Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Acceptance of Life as Gift

If I were to actually accept my life as gift, what would that look like?

I sent an email this morning to my women's spirituality group, quoting Mark Nepo's reading for today about the Flow of Life.  He says all of life is harboring and releasing.  Fully taking in our experience, then letting it go, whether joyful or painful.  Harbor and release.  Again and Again.  Beautiful stuff.

And he has a line in there about how resisting is painful...resisting makes us rust like iron.

Yes, resisting is futile...but accepting my life as a gift ...means ... hmmm...
Facing the profound disappointment I feel about certain relationships that are currently blocked.  This is not blog-able, but it occurs to me first because it's what I am resisting SO strongly each and every time I think about it.  I want to make them right. I want them to be what they used to be...free and easy and close.  I want to correct this, un-do what needs to be undone.  I want to take action to .... to what?  Oh, Lord.  I can't "take action" and "make" the others different.  I can only "take action" within myself.  So, to accept the disappointment I feel is to open my heart to the wrenching pain, oh, it hurts! . . .  to allow the tears to fall, and to rage against . . . well, against the facts, against the fact that this has happened.  It is.  

That's the harboring, and I've been holding/harboring for a long time.  

To release the disappointment and anger, well, the point is what's left after those negative feelings are felt.  I can remember what good remains in the relationships.  I can face the realignment of the relationship.  Oh, it still hurts, but . . . 

An Eagerness to Learn Again

Conversation this morning with my Brilliant Friend reminded me how deeply satisfying it is to LEARN.  Learning expands who I am.  In carrying me forward into exciting new thoughts and realizations, learning feeds my spirit in such an important and beautiful way. 

She was saying how she found Dibbs: The Search for Self to be amazing.  Five-year-old boy with a therapist who lets him be who he is, and in doing that, she provides the grace-filled space for him to become who he is.  His home life was not providing such a space.  Brilliant Friend was moved to tears. 

As she spoke I was able to resonate so deeply with what she was saying because of my study of Carl Rogers.  He theorized about how total acceptance, ("unconditional positive regard"), can heal.  The therapist responds by mirroring the client's words or feelings. The mirror allows the client to see herself.  Which also reminds me of Kierkegaard writing about how Christ is mirror for the self, for self-actualization.

Brilliant Friends' words were openings for me.  They opened these wonderful memories of coming to understand Rogers' thought.  I loved it, just like Brilliant Friend loved a story of Rogers' theories at work. It's so helpful to have a background, or perhaps a Shimmering Mountain Lake of Meaning is a better metaphor (ha!), upon which her words  could sink in and be heard.   Having this prior understanding of Rogers gave me a way to resonate with the story Brilliant Friend was telling such that, in my own way, I understood her tears and could resonate with the feelings underneath them. 

Anyway, after our conversation, I had an eagerness to learn again.  I remembered the great feeling of growing and changing and expanding my sense of self when I learned. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Keep Going

OK.  It's Tuesday morning.  Here I sit, having slept until 8 am, exhausted from keeping grandchildren for a couple of days on my own and from abruptly ending the 50 mg of Prednisone I take after each Thermoplasty procedure on my lungs.  I've noticed depressed thoughts, threatening anxiety.  I'm crying more easily than usual. 

But that's all OK--I'm still adjusting to no longer working, and I've yet to find truly meaningful ways to spend my time.  Told David last night that the ground beneath me is shaky; every time I put my foot down, the rug is pulled out from under me (to mix my metaphors).  I keep wanting to grasp and control, but I know that's a response from my false ego.  Before me lies a huge opportunity for spiritual growth: Learning to be.  It will come.

Not sure how easily I could've written that paragraph without having read a couple of chapters of "What Happened" by Hillary Clinton.  I feel inspired by my reading this morning.  I'm dealing with a big change in my circumstances, but Clinton's experience, of course, dwarfs my own.  Plus, she had to adjust to having let down so many people.  The only one who's deeply affected by my changing circumstance is David, and I'm SO blessed with a husband who is totally supportive and trusting.

Notes from the book so far:

  • I thought she'd written that Bush said "That was some weird shit" to her directly (talking about 45's inauguration speech), but no.  She just wrote that he "reportedly" said that.  
  • "We can't understand what happened in 2016 without confronting the audacious information warfare waged from the Kremlin, the unprecedented intervention in our election by the FBI director, a political press that told voters that my emails were the most important story, and deep currents of anger and resentment flowing through our culture."
  • "I surrounded myself with friends and caught up on some of the shows that people have been telling me about for years, as well as a lot of HGTV."  HA!  That made me LOL.
  • "I've always felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net.  Now I'm letting my guard down."  
  • 65,844,610 votes for Hillary.  62,979,879 for 45.   [That's 48.2% to his 46.1%]  
  • "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."--Nietzsche (and Kelly Clarkson)
  • "When we talked [she and George W], he suggested we find time to get burgers together.  I think that's Texan for "I feel your pain."  
  • "I remember when Bill lost his reelection as Governor of Arkansas in 1980.  He was so distraught that I had to go to the hotel...to speak to his supporters on his behalf.  For a good while afterward, he was so depressed that he practically couldn't get off the floor.  That's not me. I keep going."  Wonder whether it was OK with Bill that she write that...? 
  • She spent time cleaning out the closets!  (Me, too!)
  • Watching her 2-year-old granddaughter's dance recital!  "Some are intensely focused, some are trying to talk to their parents in the audience, and one girl just sat down and took off her shoes in the middle of everything.  Lovely mayhem."  Then she wrote about the cost she would've paid if she'd been elected -- "missed a lot of dance recitals, bedtime stories, and trips to the playground. Now I had those back. That's more than a silver lining.  That's the mother lode."
  • And she wrote a couple of pages about Henri Nouwen's Prodigal Son.   How amazing.  She quotes him: "I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly.  I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred." 
She writes that she wants to be "grateful for the hard things, even for our flaws, because in the end they make us stronger by giving us a chance to reach beyond our grasp.  My task was to be grateful for the humbling experience of losing the presidential election."
If she can be grateful for something so extraordinary, how can I not cultivate such an attitude as well? 

