Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ending the blog

As of October 1 I have been retired! I have moved to the mountains of North Carolina and am excited about exploring this new life. I have begun a new blog at:

So I hope you will join me there as I reflect on the gifts of God's creativity in my life.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Trinity Sunday

Katie and I took a long walk this afternoon. This pond is behind the New Harmony Inn and these two swans are permanent residents. They swim in this pond and then through a series of canals running east to another pond. You can't really tell from this picture but they are big birds! I think the male swan probably weighs 30 pounds and maybe more. Katie is curious but she is not going to get too close...I'm sure papa swan could do some damage with his beak.

Sunday we celebrate the Trinity. My favorite image of the Trinity is Rublev's icon of the Trinity (pictured below). I love the notion that these three "persons" seem to be seated at a table and there is room at the table for me. It is one of the most prevalent images that comes to my mind when I am meditating and praying. Just to feel myself seated in the rich presence of holiness quietens my spirit. I am going to preach on the lesson from Proverbs (Chapter 8). The author writes: "Does not wisdom call and does not understanding raise her voice?" I believe that the Holy Spirit is Lady Wisdom, or as Eugene Peterson calls her in The Message, "Madam Insight". This "wise woman" image of the Spirit makes recognizing her work in us so important. We bring our greatest concerns and deepest needs before the Spirit because without ever uttering a word those intimate needs and concerns are already known by the Spirit who dwells in us. Not a hurt or a care goes unnoticed by this insightful Spirit. I read once that the Holy Spirit can be called our "baggage handler." Each heavy burden is borne by God's own presence in us, even those burdens which we cannot yet articulate.

Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

This is the welcoming table of God's presence. I hope that each of you get to spend some time there this weekend.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost 2010

St. Stephen's Parish - Pentecost 2010

We had a wonderful worship service today as we celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost is a Jewish festival which the Christian Church incorporated into its story. Pentecost (Shavuot) celebrates the giving of the 10 commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is celebrated 50 days after Passover. On Pentecost the Jewish people came together and renewed their commitment to God and to each other. When the followers of Jesus came together to celebrate Pentecost after the death and resurrection of Jesus they must have been wondering how they would be able to move forward from the miraculous events of the past 50 days. How could they continue now that Jesus had ascended leaving them. On this Pentecost celebration the Holy Spirit came down with rushing wind and tongues of fire. The Spirit filled the worshippers with God's presence and an assurance of God's love. The sustaining power of God's presence sent these disciples out into the world to proclaim God's love. We still have God's presence to sustain us and to confirm God's love in our hearts. I wrote a blessing for today's service:

Come rushing wind and flashing fire,
Spirit of God turn us to your love.
In our sorrow, breathe hope;
In our hurts, breathe peace.
Spread the joy of your love in us,
to all the nations of the world.
Go forth in the blessing of God who is
the Creator of all,
our Redeemer and
our Sustaining power. Amen.

Peony Season in New Harmony

The peonies in New Harmony this year have been beautiful. This "old fashioned" flower has a lovely scent which is not overwhelming. There is a Peony Farm in New Harmony and they ship the peony buds all over the world. Once the buds bloom they are no longer able to ship them and they open the farms for picking. It is amazing to see the variety of peonies. Most of the peonies in town are white, pink, and deep purple. I have a parishioner who has a deep red peony which is beautiful. Next spring come to New Harmony to see the peonies!

Parish House

The Parish House is coming along - some of the siding is up in the front. It will be painted white with blue trim. There are so many decisions to be made right now but everyone is getting excited. The contractor says we might be in by the end of July.

Friday, May 7, 2010


This week the workers installed this window in the new Parish House! This window faces south and there is one just like it on the north side of the building. Yesterday we worked with the electricians who are wiring the new part and rewiring the old building. When they took the siding off of the back of the old structure they found electrical wiring held together with black electrical tape! When they added on to the original c. 1890's house the wiring was added in a haphazard way. God was good to us over those intervening years as we added computers, copy machines and all manner of kitchen appliances to that frail system. Rewiring this older structure will give us a huge margin of safety. We also worked with the cabinet makers this week to determine storage. It is exciting to see the way it moves forward each day.

