Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gardening

This morning I found myself in my garden space; the one that I hope to be pretty excellent this year, despite my previous record.

The last tenant at our home was quite messy and didn't do much of anything with the house and/or yard; hence the garden area is a veritable command center for dock weed.

I loathe dock weed.  I can't dig it up (easily broken tap roots), I can't kill it.  I've resorted to all kinds of eco-unfriendly methods, including but not limited to pouring an entire bottle of RoundUp CONCENTRATE on the one plant at the base (after making sure it went downward into the roots).  That darn plant came back after a week.  The only damage it seemed to display was that a couple of its leaves were a little misshapen at first... then it was back in its full anti-glory.

So my amazing husband got me a 500,000 BTU weed torch.  (It doesn't kill the dock either, but it's kind of fun to blast.)  It really helps me clear the ground before I plant all of those annual veggies and replace a few of the herbs our puppy decided to dig up earlier this spring.  (Lesson learned: never let a 3 month old vizsla puppy loose in the yard if you're not paying complete attention to him.)

I started doing a little blasting with the torch yesterday and then again today.  Today I felt an almost profound experience as I watched the flames obliterate all of these weeds to nothing but ashes.  I want to honor God and God's creation in this activity, so that I can eat and share the bounty that I cultivated with my hands and by the generosity of God.  How am I honoring God's creation if I am busy obliterating and trying to obliterate the plants that I find "undesirable," just so that I might grow the plants I want to?  Is that really  honoring God?  Is it really honoring the Earth?  Or is it just honoring my desires for tasty food?

I still don't know the answer.  But I am still torching the weeds.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Closer to God?

Yesterday our dog walk through the woods was through a veritable ice-rain shower, one that made my face feel like it was being pelted by miniature ninja stars.  I was cranky anyway, as I'd been having stomach issues all day and felt like garbage.  By the end of the walk, I was downright... bitchy.  I said something short to my husband, and he replied that for an aspiring clergy member, my words and behavior were not very reflective of that.

I wouldn't be surprised if you heard my eyebrows slam together just by reading that.  I hate when he does that.

I mentioned it to him today, once I'd gotten into a better place, asked him why can't clergy be human and have mistakes and instances of bitchiness.  He replied "because you're closer to God."

Nope.

I hate to think of any person as closer to God than another person.  (Unless you're being the smart aleck who says someone older is closer to God than someone younger because likely the older person will die first... which husband also said.)

"But isn't the job of clergy to be closer to God?"

No.

I don't think anyone is closer to God than any other human being.  People may look at clergy as closer to God, but I disagree.  Clergy, to me, sometimes function as intermediaries simply because they are more schooled, more studied on the documents and histories of spirituality.  I do think it is the job of clergy to be well-read on documents of multiple spiritual philosophies/religions.  So, closer to God intellectually?  Possibly.  But not actually closer to God;  God is always with us, in us, around us.  Can't get much closer than that.

Amen.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

On rocks and religion

About a month ago, I started noticing something beautiful on our dog-walks.  Along the trail we walk (it's in the woods in a state park), I noticed some rocks at the base of trees, on fallen logs, etc.  Each rock was painted a rather neutral color to fit into the woods, and each rock had a positive message on it.  I remember "ah, songbirds -- the love song of the morning" as one of them.

(I've made my Cursillo, and I immediately thought of these as palanca, but I refused to take them because I wanted them to make other people's days better too.)

One night the rocks disappeared.  I thought the park maintenance workers had taken them, and when I asked them (they know us well), they said they hadn't, so I hoped more would come.

Meanwhile, I started making rocks of my own, and thought I'd add Project Semicolon work to these rocks.  Project Semicolon is a mental health initiative (see link above), and I thought to myself that maybe having the semicolon on them would help people who encounter these on the trail, maybe people who are suffering from depression or even just having a crappy day.  I wrote things like "The universe is glad you are here" and "thank you for being."  I made sure to plant a few that said "your story is not over"... and I put a large semicolon on all of the rocks after the message I wrote.

People started adding them and it was wonderful.  Until someone started adding religion.

