When I was sixteen, I went to New York City. It was my first time. I traveled with the high school band on a bus, riding all the way from Marietta, Georgia to ‘The City That Never Sleeps.’

I don’t recall getting a lot of sleep either as the band performed concerts in New Jersey, as we were turned loose to tour the City. Looking back, I don’t know what the band director was thinking, letting a bunch of fifteen and sixteen years olds from a provincial town in the Deep South go in groups of five or six on our own to see the sights. We were given certain boundaries and avenues to stay between, but still–this was 1971 or so and a different city than the one we know now.

Few, if any of us, had urban savvy. But we knew how to have fun. We rode the subway talking to perfect strangers, making much racket with our southern accents and loud laughs. I remember how sad I felt seeing so many people who looked so gray–their clothes, their newspapers in hand, their faces. They stared at us without words while we chatted and smiled away, tried to engage them in conversation. Looking back now, I realize how obnoxious we were, but also what an amusing diversion we must have provided to those tired or lonely or cynical souls going to work. I realize now, you don’t have to talk or smile to be kind.

Let’s just say I was a ‘creative’ dresser in high school. Like many during those years, I wore long and flowing dresses, blue jeans with patches, and peasant blouses. But I believe what might have separated me from the herd was the degree of creative. For instance, long black gloves or mismatched socks or…a green cape.

Once when I was a junior, we celebrated international day. I proudly sported a beautifully embroidered pink silk “Happy Coat’ my grandparents had brought me from Korea. My chemistry teacher said, “Patty, I have one question: Are you dressed for international day or is this just a regular ‘Patty Day’? That pretty well sums up the degree of creative and different which characterized my wardrobe. I must admit, I had fun.

I learned so much on that trip to NYC. I learned I would never want to live in the tiny boxes called houses lined up like carbon copies along the highway as we drew north. I learned that you shouldn’t wear a full skirt on top of the Empire State building on a windy night. I can still get a belly laugh and see how the wind lifted Robin’s skirt–and slip–straight up over her head with legs exposed from the waist down. And how we roared with exhilaration. We felt so free in the magic of the moment, the bridges’ lights twinkling in the distance.

And I learned about the power of words.

I’ll never forget the moment when the band director pulled me aside on the bus. The students had exited into the auditorium to prepare for the evening concert. We sat side by side. He told me that some of my peers had complained to him that I was ’embarassing’ them with my dress. Mind you, I had taken special care to pick out my best clothes to go on the trip. I was so excited I couldn’t even sleep the night before.

And then he asked a rhetorical question about the green cape I wore: What is that, an army blanket?!

I was stunned and tried to hold back tears as I recalled how dear the cape was, how much I had desired it as I looked through the glass window in the store, how my daddy had spent a good portion of a weekly salary to purchase it and make his daughter happy.

And besides that, it was a deep forest green, not the bland yellow tone of the Army blanket. Granted, it was dramatic as it touched the floor, but it reminded me of Guinevere or the Sherwood Forest. It had a lovely hood and braided piping and was fine wool.

In looking back, I am certain the band director was stressed with the pressure of being responsible for so many teenagers performing far from home. But his words–and the students who complained–made a lasting impression.

Judaic tradition teaches us about the power of words. Words once spoken have a life of their own and cannot be retracted. They leave our lips to create life and to destroy. That day, a little part of me died.

As I reflect over my own life and the words which have escaped my mouth I am grieved at some of them. Words which have stung or discouraged, words which were carelessly flung or unnecessary or withheld. And words which cannot be returned.

I am more careful now, more prudent and kind. And yet, on occasion, I still speak words I am sorry for later.

Jesus spoke the world into creation and is the Word. Humans, made in God’s image, speak our own creations. We lift up or we destroy. We encourage or we ignore or we simply avoid in careless chatter.

I think God calls us to a higher standard and gives us the grace to “speak the truth in love.” Does this mean our words never hurt? Probably not, as hurt is part of the human condition, especially when we work towards the honest and authentic communication necessary for intimate and good relationships.

Yet, when we realize the power in the tongue we become more circumspect. We choose our words carefully. We check our intentions.

I haven’t worn my green cape in over thirty years. Except in private. I wrap up in it on a cold winter day as I sit on my porch. It has moth holes and a frayed hem but is still beautiful and romantic and warm. And though I am an adult woman over fifty, I am reduced to a sixteen year old when I think of that moment long ago.

One of my prayer practices comes each morning when I anoint myself with oil. I ask God for many things as I touch my head, my ears, my heart, my hands. I place oil on my tongue and invite God to be in charge of my words, “To say everything You want me to say and nothing You don’t.” I am certain I am disobedient at times or simply don’t listen to the Spirit, but I believe it is a good practice for I know the power of words.

There are people in our lives who break our hearts. We do the best that we can.

Jesus knows about this heartache–when you want to die. When you do. Somehow, that helps me when my own heart is breaking. It helps me feel the pain, bear it, know its source. It also helps me understand the other. The need and the call to compassion.

I think most of us do the best that we can most of the time. Ultimately, our best will disappoint others, ourselves. And will go deeper, to truly wound. We all share the nails in our hands, the pierced side. We bleed from the inside out. We wear our crown of thorns.

