Thursday, July 31, 2008

We're STILL settling for too little, even in Worship

I spent last week as chaplain at our Episcopal Church camp, Camp Washington, with children age 9-12. I returned wonderfully exhausted. The campers for whom I was chaplain were there for a week of the arts - writing, drawing and painting, and dance. I participated in all these areas - dance, at age 63, with my knees already shot from years of dance in my youth, was the most challenging, since even now I can't keep from dancing but it wreaks havoc with my legs. I learned to salsa, which puts more strain on the knees than the dance the young people were learning over the week, but it was worth it!

I learned excellent techniques for jump-starting my writing when writer's block hits. I even started a young people's "chapter book" on Billy the Spacegoat ( the class decided on the theme!).

I drew, painted, charcoaled, pasteled. It was a very fruitful week.

The highlight, however, was of course the kids. Challenging, broad spectrum of behaviors, gifted. Reminds me of how tired I get when people say "Children are the future..." of whatever. They are not the future. They are not our future. They are not the future of the church. They are, here and now.

They are themselves. They are the church. They are the world. To say they are the future gives us unwarranted permission to set them aside until they grow up and take over. To put them in Sunday School classrooms, often in the basement, during church because they cannot "behave" properly in church - to which I am tempted to use a British epithet, "bollocks".

And so, off I go again, dreaming of the church that could be, if only I could figure out how to break through the decades of conditioning of church people who see Sunday worship as their quiet time, as personal time, private time with God.

I blame the years of Morning Prayer as the primary worship in the days of my youth! When I was in elementary school, we worshiped at All Saints in Millington, New Jersey. George Rath - Mr. Rath we called him - was the minister - we did not use the word priest in those days. Morning Prayer was the norm on Sunday. Holy Communion, we called it, was once a month. Morning Prayer is appropriate "private time" with God, private in community.

Holy Communion, Eucharist, is not private time. This is the big Thanksgiving Dinner, the feast, the party. The whole family is there. It is noisy and even raucous. Children are appropriately present in all their messiness and frankness and antsiness and spontaniety.

Now that Eucharist is the norm for the principal worship of the week, there is no service, at least in the churches which I have attended since 1981, for that private worship time. And the people of my generation and earlier have been conditioned by Morning Prayer services to view all church attendance as private time with God, sedate, proper, well behaved, orderly.

And so, I'll be frank with you - children really are not welcome at Episcopal Church services of worship - unless of course they can behave themselves.

The service of Eucharist is the primary formational instrument for shaping Episcopalian Christians in the church. It needs to start with infancy and baptism. The child needs to experience being at the Thanksgiving Table every week. They need to experience the joy of being part of the family of Jesus, who ordered that the children be allowed to come to him in the midst of the adults and put no restrictions on their behavior in doing so.

Well, this is another of those things, like in the previous post, which I would like to be part of before I retire or die - the primary worship (not relegated to "The Family Service" or "The Children's Chapel" but the primary service of worship) as the entire family gathered around the table - not in polite, school-like rows of pews but around the table - singing, dancing, telling stories to one another about Jesus and the prophets and Jacob the Trickster, sharing what their week has been like, where they have seen Jesus and crying together over the parts where Jesus has been absent, and then, all together, shouting, yes shouting, the Great Thanksgiving, lifting up the gifts of God, the bread and wine, and dividing it among themselves and feasting. Children might pay attention, they might be playing or running or dancing over in some other part of the room, they might all of a sudden hear what the priest is saying and ask the crucial question, "You mean, he DIED?!!!!" for which everything would stop and we could have a teaching moment - all of it is still part of the celebration.

And trust me, you have no idea how much children absorb when you think they are not paying attention.

Is there anyone out there, reading this, who also hungers for worship like this? How do I find you? How do we get together?

And as for that private time with God, well, this fall I'm initiating "Practicing Prayer", 45 minutes after Eucharist, once a month, for that very thing - private time, in a group, with God, practicing prayer, learning ways to pray, on an adventure together toward God.

As a priest I'm supposed to take people as they are, care for them, not rock the boat, because church people have become what they are honestly; they are what they have been taught and conditioned to be. I get that.

