Sunday, April 29, 2007

My sheep hear my voice

During a brief lull between 10:00 church and a course I planned to take at church this afternoon, my husband and I walked all three dogs off-leash (shh! Illegal ...) at a county park about fifteen minutes away from home. Our older dog is quite at home in the wild (so to speak!), and sort of went her own way. The puppies, who are littermates nearly a year old, mostly hung together, though whenever I lagged behind they would circle around, one at a time, to make sure I was still there. At one point, though, they took off running, and all sorts of things went through our minds: motorbikes, larger, vicious dogs, whatever. But I raised my voice and called, and they came right back, hearing my voice.

Later, during the course, the Rector explained that you can herd cows, but sheep have to be led, and they are typically led by a familiar voice, which they recognize and follow. The sheep have a relationship with the shepherd, whom they trust. This, despite my 53 years of being an Episcopalian, was a revelation to this suburban girl. The metaphor of Jesus as shepherd now makes perfect sense.

I guess this proves that you are never too old to learn, especially where the Gospel is concerned. And that I should be listening harder for the Shepherd's voice.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Your Life is 48% Green

You're life is pretty green - and you know a lot about how to live an eco friendly life.
So congratulate yourself for being good to the earth. And maybe think about implementing some of the ideas from this quiz!

OK, I know I could be doing better. But I was pleased to even get 48% on this quiz! I need to minimize the car trips and turn off the AC more often, assuming those at home will permit it! And I need to get a few cloth grocery bags (where do they come from??) and pay attention to packaging. And (sigh) I guess I need to go more often to the library instead of buying books.

Easier said than done!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book recommendation

I've just finished reading Markides's The Mountain of Silence, a sociologist's account of his experience with Orthodox spiritual practices in his homeland of Cyprus. The author makes the point that the Eastern Church, unlike the Roman Church in the West, never became involved in the secular concerns of the state, and so developed along a different, more mystical path, demonstrated most prominently by the monastic state of Mount Athos (the "Holy Mountain") in Greece, the site of many Orthodox monasteries like the one at right.

Now, I haven't taken a history course in years (about 30 of them!), but I don't recall ever studying Byzantium. Seems like it was considered the poor step-sister of the West; many historians tend to focus on Rome and its fall, and the development of the European states. So it's probably time I read more about the Orthodox Church. Better late than never!

But this was a great book, and I recommend it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Mom, it's me, I'm OK"...

This is what every parent of a Virginia Tech student wanted to hear this morning. My good friend Carolyn did hear it. Her son, Lee, was on his way to his engineering class in the very building where the shootings occurred, when a friend called his cell phone and advised him to return home. So Lee is safe tonight.

But so many others are not.

I cannot even imagine what prompts a person to take life, especially on this scale. And I can't imagine what it is like to be one of the parents of those murdered. My mind won't go there. How do you recover after your child is murdered in cold blood?

And how many dead people will it take, in our cities, in our suburbs, on our campuses, before we get legislation to control guns? What do the Republicans not understand about this? And why do I bother to ask?

Because so many people are dead tonight. That's why.

Friday, April 13, 2007

When life turns on a dime ...

Life is precarious. We all know this, but we often forget it until reminded.

Yesterday morning, my colleague and good friend got a telephone call from his wife at her office, informing him that a neighbor had spotted flames at their house, and had called 911. He and his wife both raced home. Both their boys were safely at school, so that was not a worry. But the fire had apparently burned for nearly two hours without detection, so the house was pretty much a total loss.

But the newspaper this morning captured the worst part: "House fire kills pet dog."

Glacier the husky was in his crate when the fire erupted. He died from the intense smoke and heat. I refuse to picture this in my mind. The family is distraught, especially the two boys, aged 7 and 5. They can rebuild the house, and get more "stuff." But Glacier is gone forever. Or at least in this life.

Dogs, like people, should grow old and die in their beds. No one deserves to go this way.

I guess time and faith will heal these wounds. But I will think of Glacier for a long time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Saying goodbye to friends

Easter Sunday was wonderful, though the weather was cold here. After singing two long services that morning, I should have been dead on my feet -- but all I could think was "He is risen!" I went home and cooked furiously, and (for once) everyone came to the table without squabbling about anything.

No sooner had my Easter euphoria worn off, however, than bad news hit.

One of the parish's dearest older members passed away peacefully in the hospital on Easter afternoon. Not such a bad time to die, I guess -- but I will miss her. I had planned to visit her on Holy Saturday, but caved into time pressures and did not. There's a real lesson here for me. Never put it off.

At her viewing this evening, she looked as calm, gracious and elegant in death as she had in life. And it made me smile to see that at her feet were the ashes of her beloved German Shepherd, Basil. I am planning on this, too -- I want all my doggies with me when I rise!

On Holy Saturday the parish lost another member -- I learned this on Tuesday. This was a former choir member, only about ten years older than I am, who developed Parkinson's and was in a nursing home. I last saw him some months ago. My track record with visiting is not too great. Did I already mention you should never put things off? I should have this tatooed on my forehead.

But, on a positive note -- two of my friends became grandparents this past Monday. So the cycle of life goes on. I like the coming -- the going, not so much.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Holy Sadness and Confusion

12:20 AM. It's Holy Saturday now, and I should be in bed. But my mind is racing.