Tomorrow I am preaching at our SW Deanery Confirmation service in Washington, IN. I was doing some research for the sermon and came across this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

"There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”. But they went on with the conviction that they were a “colony of heaven,” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought to an end such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. Things are different now. The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."-- Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), pg. 300.

This quote reminded me of some of the things that Philip Newell is teaching at the Benedictine Retreat this week. Newell teaches that the doctrine of creation was "watered down" (my word, Newell used the word, "neutralized") when Christianity was legalized by the Empire. Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons, c. 202) wrote that creation is not ex nihilo (out of nothing); rather, God created all that is out of God's self. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, the beloved disciple of Jesus. If all that is created is out of God then we bear the DNA of God in a particular way in our own DNA. This has serious implications for our interactions with each other - implications that go way beyond the current cultures of making war, terrorism, and fundamentalism. Of course the Roman Empire would not want people to believe that each person created bears God. How then could we separate ourselves into the exclusive groups or good and evil, believers and non-believers (infidels). What if we ALL honored this DNA of God in ourselves and others? This is very radical stuff but it resonates within me as the truth that will allow us to stop destroying each other and ourselves. Perhaps the greatest problem our world faces is "religious fundamentalism." Fundamentalists found among Christians, Muslims, or Jews (and many other sects) see the world and people in very exclusive ways. Certain people must be excluded so that we can know who we are.

Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic and writer says that "we are made OF God." Being made of God has huge implications for my life and I am just beginning to reach into those implications as I write this...

Colors of Spring

This is the view from my backyard. This has been one of the most beautiful seasons of Spring that I have known in recent memory. The greens are particularly wonderful. This is a fallow (so far) field where wild mustard has grown up. They may plow it up to plant soybeans later but for now it is radiant! the Wabash River (the tiny slice of blue in the green) is now full to the edges from the rain we had last weekend. Katie and I ride the golf cart down to see it in the evenings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blackberry Winter

Blackberry Blooms!
Actually blackberry winter was last week - this week is going to be like summer! This is a picture of the blackberry bushes in my backyard. My wonderful next door neighbor trimmed all of the dead vines out of them and they are so pleasing to look at now. Last year I both my neighbor and I got loads of blackberries off of the bushes and this year it looks like they will be loaded again. So look for that blackberry jelly again!
On Saturday we rededicated the Roofless Church here in New Harmony on its 50th anniversary. It was a wonderful service - there must have been 150 people there. The Rev. Dr. Philip Newell spoke. Philip and his wife, Allie, are here in New Harmony on sabbatical. Philip was the Warden (like the Dean) of Iona Abbey in Scotland and he has written extensively on Celtic worship. One of the things he said in his talk was that God cannot be contained in buildings, and neither can God be contained by the walls we put up in our hearts. He spoke quite forcibly (I thought) about how imperative it is that we stop separating ourselves from brothers and sisters in different faith traditions. Until we are able to recognize our One-ness in God, peace will never come.
I was reminded of his words as I sat down to write my sermon later in the day. The lessons for the 5th Sunday of Easter were so clearly about this sort of demolition of walls. Christianity, from the beginning, struggled with how to be inclusive. Peter's vision in Acts 11 allowed the first (perhaps) wall to be dismantled. The Jewish Christians didn't want to include the Gentile Christians because it meant letting go of their deeply held traditions. But God shows Peter in a vision that what God has made is clean. So the gospel goes forth to the Gentiles. The commandment to love one another just as Jesus has loved us (John 13) is of course the hardest. I want to exclude those who are different from me (for any reason) because it requires really hard work, inside my self, to overcome my fears and prejudices. Father Zossima, in The Brothers Karamazov says, "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." Peter was able to enter into this hard work because he did not want to hinder God's work. What about me? Will I be able to put aside my prejudices and do the hard work of love?

