Making angel wings

Making angel wings

img_5597My latest art project is my most ambitious: a pair of angel wings, each wing on a 40″ x 60″ piece of foamcore.  The feathers will be made out of colorful paper.  My hope is that these will be displayed in different place where people can stand in front of them to have their own angel picture taken.  I’m borrowing from others’ ideas on this one; my twist is the collage of colored paper.

My friend who’s also a spiritual director and an artist is always encouraging me to consider what my current project is saying about me.  I’ve thought about that with the angel wings.  I’m just back to the church after a three month sabbatical, and I must confess there’s a part of me that would like to fly away back into the Land of Sabbatical Zen.  So there’s that.

I’ve started working on the wings during the week of the abysmal confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.  I’ve wondered about the timing of that, too, and what – if anything – these wings are saying about the hearings.

{crickets}

Well, I imagine there have been plenty in that room who would wish they could just fly away.  Those wings could have given Dr. Ford an escape out of that apathetic place, a flight above the heads of politicians and reporters.  I’d like to add beauty in the midst of so much ugliness.  I’d like us to rely on the better angels of our natures.

I’m making these wings because I love beautiful paper and I like to make pretty things.  I’m also making them because I know so many people who are doing so much good in my community and the world, and I want them to know that I consider them to be angels, messengers of good news, of hope, of justice.

But then I thought (and yes, I do tend to overthink) what if someone poses with the wings who isn’t a good person?  Who ridicules them? Who pretends to be angelic when they are anything but?

demonIn Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel Childhood’s End, mysterious aliens who have been hovering in earth’s skies for fifty years finally reveal themselves.  These benevolent Overlords look like demons – horned, winged, hooved, and tailed.  People are shocked – how can these good creatures look like the epitome of evil?

What if an evil or just bad person poses with my angel wings?

This week, while prepping for the wings and avoiding broadcast news, I’ve also been working on a sermon which attempts a hint of a suggestion of how a divided people might move forward.  It’s iffy.  I’m not sure I want to move forward because I want the bad guys to lose.  I just do.  I want to make devil’s horns and a pitchfork and a barbed tail for them to stand in front of so everyone can see their true colors.

Jesus still has a lot of work to do with me.  Obviously.

What if we all have wings?  What if we are all in possession of something that allows us to fly away to escape, to fly away so we can run away?  What if we all have wings that when unfurled will push aside those who hinder us?  What if we all have wings that can embrace and comfort?  With our wings we can pester, too, or shoo away that which annoys us.

* * * * *

In order to make these wings, I first make feathers.  I take my stencil, and trace it out, and cut it out.  Then I fold the paper in half, and to make the barbs, cut slits in the paper, up and down.  It’s time consuming and the repetition is meditative.  Cutting those slits has felt like putting notches in a belt or scratches on the wall – a cut for every survivor of sexual assault who isn’t believed; for every survivor who is afraid to come forward; for every person of privilege who is afraid of losing their power; for every man who treats a woman as a second-class citizen.  So far I’ve make about 50 feathers, each one having about 100 slits.  That’s 5,000.  I have a lot more cuts to make to keep up with all the things I’m keeping track of.

If I ever finish these feathers, and if I ever finish these wings, and if they are ever on display and people pose with them, few will know everything that was going through my mind as I made them.  That’s okay.

But I hope if someone does pose with them, they will consider – at least for a moment – the deep responsibility of being an angel, of being a messenger.  And I wish that I could make magical wings that would fold up on the unworthy.  Perhaps with such a thought, I would be the first to be swallowed up by my own creation.

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Finished piece, “Better Angels”, 10/10/18

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Missing the ones who are gone

It’s been 8 1/2 months since my dad died, and I’m walking this weird road of grief, more nuanced and shaded and blatant than I had ever expected.  Yesterday in church we were singing the closing hymn, and as I started to sing the first line of the last verse, my throat closed up and my eyes started to water and I was done: “That, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light, may we behold You as You are, with full and endless sight.”