Life is messy. Not just in childbirth and death, but the moments in between. We struggle to love ourself and others. And then we fail, again and again.

I don’t think this ‘failing’ is intentional. It just is. It is part of the human condition and our life on the earth, so flawed and beautiful.

Sometimes, the ones who break our hearts give us the greatest gifts. Through them we see ourselves, broken vessels leaking Love. Here is where the Mystery begins. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. St. Francis’ prayer is true.

I believe when we are most wounded, when our hearts break with grief and we can bear no more suffering is when we are joined with God in the most intimate way, in union.

Ask Julian and the Teresa’s, ask William of St. Thierry, Merton, or Bonhoeffer. Ask the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Ask your own father and mother. Ask me.

Scripture states “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10.39b). For years, I would ask people what they thought this verse meant: my Bishop and District Superintendent, friends, parishoners. I ask you now, what does this mean?

The paradox of the Gospel keeps it interesting and causes us to curse. We cry out from our own crosses, Why are we forsaken?! We spend the night in the garden on our knees.

The most excruciating moment in the movie Ghandi comes for me when a man, racked by hatred and pain, visits Ghandi on his deathbed begging him for wisdom. The man’s son has been killed by the opposition in the horrendous religious war between the Hindus and the Muslims. Ghandi is on a hunger strike until the fighting ends.

Ghandi’s words for the man are something like this: You must adopt a son who has lost his parents in the war, from the opposition. The man is horrified and thinks it is impossible. But then, the crack becomes a gaping hole, and his heart is opened in Love. The next time he sees Ghandi, he has his new child in tow and you can see the peace on his face.

God asks a lot of us and perhaps here, more than any other place, when we are hurt by those we love, is when we know the greatest grace.

I think Jesus appreciated a good ass. Why wouldn’t He? He was a man.

For those of us who find this thought uncomfortable, I would suggest we haven’t really embraced the early Church’s teaching which claimed that Jesus was fully divine and fully human.

The key word here is ‘fully.’  Not half and half. It took the Church many years and bloody intellectual battles to develop this profound theology. Like the Trinity, it is a doctrine many of us struggle to understand.

The early ‘fathers’-doctors-of the faith wrestled with opposing forces. On one hand, the gnostics claimed Jesus was merely some ephemeral spirit. They weighed in heavily on the ‘divine’ side which logically moved into dangerous territory so that Jesus wouldn’t really suffer on the cross or die a real death, or know hunger or fear or pain.

On the other hand, there were those who only recognized Jesus’ humanity. For them, He was a good man. And that was all.

I believe most of us err on the side of Christ’s divinity and have trouble with the humanity concept–until it comes to the cross. We strain to see Him as a boy, an adolescent, a young adult, a man. In part, I believe this is because we have so little to go on…just a story about his bar mitsvah when He stayed behind in the Temple and worried His parents to death. Mostly, the Gospels jump from the birth narratives to Jesus at thirty getting baptized by John, calling his disciples, turning the water into wine.

Christology–or the doctrine we believe about Christ–is complicated. I don’t pretend to understand it all. But I do think his humanity is critical if we are to live fully human lives on this earth.

And so, I like to think of Jesus as a man. I like to think of him, not as some vague universal model, but in the particular. A Jew, a Galilean, a son, a friend.

In 1995, I got to go to Israel. It was on one of those group tours which pastors often help lead. My parents were along too. I had no idea how much the trip would impact me as we stood beside the Jordan River, gazed out at the Sea of Galilee, walked the streets of Jerusalem, traveled on the road to Jericho.

But perhaps the most significant moment came when our small group worshipped in a Jewish synagogue in Nazareth, built over the ancient one. I had the priviledge of bringing the message that day in the imtimate space with carved out rock benches along the wall.  I’ll never forget what my father voiced in that moment: He said he could hear Jesus asking, “How do you like my home town?”

That pretty well sums it up, this concept of Jesus as man, as human, as one of us.

And so, I do not think it is a stretch to think that Jesus appreciated a ‘good ass’–I mean women’s in particular. I believe he loved women and honored us by valuing our opinions, seeing us as people, listening and talking to us like we mattered in a world which tried to silence and diminish our voice.  

Like other men who respect women, Jesus had many women friends. Some would even call them disciples as they traveled with Him on His mission, sat at His feet and listened to His teaching, engaged in honest and intimate dialogue. I think Jesus uderstood the distinction between an appreciation of women’s gifts–including our physical beauty–and any thing which comes close to objectifying or demeaning them.

I will reserve future blogs to visit some of the intricacies of this conversation–the ‘without sin’ part of His humanity and what qualifies as sin; the difference between the ‘Christ’ and Jesus in theology and what that means for people who are not first century male Jews from a small nation in the Middle East; the high Christolgy found in John’s Gospel which names Jesus as the Word, the Creator of the universe; the futility of a search for the ‘Historic’ Jesus and how we can escape that trap. Those discussions are not what this blog is about.

Instead, this blog is about Jesus’ humanity and my own and, more specifically, my humanity as a woman. It is about what it means to still struggle with issues of gender, with sexuality, with sin, with the timeless dance between women and men.