All Shall Be Well
All Shall Be Well
And All Manner of Thing Shall be Well

Beautiful quotes she mentions:
Harriet Tubman:  If you are tired, keep going.  If you are scared, keep going.  If you are hungry, keep going.  If you want to taste freedom, keep going.
Rainer Maria Rilke:  Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
Maya Angelou:  You may write me down in history, with your bitter, twisted lies.  You may trod me in the very dirt, But still, like dust, I'll rise . . . You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I'll rise.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

If you're a Christian, be careful. Easter is often portrayed/preached as some kind of triumph that can lead us toward triumphalism.

Easter is never a triumph in that way.
  • Easter is the JOY that comes from pain. It's not the winner of some cosmic game.
  • Easter is the EXUBERANCE born of an existence that looks uncompromisingly at the world's injustice. It is not puffed-chest: "we're the best because we have all the answers."
  • Easter is LIFE, yes, in all its beauty, but lif...e also as the most difficult thing in the world--life FROM death. And Easter does not escape any of these processes unscarred. It is not "easy because we are the favored ones."
Easter/Resurrection is always and forever tied to crucifixion. It is the life lesson that Jesus embodied: it's through the pain (not around it, not avoiding it) that true joy, exuberance and the beauty of life are experienced. 

Christ is risen, yes, indeed that's so true. And we are forever and profoundly grateful. But unless we carry with us where he came from, what he taught, who he became, and what he arose from, then our Christianity is but an empty shell, doing more harm than good.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Expressing a Sense of Life

I'd like to be able to express in words a sense of being alive, of having been created, born.

Reading (again) Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.  She talks about ordinary awareness and spiritual awareness, and how ordinarily we are self-reflective and perceive things based on the "I" that the ego constructs.  Here we evaluate, make distinctions, converse, etc.  Anxiety is always hanging around.  Spiritual awareness provides a different way of perceiving.  Here we are aware of a connecting oneness, the truth that we belong.   Here love predominates.  We are moving toward a Christ-consciousness in which we can engage the world with the beautiful, powerful, vulnerability of Jesus.

I suppose it's my own brand of spiritual awareness in combination with my existential proclivities that gives me a feeling of the shocking depth of the mystery that I am, we are.

I feel the infinite ocean of the Past and the Future and the holographic complexity, and simplicity, of the Now....I do not feel my DNA making a difference, or my bone marrow producing, my liver cleansing, my kidneys filtering, or my brain thinking. Aliveness...."I" lived for 9 months in my mother's body.    Alive--not sure.

I feel deep within me a fullness, energy ... and simultaneously a mysterious something -- emptiness? limited freedom, quickening.  When I try to move toward it, it falls away, like trying to hold water in an open hand. What is the energy, or the stuff, or the spirit, that makes life Life?  What is its form and color?

Oh, I'm not even close.

Well, more later.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Moving On -- Already Missing Communion at Cathedral of Hope

It saddens me to leave Cathedral of Hope, where I've served as Assoc Pastor for Spiritual Life for 2 and a half years.  Monday was my last day there.  This coming Monday I'll start something new--hospice chaplaincy.

I've always felt drawn to a ministry with those who are dying and their loved ones, so I move on with a sense of rightness, a feeling that it's a ministry for which I have some gifts, and that I'll find it extremely meaningful.

Still, leaving pastoral ministry is going to cost me.  I'll miss the excitement of Sunday mornings:
  • 800 people at two services
  • being at or near the center of a worship service that 20,000 people around the world would watch online, big screens in the sanctuary, getting the microphones just right
  • orchestra and choir -- music that moved the heavens
  • beauty of the sanctuary, with its color and light and movement
Most of all, though, it's the way CoH serves communion.  When David and I first visited there on the Sunday after I was hired, we sat on the second row, so we received communion and a blessing from one of the ministers, then returned to our pew.  And then we watched.  We witnessed.  It went on and on and on and on, a SEA of humanity -- all kinds of people, black and white and brown, people dressed beautifully and people dressed in old dirty clothes, mostly gay but some straight, a couple of folks in wheelchairs . . . all coming forward to receive the bread of life and the cup of grace.  And the ministers placed the wafer, dipped in juice, on their tongues and gave them all a blessing.  Oh, oh, oh, it was beautiful to behold.  

Little did I know that serving communion would be even better than receiving it!  I got to dip the wafer in the juice and place it on each person's tongue.  They came individually, in couples, in whole families and friends together.  Each one coming forward down those long aisles, as the beautiful music played, to receive the LOVE of Christ.  The unconditional love.  The love that knows NO BOUNDARIES, includes absolutely EVERYONE -- no exceptions.  No kidding.  I always smiled as they came forward, for I was truly so happy to see them.  I always looked them in the eye, and gave them the blessing that came to me from the theme of the service, and I prayed that for each person the bread of life and the cup of grace would truly nourish their very souls.

And then, when the last person had received, I was often the one designated to "clean the dishes," as Dawson would put it.  With everyone seated, I went to the communion table, lifted up the loaf, which an LMOW (lay minister of worship) had placed there, eat it.  Then lift up the cup, and drink the juice. The LMOW would then pour a little water in the cup, which I'd swish around, and drink it.  Then I'd stand back and sing with the congregation.  Each communion song was well known, and each had a place in which the whole congregation knew to rise up AS ONE, everyone holding hands across the pews, and we'd SING, SING, SING -- SING OF THE ALL INCLUSIVE, RADICAL LOVE OF GOD.  

And I'd stand there, with my arms outstretched, singing, and looking at the LMOW's in their white robes who always sat on the first pew.
And without exception, there were always several who would be looking UP, up, up at the cross, with TEARS streaming down their beautiful faces.  Their loving gratitude to God was so naked on their faces.  Oh my God, that was THE MOST beautiful experience for me...I often cried, and often nearly started dancing with joy at the sight of their faces.  Oh my God, THANK YOU for giving me that experience.  I will miss it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Box of Letters -- Life, Ephemeral

We don't often get a real window into our childhood past, but today I did.  Wasn't a wide open window, but cracked enough for a little glimpse through time.