One of the blessings of having had this three month sabbatical is the spaciousness of time which has allowed me room for grief that I had not realized I needed.  If anything, I miss my dad more now than I did at first.  My first birthday without him was like a sword in my heart; my parents’ anniversary popped up in my digital calendar and I was shocked at the affront I felt that he wasn’t here to celebrate with Mom.

It helps so much that others grieve, though I do not wish grief on anyone.  Grief finds us all, I suppose; it’s the price of loving.  Today as I write, I think about my dear friend from college whose father died within days of my dad’s death.  I think about beloved church members whose names we will recite this year on All Saints Day and how awful that will be.  I think about my neighbor and his family living the last year with the diagnosis of a stage 4 glioblastoma.  John McCain’s death, and all that surrounded that, gave me such empathy for his family in their grief. I think about the family of Botham Jean, the man shot and killed in his own apartment by a police officer who thought he was in her own apartment, and their grief that is compounded by – well, everything.

My father’s death was not tragic nor was it the stuff of nightly news.  For that I am immensely grateful. But I miss him so much.  I miss skirting around politics and playing cribbage and losing to him at dominos.  I miss our inside joke about watching the cottonwood trees shimmer in the breeze.  I miss his common sense, and his unending curiosity about things.  I miss having a dad around, right there at the other end of the phone line.

Halloween decor is flooding the market place now, the next big holiday to sate our consumerist hungers.  I don’t much care for Halloween – I don’t like to be scared, and there’s a lot of free-floating sugar going around.  I’ve started wondering if on Halloween, on All Hallows Eve, my dad will come visit in some way.  Weird thinking, I know, but grief can do strange things to one’s belief system.

I hope he doesn’t come visit, because it is my deep hope that he is resting in peace, whatever that means.  It is my deep hope that all he needed to accomplish was done by the time he took his last breath, so that there is no reason for him to come back.  Maybe in the end, all of us whom he loved knew that he loved us: the great accomplishment, and maybe the only truly necessary one.

Saints, not ghosts.one-bird-flying-in-empty-sky-nature-background-with-wildlife_r09fknvge_thumbnail-full01

The wedding shoe

As we near the end of our delightful and refreshing three-month sabbatical, my husband/co-pastor and I are finally doing all those little house projects we’ve been meaning to get to.  Yesterday we moved things around in the basement, which serves as our den, laundry room, and second guest room, and in moving stuff, we cleared out the closet.  As we went through only two plastic bins there, I found my wedding shoes.

“It’s probably time to give these away,” I said.

“Probably,” my husband replied.

I LOVED my wedding shoes.  My dear friend Alison, my co-bride who like me was getting married for the first time in her early forties, whose wedding was three weeks before our own, agreed to go shoe shopping with me. We discovered a charming store in uptown Chicago that specialized in wedding shoes.  She found what she needed, and I found what I needed.  Off-white satin with pumps with an ankle strap and rhinestone buckle, with what I thought would be a very comfortable 2 inch heel.  Fifteen minutes into the reception, not so comfortable.  But no mind. I loved the shoes, which no one saw, and which I happily took off later in the evening.

When we returned from our honeymoon, I realized that I would rarely wear these beautiful off-white shoes again, so I had them dyed black.  I believe I wore them once after that, because a few months later I got pregnant, my feet swelled, and after the baby my feet were never quite the same.  So the shoes have been sitting in this bin for 13 1/2 years and I don’t need to be a KonMari practitioner to know that if you haven’t worn something for 13 1/2 years, it’s time to let it go.

We went to the Goodwill drop off this morning and the gentlemen took our things.  The bag holding everything broke so it was a bit of a mess, and as we drove away, I saw a lone, dyed-black wedding shoe lying there in the dust.