This might be unexpected -- I, the Super-Episcopalian, didn't want to see religious messages spread across the trail?  You're darn tootin' I don't.

Here's why.

Religion divides.  As soon as you say "Jesus," a whole bunch of people who think of the bad things about Christianity are automatically repelled from the underlying message.  Same if you say "Allah" or any other specified-by-religion name the world uses for that force of love that is the most universal message of God: it repels those who are automatically repelled by the thought of established religion. (Cases in point: my father, my husband, and me when I was going through difficulties with my faith...)  And suddenly the rocks have chances to generate negative emotions instead of positive ones.

Love unites. Using love without specified religious terms makes these messages more accessible to everyone, religious or not, spiritual or not.

I do not want anyone to be repelled/put off/offended/negatively affected by these rocks in any way.  I'm sure someone will find something to be offended about, but I think that if the specified religious wording is kept away from the rocks, people of different or struggling or nonexistent faiths will feel more comfortable seeing these rocks, and possibly the message of Love will enter more hearts.

And that's what God's all about, no?  It/He/She is about LOVE.  All are welcome.  Why wouldn't we want to welcome everyone no matter what?  And to do that, I don't think that making something feel off-putting will make someone feel welcome.

All are welcome.
Amen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

On Confirmation and Reception

Two years ago this past May I was received into the Episcopal Church.  My particular reception liturgy was awkward and chaotic for me.  Our priest-in-charge at my church had just stepped in at that point, and so I missed some of the information that I needed before the liturgy.  So I came in late and wound up walking into the meeting with the Bishop when it was halfway through; 10 minutes before the mass my priest hadn't shown up yet owing to getting stuck at the doctor, and he was in a flannel shirt and jeans when he did.  It was in a tiny church in a tiny town, and the music consisted of a single organist who meets every stereotype of the classic little-old-lady-set-in-her-ways organist who makes so many mistakes that it threw off all the people who actually read music.  All in all, quite the "rinky-dink" service.  It was my mother's first exposure to the Episcopal Church, and I'm afraid that it wasn't the best possible impression for someone being completely uncomfortable walking into the nave (especially someone as well-versed in liturgy as my mother).

This past year was the Reception/Confirmation/Baptism liturgy of my dreams.  It was in one of the largest and most beautiful churches in the Diocese, it had a 40 person choir made up of different choirs from the district (mostly made up of the people from said large and gorgeous church -- which also boasts a phenomenal music program), and there was incense and amazing organ music and phenomenal choir music... I was honored to sing in the choir.  And I got to watch the beauty of the liturgy in one of the most beautiful environments possible.

My first thought was how much I wished I'd waited.  How awesome would it have been to walk down the aisle to Grace Church as a confirmand and see the magnificence of that environment.  And hear the choir!  And have my priest actually in clericals!

But as I watched from the choir stalls, I got to thinking: I've always loved the high liturgy, but how many times do I get lost in it?  (One of the ways I explain the contrast between Episcopal vs. Roman Catholic is to say that Episcopalians in general are a lot more easygoing but they still like to have fun with all the ritual stuff.)  I inherit this probably from my mother, who is so well-versed in liturgy that she knows that you're supposed to genuflect on TWO knees on Maundy/Holy Thursday after the Eucharistic procession (RC church).  Her appreciation of the beauty of the rituals is not lost on me, but how many times do I wish that she missed that one little misstep/wrong order of something so that I wouldn't have to hear about it later and then have my view on the liturgy tainted?

So: was "my" liturgy a message from God, a forced situation of humility for me to learn to appreciate?  I mean, my first exposure to the Episcopal Church was in a very High church (which is what ultimately made me fall in love with it -- the poetry of the Ordinary, the beauty of the hymns, the awesome organ blasting, all of it!), but not all churches of any denomination are "high."

A forced humility.  Sometimes we need this.  We need to see things stripped to their essentials to show that there is something greater at work than incense and loud organ music and magnificent choirs.  The poetry was still there.  The sincerity was still there.  So what if my priest was in a flannel shirt?  God sees what's in the heart, not what is on the outside.  God loves us for us, no matter how we come into a church.  Isn't a church a place of refuge for the fouler, darker parts of our hearts, where we can let it go to God and know we are not judged but LOVED for our not-quite-beautiful clothing and possibly dirty hands?