Making Progress

We are now "under roof" and moving along. We are all beginning to get a sense of what the new Parish House will look like and how radically different it will be from the old one. There is so much space in the new building and we are getting excited. More pictures perhaps even tomorrow if they put the round windows in at the top of the hall!!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sheep Sunday

A Pastoral Scene
This past week was Heritage Artisans Week in New Harmony. It always surprises me how a 19th century village suddenly appears on the lawn of the Athenaeum on North Street. Artisans from all over come to show what life was like in the New Harmony of the 1800s. Rope makers, soap makers, tin workers and...yes, shepherds come to teach school kids from all over the area about a variety of "lost arts." Around 2000 school children and adults come to visit. So one day last week Katie and I went down to see the sheep. The shepherd had an "under-shepherd" named Rerun. Rerun is a border collie and she is absolutely amazing to watch. While I was there, she never took her eyes off of the sheep. The shepherd let them out of the pen to wander and graze and they didn't hesitate to wander in whatever direction the grass tasted sweetest! Rerun watched and when the shepherd gave her the command to gather them she did it quickly and efficiently.

When Jesus says "My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me" he is talking about all of us sheep and most especially those of us who tend to wander! The fact that no one can snatch us out of his hand means that Jesus never takes his eyes off of us. I don't know how God does that with so many children to watch, but I believe it just as surely as I know that Rerun had her eyes on all 4 of those sheep. Not only did she watch them but she listened for the shepherd's voice. I barely heard his muttered command to her when she rounded up the sheep but she did not miss it.

Annie Lamott in her book, Traveling Mercies, tells a story she heard from one of the ministers at her church. When this woman was about 7 her best friend got lost one day. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big neighborhood where they lived, but she couldn't find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. he put her in the passenger seat of his car and drove around until she finally saw her church. She told him firmly, "You could let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here."

Lamott says that is why she has always stayed close to her church: because no matter how bad she is feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when she sees the faces of those people at her church, and hears their tawny voices, she knows that she can always find her way home.

It is amazing to me how much those who spend time with the Good Shepherd begin to reflect the ways of the Shepherd...and even sound like him.
The walls have gone up with a shout!
This is a picture from almost two weeks ago now of the construction of our new parish house. Not to make too many excuses but this is the reason why I haven't posted in several weeks. This week (before the rain) they got the building under roof and I am very excited about the ministry possibilities it will give us. We are still quite a way off from the finish but it is beginning to feel like a reality. More pictures to come...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Meeting Jesus

From the Jerusalem woman:

It is so hard to believe that I just met Jesus, the teacher, last night. All afternoon yesterday I tried to think of something that I could take to the Passover meal. As I started out the door, the "ruined" white fabric was there where I had left it the day before. I grabbed it thinking it would be a perfect table covering for the meal. I met Mary of Bethany at the market and helped her finish the shopping for the meal. When she saw the cloth she was delighted.

We finished our preparations just in time. Jesus and his other followers came in. Everyone was talking and excited. I felt a bit out of place - I had just met most of the people and they seemed to know each other so well. Meeting Jesus was extraordinary! He was kind to me and when it came time to serve the meal, he seemed delighted with the white cloth. We all gathered together in the room to share the meal. Jesus was like a rabbi. He taught us, he served us and he washed the feet of some of his disciples! I have never been served by a man. I felt shy and somewhat bewildered. I didn't know whether to accept the bowl of food he gave me or give it to one of the men in the room. But it was clear from his eyes that he meant it for me and he served everyone.

The meal became quite somber after a while. Jesus began to talk about betrayal, and he talked about his death. I wanted to run to him and tell him that I would protect him. Mary seemed so peaceful. She told me about her brother who had died and been brought back to life by Jesus. Lazarus seemed fine to me, and so, I thought, perhaps this is the way it will happen with Jesus. But I was wrong.

The women cleaned up after Jesus and the disciples left. We were quite tired and so we pulled down the mats for sleeping. We talked a long time and I listened to the stories the women told about Jesus. Finally my eyes would no longer stay open. The next thing I knew Mary was shaking me awake. "They have arrested Jesus! Come on, we must go and find everyone else. We need to stay together. The authorities may come for us next." I was scared but I remember thinking that it would be okay...Jesus would save us. One of the women grabbed my cloth from the table where it had been left as we ran from the room. We found the other disciples and that was the beginning of the longest day of my life.