There are many things I would do differently if I were to marry Gregg again.  I would not make my bridesmaids wear matching periwinkle dresses.  (Thank you, thank you, AM & EF.)  I would get a different dress.  I might ditch the tiara that held my veil in place.

But there are so many things I would do exactly the same.  I would marry Gregg again.  I would have AM and EF stand up with me.  The wedding party would enter to everyone singing a hymn.  I would walk down the aisle with my dad, a memory that is so poignant now that he’s gone.  I would have all those beloved family and friends there.  I might not register for gifts, but I would eat cake and dance and take all that joy all over again.

Of course, a wedding is not a marriage, as I tell betrothed couples .  A wedding is a herald of what’s to come, but in the years that unfold, cake gives way to boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, and veils give way to hats that hide a bad hair day, and beautiful satin shoes sit in the closet while sneakers are laced up or clogs slide on and socks mysteriously lose their mates in the dryer.

As I mentioned, we’re near the end of our sabbatical, and I’m so grateful for this time away.  One of the things I have most strongly realized is that I really love my husband.  Perhaps this should be obvious, but when you work with your spouse, and when you share an office with your spouse, you can lose sight of all the reasons you married that person.  We’ve spent all but five days of this sabbatical together, but there has been space to breathe and see each other anew.

I have no idea if he would say the same thing about me.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I’m still so grateful for a fantastic wedding that heralded a marriage that would be filled with beloved family and friends, and dancing, and cake.  But we promised each other never to give shoes as a gift – maybe that’s the secret to it all.

Getting lost with your husband (or some kind of significant other)

img_5309Having said goodbye to friends who had spent the week with us at our vacation place, my husband and I decided to go for a drive.  We knew which road to take, and which dirt road to take after that.  We had a number for the dirt road we wanted to follow, and a map, and a destination.

Ah, what fools these mortals be.

We had borrowed my parents’ pick-up truck for the drive, and my husband agreed to drive, so I had the dog on my lap.  I also had with me two bottles of water, two tangerines, a fourth of a bag of Juanita’s Tortilla Chips, Advil, and my hiking shoes in case we wanted to walk.  There were Kleenex, toilet paper, a flashlight, some rope, and jumper cables in the truck.  We were prepared.

img_2221So up a lovely forest service road we went, enjoying the beauty of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, waving to the occasional oncoming car.  Up up up we went, Mt. Rainier peeking through the tree line until at last, we rounded a bend, the trees cleared, and there was beautiful Tahoma.  The view stayed with us for a few more bends, until we were headed downhill and back in the forest.

Down we went, avoiding the potholes.  Down we went, approaching each intersection with some caution, consulting the map (the “map” would be a better description), looking to see if any road had a number on it.

Finally, having driven downhill for a while, we came to a stop sign in the middle of nowhere.  We found this hilarious, and I wish I’d taken a picture.   The road ended at a T, and we scrupulously consulted the map, looking anywhere for a T in the road.  Having found one (or so we thought) we realized (mistakenly) if we turned left, the road would end.  So we turned right.  And started going uphill.  At this point, a good hour into the drive, I started congratulating myself that I had brought not only water but also provisions.

It was about 6 in the evening, and the sun was getting lower, so we knew which way west was and we were pretty sure we wanted to be heading mostly north and a little east.  Happily, sometimes the road went that way.  Unhappily, sometimes it didn’t.  But a car would pass by now and then, so we knew we hadn’t completely left civilization.  Plus I had my dog and tortilla chips.

Then we saw a sign – in the middle of the forest at intersecting dirt roads – that gave us three options.  The town nearest to the house was a mere 26 miles away.  So we took the right and started making our way on a one lane gravel road in the middle of the forest.  We did cross a well-maintained bridge over a pretty little creek.  I saw a chipmunk.

And then we were heading up again.  Up.  Up.  Up.  Up the side of a mountain.  I HATE the sides of mountains – I must have died from falling off a ledge in a previous life.  We were going up a pothole-filled dirt and gravel one-lane road up a mountain and all I could do is tell you which direction is west and where the tortilla chips are.