During the Triduum, I lose track of time. One disaster follows another. They blend together. On Maundy Thursday, our Lord is betrayed, and led away; we strip His altar, and the Rector washes the cold marble surface with vinegar. We leave the chancel in darkness, by the side aisles, without reverencing the cross. We have removed our choir cottas while the altar was stripped; mine trails along, limp and white in my hand. Like Lot's wife, I always turn in my grief and look back. The empty tabernacle yawns open. The darkness of the church is unbroken. The congregation shuffles out quietly in the shadows. No one speaks.

In the garden of repose, it's nearly as dark. Ten candles are alight on the smaller altar where the bread and wine have been placed. Forsythia blooms in vases, and the lilies have opened. On the windowsills, clear votives glimmer. The weather has turned unseasonably cold, and the wind beats against the stained glass. I am chilled to the bone, though I know the baseboard heat is on. It is a supernatural cold. It is the temporary victory of the dark.

In the pew, I look helplessly at Jesus, up there on the altar. I think of Peter, my favorite saint, struggling to stay awake with the Master, but giving in to fatigue, and cold, and grief. Sleep is sometimes the only answer when the heart is heavy. I can hardly imagine the weight of Peter's grief. I can fully imagine the fear that will make him deny Jesus three times within the next hours. Peter has always seemed to me the most human of the disciples.

My vigil time has ended, but my replacement has not come. I will not leave Jesus alone. Finally, my friend appears, to take over the Watch. I go home. I sit and cuddle large dogs. I do not sleep for a long time.

On Friday, I awaken to sun and cold. I go to church before I need to; I want to sit a bit longer with Jesus.

The service is somber. The sermon is ghastly -- a physiological description of the agony Jesus suffered. The evil work of the lead-tipped scourge. Blood loss through the scourging. The onset of shock. The potential dislocation of Jesus's arms as the Romans stretch him out on the cross. The nailing of the hands and feet, and Jesus's struggle for breath. Finally the failure of His heart.

I am nauseated. I guess that was the Rector's goal. We have become insensitive to the details of the crucifixion, or maybe we never learned them to begin with. I will not soon forget them.

Lord, was there another way You could have done this? I wish there had been another way You could have saved me. I wish You had been able to die in Your bed at 103, and still accomplish what You needed to do.

My heart is broken tonight.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Birds, bees, and creation

I took my lunch hour out in the courtyard today where I work. It's a nice space, with a big, grassy center, wide paths, and ample benches. It's my favorite place to hang out during working hours, whenever I get a break. In full summer, there's plenty of shade from trees around the perimeter, and beneath the trees are bushes, where birds and squirrels keep busy. We have a lot of wildlife in our courtyard.

And we also have bees. The bees make sure I can enjoy my solitude. They're also fuzzy. I tend to like fuzzy creatures.

These are bumblebees, mind, not nasty hornets or yellowjackets, which would have me on the run. Bumblebees (which my grandma always called "humblebees," a name I really like) are very peaceful and don't sting unless they feel threatened (which is fair enough). Today there were three near my bench, flying in large circles, chasing each other. Occasionally they circled around me curiously, and, though they are pretty able navigators, one of them bumped into my shoulder now and then -- almost like a friendly punch on the arm. One actually alighted on my jeans-clad knee, and sat there regarding me solemnly, while deciding that I probably was not a nectar source.

No one will come near when there are bees about. It's a perfect system. I get to read my book or say prayers in peace, the bees go about their business, and everyone leaves me alone.

The birds were busy today, too. Those in the courtyard are quite tame, and if they see that you have food, will come and perch boldly on the edge of the bistro table, or on the end of the bench where you're sitting. Back in the fall, I nearly had one eating crumbs out of my hand. It's quite a thrill, actually.

I suppose if I were a real mystic instead of just a hopeful mystic, I would be a nature mystic. Nothing gives me a glimpse of God like being outside does. Nature is constantly creative: in the busyness of bees and birds, in the foliage returning to the trees, in the rhythmic roll and break of waves, in the gentle yielding of one season to the next. In my growing older; in my attempts to peel away habits that are not important, to get to what is. God is busy in Nature -- Creation is never done!

May God be busy in me as well.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Winding down for Holy Week

After the first Palm Sunday procession/service without rain in about 6 years (!!!), I raced around madly doing errands: food shopping, laundry, buying Easter plants, candy, etc. You know the drill.

Now I am trying to wind down for Holy Week. It feels to me like the events we're recalling are so world-shaking that they can be approached only with silent reverence. I never feel like I get this quite right. I'm pretty good at silent reverence, but my life tends to get in the way of it.

But this year I'm getting a break. My husband is leaving Wednesday to see his mother, in central New York State, in order to do her taxes (when I protested that it's Holy Week, he responded that it's not Holy Week for him -- which I guess I can't argue about -- and that I won't be around anyway, since I'll be at church all the time). So, in the evenings at least, I should have relative silence (my son will be home in the evenings, and my daughter, since she goes to a college run by Augustinians, will be home on Easter break, but both of them will most likely ignore me, as they do at their ages). So perhaps I can have some reverent silence, even with three large dogs around.

This is my favorite week of the year, and I especially love the Triduum. I'd love to go on a retreat that spanned Holy Week and Easter, but that may have to wait for a few years!