Jesus is dead now - crucified by the Romans. The emotions of this day have been a turmoil. We thought surely Pilate would release him and when that did not happen something inside of me broke apart. How could this man, who I had just come to know, be put to death? I saw him come out with the cross over his shoulder. He had been beaten and thorns woven into a crown were stuck into his brow. The woman with my cloth ran to him and wiped the blood from his eyes with the cloth. I thought of the woman in my store who refused the cloth because a drop of my Jewish blood had contaminated it. A Roman soldier shoved her away from Jesus and she fell but we ran to help her up. Her eyes found mine in sorrow. She said, "I'm so sorry, I have ruined your cloth." I held her as I told her it was alright. Some day I will tell her the story of the cloth.

Jesus is dead. Joseph, a friend of the disciples is going to Pilate to ask for Jesus' body. The sun is getting ready to set and we must get his body down from the cross and into the tomb before sundown. I don't know where the disciples are, but I am here at the cross with the other women. Jesus' mother is here too. Why did this happen? What will we do now? I do not want to leave these friends...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another day in Jerusalem..

From the Jerusalem woman:
Yesterday I worked at my loom finishing a piece of cloth for a customer. The cloth is for the wedding dress of a rich gentile woman. My cloth is soft and fine, made from cotton grown in the Galilee. As I took the cloth off of the loom so I could finish the edge, I caught my hand on one of the hooks. I didn't know it was bleeding until I saw the bright red drops on the fine fabric. I cried out and covered my hand with my apron. I caught the fabric and carried it to the bucket of water slipping the part with blood on it into the water. As I bandaged my hand, tears came to my eyes. It wasn't that my hand hurt or that I had soiled the fabric; I realized that the tears have been close to my eyes since I saw the man Jesus. I know he is going to die and I want to meet him. But I am a foolish woman!

I wiped the tears on my apron and finished bandaging my hand. I then carefully washed the corner of the fabric as best I could. The blood left the slightest stain which was very obvious to me, but then, I knew it was there. I finished the edge of the fabric and folded it. I had hardly put it down when the door to my shop opened and the gentile woman came in. I hoped she would buy the fabric quickly and leave, but instead she talked incessantly about her daughter's wedding - the food and wine they were going to serve; the flowers that would adorn her hair...on and on. Then she picked up the fabric allowing it to unfold. "What's this?" she asked looking at the still damp edge. "Oh, I replied, a bit of water..." "But," she continued, hardly giving me a chance to explain, "it's got a stain on it." "Oh," I replied, "but it's very small." And then the truth came out of my mouth, "I pricked my hand on a hook and just a drop of blood fell on the edge..." The woman dropped the cloth as if it were poison. "Your blood is on this cloth? The cloth for my daughter's wedding? I cannot possibly take it with a Jew's blood on it! You will have to weave another piece." I stepped back as if the woman had hit me. The woman continued in anger demanding that I weave another piece but I simply said, "No." After several more difficult exchanges she left the shop. I refolded the fabric and sat down. Why did I tell her the truth? Why not a lie?

I left the shop quickly and went back to the gathering place at the city gate where I had been the day before. There were even more people than before. As I sat watching the pilgrims come into the city for Passover, a woman sat down beside me. "It's getting crowded." "Yes," I replied, "I wish it were over." The woman looked at me and said, "You sound sad." "Yes," I replied, "I suppose I am. I don't like the festivals. I have no family here and I'm not very religious." We sat in silence for awhile. She touched my arm and said, "My friends and I are going to celebrate Passover together, will you come and join us?" Perhaps she saw the surprise in my eyes. "It's quite alright, we're from Bethany and we wish to gather with our teacher to celebrate the feast. There's always room for another and besides we will mostly be in the kitchen." "Your teacher?" "Yes, his name is Jesus and we...." I grabbed her arm before she could finish. "Jesus! Your teacher is Jesus?" She was calm as if she were used to such exclamations. And then she began to tell me about him. Soon she stopped herself: "Why don't you come for Passover to hear him?" I don't even remember going back to my shop, but soon I was at my loom, the events of the morning far away. I am going to get to meet Jesus...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jerusalem Woman Speaks...