My brother, who lives in Thailand, asked me recently to retrieve some boxes he's had in storage with an old friend in Dallas.  I'm going to inventory them so he can decide what to do with them.  The first box I opened, and the only one so far, was filled with stacks and stacks of old letters, many of them from my mother who was writing to her son in the early 1960's.  Denny had just joined the Army, and Susan and I were between 5 and 8 years old.  

The letters are filled with news-- 
  • she's going to make the cookies soon 
  • she misses him and wishes he'd write more 
  • how Charles (my dad, Denny's stepdad) thought that Beaumont, where they had just moved, was a fisherman's paradise
  • usually something about the weather
  • it hasn't rained since "Carla," the famous hurricane (I have a vague memory of us all going to my father's trucking terminal to wait out the storm--Susan and I would play out among all that freight with the big carts and dollies, and how fun it was to run the length of that HUGE terminal)
  • how much she loves him, and misses him
  • she's found some ladies who need a sub to play bridge with
  • Katy (me) was chosen for a big school "sing-song"
  • they moved from rent-house to rent-house, most of them not that great
  • she wrote about her loneliness, bordering, she said once, on depression
  • "the girls" miss you -- and there are a couple of little letters to Denny from me and Susan
  • she finally found a pattern that fit so she's sewing herself a new dress
  • she's painting the furniture in his room, so it'll be nice when he comes to visit
  • "bugs! bugs! bugs!" are everywhere and "the girls" are terrified of them
  • mosquitoes cover "the girls'" legs when they go out to play
  • "the girls" had a little friend over to play, but Susan doesn't get along with her very well--probably because she's jealous of anyone playing with Katy (that made me cry)
  • she chastises him for not calling on Sunday--she waited all day for him to call and he never did
  • then another letter apologizing for that
  • her excitement at finally buying a house -- the only one I remember from this time period: 316 S. 2nd St. in Nederland -- it was there that she made several friends
A small window into a period of life about which I have very few memories.  She paints a picture of domestic life, a good life for the most part.  Of course, I know my father always drank too much, but she never mentions that.  

I got the visceral sense of how much she GAVE to me and my sister.  We were her world -- she sewed our clothes, packed our lunches, took us to school and picked us up, led our Bluebird group, baked cookies for us, all of it.

And I feel so badly that I disappointed her.  As a teen I rebelled--from about 11 until I left home right after high school, I remember it as one long fight.  Over the years my therapist has helped me see why I did that and how it was necessary for me to do it, so I understand it and in a certain way it's OK.  But reading these letters leaves me with a profound sadness.  She was proud of me, she loved me.  She was my mother, and from the time my childhood was over we rarely connected.  

A few letters were written after she moved to South Carolina to live with Susan and her family.  No mention of me at all except one cryptic line about "Katy and I did pretty well on the drive."  She seethed with anger toward me during that whole drive from Texas to SC while, in the midst of the excitement of "finding myself" in therapy and a big career etc., I was full of self-righteousness, sanctimonious certainty that I was doing the right thing for myself, and further certain that putting myself first was the absolute right thing to do.  

In some narrow way perhaps there's a bit of truth there, but I've regretted for years that I didn't handle that whole period of time with much more grace toward my mother than I did.

Here's the thing . . . Today, reading those letters, I feel awash in how ephemeral life is.  I was a child, and now I'm not.  My mother was on the earth for 75 years, and now she's not.  The ropes of steel that connected us when I was 5 and 6 became slender threads barely able to support anything, to the point that I believe her last words to me, as she lay dying in that hospital bed, were intended to wound me.  

And God knows they did.  

And yet the threads never broke, did they?  Here, now, all these years later (Sept. 25, 2014 will be the 20th anniversary of her death) there remains a connection.  Memories connect and sustain a relationship, for good or for ill. 
Is her consciousness alive somewhere?  somehow?  Does she have memories?  Does she see now what's real and true and good and beautiful, and does she forgive me?  Does she ask my forgiveness?  
It's like that box full of letters.  It's a big box and it's FULL of letters, not only from my mother, but from my brother's lifetime of friends.  His connections extend all over the world -- former students, friends from Zen, Army, his boyhood, writers and editors and photographers.  My brother is amazingly connected to SO many people.  

All those letters, artifacts from days that no longer exist, and yet remain. 

David's father died on July 10.  On one of our drives back from Georgia (we thought his dad was getting better, so we came home, but then had to return to Georgia shortly thereafter), David said something about having memories of his grandfather who was born in the 1880's, I think he said.  And Morgan and Eddie, our grandchildren, who will carry memories of us, may live into the 2080's.  
So our lives extend 200 years, through the connections of our memories--those gossamer rememberings that undulate through time.

I'm reading the science fiction series The Expanse, the context of which has humanity moving out for the first time beyond our own solar system.  Time and space.  Immeasurable.  So mysterious that their remoteness chills me and yet I live and move and have my being within them.  

The weather here has been so strange lately...mid-July and it only reached 86 degrees today.  Polar Vortex Redux?  :-)  As I type, the sun is behind our neighbor's house across the street and the light has a pinkish cast to it.  I can hear the television going in the living room--David's replaying Band of Brothers.  "Just because," he said, although I sense that it's an homage to his father. Tomorrow I'll get up early for church in Dallas where I, along with three other pastors, will lead our congregation in the worship of God.  And I'll be moved, with both profound humility and brilliant joy, as I always am.   

