Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More renewal leave reflections

Here's a portion of an email letter I sent to my congregation this morning, my first day back.

... As many of you know, I have for years met monthly with a spiritual director - someone who helps me to reflect on where and how the Spirit of God is speaking to my spirit. We met last week, and (as she often does) she gave an assignment - to reflect and write on the graces of this renewal leave. There have been many, many graces indeed during these last few months, and I thought I'd share a few of them with you as I re-enter life at Church Hill Church.
One of the primary graces has been time. I've had time do reading and significant self reflection. I have used the tools of the Enneagram, an ancient system for self understanding. I've journaled extensively and I have begun a practice of mindfulness meditation. There has been time to learn again to listen the inner voice of the Spirit. I've had time to read whatever I like. I have posted my renewal leave reading list on my blog here.
There has been time and space for creativity. I've written more about this in my blog. I've taken art classes, worked on "projects," talked about art and creativity with friends. I've visited museums and galleries to enjoy the creative expressions of others. Part of my self reflection has taken shape in collage and drawing and painting.

It has truly been a graceful gift to have time for people. Stewart and I spent two weeks in California, where our daughter Helen has settled. We met her friends, saw the places that are meaningful to her. We also reconnected with several old friends while we were there.

After more than 20 years in parish ministry, I had lost sight of how my unique schedule impacts relationships. With most of my family and friends working Monday - Friday while I work on the weekends, with only Friday off, I haven't had the time it takes to nurture relationships. It was a blessing to spend time with our daughters, to have evenings at home with Stewart. My sister, Beth, and I got together several times, including 4 days in Burlington, VT with our brother, Tom. I was able to go to a niece's housewarming, to help two good friends with the overwhelming task of moving house, and to reconnect with a number people who have been important support in the past. The renewing of relationships was perhaps one of the greatest graces of this renewal leave.
It also has been a grace to have these three months of time without hurrying. I didn't have to worry about leaving important items on my to-do list undone at the end of the day. I jokingly said that it took about the first four weeks of renewal leave before I felt like I'd taken my fingers out of the wall socket, and to feel truly relaxed. What a great blessing to refocus and re-calibrate and to listen for that "still, small voice" which is the Spirit of God and which almost always gets lost in busyness, hurry and stress.
So, friends, I thank you, for enabling me to have the grace of time. There's lots more to share, but mostly I look forward to learning what you have been doing, both individually and as a congregation. I look forward to the possibilities of the fall, and a new program year.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

renewing Art, part 2

Visiting museums and galleries was a highlight of renewal leave. I can't capture it all, but here are some highlights.

The Danforth Museum (Framingham): Bob, our drawing teacher took us on a tour of the exhibits – primarily a juried show of local artists in many media. It is so inspiring to see where the creative spirit takes people.

The Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park: (Lincoln): this is one of my favorite local museums, and our drawing class enabled us to spend focused time over three visits with some of the outdoor sculptures. This was one of my favorite multi media, indoor installations.

The Fuller Craft Museum (Brockton): Since I love Contemporary American craft, this is my very favorite local museum. I visited twice during renewal leave, once on my own in May, and then again with 3 friends who came for a four day reunion in early July. Fuller currently has an exhibit of contemporary blacksmithing,

and an exhibit of the glass work of Dan Dailey has been there a while. His work is amazing, luminescent (he worked for a time with Dale Chihuly ) and has a sense of humor.

Fuller has a good outreach program with local schools, and on display is the result of a school’s work on quilting the theme of “America, the Beautiful.”

I’m surprised how many people in this area haven’t discovered the Fuller. It’s a hidden gem in Brockton. Go there.

The MFA (Boston): I spent most of a day at the MFA, primarily in the American wing and the contemporary wing. Even though I have been to these wings many times, there is always something new. Again, one highlight was student work. Under the guidance of artist Hannah Burr, students from eight after-school community organizations in the Boston area responded to works from the MFA’s collection, in very original ways. Though I don’t usually do it, this time I took a tour of the contemporary wing, which helped me to see some of the familiar work in new ways.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: I went with my sister, Beth, and a friend, Paulette, for my first time to see the new wing. It’s bright and beautiful, with an expanded restaurant, gift shop, a 300-seat performance hall with three balcony levels. I hadn’t read much about the wing, so I was a little surprised to find that it contains very little actual art. Since nothing can be moved from its original location, the art is still all in Gardner’s magnificent home. There is so much crowded into the galleries that I always find something surprising. I wish there were better access to the dozens and dozens of amazing sketches and drawing on the hinged panels in the Long Gallery.

The Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston) is another favorite – Stewart and I are members here as well as at the Fuller. I visited twice during my renewal leave. My favorite visit was with Jane, my “museum buddy.” Jane is an artist ( She and I love to talk about the works we see, and during our last visit, one of the staff engaged us in a discussion about a particularly obtuse (to us, at least) piece of work. There is great energy at the ICA. Since I do not know much about art, I’m always challenged by what I see there.

When we were visiting Helen, we visited the Berkeley Museum of Art and saw some very interesting photographic work by California artists. Helen and I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (one of the places where Helen is doing installation work).

Katarina Wulff was their “new artist” – her paintings of figures and landscapes are strange and beautiful. I was overwhelmed with the work of a photographer whose name I can’t remember (argh, I hate that). I’ll have to ask Helen.

Renewing Art, part 1

One of the hopes that I had for my renewal leave was to spend time making/learning about/ seeing art.
I took a wonderful drawing workshop at the Danforth Museum in Framingham with Bob Collins, a local artist. I also took a series of classes on drawing with colored pencils at the Decordova Museum in Lincoln. What I'm enjoying most is a class I’m still taking in collage/mixed media with Gary Nisbet at the South Shore Arts Center. I’ve enjoyed doing collage for many years and I’m excited to be learning some new techniques.
I’ve also continue to work on my rug making – though at a slower pace. On the way home from my visit in Burlington, VT with my sister and brother, I took a detour. I stopped at a barn somewhere in mid state Vermont (forgot the town) where Amy Oxford, the grande-dame of punchneedle rug hooking, was having a barn sale of rug material and equipment.

And, this week, on our way home from Stewart’s bike/camping adventure, we stopped in Bath, ME at Halcyon Yarn, a major distributor for yarn and yarn craft materials. It was like walking into a rainbow – a converted old shipping warehouse, filled from wooden floor to high ceiling with wooden bins of yarn of every description – rooms of it. Stewart had a great conversation with the friendly clerk there about spinning. We’ll see if that becomes his new winter hobby. If he spins it, I will hook with it.

Renewal leave reading

As it turns out, I was not very disciplined about keeping my reading list updated during renewal leave. I did a lot of reflecting in my journal, but it didn't make it to this spot.
But I've kept a (mostly complete) list of the titles I have read. One indulgence I allowed myself is that I did not finish any books that I didn't like. If it didn't capture my imagination within 50 pages, it went into the library return slot unfinished. I recently came to the awareness that if I read 2 books a week, that's just over 100 books in a year. There are too many good books out there to get bogged down in those I don't like.
Here's my list for May - July, 2012.
Non fiction
The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson
Self Compassion by Kristin Neff
The Province of Joy: Praying with Flannery O’Connor by Angela A. O’Donnell
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That? By Henry Alford
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
Lady Almina by Fiona Carnavon
God is not a Christian by Desmond Tutu
The Man who Loved Books Too Much by Alison Bartlett
God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet
Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer
The House in France by Gully Wells
The Best American Travel Writing 2010
The Best American Spiritual Writing 2012


Best Love, Rosie by Nuala o’Faolain
A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman by Margaret Drabble
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
Gourmet Rhapsody and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
The Drop by Michael Connelly
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: my year of magical reading by Nina Sankovitch
Louise Penny: all seven of her mysteries set in Quebec
Jonathan Kellerman: 3 detective novels
Faye Kellerman: 2 detective novels
Clive Cussler: 2 thrillers
The Best American Short Stories 2010