It took 2 years and seeing this year's really impressively elaborate liturgy to realize what God was telling me and teaching me.

And I'm glad He did.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Lent

"so what'd you give up?"

Invariably we hear the ubiquitous: sweets, chocolate, junk food, cursing... and so many non-observers of Lent leave their knowledge at this.

So what of this "giving stuff up" business that is the first thing "muggles" think of Lent?  Are we masochists?  Are we glorying in our own martyrdom, so that everyone can see what devout Christians we are? 

I never like to think that Lent is about "giving up."  Giving up implies sacrifice, yes, but it also implies resignation.  Why would we ever want to give up?  Give up on our faith?  Give up on our convictions?  Why not come at Lent stronger, more willing to take on the challenges of this beautiful time - a way of NOT giving up.  Lent is not a season of deprivation.  It is a season of sacrifice, but that is not its focus.  Lent is so, so much more.

In Lent we remember.  We remember those 40 days that Christ spent being tempted and tested by the fallen angel Lucifer; we remember the incredible strength it must have taken to experience this: strength of mind, strength of body, and -- arguably most importantly -- strength of heart.  These spiritually Herculean tasks of the Lord are definitely something to remember; what perfect Love God the Son could have and did have to do all of this for us.

In Lent we reflect.  We reflect on what we do, and what we feel, what we are -- outside and in!  In our reflection, we repent also.  This is why, in my Roman Catholic upbringing, there were so many more people going to confession than any other time of the year: they/we reflected, repented of our wrongdoings, and resolved to serve God better in every way we know how.

In Lent we prepare.  Lent is the season leading up to the both solemn and glorious Passiontide -- the most holy week of the church year; that most holy week that culminates in Christ's resurrection from the dead.

We are not here to "give up."  If anything, we are here to do the opposite: to remember, to reflect, to prepare ourselves to journey head-on into the joy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, bearer of all our sins and savior of the world.  And we ask that our actions show our deep love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Monday, October 5, 2015

On Depression and Jonah

In the novel Father Melancholy’s Daughter, Gail Godwin creates a narrative of a priest who is prone to bouts of depression, who earns the nickname “Father Melancholy” from his parishoners.  Throughout the book, Father Melancholy describes his depression as getting lost behind a Black Curtain, and he can’t find his way out.  When encouraged by his wife to take antidepressants prescribed by his well-loved doctor, Father Melancholy says that he wants to get to the bottom of it, to “look the damn thing in the face… to help me see… well, I don’t know what,” so that he could emerge triumphant.

His emergences in the novel are always sudden.  The passage that struck me most about his emergence was when he told his wife that “these mashed potatoes are creamy and delicious, the ham is tasty, and I have a new book from the library I’m looking forward to reading later.”  And as a firsthand sufferer of bouts of depression, I can assure that these sudden emergences sometimes happen; you don’t realize how much better you feel until the moment hits you like a smack to the head that life is, indeed, a beautiful and blessed thing.

What strikes me most about Godwin’s novel, though, is that she never draws Father Melancholy’s bouts of depression to the story of Jonah and the whale.  It seems so obvious: Father Melancholy gets lost behind his Black Curtain, much as Jonah was swallowed by the whale.  They both spend a time in darkness, aching and wishing for light to come, and desperately praying.  And suddenly, the whale vomits Jonah onto shore, just as one evening Father Melancholy realizes that his mashed potatoes are creamy and delicious, and that he is looking forward to reading his new book.

And what about our need for these dark moments, for these times in the belly of the proverbial whale, that we may eventually emerge on the shore to see the world in a different way?  So much research has been done on diagnoses of “mental illness” – be it depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. – in those involved in the arts.  Nancy Andreason, a physician-neuroscientist who has studied the correlation between creative persons and mental illness states an interesting perspective to our need for these dark moments: “Did mental illness facilitate [their] unique abilities, whether it be to play a concerto or to perceive a novel mathematical relationship?  Or did mental illness impair their creativity after its initial meteoric burst in their twenties?  Or is the relationship more complex than a simple one of cause and effect, in either direction?”