Monday, June 30, 2014

Racism and Spiritual Growth

Gracious God, forgive our small-mindedness, our assumption that the way we see the world is the only or best way to see it. Give us a glimpse of your perspective; help us see through your eyes of love and grace. Amen.
Our recognition of Juneteenth in worship this year was a powerful experience for me. Rev. Darnell Fennell’s sermon spoke volumes—he articulated beautifully both why and how, in Christianity, there is no separation between our spiritual lives and the lives we lead in the here and now. To think of the importance of our spiritual lives solely in whether we end up going to heaven or hell misses the whole point of Jesus’ life and ministry among us. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly—in the here and now!

How do we experience abundant life? I think we experience it by courageously deciding to follow Jesus Christ, to undertake a spiritual journey to become more and more like Jesus, who was and is the Christ. This spiritual journey of following Christ entails a whole range of decisions, times of sufferings, times of bliss, a commitment to deep reflection, and true engagement with both issues of the soul and with issues of our time, that is, the issues that confront us culturally and socially. One of the most important of these current issues is racism.

After worship, Rev. Fennell led a “conversation on racism,” sponsored by H4PJ. One thing that struck me in this conversation was a word of hope about how many young people today have been raised in a culture that is much more diverse than in the past, and how these young people feel so comfortable in environments that are rich in racial diversity. That is indeed hopeful. As I listened, it occurred to me to wonder about a fundamental human anxiety: fear of the other, fear of difference.

I learned about this fundamental anxiety in an ethics class taught by Dr. Darryl Trimiew. I recall him saying to the class, “We are all racists.” My liberal consciousness rebelled at that idea, and it took me many weeks of study and questioning of myself to understand what he meant. Yes, we are all racists in the sense that we all carry this basic fear of difference—our first ancestors survived, it’s assumed, by learning to fear those of other clans and tribes, and that fear is passed down through our DNA. I don’t know how anyone could be sure of that—and even if it’s totally accurate, perhaps when young people are raised in a milieu of racial difference, this basic fear is ameliorated.

Still, I think it might be helpful spiritually to assume a kernel of truth in this idea, that we have a deep, perhaps unconscious, anxiety about differences in other people. It could be helpful spiritually because it means that part of our spiritual journey of becoming more Christ-like entails examining and making conscious this anxiety. When we become more aware of it we can confront it, and in that confrontation lies a seed of powerful and beautiful transformation.

I’ve always loved the story of the Canaanite woman who had the courage to confront Jesus about his biased attitude. She asked him to help her daughter and he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She immediately countered with “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.” She was saying, Look at me! I am a human being, created in God’s image! Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” I think this woman’s confrontation allowed Jesus to transform, to see beyond the “only” to an “all” way of thinking and loving.

And this is our example—to be like Jesus, who, when he allowed himself to hear this different point of view from a woman of a different group of people, had the courage to allow the truth to transform him. In recognizing the humanity of another being, I think Jesus grew more authentically into his full humanity.

I’m fond of pointing out that “we’re all more alike than different,” which is true and valuable, I think, but it’s also just as true that “we are all different.” And our differences—racial, sexual orientation, gender, able-bodied or not, age, etc.—must be acknowledged and valued. They must be valued because these differences give us a unique point of view, a unique experience of the world, and if we dig deep for the courage to allow a different point of view/experience of the world to actually change us, then, like Jesus, we too might move more fully into our full humanity.

Racism is an evil in the world that can take many forms, some blatant, others subtle and hidden. If we want to grow in our faith, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we must do the heavy spiritual work of making ourselves aware of the subtle ways that our fear of “the other” entangles us in the ugly web of racism.

One way to do this work is to join with others in a “Sacred Conversation,” a group that will soon be offered through the Cathedral Academy for Life and Learning. I hope to learn much in such a group, and I invite you to join me. It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but in my experience the discomfort is a powerful portal to spiritual growth.

Gracious God, forgive our small-mindedness, our assumption that the way we see the world is the only or best way to see it. Give us a glimpse of your perspective; help us see through your eyes of love and grace. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Our "modern lesson" this morning in worship (we sometimes use something other than a secondary biblical reading) was from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 sermon on Christmas Eve, which said, in part:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. ...Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

I love that.  Our guest preacher, Rev. Sandhya Jha, used it in her sermon on "Ubuntu" and anti-oppression.  She's a dynamo...really excellent.

She also led about 40 folks in a Diversity Workshop on Saturday, helping us identify our "intersectionality," those things that tend to identify us -- our race, socioeconomic status, class, age, sexual orientation, gender, etc etc.  We talked about how difficult it is to see beyond those differences into our common humanity.  And people were SO open about it, so eager to have this conversation with each other.

Stimulating.  Deeply gratifying to be part of it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Peace in the Midst of Suffering