I believe in the divinity of Jesus. I love the beautiful text in John’s first chapter, linked to Genesis: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And then the astounding fourteenth verse–and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Those words get me every time. For Love is embodied here. And our very existence on this earth–all creation–is both honored and redeemed in the truth of these words.

I also like to think about Jesus as a man, imagine his great beard and receding hairline. I like to think of his soft appreciative look as he talked with the woman at the well, lifted up the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned, dined with the Mary’s.

For me, personally, I find much comfort and joy right here, as I celebrate what it means to be fully human and fully woman.

So Jesus, this morning, I thank you that you liked and valued women, that you took them, and therefore me, seriously. And that you surely appreciated our ‘ass’ets.

Let It Be and Bill Ector

April 26, 2010

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.

On July 9, 2008, Bill Ector passed away. He was 56. The memorial service was held in the auditorium of the old Marietta High School. It was a beautiful celebration of his life with eloquent tributes from family and friends. Gifted musicians played. Those in attendance were a great mix of ‘old Marietta’, aging long hairs, young people, and Allman Brothers‘ fans.

I think of Bill a lot. I think about the short time we dated and were friends. I think about his impact on my life.

Now, I am Catholic. We believe in saints. We pray to them for help and protection for our lives and to intercede to Jesus on our behalf. I find myself talking and praying to Bill.

I am sure I am not alone and many others think of him too.

Scripture tells us that whoever loves is born of God and knows God (I John 4.7b). If those words are true, then Bill and God are best friends and have been a long time. For Bill was one of the most loving and kind persons I have ever known. Many spoke of this shared experience of him at the service: next door neighbors and friends from kindegarten, classmates from Marietta High School, young friends of his children. Bill’s love of others was the common denominator of us all.

I didn’t know Bill had started a magazine for the Allman Brothers’ fans called Hittin’ the Note www.hittinthenote.com. He was the publisher. I love the name of the magazine because the Allman Brothers hit the note so very well, but I like even better its subtitle, “Because Music Matters.”

I remember Bill called me when Dwight Allman died. He was crying. I didn’t really know what to say and tried to offer simple words of comfort through the telephone line.

Many years later, we would run into each other again. We sat in his truck and chatted. I was a minister and mother who had put on considerable weight since our first date when I was fifteen. He was bald–a fact I didn’t know until he took off his ball cap. He didn’t have to take off his hat but I know he did it on purpose to make me feel more comfortable, as if to say “See, I too have aged and changed. It doesn’t matter. It’s ok.” This small gesture of grace was one of hundreds, thousands, which I believe formed his life and touched the hearts of so many with the rare gift of unconditional love.

Bill was an incredible musician. When he took me home, he would often come in and play our piano by ear and sing. I remember when he got his first twelve string. One of his classmates at Marietta High shared the story of how the senior class wanted Let it Be played at their graduation. This was 1970. Not surpisingly, the principal and guidance counselor were opposed -in the generational conflict typical of those times.

The story goes that in an assembly, Mrs. Lee argued, “No one even knows how to play that song.” To which, a classmate rebutted, “Bill does.” In a few moments, urged on by his peers, Bill walked up on the stage, sat down at the piano, and with his usual grace and ease played the beautiful Beatles‘ song Let it Be perfectly.The case was closed. They heard it at their graduation.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, Let it be.

I often find myself in times of trouble. Life is difficult and full of disappointment and darkness. We need saints-the ones who walk beside us now and the ones to whom we pray.

I like to think of Bill and his love of music and the magazine’s subtitle, Because Music Matters. Music speaks to us in a way which words fail. It is the “language of the angels.”

I don’t think of Bill as an angel. He was too earth-bound for that. But I do think of him as a saint as I recall his gentle, kind spirit. I know that in him music and love are forever and  inextricably intertwined.

 

 

 

This morning, my Uncle Bubba died. We got the call at 5AM as I was writing a blog about the joys of skinny dippin’. Somehow, it is both irreverant and fitting to speak of nakedness in the face of death.

My mother had flown out yesterday to Palm Springs where he lived. Stephen and Cathy had met her at the hospital. They sat beside his bed as he breathed with a ventilator. They sang songs and patted his leg.

And then he died.

The miracle was in the timing, for Uncle Bubba was very much alone until they got there. It was as if he was waiting for permission and a proper sendoff. He got one.

This morning I am aware of the importance of timing. Forget about location, timing is everything. Had my mother delayed her decision to fly to California even one hour, she might have missed the gift of attending his death.

In my many years as a parish minister, I have been present for many ‘passings’ and preached hundreds of funerals. But death still brings me to my knees. The one thing I do know is how important it is to sit in reverent patience beside a hospital bed. To wait on God’s timing for the last feeble breath.

This morning, I am thankful for Presence. As Woody Allen wrote “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” If that is true, then my mother’s life this moment is a success. Somehow she listened to that inner nudging, the whisper of the Spirit who said ” Hop on the plane and go!” Within hours, her carry-on bag was packed, her ticket was purchased and off to Hartsfield International she went.

Real estate agents and business owners herald location as key to success. Location, location, location is their mantra as they travel the roads, looking for the right corner. And perhaps, they are not wrong.

For our best location is in the Heart of God and when we are situated there, nestled under God’s arm, tucked behind God’s ribs is when we truly know the importance of Presence-God’s presence and our own.

