Mary & Me

img_9952Mary is making the rounds again this Advent, and as per usual, I’m not entirely sure what to do with her.

Is she the model of female submission?  The victim of unwanted impregnation?  Is she too young to marry and bear a child, or just the right age for her time and place?  Is she quiet and shy, head bent down, eyes gazing at the floor?

Or is she a warrior, a Rosie-the-Riveter, the woman who not only said yes but also said let’s topple the patriarchy?  Is she the one who turned surprising news into a power play?

Is she the faithful servant?  Is she a good-enough mother?

Oy, Mary.  Oy.

True confession: in the first few weeks after I gave birth, I found myself praying to Mary.  I was pretty sure that God the Father and God the Son and that merry, floating, fire-y Holy Spirit could not begin to understand hemorrhoids, c-section scars, engorged breasts, and the complete feeling of inadequacy and terror, even with all the Godhead had learned during the Incarnation.  So I sent a few up to the BVM.  Because she knew.  She had been there, and on a donkey, no less, in some small, non-private smelly place with animals, away from family, donut cushions, and Tylenol.

This week in worship our choir is presenting five songs about Mary and while I’m off the hook for a sermon, I do find myself wondering about Mary again.  The Magnificat could be posted on Pantsuit Nation and get 10,000 likes.  The role of women in Christianity could be looked at anew – are we simply to say yes to the church, yes that’s our role in the kitchen and the nursery, yes we’ll let the men do all the heavy lifting of teaching and preaching?  Or do we look to Mary and say, hey, we’re called to topple thrones and send the rich away hungry?  We’ll be in the kitchen and the pulpit, thank you very much.

Mary fades from the story as it goes on; it is Jesus’ story, after all.  Maybe the tune of the Magnificat faded too, and people forgot the melody.  Maybe we lost sight of what a revolutionary Mary was.  Maybe we need to reclaim that, for the church, for Pantsuit Nation, for our daughters, for our sons.  For our world.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

May it be so.  Amen.

 

Necessary annoyances

A few weeks ago at the dinner table, my daughter asked, “What’s something you really like but don’t respect?”  My answer was immediate.  “Nutella.”

That question has stayed with me and morphed into another: what’s something that is annoying but really necessary?  For aspiring musicians, I would say scales.  That same daughter has brought home a recorder, and let me assure you that the only way she will master this is by practice.  And if you’ve ever listened to recorder practice (or violin or any number of other instruments) you know that it can be a little… annoying.

For some, waiting is annoying.  I’m in the process of healing after surgery, and my mind is raring to go and my body is wanting to rest.  The last weeks of pregnancy can be annoying too.  Waiting for an answer to prayer can cause a mountain of crabbiness.  Good heavens, if God is omnipotent and hears all, why can’t my prayer be answered in neon lights, clear as day, within 24 hours of the request?  Poor customer service on the Almighty’s part, if you ask me.

Of late I’ve thought that democracy can be annoying too.  The process is long and sometimes excruciating, exposing our deep flaws (and maybe the deep flaws of the candidates.)  It’s a wasteful process, in terms of dollars and time and attention.  But in order for everyone to have a voice, and to have a vote, the impracticalities are necessary.  A benevolent dictator could streamline things, but I don’t think we want that.

Meetings in general may be one of the most necessary of annoyances.  In his delightful book Sum, David Eagleman explores what might happen after we die.  In one essay, he suggests that all the time we spend doing a thing will be lumped together; if we slept eight hours a night every day, and lived to be 80, then a portion of our eternity would be spending 233,600 hours sleeping – all at once.  If Eagleman is right (and I don’t think he is but it’s fun to imagine) I would spend a good 10,000 hours of eternity in meetings.  Were they worth it?

Picking up after the dog’s morning constitutional is a necessary annoyance; so is doing the dishes.  These things are annoying because I think there is something else I’d rather be doing, or it’s hard, or it’s dull.  But they’re necessary in order to have the other things I want: a clean house and neighborhood; consensus on decisions; healing; freedom.

But if you figure out the necessity of the annoying fruit fly, please let me know.

 

nutella

 

Ode to the post-surgery days

Oh wondrous scar, bumpy and red and ugly, how you have ruined bikini season for me!
And yet therein lies an escape: I shall always have an excuse to cover up.

Oh, makers of cards and floral bouquets! How my friends have supported your bottom lines in this past fortnight!  My shelves are laden with colors and comments, wishes and prayers, sentiments heartfelt and appreciated.