Suffering is such a difficult subject.  I preached about it last Sunday...
I want to talk to you this morning about a serious subject – the subject of Suffering. Well, actually, I don’t WANT to talk about it.  I’ve struggled with this my whole life, and frankly, I find it absolutely infuriating.  But it’s our reality, and I think it’s important, when we worship God, to be real about our experience.  And suffering is just part of that; we're born into a world of kindness and beauty and goodness, and suffering.   These are the terms of our existence. 
Now, not to rank different kinds of suffering—that would be DUMB, but I do need to say that some suffering is easier to get a hold of than others.  When we can explain suffering, it gives us something to hold on to, and that can help.  "Well, we’re suffering because of that person over there who’s behavior is unacceptable!  OR, we’re suffering because we ourselves refuse to change, or leave, or let go.  OR we’re suffering at the hands of an institution or a system, or a corporation or a government, or a Church.  When we can identify the reason, there’s usually a way to deal with it.  But when there’s no identifiable reason for it…as in tornadoes that just randomly drop down out of the very sky!  OR … of course, there’s sickness and disease. People get cancer and die.  But to get a diagnosis right before your wedding day?  or while you’re pregnant?  What’s that about?
Come on . . .  no no no.  Why would a supposedly loving and powerful God allow … I mean, NO.  If God really loves us, and God is really powerful, then . . . NO.  Perhaps  you've worked through this question and are satisfied with your answers, but I have worked and struggled and worked some more, and, for me, there is no good answer to this question of why suffering exists.  It just does! …. There ARE some other things about suffering that we can talka about, though--important things, especially today on this Peace Sunday. 
Spiritual giants through the ages have addressed the issue of pain and suffering – and many agree that if we stop resisting suffering, it will help.  When we can gently  let go of our resistance to the pain that’s visiting us, we’re more open to the lessons that suffering wants to teach us.  The assumption here is that suffering carries within it some kind of gift. 
Personally I sense some truth here, but I also think that this idea comes dangerously close to spiritualizing suffering.  It can lead us to discount how vicious suffering can be, glossing over the cruelty and malice involved in some suffering.  So I think we have to careful here… After all, we’re called to stand against suffering, aren’t we?…Just like God stands against suffering.  God never allows us to suffer in order to teach us a lesson.   God hates it that we suffer, and as Compassion itself, God suffers right along with us.  And the thing is ….God is always at work creating a new thing, calling us to become all we can be, nudging us to help create the Reign of God on the earth.  So suffering is here—it’s not from God, but since it’s here, know that God is always working with us to somehow redeem it.  At least offer that possibility.
I do think that one gift suffering nearly always offers is to help us move from surface to deeper  ways of knowing.  Suffering can free us from the illusions created by our false egos, with their love for self-deception. 
Poet and philosopher John O’Donohue says that “even if we had lovely parents and a magic childhood—even then, there aren’t many humans walking around who aren’t covered in the shell of false ego.  But suffering cracks that shell and breaks it open, so that the new, hidden life within us can emerge” and we can more easily SEE reality and truth. 
Another important thing about suffering...let me quote John O’Donohue again here. 
"Part of the beauty of the Christian story is the way it’s so real with suffering.”  After all, the Cross is the central symbol of our faith – a truly horrible symbol, an instrument of torture, yet the Cross is so powerful because . . . “there’s a cruciform structure to every pain and sadness we encounter.  The cross isn’t just on a hill in Jerusalem. The shape of the cross is internal to the human heart.  All our hearts have that shape.   
Human beings are nothing if not one big contradiction.  We’re relational—connected with others at our core, and at the same time we’re unique individuals who stand alone.  We are free, but our freedom is limited--the absolute paradox of limited freedom.  
O'Donohue puts it like this:  "This cruciform structure that is the human heart is where these contradictions meet.  The cross goes from the lowest point of the clay (from where we're grounded in our humanity) to the highest point of divinity" (those times when we actually get a glimpse of the Image of God within us). ... The Christian story tells us that the crucifixion and the resurrection are of a piece.  The resurrection is the light hidden at the heart of the cross.  It's so sad and so frightening--but only through the Cross is the beauty of real healing and life revealed.  Through the pain of the cross we are invited to come home to ourselves [and to the intimacy of what it means to be human, for this is something we all share.  Nothing connects us to each other more than the vulnerability we all experience in suffering.
Now, this is heavy duty stuff, taking us to the heart of what it might mean to be a Christian.  But perhaps it does not resonate with you.  Part of the problem with preaching is that it’s a monologue, when I’d really like to hear how you respond to this.  I’m going to be here in this chapel area between/after the service today to listen if you’d like to talk about this, OK? 
So, suffering is a given.  Being careful not to spiritualize it, it might carry within it some gifts – breaking our false egos open, connecting us to each other in powerful ways.  And the Christian story,  in particular,   takes the crucifying pain of suffering and connects it to the Resurrection—they are of a piece!  That’s what Jesus did and that’s what his Spirit continues to do—The possibility that our suffering might, in some mysterious way, be redeemable  is Christ’s invitation to Abundant Life. 
And we see this possible reality everywhere.  Why do we love Nelson Mandela and grieve as we anticipate his death? In part because in the midst of his suffering, he opened himself up to the work of the Spirit that was always nudging him to stand for justice while loving his enemies.  And oh, how that created a man of true peace.
Another smaller example—my husband David and I met 10 years ago, on July 5 2003.  We celebrated that anniversary on Friday by having lunch together at the same restaurant where we met.  David and I are the same age – 10 years ago we were both 47, middle age, a time in which we were both focused on our careers.  Now, at 57, we’re still there, but thoughts of retirement are also part of our reality now.  And our conversation on Friday touched on a couple of things that have happened to both of us, separately, recently that made me think of the  life cycle, where middle age is about productivity, and from there as we age, we move into the “generative” stage—in which we give back.  It’s the stage where to the extent that we’ve allowed our sufferings to creatively transform us, to mold us into better people, then our suffering is redeemed because we’re able to give back to our little circles of influence – the people we know.  Our children and grandchildren can benefit from our…greater maturity.  Or not.  :-)  But anyway, it’s possible.  Small example.
A bigger example is ­­­­what I heard in Shelley sermon last week.  This history of the LGBT movement in a sense IS a history of suffering—oppression carries suffering within it.   Shelley’s words were a call to action because this suffering born from oppression is now  on the threshold, moving from the weight of pain into the lightness of something new.  The NEW THING that God has been creating all along is now becoming more visible.  So, let me encourage you to stop by the Hope 4 Peace & Justice table in the narthex this morning and see what you might be able to contribute to this movement of the Spirit in our world.  It’s possible that it can provide meaning to some  suffering.  Turn it into something good. 
The anthem this morning said in part that “We see a distant land, it shines so clear.  I hear a distant song; it fills the air.   I touch a distant land and I feel its glow.” So this distant land, in which suffering is no more -- is another of the contradictions that constitute our lives. Yes it’s distant, AND it’s also right here.  Right now.  Closer than the air we breathe.
You see, suffering is not the last word.  We are MORE than the suffering that is simply part of the terms of our existence.  We are not meant to live small lives, giving in to the bad things that happen such that we become small people. – No.
We are all called to lives of meaning and importance, and such beauty.  While it’s not easy, we are free to face suffering head-on, using our God-given freedom and our God-given community of people who love us, to create the abundant life that God wants us to have—even in the midst of inexplicable suffering, to know lives of true peace.  May it be so.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


This week's blog carnival topic is: What does Galship mean to you? The phrase was originally coined to refer to RevGal Fellowship--all the ways we build community, share our lives, support each other, and have fun. So blog about Galship-- What does Galship mean to you? Ready, set, write

Well, I love the word -- 'bout time we had an alternative to 'fellowship.' 