At the same time, I have this hunger, this dream, this vision, and I cannot believe that such a dream will have to die with me without my ever living it out in a community that will embrace it, mess and noise and all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why do we settle for so little in our religion?

Do you want God? Do you really want Jesus? Do you want God in your life, Jesus as an integral part of your life? Do you even know what that means, to have God in your life? Why do you want God in your life? What is God for, for you?

This morning, with the Black Dog, or at least its pup, yapping at my heels, these are the questions I ask. I have long known that the God we worship, the God to which we pray is too small, not God at all, even though GOD accepts our worship and hears our prayers and cares for us insofar as that would be good for us in the scheme of things, even when helping us, which is what we want, impedes the fulfillment of God’s dream which is all creation and all life.

We could reach for the stars. We can become all fire. We can, in this life, be so united to God that we are consumed with transforming our world and the lives in it. All I want to do is be a priest – to lead people into meeting GOD, while I myself search for GOD beyond the God we worship. To teach, to listen to your stories, to help you see GOD in the midst of the cares and worries – the flesh, one woman put it – that gets in the way, leaving only Sunday morning as the one chance to be more than our rest-of-the-week self.

We have settled for too little. It is right that we should pray for the Church, and for those who are in need, for those who are sick and for the dead. It is too small a thing to then expect God to fill our requests while not asking for and expecting God to transform us into people who will make a difference – in the Church, with those in need, those who are sick, those who are dying, those who mourn the dead. It is too small a thing because GOD, the true god, is waiting, hoping, dreaming of us praying to be made all fire, all flame, a light to the nations, and the glory of GOD’s own self in the world.

I’m going to say this, and some may be hurt by it, for which I am deeply sorry: I desire to serve a people, before I retire or die, who want to be all flame. I want this more than anything. We don’t need a church building, or high overhead, just people with dreams of being more, of being useful, of making a difference. People who are willing to take into themselves the constant cry of the angels and Jesus himself, “Do not be afraid!”

Are you out there? How do I find you? I would give up everything to lead and serve you (although of course I haven’t run this by Beloved yet, Newlin that is, or thought about how we will support ourselves or where and how we will live – details, details, details!)

But there it is – I dream, and I dare to think that dreams can come true, can be real, and I dare to believe that it is dreams like this for which GOD keeps waiting, and hoping, and dreaming. And even then, my dream may be too small a thing, and so I put myself in GOD’s hands to enlarge the dream as much as my aged body and soul can take.

I have to go into the office now. Do you want to know why I go into the office, really – in addition to the two appointments I have? I live in constant hope that in doing so I will one day meet GOD, the true God, face to face, in someone who wants to be all that GOD dreams us to be. There is always that chance. I have that dream, and I don’t think dreams are given lightly, especially the dreams of becoming all flame.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Art and the Spirit

A few weeks ago, on a thread on Jake's Place, a blog that is now closed because sometimes a person has to move on, I posted the following comment:

"Art - looking at it, singing it, playing it, listening to it, reading it, painting, drawing, writing it definitely drives my spiritual growth and is, in a real sense, my spirit. My connection with God, with Christ, with the Spirit, with the Trinity is not there without art. Art is like my primary language - the language of my spirit. I have never fully understood this until [recently]. I will have to write about this on my blog - maybe tomorrow. There's so much of art wrapped up in my awakenings, or are my awakenings wrapped up in art?"

Last week, June 30th, was my 63rd birthday. Newlin and I spent it with our friend Christopher in New York City (known hereafter as "The City"). I wanted to see The Waterfalls, four water installations by Olafur Eliasson, on the East River, at Brooklyn piers 4 & 5, pier 35 in Manhattan, Governor's Island and under the Brooklyn Bridge.

I'm not big on astrology, but I am a Cancer, which is a water sign, and all my life, even long before I knew about water signs, I knew that I had to be near water - always - preferably ocean water but rivers and lakes will do, especially big rivers. The East River does very well.

Add to the East River these four scaffolds of different sizes, heights and orientations, with water cascading over them being blown about by the wind and I was in seventh heaven.

At first, from the foot of pier 17 we found a place from which we could see all four waterfalls at once from the land. They're not close to one another. One is on the Manhattan side, another on the Brooklyn side, one on the side of an island in the river near the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and the other between the first two, at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, facing the Manhattan side.