Oh occupational therapists and your kind! How clever you are, inventing the grabber and the walker and the cane, and that most marvelous of inventions, the sock puller-upper!  But how dastardly are those white compression socks on the unshaved leg.  Begone, constrictor! Your blood clot prevention work is done!

Oh church ladies and the moms! How generous you are with your offers of food and rides!  Our freezer shelves overfloweth with your goodness and mercy and soup!

Oh mother and mother-in-law!  How dear are your phone calls and voicemails!  I am FINE! I know how deeply you both longed to be here, yet duties at your own homes beckoned.

Oh friend Alison! What would we have done without you? Your example of how to sleep well is a lesson we needed.  Your meals, and the notebook of recipes you left behind, have sated us body and soul.  You have achieved the Mary Poppins Pinnacle of Care award, and we are still trying to devise a plot to kidnap you in perpetuity.

Oh spouse and child! How patient you are! How well you clear the floors of tripping hazards and allow my drug-addled brain to be more random than usual!

Oh new hip! May I and thou bond now and forever.

imgres

Gratitude and poop, an Ash Wednesday meditation

ashesI recently began seeing a spiritual director, something I’d been thinking about and finally committed to after a colleague who reads my blog sent me the kindest message which read something like, “Honey, I just love reading your blog and I’m wondering if you would like a spiritual director.”   I could just hear that silent prayer “Bless her heart.”  One of our ordination vows is to be a friend to our colleagues in ministry and I’m grateful to this friend in particular.

So in our first meeting my spiritual director and I started talking about meditation.  I confess that I spend about as much time meditating as I do working on my core and learning Italian, which is to say, no time.  I think my spiritual director got my number pretty quickly and she suggested working meditation into something I do everyday, to be mindful as I go about that task, to breathe in gratitude and breathe out beauty or hope or something as I go about this daily thing.  Really, it’s multi-tasking, which I love.  I don’t know if it’s good for my spirit, but we’ll see.

Every morning I take our dog Max out for his morning constitutional.  Rain or shine or wind, light or dark, out we go.  We’re like the U.S. Postal Service.  Except for ice.  I always make an exception for ice.  Anyway, every morning I take Max out so that he can pee on every bush that all the other dogs have peed on and so that he can sniff All Things.  We make it over to school and he chews on some grass, and growls at the other dogs who have the temerity to pee on his bush.  We keep walking until he poops.  Then I pick it up, and we head home with less peeing and sniffing.

So I have incorporated mindful breathing and meditativeness into my morning walk.  I breathe in gratitude – gratitude for the abundance of sun we’ve had this winter (and as soon as that negative thought about ‘this means a dry summer’ pops into my  head I send it scurrying off); there’s gratitude for my sweet dog whom I love, for the crocuses and daffodils that are blooming so early, for my neighbors and neighborhood, for the gentleman down the street whose morning fire always smells so good, for the kid who was sent out to pick up the trash that didn’t stay in the garbage can, for the school full of amazing, crazy kids, for so much.  I am just bursting with all that gratitude I’ve breathed in, and pray that I’m breathing out all that hope and love and grace or whatever it is I’m supposed to be breathing out.

And then, the dog poops.

The whole point of the morning walk is to get the dog to poop so that he does not do that inside while we’re at work.  It is the culmination of the walk, the finale, the big finish.  It should be greeted with confetti and kazoos and huzzahs and treats.  But I greet it with a sigh and the compostable green plastic dog poop bag.  And we head home, the denouement of our time together.

But I must admit that picking up the poop grounds me – really – in the way that saying “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” grounds me.   There is an earthiness to life that we cannot avoid, and everybody and everything living thing poops, and everybody and every living thing will die.  To dust we will return.  And hopefully no one will pick up the dust that once was us into a little compostable plastic bag, a sad denouement of a life well-lived.

Obviously, I have some work to do with my spiritual director, but I think some how with all that breath going on, and little groundedness will help.  A good Ash Wednesday to you.

IMG_5730

 

p.s.  I will not be giving this meditation at our Ash Wednesday service, but if you’d like to see the liturgy I wrote, go to my Liturgy page and the sub page of “Random Liturgy.”

 

The Great Pickle Fiasco, or How I Learned the Hard Way that I’m Not a Domestic Goddess

last year's pickles

last year’s pickles

Every year in the late summer I make pickles with my aunt.  She’s been making these pickles for years, and everyone in the family loves them, and as she is 82 and probably will die in about twenty years, I decided that I would like to learn how to make them to carry on this tradition.