Perhaps the best way to say what it means to me is to provide a couple of vignettes . . . .

Galship is Fun (Crazy, even!)
We were all in seminary together.  Every so often Lee and Wendy would come to my rented house there by the university for a Girls Night Out.  We'd eat together, sing some Taize songs (yes, that's what seminary students love, right? beautiful, but rather sedate, I have to say) and just talk and talk.  I can't remember exactly how this happened now...we must have tired of Taize.  We went in my study where I had a CD player, and we put in an Oldies but Goodies CD with the INCOMPARABLE songs of Diana Ross and the SUPREMES!  And then we did what we all do -- well, when we're alone, at any rate (think Tom Cruise in Risky Business).  We WERE Diana and Florence and Mary, the most fabulous girl group in the history of Rock 'n Roll, people!!...STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE!  .... LOVE CHILD (my personal favorite) . . . BABY LOVE   . . . .  WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO?  OMG. We jumped and danced and held a pretend microphone, each one of us taking turns as Diana and the other two having raucous fun mimicking her in the back.   Honestly, it was probably one of those 'you had to be there' moments, but the truth is I nearly pee'd in my pants it was SO FUN, and FUNNY, and WILD and CRAZY.  The three of us laughed and laughed and laughed, and the more we laughed the sillier we all became, and that evening the silliest thing in the world was outrageously funny.  It was really like we were drunk!  My mother used to say "you got your giggle box turned over, Katy!" and except that it had a lot more belly laughs than giggling, that's how I'd describe this evening... with my gal friends. 

Galship is Being There When I Needed Someone
The other vignette that comes quickly to mind is that day of my mother's funeral.  (Yes, from silly to painful.)  I was single back then, and I remember feeling the agony of loneliness hitting me hard that day, even though my sister and brother, aunts and uncles were all there.  Numbing loneliness, haunting, tortuous.  About half an hour before we were suppose to leave for the funeral home, my friend and neighbor Carol showed up on my doorstep.  She was coming to the funeral anyway, and was suppose to go with some other friends of mine, but she said she'd decided instead that she'd like to ride over with us--me, and my family.  I have no idea how she knew what I was feeling, but she most definitely did.  A God thing, no doubt.  She sat in the car with me and held my hand.  That's what I remember.  She simply held my hand and didn't let go.  Connecting me with . . . I don't know how to describe that.  Her action connected me with more than just her, Carol -- it felt like she was saving my life (I suppose I'm exaggerating to make my point, but perhaps not by much), connecting me with the Source of Life, a magnificently existential moment of COMMUNITY and LIFE.  Writing about this today, nearly 20 years later, it still brings tears to my eyes. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"How is the Spirit Calling?"

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; God is  the one who will keep you on track.

 I have been a spiritual director for a number of years now.  Spiritual direction is about companioning people as they seek to live in God’s presence—it’s really not about any actual ‘direction’ in the sense of telling someone what to do.  I’ve found the whole process wonderfully helpful in my own spiritual life.  Often, when I feel led to ask someone a question, I’ll realize that the question is also my question. 

That happened to me recently.  The person who sat before me was going through some difficulty at her church (in another denomination), and I found myself putting the question like this:  “The Spirit hasn’t abandoned you; the Spirit is still doing its job, so to speak, calling you toward transformation.  How do you imagine that’s happening for you?  What does that calling look like for you in the midst of all this difficulty?”

This time of transition here at CoH is such an incredible opportunity for us to grow spiritually.  Alan Jones once wrote:   The Spirit is most present at three open spaces in our livesin the unpredictable,  in the place of risk, and in those areas over which we have no control.  And times of transition are great examples of “open spaces.”  During a transition we abide in what’s called “liminal” space, like the space we inhabit when we stand in a threshold between the past and the future.  Liminality means that the space we formerly inhabited, which was secure in its familiarity, is no longer, and the space we’ll inhabit in the future is undefined and full of questions.  Times of transition ask us to let go and place our trust in God, in the healing and loving power always at work in our world.
So, when I ask myself that question—How is the Holy Spirit calling me during this time of living in liminal space—what does that calling look like for me?—my sense is that I need to be more intentional about practicing trust.  I know that trust is not a warm fuzzy feeling; it’s a decision, a choice I have to make each moment.  I’ve made myself a little poster for my office, to remind me. 
The other thing is that the Spirit may be calling me, once again, to learn to let go of outcomes.  This has nothing to do with passivity.  In fact, to let go is a powerful action, but it’s an internal action, a change in attitude or outlook.   In this particular time of transition at our church, I think this means, for me, to let go of clinging to seeing things only one way, remembering always that the Spirit is at work both in the lives of every person in this amazing congregation and at work in creating a variety of possible futures (all of them full of God’s presence) that we simply cannot now see.  Importantly, this also entails uniting this letting go with the essence of spiritual trust found in the difficult but stunningly wise words of St. Julian of Norwich, the English mystic:  “All shall be well.  All shall be well.  And all manner of thing shall be well.”  
Gracious God, you are with us all, guiding and sustaining and healing, creating joy and bringing love to our lives.  May we respond with trust, with gratitude, and with the eyes to see how indeed all shall be well.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Codes for Reality"

Here's one of my devotions for this month (my church sends devotions via email to those who sign up for them)

Psalm 8

1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals* that you care for them? 5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,* and crowned them with glory and honor.


One of my favorite podcasts is Krista Tippett’s interview show called “On Being.”  A recent guest was physicist S. James Gates who specializes in super string theory, which, I found out, is based on something called super symmetry theory.  The title for the podcast was “Uncovering the Codes for Reality.”  Dr. Gates and his colleagues have discovered codes inside the equations for super string/symmetry theory.  He likens these codes to how DNA is a code that makes us who we are biologically.  The difference is that these codes are sitting inside equations about the nature of all reality. 