“Should we turn around and go back?” I asked my husband.  I knew I could get us back – I just had no idea where forward would take us.  And we were on the side of a mountain, which I HATE.

“No, we’ll get there eventually.”

“Are you okay driving?”

“Oh sure, I’m fine.”

So up we continue.  We passed a few cars and a camping site, and some sort of encampment in the middle of nowhere which we landmarked as the meth-makers colony.  We continued going up and the road was narrow and bumpy and I was so sure we were either going to die, falling of the edge of the mountain, or the meth-makers were going to need to rescue us.  “They can have all my money and the chips, ” I said, “but they can’t have the dog.”

At least I still had my priorities straight.

Finally we reached the top of whatever Hell Mountain we were on, and there was an enormous puddle in front us, which I was sure was either a sinkhole or a ledge just waiting to break off.  “Do you want to walk up ahead and see how bad it is?” I asked my brave husband.  “Sure,” he said, calmly, as if he was enjoying himself.  Which he totally was.  Which both infuriated me and gave me courage.

I started reciting Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  I felt better and in that moment, we did not die.

We went on.  We made it through the puddle.  We started going downhill.  The one-lane dirt road eventually becomes two lanes, and then a paved road, and then we saw it.  A bright yellow rectangle bearing the number 6: a beacon from heaven.  We knew where we were.  We had made it to the road that will take us to our driveway.  We will not die in the wilderness.

Over dinner that night I did thank the little Lord Baby Jesus for seeing us safely home, and I thanked my husband for being calm and keeping his sense of adventure. That night I started the new book I had downloaded on my Kindle: Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown.  I totally got the metaphor.

So here’s what I can appreciate, now that I am home-home, on flat ground with nary a mountain in sight: sometimes it’s really good to get mostly lost with someone you love. You have a deeper appreciation for their gifts and for yours and for the way you tolerate each other’s weakness.  You have to be in it together.  You have to have your priorities straight.  You have to be able to laugh and to pray.

Mostly, though, when you get lost with someone you love, you have to trust that you will get home again, with them, and that some day, you’ll be glad you had the adventure.

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Thanks, Mom, with love

I have always appreciated Mom – at least the way I remember it!  I’m sure there were a few adolescent years when the appreciation lay buried deep, but that same appreciation blossomed fully when I became a mother myself.  That’s when I realized that I grew up in a house with a superhero.

In the past few months, my appreciation and love for my mom has changed.  It’s as though it has been burnished by grief and devotion, with a rich patina that can come only from experiencing together sorrow and loss and a recognition of love.

At first Mom was surprised when we all came after we heard that Dad was dying.  We weren’t surprised to do that at all – that’s how we had been raised by the two of them.  You show up.  You wait for each other.  You leave pretense at the  door.

So we were all there, gathered at his bedside.  We four kids would go to our own rooms for the night, but Mom slept in Dad’s room, on the most uncomfortable cot in the world.  She didn’t complain.  She wanted to be there with him and for him, as she had been for 58 years.

And then – I can hardly write this – she stood with us as each of us had to say goodbye to Dad.  Three of us left before he died. I know how I felt when I left his room for the last time; leaving him was the hardest thing I have ever done.

But Mom was there for me, and for my brothers, as we each said goodbye and then cried and cried.  In her grief, in her exhaustion, she was still Mom.  She was still there for us, holding us, comforting us, being present with us in the rawness of grief.

So this year especially, I am grateful for my mother.  I am grateful for her humor and her wackiness, for her generosity and wisdom, and especially grateful for her devotion to Dad through it all, and for her presence with us in those bewildering days in December.

“Thank you” seems such an inadequate thing to say, and “I love you” does too.  The words are paltry, but all that is behind them is not.

Thank you, Mom.  I love you.