At Christmas, I received a card from Uncle Bubba with a shakily written note: Welcome home, world traveler. In the abbreviated words for which he was famous, he conveyed much–a knowledge and interest in my whereabouts, a loving and welcoming heart. I meant to write him back. Now it is too late.

But I imagine, even as I sit at the computer, the One whose timing is always ‘spot-on’ is repeating these words to Bubba, Welcome home, world traveler as they greet one another and like gentlemen, shake hands.

 

The Byrds and Benedict

April 24, 2010

To everything (turn, turn, turn) There is a season (turn, turn, turn) And a time for every purpose, under heaven. –The Byrds

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. —The Rule of St. Benedict

Annie Dillard wrote, How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives. If that is the case, then a goodly portion of my life has been spent on porches, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Do I apologize for this use of time? Not really, for in it have come so many gifts.

Take contemplation and prayer. I’m not sure I would have learned about them without huge quantities of time spent on a backporch step or a deck overlooking the lake. Ms. Dillard also says: What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends us from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.  I would like to think that the hours I have spent just ‘being’ have helped me– and others–‘catch days.’

I’m a Cistercian wannabe. For many years now, say twenty-four, I’ve been going to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers for private retreats and much needed solitude and silence. I have participated in the seven daily prayer offices and learned to chant the Psalms in the choir. I’m a Trappist in my heart. However, my time in a Cistercian community in Norway helped me understand the distinction between heart and practice.

While in Norway, I learned the harsh truth about myself: I could never live in a monastery. I thought I could. I thought I would. Even at my age and as a married woman, I imagined it could work. My time with the Trappist sisters at Tautra taught me differently.

However, I am a monk. I use the word ‘monk’ for both men and women who are called to the monastic life. Monk translates into alone, one. It is a word and a longing I have known in my heart for years. Even as I write these words, tears come to my eyes and in my heart, there is an ache. My monastery is my family, friends, the world, …you. But ultimately, we are each at the same time, completely alone and all as one.

I keep vigils and have for about five years and pray as I move through the day, like many of you. I often enjoy longer periods of time just ‘being’ with God in the union I believe we all can enjoy.

In part, this was the rub in Norway. You see, Cistercian monks follow the rule of St. Benedict. It is a masterful collection of practical ‘rules’ for livng their life. It deals with spiritual and administrative matters and is full of wisdom and based on scripture and experience. It has obviously worked very well for it has been foundational to Western monasticism from the Middle Ages to this day. Trappists read the 73 chapters out loud in community ‘chapter’ meetings throughout the year. It is a gem and I agree with most of Benedict’s instruction.

The problem for me which would prevent me from joining a monastery–were it an option–involves time. Benedict is keen on chronos (the linear time of dayplanners and calendars) while I am more of a kairos girl (what we call ‘God time’, transcendent, eternal). It was incredibly ‘busy’ at TautraMariaKloster, and as far as I can tell from my reading and observation of other communities, this busyness is fairly typical. I just can’t do busyness anymore, not to mention multi-tasking. Or at least, I refuse to whenever possible.

The rigor of the schedule where the day is broken up into many short sections was problematic for me in an array of ways. I would just be getting settled into work and it was time to go pray. I would be in the middle of a really good space in my prayer or contemplation and it was time to go eat. There would be a short interval to rest and just as I was beginning to relax from the already long day, remember up for vigils at 4:00 AM, the bell would ring to go back to work–followed by more prayers- another meal-more short time (to get on the computer or pray alone in the church or work a jigsaw puzzle or clean your room or do your laundry or write letters or exercise or read) -followed by Compline then off to bed in the Great Silence which would last until the next morning’s Mass. Day in and day out. Granted, there were ‘hermit days’ once a month for each sister to make an individual retreat and the Sabbath was different. But all in all, it was intense.

I simply am not that fast anymore and always felt out of breath and rushed by the transitions. My soul resists speed and hurry. I try and live by Brother Lawrence’s words “Do things slowly and do them well.” And so, I was challenged by Benedict’s ordering and structure of the day. I began to really resent that bell which called me out of a present I was enjoying to herd me into a new time and space.

However, even more problematic for me, and not unrelated, is his phrase found in chapter 48: Idleness is the enemy of the soul. I really argued with him about that precept when I was walking back and forth between my room, the guest house, the church, the soapery, the refectory, the garden,  wind whipping all around, the fjord shimmering with birds and beauty, the dramatic sky pink and yellow and orange.

I longed to be idle. To stop and just ‘be’, to take a photo, to lie in the grass, to sit on a rock and listen to the water. I believe in a certain amount of idleness, in daydreaming and pondering and thinking and imagining. To me, they are necessary for the soul and fundamental to the creation of ideas and thoughts and art and poetry, science and philosophy.

Benedict was very wise. Perhaps he really knew what he was doing in forming monks out of men and women and saints out of regular people. The life is not just physically, emotionally, and mentally rigorous, it asks a continuous turning away from one’s own will, desire, interests, and internal and human rhythm. In that sense, it is intensely spiritually rigorous as well. (Mind you, all this is on top of living in community with people you did not choose, in the day to day challenge and gift of negotiating and building healthy relationships).

