope maybe a few of you lurkers will join me on the journey. To close, I quote the words of Henry F. French-" May your Lenten journey be an adventure that leads you to Easter and beyond in the grace of God."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where is God and How do we Know?

Today I met a man in the ER who rolled his car, but was going to be OK- banged up but no broken bones. My job among other things is to catalog a patient's belongings. On his laptop case was a Bible. It was important enough to carry as he commuted to work, and to his appointments among the Amish farming community. In spite of his miraculously being spared any injuries that would have admitted him and caused anguish, when I asked him if he wanted me to offer prayer for thanksgiving, he said no- because he was OK.
Later in the morning I visited a man who has some undiagnosed intestinal problem. He is homeless and suffers from mental distress. He eagerly accepted a visit and shared with me his faith, and pictures of his cat, a stray who found him. Though he occasionally was a little disordered, and his faith was labeled as a "religious preoccupation" by nursing, it was hard to see that this man's faith was just about mental illness. He asked me to pray, he held the Bible and knew it's stories. He told me that I was the first person to visit him. He chided me that Jesus conmmanded that we remember the poor, hungry and homeless. He challenged me as to whether I would stay and listen to him or would I call him crazy. He insisted I look at his blackened toenails- his concern of the day.
He thanked me for listening and for praying.
During our visit, he sat in a chair, as did I. At one point in the visit, a batik cloth he had draped on the foot of the bedrail, spontaneously slid off. I caught it and he professed this as proof of the Holy spirit in the room, and of my being someone open to the Spirit.
It mught be easy to lump him together with other "crazy" people. But I wonder. This man who has nothing and no reason to believe in God, professes the presence of God in his life.
One whose life was spared, carries a text that does not speak to him in a moment defying rational possibility.
Who sees God for who God is?
And how do we know?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ready for Speed Dating

Today and tomorrow are times of concentrated effort as our middler class spends time interviewing with congregations from across the country who are graciously willing to have an intern for the coming year. In this year in particular gearing up has taken an added strenuous times as the economy has in some instances decimated the ability of parishes to support interns. And it has become more challenging for interns to contemplate who to have some level of viability in the year on internship. Given the ages of my children, with LC#1 being a high school senior next year, I am not free to travel just anywhere. Yet, I feel blessed to have six possible locations for my learning experience. Though some see our region as being fairly homeogenous and monolithic, in fact each of these flocks is vastly different from the other, and a few are in very transitional times. From my perspective this translates into my feeling that there are many exciting and challenging opportunities in which I may be stretched and formed in new ways. In the good old days, our internship matching process has been called "the meat market" though I prefer the updated phrase " speed dating."
I have read the profiles, and looked over whatever else the congregation provided as a glimpse into their world, and I have visited websites, talked to old interns and acquaintances of supervisors.
In short, I have done everything I can do. Which is I think the main point. So much of this process is not up to me, and not even up to the supervisors or field education team, but is, I hope and believe, the work of the Spirit in our midst.
Some of my classmates are dealing with great anxiety as they sort out their situations in relationship to the notion of being ready to "mobilize."
I am again reminded of the story in the Gospel of Mark in our recent lectionary of the calling of the first disciples. "Come and follow me on the way" What are the nets we find it hard to cast down? Are we so preoccupied with them that Jesus needs to yell to get our attention?
Jesus says come and FOLLOW me. Even in ministry it is hard to remember that we are called to follow God's lead, not to try to lead God where we want to go. To prepare myself for the way I was blessed to spend two hours with Taize and contemplative prayer and walking the labyrinth by candlelight with some friends in our chapel in the evening. And now, it is time to listen to where God is calling. Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Requiem for Buddy Beagle

Some may recall that over the summer we thought Buddy beagle was not long for this world. Miraculously we saw him through kidney failure in May (when he ate the underwear and got ill). That was the time we had the cell phone on vibrate during the LTSG graduation service because we just weren't sure he would pull through. Then we saw him through liver failure this summer right around when we were headed to Lutheran Summer Music, and we were afraid we woudl be called in Minnesota with bad news. Each time he pulled through and we changed what he could eat, and dealt with medications. Last week he developed gastroenteritis, and it was back to vet before it was time to be at LTSG, then home to make new special food and administer meds and re-work the schedule between my beloved and I for seeing that Buddy got his several small meals a day and meds. But each time he has rebounded.
As Buddy has aged, his walk has developed into the stiff walk of the person with arthritis, or hip trouble. Turning around had become a process. We began carrying him up and down stairs to avoid a fall after a couple wipeouts on the hardwood floors. We changed the height of his food bowl so he could eat more easily until he decided he preferred to just lay down and eat. I chuckled as he developed a new strategy for relieving himself when he was too unsteady for the tripod. He kind of looked like a ski jumper just before the lunge off of the ramp.
Yesterday, I was doign some much needed housecleaning after we got some new storm windows installed. As I was working I realized I heard toenails clicking up the stairs, and suddenly there was Buddy having climbed the 16 steps without assistance. While I was surprised to see him, my mood quickly changed as he promptly settled down on the freshly laundered linens. I have always been his human Mommy, but this was not a good time or place for him to pick. I encouraged him, OK, shushed him out into the landing and got back to my work.
However within a minute I heard panting and howling and scratching of nails on the floor. I came around the corner to find Buddy splayed on the ground, trying desperately to stand, in distress, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, and going to the bathroom.
It became clear that he could not stand, the back half of his body appeared to be useless. And my always unflappable beagle was now moaning and howling and drooling.
Of course it not easy to deal with vet issues on Sundays, but we are blessed with a local vet who has a love of beagles, who agreed to meet us at the animal hospital in 15 minutes. We loaded Buddy onto an old sleeping bag and made the trek, with me sitting in the back seat with him, just like when my kids were little.
After lots of poking and prodding and listening, it seemed that he may have had either a blood clot break loose, or an embolism, and we need to make a decision. It is time to say farewell to a much beloved friend before heading off to seminary for the week.
Last night I realized that though it drives me crazy and interrupts my sleep, my beagle's snores were not a part of last night. There was no little old man on the pillows next to our bed, harumphing through the night. The silence was deafening. This morning I kept thinking I would hear the clicking of toenails on the floor that lets us know it is time to get up and take Buddy out. As I cooked in the kitchen, I realized that it did not matter that I had dropped food on the floor, no one was there to fight me for it, or clean it up either. There was no faithful friend, under my feet, threatening to trip me as I move from room to room. No clanging of the food bowl craning for that one..last..bit that was missed, as though somehow more would materialize. There will be no tufts of grass brought in from the romping on one's back in the yard on a warm day. No squirrels will be sent scurrying by the wheezing bark of our sentinel.
The one thing that I do have though is the tricolored beagle hairs that follow me everywhere, seemingly selectively shed so that no matter what I wear a little bit of Buddy can be ever with me.
I remember one of the hardest things when our last dog died. The sympathy card from the vet, telling us how much our pet meant to them over the years too, and the sadness of knowing that they mean it. And another collar and foodbowl will go in the basement- we cannot get rid of them, though we don't really know why we keep them. And the empty crate will stare at me like the empty chair of Tiny Tim.
After I wrote this the vet called to say Buddy had just passed away in his sleep. While I am sad for this leaving, I am grateful that we did not have to make a decision for him. Farewell, faithful friend.