Tuesday in Holy Week
Yesterday was such a fragmented day! I tried to get work done in my shop. I am a weaver of cloth and I like to spend 5 hours a day at the loom. Cloth sells well but it is hard to keep up with the demands. As I sat down at the loom to weave, I kept replaying the scenes from yesterday in my mind. That man! Jesus, sitting on a donkey as he rode through the cheering crowd with people coming up to him and touching him as if he were some sort of magic talisman. But that image always leads to the feeling I had when I looked into his eyes. I know he saw me. I was in the crowd but his eyes found mine...

I finally gave up on the loom and closed the shop. I left headed for a strip of shops at the gate of the city nearest the temple. I know the shop owners there. Close to the temple they hear all the latest news. I wanted to know more about the man with the kind eyes. There were so many people gathered around the entrance to the temple. This week is Passover and people are buying to prepare for their meals. There are hundreds of strangers in Jerusalem for the Passover. I am Jewish but I no longer observe the religious traditions. Sometimes I wish I were gentile so I wouldn't feel guilty about being non observant. My family were observant Jews but they are all dead and I am glad they don't have to see the corruption of our faith. The priests are just another oppressive structure. They may as well kiss the Roman authorities - it is a marriage of two corrupt and greedy institutions. I can afford to pay the taxes; and I guess that I could afford the temple fees but I will not indulge their greediness.

In the square near the gate to the city I found some friends who were full of news about this man Jesus. They said he went into the temple and, well, it sounds like he gave them a piece of his mind. I think I heard them say that he called the temple priests thieves! Oh, I would have loved to hear that! He made a mess by turning over the tables of the money changers and people were jumping to pick up their coins! I need to know more about this man.

Last night I went back to the square hoping that Jesus would be there with his group of followers so I could meet him but I learned that he had left the city to go back to Bethany. I heard rumors that he was staying with a family there. The story I heard then was phenomenal! One of the members of that family died and Jesus brought him back to life after he had been dead for 4 days! Rumors are so unpredictable... I'm sure that didn't happen, but it has everyone talking. I was standing not too far away from one of the temple guards who was speaking so loudly that anyone could hear him. He was saying that if Jesus tried to enter the temple again they would run him through with their swords! There is so much anger against Jesus. I wonder what the government could fear from this one gentle eyed man? But anger is everywhere - people are tired of the Roman oppression and they are tired of not having enough work and money. The air is electric with fear...Something bad is going to happen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Today is Passion Sunday and as we read the Passion Narrative during the service I saw in my mind the various places in Jerusalem. It was a combination of those places I visited in 1985 when I went to Israel on a spiritual pilgrimage and the Jerusalem of 2008 with walls and soldiers. The passionate struggle of both Palestinians and Jews to find a land and a home; a shared existence in a land we call "holy." I am listening once again to the book Exile by Richard North Patterson (published in 2007). I listened to the book several months before I went to Israel in November 2008 but I am finding it far more meaningful now. It is a very contemporary book about the Arab/Jew struggle. The experiences I had in Israel / Palestine - going through checkpoints, having guns pointed at me, and visiting many of the West Bank towns that Patterson writes about - makes the book far more plausible and real. It's worth reading.

In my very brief sermon today I suggested that each person find a "face" - a person - in the passion story to follow during Holy Week. There are so many "stories" that could be told about following Jesus through this week. How different the week must have been for each person who followed the drama of Jesus entering the city like a conquering hero. After seeing such an entrance I would want to meet this man and find out what he was about. Most of the time when I hear the Passion Narrative read I am overwhelmed with the emotions of the story, but this time I really tried to focus on individuals. I think I want to follow Jesus this week as a Jerusalem woman encountering Jesus for the first time as he enters the city on a donkey. I see her as someone who was pulled out of her shop by friends, "Come with us, something is happening! Someone is coming into the city from Bethany and people are saying that he is the Messiah!" If I heard those words today, I would want to go and see what was happening, even if I didn't believe my friends! Can you imagine getting to the spot where Jesus is passing by and seeing that he was riding on a donkey. Perhaps starting to turn away with laughter but then catching a look from his eyes and realizing that there was something there that held you. It would be hard not to spend the rest of the day trying to find out everything you could about this man. And so I believe the story of her "holy" week begins...