I am at a loss as to why these waterfalls are so important to my spirit. We spent almost the entire day seeing them. We took a Circle Line boat out on the river just to get close to them. It was even more magical to be in a spot on the river from which we could see all four at one time. This was the best of all worlds, to be on the water, looking at water pounding down from great heights, falling in sheets, cool, independent, taking their life from the river and giving it back again, but never the exact same life. The river water that is drawn up at this moment is not the same water that will be drawn up in the next second. The river keeps flowing away from the waterfall.

I wish I could say some really profound thing that would make sense of all this, but I can't. All I can do is gaze in wonder and delight, and, now, today, to remember that wonder and delight still with me, part of me, living in a place within me that will feed me in ways I don't yet understand.

I hope the link works. Go have a look. The photos are nothing like being there, but they're close. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Strength of Memory

I'm an untidy gardener. I simply cannot be ruthless with volunteers in the garden nor with weeds in the lawn.

The garden plot where I sowed zinnia and cosmo seeds last year is this year a vegetable and herb garden - beans, lettuces (now gone by), cucumber plants, parsley, thyme, basil, camomile, carrots and radishes sown together (the radish seedlings break open the ground making it easier for the feathery carrot seedlings to push through), golden beets. But before any of this came to be, there were the obvious volunteer cosmo seedlings - seeds which matured and dropped to the ground last year, wintered over and voluntarily germinated this spring.

Volunteer plants seem to me to be much stronger than those sown on purpose. These are vigorous cosmo plants, with thick, strong stems. They have just begun to bloom. Fortunately I love cosmos. Unfortunately, if I were not at least a little ruthless, the vegetables and herbs would not stand a chance, so I pulled some up and replanted them to what became the zinnia bed this year, and others I just plain pull up and throw on the compost.

Still, there are an awful lot of cosmo plants. However, some of them I can put to good use - lettuces don't like the hot, sunny days of summer. They bolt (go to flower and then seed, turning the leaves bitter). The cosmo plants are casting shade on the area where I would like to reseed lettuces and arugula. I can use that shade for the time being, to extend the season for these luscious leafy greens.

But even at that, as I sat on the flagstone patio this morning, sipping my Earl Grey Tea with Lavendar, and saying Morning Prayer and reading the psalms for the day, I looked over the gardens, and I realize that the veg/herb garden could stand for me to be a little more ruthless still - and I could stand to do with a few fewer cosmo plants.

Meanwhile, I gazed at the lawn between the garden and the patio, the lawn I haven't mown for two weeks now, which, since I'm using a reel mower, the kind with no power source except my feet and arms, is creating a problem. But, you see, there are English plaintain in the lawn. Now, as a teacher, I am not going to succumb to posting a link for you. You must go and find out for yourself what English plaintain look like. They have long, slender leaves, which stay close to the ground. Long thin stems rise above the surrounding grass, topped with small, scruffy heads given to tiny whitish flowers which themselves grow on tiny threads in a crown around the flower head.

They are not beautiful flowers. But one morning last week, I looked out on the lawn and was transported back to the days of my childhood in Millington, New Jersey, and the yard of Mrs. Brunowski and her daughter. The early morning sun fell across the lawn, the humidity made just a little haze to heighten the magical effect, and the heads of the plaintains, tipped just a tiny bit by dew, shone. From them arose those little gaggles of gnats, the hatch of the day, swirling in little tiny groupings about the flower heads. It all felt just like I remembered the magic of being in the Burnowski garden on River Road, where Mrs. B., who was not strong, would sit in a wicker chair in the grass, which was always a little untidy. I wish I could describe it for you, but I can't, and you must trust me that it does not matter.

What does matter is that because of the strength of that memory, I cannot bring myself to mow the lawn, not just yet, just in case I will again be sitting on the patio at just the right time of morning to have that same set of circumstances occur which will transport me back to a memory which now owes more to my vivid imigination than fact, and is far more important than fact.

For the health of the plants in my gardens, I do have to take a few minutes each day to pull up a few weeds. But truly, I have no intention of pulling up the nonfactual memories that give richness to my spirit, weeds though those memories may be. One persons weeds could very easily be my wild flowers. I will not part with them until the day comes when I must, even if it means living with an untidy garden.