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Whose face do you see when you write the Easter sermon?

Well, it’s that time in Holy Week when I’m staring down the first draft of my Easter sermon, considering throwing the whole thing out, googling “great Easter sermon illustrations”, going back and reading awesome Easter sermons from the Great Masters and wishing I could be like them, and wondering if we could get away with a Lessons and Carols Easter.

No, too late for that.

So this is the point where I remember that I am called to serve a particular congregation, and while others whom I don’t know will show up, this is a Sunday for the congregation. And as I always do when I write a sermon, I picture these people in my mind’s eye.

I picture the family and friends of two members who died today, and wonder what on earth I could possibly say that could give them any measure of comfort, and remind myself that the best comfort comes not from words but from the community itself.

I picture my friend who comes to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe once or twice in other times of the year, and wonder why she is there, and what she is looking for, and if any part of the service will find her.

I picture some folks who I think will worry that I’ll get political in the Easter sermon, because they brought their relatives who would disagree with anything I might say, making for an uncomfortable Easter brunch.

I picture those who don’t think a woman should ever be in the pulpit, and I don’t give them a second thought.

I picture my daughter, who has told me that our sermons lately have been downers and could I please say happy things this week since it’s Easter?

I picture the choir, sitting through the sermon twice, looking at my back for the whole of the sermon, and I say a prayer of gratitude for them, and for George Friedrich Handel, who wrote a pretty good piece called the Hallelujah Chorus.

I picture other members, getting on in years or fighting some crappy disease, knowing this may be their last Easter.

I picture the families, the parents who struggled to get their daughters into scratchy Easter dresses and their sons to wear clip-on ties because Grandma would like a cute picture, parents who worry about their kid acting up, or throwing a fit, and I want them to know that we understand kids get fussy and act out and we’re still so glad they are here.

I picture the staff and the volunteers who have worked so hard this week with extra services, doing so much to be hospitable and offer some spiritual depth.

I picture Jesus and Mary in the garden, and regret that that image is too informed by Warner Sallman and the pre-Raphaelites.

I picture the stranger who has come out of obligation.
I picture the friend who has come despite her grief.
I picture that faithful saint who has come because he believes all of this so deeply.

It’s a good audience, that crowd in my mind as I face down the lap top.

Who do you see when you write your Easter sermon?

 

Sunrise at the columbarium, with coffee

Two days after my father’s memorial service, my mother and sister and I had coffee at dawn at the columbarium where his ashes had been laid. It was a cool, dry morning, and while we did not see the sun, we did see the color of the sky change. We talked quietly, looked at the names next to the place where his name plate would eventually go, and sipped our coffee and blew our noses

This week as I think about Easter, I keep going back to that scene: three woman at the grave at dawn. Certainly we were still so very sad, and the worst of the grief had not yet set in. We were still together but later that day, after the sun had fully risen, I would make my way back to Oregon and my sister would go back to North Carolina. Our brothers would return home too, and Mom would return to her new life, life without Dad.

We left the columbarium so we could pack and head to the airport. Each goodbye weighed heavier than the last, though they were lightened by promises to see each other soon, to stay in touch, and we have, but still – there is nothing like being together in the flesh.

The Easter story tells of three women, or two disciples, or one woman and a gardener, all at the tomb. I know their grief, and I want to know their hope and surprise. This Holy Week in the thick of things, I do not know them. Not yet.

Sunday morning I will stand in the pulpit and read that magnificent story and I will bi-locate, and part of me will be at the columbarium with my mom and my sister, waiting for the sun to rise. One never really knows what will happen while preaching, if the Spirit will rush through me and I’ll know – know – that I’ll see Dad again; or if I’ll be totally disconnected from my words and putting on a good show; or if I’ll look out at the beloved congregation, so many of whom have walked through death and grief and hope, and who still show up in on Easter morning because there’s nothing like being together in the flesh, whether the news be bad or Good.