So is mental illness – depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mania, or even alcoholism and drug abuse – a precursor to creativity or simply something that comes with it?  Do artists of any type spend their time in dark periods so that they may be spit upon the shore and gain a new perspective with a beginner’s mind?  Is this why people of such creative genius are able to make amazing connections that many have never thought of before?  Does mental illness allow creative persons to feel more deeply and bring those feelings to the rest of the world in new, beautiful, and amazing ways?  Do our dark periods, as Jonah in the whale’s belly, ultimately become a gift to us so that we gain a new perspective?


Perhaps we all need to be as Jonah; take a dark period to really examine ourselves with no distractions, no light – just ourselves in an enclosed, quiet, and completely solitary environment.  And once we realize the Lord’s call for us, may we be spit upon the shore and see the world with clearer eyes and a more open heart.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why We're Here

Welcome.  I am the Silly Episcopalian.  I am also a music teacher for students with developmental disabilities.

I go to Zion Episcopal Church in Rome, NY.  I'm on the vestry, in the choir, and newly hatched, and I'm here to tell my story about my faith and its journey.

I was baptized, raised, and confirmed Roman Catholic.  I went to parochial school from kindergarten through grade 8; I was allowed to go to the local public school in my hometown because of the music program it had (which ultimately led me to pursue music education in college).

As a little girl, I was always impulsive and couldn't keep myself still for longer than a couple of minutes.  Welcome to me messing around during mass, and mom putting me in the children's choir.

Music transformed my faith. "Sing to the Lord a new song" became the philosophy of my life, even though I didn't quite know it yet.

I was also interested in priesthood and ministry.  Mom started quite the lively discussion in our diocesan newspaper about whether or not girls should be allowed to be altar servers (I wanted to be one BADLY); I wound up being in the first class of altar servers in my church that allowed girls to serve.

When we were in school and discussing whether or not girls could be the President, Sister Paul said that we certainly could.  I took this one step further and declared that I'd like to be the first female Pope.  Ridicule ensued.

I didn't really question my Roman Catholicism until it became time to consider things for Confirmation and when we started learning about different religions and different sects of Christianity in religion class.  I learned that the Episcopal Church had female priests and even married priests.  I wanted to go and see more.  But my request was met with a resounding NO.  Resentment ensued.

I stayed resentful for a long time.  My junior year of college I discovered a pianist at the local Catholic church and rediscovered how much fun it was to sing and play there.  I felt like my faith was awakened.  It lasted quite a while.  Sometimes I wonder if the music masked my feelings about the institution itself.

Then grad school in Philadelphia (Temple to be exact).  I was living in graduate school housing across from the main campus in a row house apartment... which is not exactly a great neighborhood, but not a terrible one.  Campus lighting at night is practically daylight.  I didn't know the city, was basically afraid to drive in it, and didn't know what to do regarding subway and church shopping.

Then my friend Grace, who really is amazing, invited me to her church (Saint Mark's Philadelphia) because the choir was amazing and she thought I'd enjoy it.  I was entranced.  First mass was a little tough because it lasted longer than an hour and people didn't RACE out during the postlude (old habits die hard); instead they sat and listened to the (magnificent!) organ playing.

Even though it was a long-ish mass that was weird to me, I wound up going back.  Sharing breakfast with Grace at the cafe across the street from the church, then sharing mass.  And what a mass!  It was such a beautiful, beautiful place and experience.  This planted the seed in me, but it was to remain latent for about 8 years.

Then I met a fabulous pianist in a pit orchestra for Seussical the Musical (I'm a rather decent woodwind player).  I was deeply impressed with his piano-ing, and he mentioned that he was the music director at Zion Episcopal Church.  About a year after meeting him, I finally mustered up the courage to see how different or how similar it was to my experiences at St. Mark's from years ago.

It was every bit as spiritual and wonderful.  I kept coming back.

And that is where my story begins.