The monastery is called the School of Love for good reason. I am not certain I have been in a better school, for it reveals so much. I liked it though it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Maybe if I had been there longer, the routine would have become second nature and a comfort as structure often is, and I would get into a rhythm.

After my time at Tautra, surrounded by sisters and new friends whom I truly love, I am grateful to realize I could never live as a monk in a monastery. I need longer time and more solitude than I was able to find there. I am a hermit, the eremetic branch of monasticism.

And I like my kairos.

The Byrds, a 1960’s band, captured the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes in their song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” To everything…there is a season… and a time for every purpose under heaven.

For Cistercian monks, the time is both chronos and kairos, ordinary human measure of minutes and divine transcendence. It is for me as well, as I get up for vigils and contemplative prayer, go to Mass, then work, cook dinner, write, pray, care for family, and go to bed. Then start all over again. Life is a union between the ordinary and the sublime and God is present and blesses all of time.

I just need it in larger chunks. And I need a little time and grace to sit on the backporch and do nothing as I drink my coffee and smoke a cigarette.

How we spend our day is how we spend our lives. May all of us–sisters, monks, hermits, friends on facebook -spend it well in the kairos and chronos of our God-given days.

Just don’t rush me.

The Impetus of Anger

April 23, 2010

Jesus, I pray you be in charge of these words and teach us about anger which produces change. Thank you that you were angry enough to come to this earth. And…thank you for help with yesterday’s post. I didn’t even know it was Earth Day.

I don’t know about you but anger has been an Achilles’ heel for me for most of my life.  As a weak vulnerability, it has been behind me, as if it were ‘satan’ himself.

It has followed me like wolves, yapping at my hemline, as I’ve sought to cover exposed flesh, keep it under wraps.

Today, it emerges as both heel and wolf, facing one another unafraid. It is a type of dual where both will be killed and both will live.

For those of us who are Christian, we were most likely raised in a culture which denied anger and sought not only to repress it, but also to label it as a form of evil–a really destructive sin.

I would like to name anger as constructive, a powerful impetus for change.

Take housework. I am not sure I would ever have had a clean house had I not grown angry at the mess. It is amazing how much work you can get done when you are mad. Mad at the dust, the dirt on the carpet, the clothes on the floor, the unmade bed. I’ll admit, I’ve been violent with the vacuum cleaner, covering large amounts of square footage at an amazing speed. Yet, afterwards, have felt so good, sitting on my deck, enjoying a diet coke and admiring my work.

Anger has been the impetus for change in society. Just in our lifetime and recent history, we have seen it open up lunch counters and voting booths to others, open doors and offer choices for women, uncover child abuse. It has cleaned up rivers, ended a war in Viet Nam, and caused a US President to resign.

We tend to think of anger as an emotion when in fact, I believe it is cerebral, even soulful. It is our mind and our heart telling us something is wrong. It may be a relationship or system or value which needs to change and without anger would remain the same.

In my life, anger has propelled me to work on hard issues-things I didn’t want to face but could no longer abide. When I’ve listened to it, it has taught me much. And so, I have wrestled with its strength and power–sometimes giving in–and when I finally have been knocked to the mat and pinned underneath its hold, I have surrendered, “Ok, you win. Ok, I’ll make a change. And thank you.”

I believe, and the scriptures tell us, that God was often angry–angry with injustice, a stubborn refusal on the human side to do the right thing. More than a few times, Moses saved the Hebrew children and entire cities from God’s wrath, by appealing through some clever logic, that destruction may not be the best tactic.

We all know Jesus got angry. The one story we can all agree on of his anger is when he wielded the whip in the Temple, driving out those who were corrupt, greedy, and unjust. But can we read between the lines, the many other occasions Jesus must have gritted his teeth, grinding them down until they were mere nubs on the cross?

His anger was inclusive, not just reserved for the hard-hearted manipulation of the Law by the religious establishment, but also unleashed on his best friends. We almost feel sorry for the disciples as the gospels recount the many incidents when they seem so stupid. Honestly, how could they be so slow and mulish when the children gathered round, when the woman touched his hem, when there were hungry mouths to feed? I would have liked to see Jesus clinch his jaw, veins popping out on his neck, when his closest friends wanted to stay on the mountain and hang out in a booth.

Anger is a lot like sex and love–a force of nature. It is powerful and scary. We feel so out of control when we are angry and thus, strive to keep it inside where it often morphs into depression, turns to self-destruction, or explodes in violent rage.

I would like to view anger as impetus. As a driving, powerful–if painful–resource. In my own life, it has been transformative, causing me to make much needed change. The change is often long overdue, as I can be stubborn and it is human nature and physics which resist change and maintain the status quo. Momentum in one direction is hard to steer, brake, or tame and inertia is even more stubborn.

Anger is not about some mild irritation, or being easily provoked. It can be patient and kind. And represents the deepest Love– a love which is courageous enough to act, often at great cost and sacrifice of self.

So, in that light, anger is unselfish, not an adjective with which  it is often paired.

This morning, I am thinking about anger and my weight. Sometimes, I have had to get angry enough at the scales to do something about weight loss, to make healthy change, and reclaim the image I was given in my DNA.