Monday, June 4, 2012


I’m trying to keep track of what I am reading while on renewal leave. It is such an indulgence to have time to read – to just read whatever I want. I love having several books going at the same time – a couple of “serious” books here by my reading chair, and another couple of lighter works upstairs by the bed and next to the TV, one on my ipad and, of course, the recorded books in the car.
I’ve mentioned a couple of books in previous posts, so here are a few disconnected thoughts on some of the other books I’ve recently finished:
Just before we went to California, I hurriedly loaded Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James onto the ipad. James is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read most of her other books over and over. Having read nothing about this new work, I assumed it to be another in the Adam Dalgleish series. As the plane took off and we reached the altitude where electronic devices are permitted, I opened the ipad and was astounded. James has written a follow up to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” (Pemberly, I had forgotten, is the estate in Derbyshire of Fitzwiliam Dacry, whom Elizabeth Bennet marries at the end of Austen’s novel). James does a wonderful job of recreating the setting and the ambiance and of bringing Austen’s characters once more to life. The mystery itself was not, for me, the highlight, but what a wonderful way to begin our trip.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: Barnes won the 2011 Booker Prize for this novel. To me, it’s a book about memory – the way our memories shape our current lives as well as the tricks our memories play on us. We tend to think of our memories as factual recordings of events as they happened, but that’s far from true. When my sister, Beth , and I get together, we enjoy comparing our memories of growing up – of events and people. Sometimes our memories coincide, sometimes we have different but complementary memories of the thing, and sometimes we can hardly believe we are talking about the same event. Barnes’ novel is short, but exquisite.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon: I didn’t watch the PBS series, but I did enjoy the sort of voyeuristic glimpse into the life of the great house. In the United States, we take pride in our delusion of a classless society. This book is a trip back to a time and place where rigid class divisions were accepted without much question. I’m looking forward to reading another book or two about Downton Abbey written by people who are not so deeply invested in presenting a rosy, uncritical picture. To read this book, you would think that Lady Almina was practically a saint!
The Brutal Telling and A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny: delightfully traditional murder mysteries, set in the tiny Canadian village of Three Pines, somewhere outside of Quebec City. Chief Inspector Armande Gamache is all you could want in a fictional detective – insightful, compassionate, patient. I love to read these formulaic stories, I think because it is so reassuring to know it will all be tidied up by the end.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


In her book, “Practicing Resurrection,” Nora Gallagher writes about the death of her brother, her Episcopal church in Santa Barbara, her marriage, and most of all, about discernment. She senses God calling her to something and she thinks it might ordained ministry. Or then again, it might not be. This book is a story of her struggles, her waiting, her listening for something, anything that will clarify the “call.” It’s a story of people, some who go with her on the journey, some whom she encounters briefly along the way.
One of these people says to her about her sense of ‘call’: If you use supernatural language then you end up waiting for a lightning bolt, instead of sticking to your own life… ‘Call’ makes you think of a voice from outer space, which it is not. These voices are in us already. They are drowned out or muffled. Discernment is about cleaning up the clutter to find the thread.” (p. 17)
Cleaning up the clutter is harder than it sounds. The temptation (for me) is to replace one kind of clutter with another. What I really need is empty space.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Henry Alford’s “Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners” is a witty look at the state of manners in the contemporary world. It’s not so much a prescription or even a lament as it is an observation. So many of the stories are (sometimes sadly) funny .

It did make me think a bit about state of manners in the church. I’m tempted to go on a long rant. Letting people stand or sit by themselves at fellowship time (all the while insisting that we are don’t do that). Telling a newcomer “you are sitting in our pew.” Witnessing someone saying to a newcomer “you are sitting in our pew” and not doing anything to mitigate it. Telling someone “you can’t do it that way” without first finding out the whole story. Talking in “code” that other people can’t understand, making them feel like outsiders.

OK, so I gave in to temptation and ranted (those are a few of the things I have observed or heard about in the past few months at my church).

But Alford’s book made me think that manners in the church are like manners anywhere else. Good manners mean making people feel recognized and welcome and included. Not embarrassing people. Thinking of things from the other person’s perspective. Recognizing that other people have different perspectives and life experiences just as valid as yours.

He quotes Edmund Burke, an 18th century writer, who said that “manners are more important than laws.” Even the unspoken and unwritten “laws” in the church. Manners, I think, are about hospitality to everyone. And isn’t that what we should be about in Christ’s church?