My aunt is amazing.  At 82 she takes care of the old ladies at her church.  She goes non-stop, and is gracious all the while.  Very little bothers her, and she is generous.  For the last three years she has bought the cucumbers as my birthday present, and I drive out to her farm in the country and we sit and visit and scrub and cut cucumbers.  Then we mix water with lime and put the cucumbers in the plastic bucket (this keeps them crisp.)  Usually at this point I take my bucket home, let the cucumbers soak in the lime solution for a day, then rinse them and soak them in cold water for a day, then make the brine and cook them and jar them and voila, pickles.

But this year because of our two schedules, after we put the cucumbers in the lime solution I left them with her and went off to the beach for our annual church retreat.  She soaked them and she rinsed them and she brined them, and on my way back from the retreat, I picked up my bucket of brined cucumbers to take home, cook, and can.  Easy peasy, as my daughter would say.

What was the first sign that I should not have pickled today?  Obviously the universe was trying to tell me something, but I would not listen.  Things had been going so well. I ran into one of my favorite church members in the grocery store.  The hardware store stayed open an extra five minutes and I was able to buy my jars before they closed.

Perhaps the first sign was that I couldn’t find the pickle recipe.  Or that it took over two hours to get the brine and cucumbers to boil.  Or that if you set the dishwasher to the sanitizer cycle it takes about four hours.  But really, when  the first quart jar of hot brine and pickles broke, I should’ve stopped.  But no.  I persevered.  I had been in a bad mood all day, and I wasn’t going to let some broken freakin’ glass or sticky, sticky counter and floor stop me.

My husband had the good sense to round up the child and the  dog and watch tv.  I pickled.  I only came up with one good line in the whole process: “I like my men like my pickle brine: hot and sweet.”  Really, that should have been all that the universe needed to tell me.

The pickles are done.  Mostly.  I still have about a gallon left but I ran out of jars and trust me, I was not going to go hunt some down tonight.  The un-jarred pickles are waiting patiently in tupperware in the fridge till tomorrow when I might buy some more jars.  If I do, I will personally test those jars before I give them away.  With two quarts of vinegar and nine cups of sugar in the brine, I can’t imagine anything malign would survive, but you never know.

In the first church I served there is a beautiful Tiffany woman of the Ideal Woman described in Proverbs 31.  I hated that window. As a piece of art, it is gorgeous.  As an exemplar for womankind, it stinks.  It reminds me of this imaginary rival I have created in my mind, an amalgam of clergywomen I know and envy.  This woman I’ve created, we’ll call her Sophia, is like the 21st century version of Proverbs 31.  She is talented.  She runs 10ks for charity all the time.  She isn’t beautiful but she is striking, which is way better than being beautiful.  She is published.  Her husband has a fantastic job in the for-profit world so they can go on really lovely vacations and tithe the full 10%.   She not only pickles cucumbers, but she makes homemade bread for her kids’ sandwiches and whips up fresh mayonnaise to go on it (except she calls is aioli.)  She weaves.  She never, ever, ever wears clogs with jumpers and tights, or sweaters with birdhouses on them.  Her congregation adores her, as do her children and nieces and nephews.  She’s been through therapy so she’s very centered.  I desperately want to be her friend but I hate her so I can’t.

All I could think today, while trying not to get any broken glass in the pickles jars, was that I am so not Sophie and I should really give up trying to be.  I have no desire to run a 10k, or a 5k, or a block.   I cannot make pickles.  My dinner tonight consisted of almonds and red wine, with a few bites of the homemade granola I thought I should make while waiting for the brine to boil.  I begged off putting our daughter to bed so that I could clean the kitchen, but really, so that I could write this post.

One of my mentors used to ask after a fiasco, “What have we learned from this?”  She always elongated the verb – “what have we l – e – a – r – n – e – d ?”  Well, Margaret, this is what I have learned:

That red wine and almonds do not a good dinner make, nor are they sufficient nutrition for enduring pickling fiascos.

That sometimes the best course of action is to leave the kitchen and go watch tv.

That no one really cares if I make pickles or not, so this is all on me.

That this will make a great story starting about tomorrow, and that next year, my aunt I and will make pickles again.