In moments, I will head to my job at the bakery. This afternoon, I plan to walk with my friend, Neill. Then, I hope to work on the Little House this evening with David. None of this would be happening without some degree of anger as a motivating root source.

So, I am grateful for the very human and divine force of anger as a great impetus for creative, redemptive change. Just pray I don’t eat a pastry.

Like many of you, I grew up in Cobb County–a county known for its rapid growth and development, endless shopping plazas and subdivisions, congested traffic, and…Kennesaw Mountain.

My parents had the good sense to buy property which adjoined the National Battlefield Park. I could walk out my backdoor and in a few hundred yards be within the boundaries of the park, surrounded by hundreds of acres of hardwood forest.

I often did as a youth. I still do as an adult. I cannot imagine how different my life would be without this refuge. Here is where I grow closer to God, closer to myself, closer to creation.

I am not sure these things are so very different. Yes, there is an ‘otherness’ which Martin Buber reminds us of as we contemplate God. But, as many mystical theologians and Native Americans and John Muir have shown us, there is also a Oneness between the Creator and Creation.

We are all connected in the myriad of circles and webs we know as life. Ecologists, theologians, nature herself tell us this fact. We are linked together as a living organism, our chest rising and falling in one breath. 

One of my favorite quotes from John Muir illuminates this truth: When we try and pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. The relatively young discipline in science known as Ecology explores Muir’s concept, seeks to make sense of such ‘hitching.’ The word ecology has often been misused. It is not an environmental ethic, it is a study: a study of an organism and its relationship to the environment. We can thank our own Eugene Odum at the University of Georgia for his scholarship and work to move the discipline along.

I have heard it said: When you snap a twig in your own backyard, it effects molecules on the other side of the universe-a sobering thought. I think on this as I gingerly make my way back to Slippery Rock. I think of it when I lie down in Clyde’s Field “with the velvet hills in the small of my back.” I think of it when I breathe.

On April 15th, as I stood in line at the Post Office to mail our taxes, I overheard a woman say that we shouldn’t even have to pay taxes. I looked at her in disbelief. I wonder if she ever hikes up Kennesaw Mountain, throws a frisbee in the field, runs at Pigeon Hill. Does she understand that without taxes we would have paved this paradise and put up a parking lot?

No, I am not wild about the large percentage of my income which goes to taxes, and yes, there is probably a need for reform of our tax system, maybe a fair tax,  but I am wild about Kennesaw Mountain and the Okeefenokee Swamp and Cumberland Island. I am wild about the Cohutta Wilderness and the seventy percent of Towns County which lies within the borders of a National Forest, the mountains spared from development. I am thankful for John Muir and Rachel Carsons and Teddy Roosevelt and the Sierra Club and Chief Seattle and the founders of Earth Day and eco-feminists like Sallie McFague and the tiny portion of our taxes which goes to preserve green space.

One Native American explained their practice of sitting cross-legged on the ground and sleeping right next to the earth this way: The closer one gets to creation, the closer one gets to the Creator.

I believe this thought is true. And its inverse: Being close to the Creator brings us closer to the earth. Thus, people of faith naturally become environmentalists. Here we are linked in practice as caretakers of the created world.

But I would go further. Here, we as humans become both Creator and Creation in mystery and union. There is no ‘other.’

Today, I may do as Melanie suggested in a song from my youth. Take you an apple and take you a song, watch a baby day be born. I may climb the mountain and watch the sunrise or sit beside the creek on Slippery Rock. I may walk on the fire trail after work or rest my back in Clyde’s field. And when I do, I will become a part of the earth in a way which is astonishing. I will know God in a way I haven’t before. I will know myself.

We are the Body of God-every molecule, every twig. We live and move and have our very being in this Mystery. We are joined at the hip, hitched together in a wild and beautiful universe, breathing all as one.

Soon, I will go to work. I will join the thousands of commuters making our way to earn a living. But as I go, I will glance back at a modest mountain rising with the sun in the horizon. I will give thanks to Creator and Creation for the gift of Kennesaw Mountain, for the beauty of the earth.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

                                                                   — Proverbs 16.31

I have been homeless since last June. I don’t mind so much because I have had the opportunity to be with people I love in an intimate way.

My friend, Lynn, in the mountains invited me to spend the summer with her. Both of our lives were turned upside down by circumstances. We made the most of the time together, picking blackberries, canning tomatoes, riding bikes and training for a triathlon and swimming in the lake. We watched DVD’s and had afternoon coctails on her porch. It was a great summer while my husband started a new job out of town, one son got married, and the other remained in Athens.

The fall was spent in Europe. I’m not complaining, although I did miss my precious family and was ready to come home at Christmas.

Now, I am with my parents while David and I finish renovating the house we will soon move into. I can’t wait to recover my furniture from storage, unpack our dishes, and sleep in my own bed.

And yet, as is often the case with life, this moment is sacred, this time of living once again on St. Mary’s Lane in the house where I grew up.

My parents have been so generous and gracious to allow their grown daughter to stay with them in what started as a month and has extended to four. We have made it work–taking turns cooking dinner and loading the dishwasher. Finding our own space and giving it to one another in the den and upstairs bedroom.