What’s fascinating is that these codes are made up of zeroes and ones, just like a computer program.  They’re used in precisely the same way that computers use ones and zeroes to send digital information, bearing a striking similarity to a web browser’s  “error correcting codes” which allow our computer browsers to work accurately.  The scientists were so stunned that it took them months to really admit to each other how bizarre this discovery really was. 


Gates cautions that just because they’ve found these codes sitting inside the equations about the nature of reality doesn’t mean that at our most fundamental level we and our reality are computer programs.  (Remember the movie “The Matrix”?)  To leap to that conclusion would be a logical fallacy—mathematics can’t be used that way.  Still, he said, and I certainly agree with him, it is a deeply intriguing discovery. 


As I listened to this interview—and I was listening intently—I remembered that one name for God is “Ultimate Reality” and that “in God we live and move and have our being.”   That reminded me that although Dr. Gates’ words were bringing the MYSTERY of reality to me in a powerfully visceral way, I also experience God in a way that is easily recognized and identified as the movement of God in my life and my relationships.  Yes, ultimate reality is a huge mystery, something that we with our human limitations will always have to approach provisionally, with humility.  But God is also known to us through Jesus, the man from Nazareth.  In Jesus we can be confident that we see and know something of the divine mystery. 


Thank you, gracious God, for the Mystery that you are.  May we approach Mystery with respect and humility, but also with deep trust, remembering always that it’s the gift of your love, so knowable, that sustains us, grows us, and carries us into the future with confidence.  Amen.


Katherine Godby

Associate Pastor for Spiritual Life


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Taize in the Interfaith Peace Chapel

Here's a photo from our Taize service...first Fridays  in our Interfaith Peace Chapel.

We do Taize differently than I've ever seen it elsewhere.  We have about a dozen musicians--flute, guitar, cello, clarinet, plus several singers who form a group we call EvenSong.  Toward the end of the service the musicians play three instrumental pieces during which time folks can get up and move to stations for prayer and anointing with oil.  We end the service by singing four songs straight through, and during this time people move to the kneelers, or they light a candle on one of the side tables, or pray with icons (another side table), or whatever...we have one woman who usually does a prayer-walk holding her Bible up (a little distracting but I guess people are  used to it now).

The Interfaith Peace Chapel was designed by Philip Johnson.  Here's how it's described:

Regardless of what one believes about God, can any of us doubt that the world will be better when religion is a source of peace rather than conflict?
The warping walls of the Interfaith Peace Chapel do what walls are not supposed to do. Without right angles or parallel lines, the space slightly disorients visitors and prepares them for the reorientation of their souls. 
Regardless of faith, our goal is to orient the hearts and minds of people away from conflict and division and toward cooperation and community. People of faith have been a part of many great movements for human progress. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have built schools, hospitals and orphanages. They have fed the poor and advocated for those at the margins of society. They led the Civil Rights Movement just a few decades ago and stand ready to lead a new movement toward human peace. 
The tragedy of our age is that religion is the greatest threat to peace and, perhaps, to humankind’s survival. We believe there ought to be a better way. 
The Interfaith Peace Chapel includes over 8,000 square feet, is 46 feet tall at its highest point (the height of a four story building) and measures over 106 feet long. It seats 175 people and is designed for conferences, seminars, small interfaith services, weddings, memorial services and other intimate chapel experiences. 
The Interfaith Peace Chapel provides a sacred place for people of all faiths, and for people who profess no faith, to come together in unity and love. No matter the headlines or conflicts outside, within the walls of the Interfaith Peace Chapel all faiths, nationalities and ethnicities are welcome. The Chapel is an example of inclusive spiritual cooperation for the rest of the world.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Expansion," an extraordinary sculpture

Aren't these extraordinary?  Wow.

The story behind this sculpture is here.  Along with these views:

Existence in the Gentle Vastness of God's Mercy

I've been feeling off-centered most of this week.  My husband made an effort to comfort me, and as  he held me, my mind went off to a point of existential awareness regarding the profound aloneness that is being human.  We are born alone, and we die alone, as they say. In those moments I experienced that singularity in a profound way; the solitariness (if there is such a word) invaded my whole being and sorrow welled up within me.  I wept.  When I was able to speak some of this, David countered, saying "No, we're not alone.  We form communities and those communities are meaningful.  Even as we die we're surrounded by our loved ones." 

Yes, we connect with others in various ways throughout our lives -- some folks are able to connect more deeply than others, and I count myself fortunate that I've had mystical moments of connection, soul-to-soul, with several people.  There is paradox here...we do connect in ways that alleviate our aloneness, but what I'd meant was that our individuality cannot be shared with another person...our uniqueness, when we die, dies also.  Isn't that right? 

But as David spoke my mind moved into new territory, and I said, "So, DEATH is the great connector."  Yes, I felt the truth of how, at the moment of death we are moving into a vast web of relationships...the loved ones who've gone before, the people we've admired but never met, the children we never bore. . . . in that sense death does transport us --- hmmm, maybe not transport, -- death opens us into a greater awareness of this vast web of connections and relationships of which we've always been a part, but were closed to much attentiveness to it. 

And then yesterday I read a couple of things...     

John O'Donohue's words:
May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places where your life is domesticated and safe, and take you to the territories of true otherness, where all that is awkward in you can fall into its own rhythm.
Yikes.  That is scary.  Confronting the "true otherness" within me...wow, it takes a huge amount of trust to come face-to-face with what I've sensed was 'alien' and allowing it to fall into its own rhythm within me.  I'm not sure what that is, but I feel close to it.

