Monday, April 30, 2012

The prayer to St. Raphael, the “angel of happy meeting,” was Flannery O’Connor’s daily prayer and one that she also shared with friends. O’Connor suffered with an illness that limited her greatly and which she knew would be fatal. She was isolated and often lonely, living on the farm in Georgia. Still, she remained focused on “the province of joy,” a place without location in this world and a state in the life to come.

O Raphael, lead us towards those we are waiting for,
those who are waiting for us:
Raphael, Angel of happy meeting,
lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for.
May all our movements be guided by your Light
and transfigured with your joy.
Angel, guide of Tobias,
lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him
on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze.
Lonely and tired, crushed by the separation and sorrows
of life, we feel the need of calling you and of pleading
for the protection of your wings,
so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy,
all ignorant of the concerns of our country.
Remember the weak, you who are strong.
you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder,
in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright
with the resplendent glory of God.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The renewing power of friendship

Friends. Day one of renewal leave concluded with a gathering of friends at the Billiards CafĂ© back in Ayer. It felt like being home. It’s hard to describe the renewing power of being with people with whom we have such a rich shared history: our 12 years in Lunenburg and 5 in Ayer: kids growing up together, the United Parish of Lunenburg, working together to create the Parker School and to expand Habitat for Humanity in Central Mass.

Friendships that have endured struggles and changes. Emily, our oldest daughter was there, too (as were two other offspring of friends) – these folks have known her since before she can remember . I am very thankful for these friendships, and when we are together, I realize how important they are.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Renewal leave, day 1

Today is the first day of a 3 month renewal leave. I’ve been straining towards this day for a while now, tired, discouraged, dulled. Sensing god’s presence, but without much energy to do anything about it. So, here I am, and it feels like a gift.
I have hopes and plans for this time. Traveling – to the Bay area to see our youngest daughter Helen, to Vermont to spend time with my sister and brother – to Maine with friends. I’ve been keeping a reading wish list for months and it’s 4 pages long. 2 introductory art classes will stretch me – for half a century I’ve lived with self applied label “not artistic”. I have several friends I want to reconnect with. There will be time to garden, to bike, to walk in the woods or on the beach with Tony the Wonderdog. There will be time to just hang out with Stewart, and with our other two daughters, Georgia and Emily - without feeling like I need to be doing something else.
It is an amazing privilege to feel called by God to serve in a local church. To share with people on a profound level, to speak for justice and compassion, to teach and preach, to baptize and bury, to help people prepare to marry and heal after divorce, to watch children grow, to walk with folks as they learn to listen to God speaking to them. It is a joy to work with colleagues who are dedicated, creative and inspiring and with lay people who are appreciative and insightful.
But, I find, it also takes a toll. I almost never have two whole days off in a row. Every time the phone rings, or the doorbell buzzes, it may be an emergency. So many evening meetings. Working weekends means not much time for friends and family. Living in a fishbowl (“Hey, I looked out the window during worship and saw a new lamp in your window!”) People who are difficult and unrelenting in their oppositional or judgmental behavior. This is the way it is and I knew it well when I answered the call. Most of the time things stay in balance.
Right now it’s time to hit the reset button. Starting today. It will take time to unwind. I think I’ll move a little book rack downstairs beside my chair. I have two new devotional books. I’m going to get some colored pencils. Tonight, Stewart and I will meet up with friends and family and hear some music.
I am thankful.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Today I wrote this to my congregation:
I’ve been turning over and over in my mind the events of the Maundy Thursday service last night. It’s a highly symbolic and participatory service – from the footwashing to standing together at the communion rail, to watching as one by one, people rise from their seats to remove items from the chancel. It’s very different from other worship services.
Many times during our Lenten journey through the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, I’ve reminded myself – any you- that it my job not to get in the way of your discomfort. For it’s at that point of discomfort that faith grows deeper.
So, every week I invited you, as uncomfortable as it may have been, to find yourself in the story.
To see yourself with the disciples at the last supper, so concerned with what others thought of them, so concerned to be acknowledged for all that they had done to serve Jesus. And then to see yourself with them, nodding off in Gethsemane, intentions so good, but unable to go the distance.
To see yourself as a member of the Sanhedrin, that religious body so concerned with maintaining the status quo that they missed the heart of Jesus’ message. Or in Pilate, knowing what is right, but giving into pressure.
Did you see yourself in the crowd or even in the soldiers who mistreated Jesus? Did you dare to ask yourself in what ways large or small, you sometimes bully or make fun of another?

It’s been an uncomfortable journey, hasn’t it?

And last night, we washed each others' feet. Now, that’s something uncomfortable in so many ways. The sheer physicality of the act – we may be so accustomed to faith as a matter of the intellect, that engaging our bodies in an act of devotion seems strange. It is an intimate act, as well, to take off one’s shoes and to touch the feet of another, to allow one’s own feet to be touched. It’s a shedding of control – for once you sit in that chair, you have no control over who will come and kneel before you and pour warm water over your feet and dry them with a towel. And it is spiritually uncomfortable, too. For I suspect that many of us are uncomfortable with the image of Jesus kneeling at our feet, serving us.
We serve him – that’s the way it should be. But footwashing reminds us that Jesus came to serve us, and only when we let him serve us do we truly dwell in his presence.

I found the experience uncomfortable myself. First, it’s uncomfortable to be the one asking you to do this! But I sat in the chair and Dan McAllister came and knelt and washed my feet. As he did, I remembered that when I asked Dan to take part in the service by reading, I invited him to be a part of the footwashing only if he was comfortable with it. But he acknowledged his discomfort and said,” If I’m in, I’m in all the way.” I thought, “what would it mean to say that to Jesus: if I’m in, I’m in all the way.”

And then I washed Deb Bailey’s feet. As I held her bare feet, I thought about how many times those feet had stood at the counter peeling potatoes or chopping onions, preparing a meal to take to Father Bill’s shelter. I thought about how her feet are feet that serve, and as I dried them I prayed that my feet might serve as hers have.

And then we came and stood, side by side, and ate the bread and shared the cup of the one who washes our feet. Some smiled. Some wept. We sang “my Lord, my Love, is crucified.” And we watched as the Lenten symbols were removed from the chancel and the cross draped in black. And then we left, in silence.