I would like to think I am helping them as much as they are me. I try and do little things like take out the garbage, buy groceries and run errands, make the coffee at night. But my 82 year old mother often beats me to the punch.

One day, as I was enjoying some much-coveted time with my younger son, Sam, I was complaining a bit about my life–whining really–about how glad I would be to have my own home again and some semblance of structure and routine.

As is typical, my son’s words were profound and wise-jerking me up in a way which I needed. He firmly said, “Mom, this is such a great opportunity which you will never have again. I’m sure your siblings would love to be in your position to be able to help your parents more. Try and enjoy every minute of the present and make the most of these days.”

So Sam…I am.

My parents have created a rich and meaningful life. They have nurtured children, grandchildren, friends. They have been key and enthusiastic players in the world in which they live–church, school, community, work–their lives have touched hundreds, no thousands.

As do all of ours. I continue to be amazed and humbled when I learn of how a small gesture, a few words, or  simply time and presence have meant so much to others. Who knew?

Now, I cherish the time and the present I share with my parents. It is not easy for them. My daddy has dementia, his legs are weak, his memory. My mother has taken on responsibilities he used to carry in addition to her own. This transition in roles is a challenge for both of them as they negotiate the twists and turns of growing old.

I have learned from them how to form a good life–even if I didn’t always appreciate theirs in my most rebellious years. And the learning continues…

Many years ago at a workshop on aging, I heard this maxim: In old age, our character traits just get stronger. So, our good qualities become even better while our negative ones only grow worse.

My parishioners have allowed me to witness the truth of these words in ways I will forever be grateful. And now, I see it in my parents. My mother has grown even more joyful, selfless, and positive, if that is possible, and my daddy has become even stronger, more empathetic and dignified. It is evident as Mother cooks yet another meal, tests a new recipe, listens to music on the kitchen radio. It is evident when Daddy asks me how I am feeling, concerned when I have had a mild cold and as he struggles to rise from the chair or walk up the sidewalk. He refuses to let us help in a way that sometimes seems stubborn but which I am learning is instead a tenacious will to keep going and to spare us of trouble as long as he can.

He explained this to me one day on the porch in a poignant moment I will never forget. I offered to zip his jacket, when he raised his head, looked me squarely in the face with the eyes of clear and unflinching wisdom and tenderly said, “Patty, there will come a time when you will have to zip my jacket. I need to still do it while I can.” I realized then how much he was acting out of a great and courageous love. I struggled to hide my tears.

The maxim is true and is a great motivation to strengthen our good qualities and do serious work on the ones we’d rather not face. If we live long enough, old age will find us wherever we are and show us who we’ve become. 

As I write these words, I hear my mother puttering around downstairs. She is writing notes to encourage others or is paying the bills. And as she putters, she hums: choruses from church long ago, Are We Downhearted? No.No.No.; sentimental, romantic songs from the forties and fifties; and hymns. God Will Take Care of You is a favorite along with Be Still, My Soul set to Finlandia’s tune.

And Daddy whistles. As I leave the house in my paint-spattered clothes to go finish the renovation, he will whistle with dry humor, Hi Ho Hi Ho, It’s off to Work We Go.

The other night, I heard his subconscious come through his lips. Mother and I have remarked when words are silent or rare, he speaks to us through the whistles. So, that night, I heard Precious Lord, Take My Hand. The rest of the words formed in my heart as I painfully watched him get up from his chair: …lead me on, let me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

I think we all grow tired. At least, I do. But as I enjoy these remaining weeks with my parents, I am inspired by them and heartened to press on in the sacred journey we are all on–to keep going and growing in a way which will serve me, and others, well as I age.

For now, I will sit in my room, thankful for each creaking sound of their gray years. I will listen in appreciation of their rich and good life together and the steady building of their character for decades.

So…Sam-I-Am, I am grateful to you for the reminder to cherish this moment when my daddy whistles and my mother hums.

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger.

Today is cool. I wear the red slippers I bought in Norway, the white snowflakes now a dingy tan. The soles have holes and the fuzziness is worn smooth, but I cannot throw them away.

The slippers remind me of my travels last fall. I bought them with the small allowance of kroners the sisters gave me while I volunteered in the monastery. I would wear them in my little ‘cell’ after a long day of work and prayer, sometimes as I traveled the rocky path to the church for compline. They provided comfort and warmth on those tempestuous nights on the fjord. Now, they are a metaphor for my travels.

I spent five weeks visiting different faith communities and friends in France before I would land in Norway and begin my time at the TautraMariaKloster. I was a poor, wayfaring stranger–a little too poor for my taste. And yet, my limited budget provided unlimited gifts, one of which was prayer.

There is nothing like travel to open eyes and hearts to a different world, the one our senses experience and the one which lives inside. And, there is nothing like traveling alone to enrich our practice of prayer.

Solitary sojourns offer gifts and challenges more difficult to receive when one travels with a partner or in a group. There is the obvious gift of increased opportunity–and need–to talk with strangers  and meet new people. And there is the gift of quiet observation and interior silence.

And so… as I waited for the Metro, sipped expresso in a cafe, as I gazed out the window on long train rides and endlessly walked down ‘narrow streets of cobblestone,’ I was given the time and the space to pray.