Cynthia Bourgeault, writing about that stunning scene in Babette's Feast when General Lowenhielm touches the great truth of Mercy: 
This brings us to one of the most wondrous aspects of the Mercy that the General, with the eyes of his heart wide open, instinctively recognizes.  Theologians speaks of this as the apocatastasis, the final restoration of all things "at the end of time."  I first wrapped my mind around this concept by way of a strong visual image that came to me one Sunday many years ago when I was still living in Maine.  I'd put my daughter Lucy, by then a teenager, on a ferry from our island to the mainland four miles away to meet her boyfriend Scott.  Standing on a high bluff on an exceptionally clear afternoon, I could watch the whole little drama play out. I saw each of the sequences unfolding in turn:  the ferry approaching the dock, Scott's car winding down the landing road, Lucy moving to the front of the boat in eager expectation.  I could feel their excitement.  But from my vantage point, it was all present already, all contained in a huge, stately "now."  The dimension that for them was still being lived in time, for me had been converted to space, and the picture was complete.   
I grasped that day what apocatastasis really means.  I saw how time--all our times--are contained in something bigger:  a space that is none other than the Mercy itself.  The fullness of time becomes this space:  a vast, gentle wideness in which all possible outcomes--all our little histories, past, present, and future; all our hopes and dreams--are already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled.  The great mystics have named this as the heart of the Mercy of God: the intuition that the entire rainbow of times and colors, of past and future, of individual paths through history, is all contained--flows out of and back into--that great white light of the simply loving present of God.  Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.  And in that Mercy all our history--our possible pasts and possible futures, our lost loved ones and children never born--is contained and fulfilled in a wholeness of love from which nothing can every possibly be lost.   
The poet Dylan Thomas writes of this in "This Side of the Truth."  Dedicated to his son, the poem beautifully elucidates how all those apparently irreconcilable opposites of our lives--innocence and guilt, success and failure, triumph and loss--are somehow encompassed in a deeper, unifying forgiveness.  In the end. neither good nor bad has the final word, but "all your deeds and words, / Each truth, each lie, / Die in unjudging love."   
If only we could understand this more deeply!  If only we could see and trust that all our ways of getting there---our good deeds, our evil deeds, our regrets, our compulsive choosings and the fallout from those choosings, our things left undone and paths never actualized---are quietly held in an exquisite fullness that simply poises in itself, then pours itself out in a single glance of the heart.  If we could only glimpse that, even for an instant, then perhaps we would be able to sense the immensity of the love that seeks to meet us at the crossroads of the Now, when we yield ourselves entirely to it

Yes . . . . Yes . . . . and YES YES YES!!!

And then last night, during worship, the topic was "the courage to surrender," and, as the band played, I experienced an overwhelming sense of how FREE  I can be, am, when I let go of all to which I'm clinging, just let it go, give it up, and allow God to then fill me with every good gift.  I don't have to allow my off-centeredness to stop me from being anything I choose and am meant to be. 

OK.  And now I have a sermon to write. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Reflections on chairing the conference

Chairing the Annual Meeting of my denominational conference was a fabulous experience.  I was surprised how much FUN I had, telling a couple of people that the extrovert in me really took over.  (And thank goodness; otherwise, I'd be even more exhausted than I am, and that's hard to imagine!)  It was non-stop from Thursday afternoon through Sunday after church, but we didn't have any huge problems.  A couple of glitches -- I'd forgotten to arrange for someone to introduce our keynote speaker (ha! minor detail!), but I realized it with enough time to just do it myself, so it was OK.  And we had more people show up for our Sunday morning plenary and closing worship than I anticipated, so we ran out of bulletins and had to bring up more chairs.  Oh well.

One of the best things about this was that we had 70 volunteers to help us. Amazing.  Way more than we needed, but it was such fun to see them greeting folks and hanging out.  I loved it!

And Cathedral of Hope has such a beautiful music ministry.  Friday night we had Angie Landers sing, cabaret style, at the Interfaith Peace Chapel...wow.  She's really as good as any professional I've ever heard.  And then Saturday night at the banquet our men's octet sang--they are wondrous, plus Marlene (alto who graces our Taize services every month) and a lovely soprano whose name escapes me at the moment.  Really, we had 150 at this banquet and they were ALL bowled over by the quality.

David came over for the banquet and stayed with me in the hotel -- really nice to have him there.  Douglas arranged for me to have the hotel room as "comp," which I appreciated.  I would've paid for it myself -- it was so necessary for me, really.  If I'd had to drive 45 minutes every morning and night to get home that would've been bad.  I was staying to lock up the church, so that would've put me home very late.

There's something about doing this kind of thing...it's a bit like preaching, I mean, in terms of this strange place within me between desiring both to be hidden and the center of attention.  The old wounds within me creep up and make it a bit difficult to let this just "be."  Appreciate the compliments, but don't let them go to your head.  Admit your mistakes and learn from them, but no need to dwell.  Let it go.  Let it go.  Let it go.  A satisfying memory now. That's all.  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Things to do

Now that two HUGE extra responsibilities are almost at an end, my thoughts turn to the freedom that will be soon be mine.  What to do? What to do?  Oh, the possibilities . . . .

Paint the guest bedroom.  I've redone that room in a light yellow with black outline theme.  It's a very small room, but I think a nice yellow accent wall might be nice.  Worth trying.

Host a salon . . . Wouldn't it be fun to invite people over just to sing and act and recite poetry...to be a little creative?  Hmmm, I wonder how that might look, I mean, how we could structure it.  Dinner, then singing or whatever?  Maybe just an afternoon of hor d'oeuvres, punctuated by various creative activities.

I'd like to put some moulding around the doors entering the living room.  Plus some wainscoting on one wall in particular.  Saw a beautiful photo on houzz.com of three large panels on one wall, each one filled with beautiful wall paper.  Wow; that could be stunning.  Maybe each one as wide as two rolls of wallpaper; that would make it easy.

Write some essays.

Vacation.  We head for Durango in August -- can't wait for that!!

And a quick trip to New York City in June, just David and I.

Maybe another The Artist's Way group study.  That was a wonderful experience.

Get my study organized -- it's a disaster.  Too much "stuff."