And sometimes, that stained glass window you see is really just a stained glass window.

this is the window

this is the window

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

bagpipe darthI was talking with a church member yesterday, who told me the following story.  Over the weekend she and her family had gone down to the waterfront, where they encountered a person wearing a Darth Vader mask riding a unicycle while playing the bagpipes.  Let me repeat:  a person wearing a Darth Vader mask riding a unicycle playing the bagpipes.  Only in Portland.

All of which got me to thinking:  we really are fearfully and wonderfully made, and then we add to that.  Some add tattoos and piercings; some add pounds, stretch marks, cellulite.  Some add hair color, some shave their heads.  We add contact lenses and titanium hip joints and pig valves in the heart.  Our hearts add other stuff too: grief and joy, regret, disappointment that washes everything to a dull grey, hope for something better the next time around.

As a pastor, I think a lot about the community of fearfully and wonderfully made people, and the “I” and “we” of that, and the tension of individual desires and needs and the common good of the community.  Even after twenty years in ordained ministry, I struggle with pastoring well to everyone, knowing that that is an impossible yet necessary (but maybe not necessary) goal.  Several years ago, Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas observed that in the modern day, ministry had reduced to a pastor being “a quivering mass of availability.”  While that is the shortcut to burn out, there is something about the pastor being available, or present, or caring for, our fearfully and wonderfully made folk.

And we aren’t always.  Every time I drop the pastoral care ball, I lose sleep, and the Tums rest on the bedside table for a while.  I hate letting people down, and I do it, and so there’s some therapy in my future, I think.  And I wonder what role grace plays in all of that.

Do I have enough grace to rejoice that someone delights in riding the Darth Vader/Bagpiper unicycle?

Do I have enough grace with myself not to wallow in my regret and self-judgment?

Am I holding out grace as the tie that binds the fearfully and wonderfully made community together?  Do I teach that, and do I practice that?

It takes grace to ride a unicycle, and to play the bagpipe.  I’m not sure I would say that grace is needed to wear a Darth Vader mask in public – courage, maybe, or divine foolishness.  I think there was some grace involved in our creation, too – fearfully and wonderfully and gracefully made.  Amen to that.

The Multiplication of the Papers and Woo-Woo Presbyterians

papersOne of the benefits of being an Art History major is that I know all sorts of obscure titles for religious paintings.  The Assumption of the Virgin (in which Mary does NOT make an ass of you and me but rather flies up to Heaven); the Harrowing of Hell (in which Jesus, after the cross but before Easter, goes to Hell and rescues all the souls who died before he could save them, like Adam and Eve, etc.) and the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, in which Jesus feeds a mess of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  If you don’t believe me, type one of those titles into Google images and see the multiplication of Roman Catholic Great Masters’ paintings.

Of late, our household has experienced the multiplication of the morning papers.  It all began when for four days we didn’t receive our daily Oregonian, and then after one complaint call, we started getting three a day.  For ten days.  In spite of two more phone calls.

But today was special.  This morning when I walked the puppy at 6:00, I noticed our usual three papers on the porch.  My husband called and spoke to someone at the paper.  When I came home at lunch, there was a new paper – today’s paper – a fourth paper –  by the front door.  Maybe the earlier papers had a little Periodical Fun, and Fourth Paper in the Yellow Bag is their offspring.

Let’s detour for a moment to Woo Woo Presbyterians.  They call themselves this – I did not make it up.  I call them our Buddhist Presbyterians.  Whatever you want to call them, they are folks committed to our Presbyterian congregation who nonetheless see things on a different spiritual plain.  One of them once saw a delightful aura of white bouncing balls over my head while I preached.  (How AWESOME is that?)  Another can quote Buddhist masters, and pronounce their names correctly, at the drop of a hat.  I love them, because they are so generous in spirit, and let me be my usual frozen chosen self, not seeing auras and mispronouncing all sorts of names.

But because these Woo Woo Presbyterians are in my life, I’ve started to wonder if The Universe is trying to tell me something by sending me three or four morning papers.  I confess that my husband is the paper reader.  If I get to the Sudoku, I’m good.  If I finish the Sudoku and read the obituaries, it’s a banner day.  But is The Universe, by multiplying my Oregonian, suggesting that I actually read the paper?  That I know what’s happening in my community and in the world?  And that number three – that is WAY significant in Christianity: the Trinity, on the third day he arose, John 3:16.  But then what about the number four?

I don’t know.  And if tomorrow morning there is only one paper on the porch, or no paper, does that mean I should stop doing the Sudoku?  What would my Woo Woo Presbyterians say?

Maybe they would tell me it’s just The Universe pranking me.  Ha ha.  Funny.