By prayer, I am referring here to the particular kind known as intercession: the prayer for others in an intentional way. I believe we are all called to this form of prayer as we travel with fellow pilgrims through life. It is something most people of faith do. We may find it easier than the contemplative sort which prays without words or the prayer of confession. It is often more accessible than prayers of praise or even a petition for our own needs. It comes naturally to many of us.

And so, as I waited and walked, as I ate by myself and went to bed, I prayed. I prayed for the usual suspects–family, friends, many of you. I prayed for Obama and the Middle East and soldiers in Afghanistan. And I discovered a few new practices, grown organically from the travel itself.

I found myself praying for persons I would never meet. Each night, before I climbed into bed in the countless ones I slept in, I knelt and said a simple prayer for the one who was there the night before and the one who would follow when I left.

This seems so obvious but involved my imagination. I would contemplate what young person on a tight budget or old person struggling with the stairs would make their way to the hostels and hotels I dicovered. There would surely be people like me on a pilgrimage. Sightseers and tourists ready for an adventure. Lonely hearts and broken hearts and hearts abuzz with energy and joy.

I would pray for their safety and for their needs to be met and for a sweet sleep. Then, I would melt into mine.

A second practice I discovered was the one offered by faces. Sometimes, I would look at a face across a station, observe a certain posture or gait, see a small gesture or clear profile or hear a laugh, and it would remind me of someone I knew. It might be a parishioner from long ago or a student at Young Harris College or a member of the Lake Chatuge Rotary Club. It could be a best friend from theology school or a member of my family, but whoever came to mind in that moment, became the focus for my prayer.

The prayer was a form of discipline because sometimes the memory would not be particularly engaging or pleasant and I would struggle with apathy or aversion. But here is where intercessory prayer is also a prayer for self. We rub up against others and in the process, rub up against ourselves.

It is amazing to me how often this occurred. In the human sea of faces ascending and descending escalators, on crowded subway cars, in cafes, churches, and museums, I would often be captivated by one face who seemed so familiar. And so, I would pray for them and the one they represented.

A third practice I quickly discovered was the one for all those who would help me, for those I met who were distressed, for those who were friendly or indifferent or rude. And so, I will never forget the young man I saw sobbing into his girlfriend’s arms in the Dijon train station. His shoulders shook with what had to be grief. I wanted to offer him a kleenex, to hear the story, to find out who had died, what bad news he had received. I wondered as I prayed what he would be traveling to or was leaving. What made him so very sad. I prayed for his comfort, for his peace in the midst of the pain. I prayed for his girlfriend and the others in his life. I wonder how he is now.

Then, there was a Muslim woman in Paris. Her large adolescent son was close beside her and I would understand why after I asked for directions. When she began talking to me, his movements became erratic and agitated. We were standing in a tunnel together in the bowels of the Metro when he began running and literally bouncing off the walls. She had to speak firmly to recapture his attention and physically bring him back to her side.

She apologized and said he was ‘sick’ which I took for mentally challenged, perhaps autistic. I had broken into his world and hers-where they were joined together for survival. I wept when I moved on beyond them to the correct corrider for my journey, witnessing the difficulty of her own and yet how she took the time to stop and give me directions. I hope that now she has enough income to support them and that a neighbor will offer help.

Then, there were the two young women across from me on the train to Vezelay on their way to harvest grapes and prune vines. They were both in culinary school outside of Paris and this experience was part of their education. They listened to music on a shared iPod with their heads close together, made silly comments which caused them and me to laugh, and in general, were quintessential French chic in their tight black blouses and tasteful earrings. They showed me the station where I needed to get off, helping me with my bags, as curious about my journey as I was about theirs.

And so, I would pray not only in gratitude for their kindness but for their future careers, that they wouldn’t be hurt by boyfriends, that they would continue in their curiosity of life. I wonder now what sauces they are making and delicate crusts. I hope they are still laughing and happy.

As I write now, I am flooded with hundreds of memories of encounters. I can see each person, remember their arrogance or their humility, still recall their faces, gentle and tired. I re-imagine the sacredness and solitary journey of each individual. I am struck by their humanity and my own.

No wonder it was easy to pray. It wasn’t just because I spent hours sitting on benches waiting for transport or was forced to ask for directions over and over from perfect strangers, it was because there was a deepened awareness of our common vulnerability. Travel allowed my heart to open up to others in a way which was fresh and beautiful. The heart is often hardened in familiarity. We need journeys to wake us up.

Now, I am home. Living in the suburbs of Cobb County. My travels consist of trips to the grocery store, hours spent at traffic lights and in long lines. I meet strangers in the drive-thrus and on the Kennesaw Mountain trail where I walk. I am challenged to keep up my prayers of intercession.

Maybe someday, I will throw away my worn Norwegian slippers. But for now, they serve as a catalyst. As I slip them on, I remember the rich experiences of last year’s travels which took me from the Community of Jerusalem in Paris to the Trappist monastery at Citeaux, by the waters of Lourdes and the start of the Pilgrim’s path in the Pays Basque.

I will get on my knees beside a familiar bed and pray in the confines of my car. I will continue to live the prayer practices of a traveler–a poor, wayfaring stranger– for that is ultimately, all that we are.