From the "holy" to the very, very ordinary things of life: I finished the rag rug I crocheted for my bathroom. It turned out pretty good and is nice and thick under my feet. This is a picture of the finished product:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Life Happening

Hand Felted Pin
I have been on a "creating jag" lately. This is a pin created out of wool roving. The felt background was made by layering roving onto a brush and felting it with a 5 needled tool. Then other colors of roving was needle felted onto the background and a french knot added and a couple of beads. I tried to texture the pin by adding felt into areas and it worked out pretty well but I think I need to add more felt to achieve a more visible texture. Now I'm working on a rug for my bathroom. I finally found some bright colors in a shower curtain (one that was affordable!) and I have enough rag strips of colors that match (somewhat) the curtain so that I can crochet a rug. I just wanted to brighten the bathroom up for summer. Some of the most beautiful shower curtains I have seen were in The Pottery Barn catalog - bright reds, oranges and yellows. They were quite pricey however and after looking around I found a bright blue, yellow and green curtain at Target. I'm using a bright piece of cotton fabric that I brought home from South Africa in 1998 for the center. It's a wonderful way to remember that magnificent country. I will "picture it" when it's done.

Julia Betz deciding which necklace to wear!

Michael Betz loving Katie!

Saturday morning I cleaned out some drawers - my continuing search for a simple life - and I found a bag of Mardi Gras beads. I put them by the door to take with me on Sunday for Michael and Julia Betz - our organist, Cynthia Betz's 3 year old twins. After coming in from working in the yard I found a message on my answering machine from Jerry Betz, Cynthia's husband inviting me to come and play at the playground with them. So I took Katie and the beads and we spent some time playing. New Harmony is blessed with a wonderful Playtopia playground - a wonderland of things to do for kids. My little friends, Julia and Michael, talk their parents into driving over from Fairfield, Illinois to play! It was such a beautiful day and fun to see them having fun. So, I wonder when was the last time you sat with your legs like Julia's....?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Life

Trying Hard!
It is that time of year when it feels like we are standing on the train platform waiting for the right train to arrive. The cold weather comes in waves now interspersed by periods of warmer breezes and sunshine. And all of creation is poised ready for spring. The daffodils are through the ground but still encased in their coats waiting for a sunny day to unveil their beauty.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent and the lessons were all about new life. The Revised Common Lectionary includes all of Jesus' parables about "lost things" - the sheep, the coin and the prodigal son. As I read the rather long gospel I was amazed at the powerful reminder they are of God's unconditional love. I think there is something quite disturbing about the way God offers love and acceptance to us. It is comforting for sure but the fact that God accepts us as we are can be unsettling. I told the story of Chuck Colson's conversion this morning. He was a criminal about to be sentenced to prison when he turned to God. The media had a field day with his conversion. One reporter simply said it was all a "huge joke." Others thought it was ploy on Colson's part to get a reduced sentence. There's something in us that want to believe that a person needs to show up at God's door with a few "good works" in hand, and perhaps they even need to crawl up to the door showing their repentance. But God takes us where we are. And God takes us back over and over through the years as we too "wander into distant lands of self dependence.
We sang wonderful songs this morning for the lessons: "The King of love my shepherd is"; "Just as I am" and There's a wideness in God's mercy." The last verse of "There's a wideness in God's mercy" says it all:

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.
Frederick William Faber - 1862

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lent is flying by!

Swan Family
Near our house in New Harmony is a pond that "houses" a family of swans. The baby was born last summer and has really grown over the winter. This was taken on one of the two consecutive days of sunshine we had last week - those 2 days were life giving! Katie and I walk down to this pond most every day and the swans used to swim away quickly but they have now realized that Kate is on a leash and not a threat to them. If I took Katie off the leash she would be in the water in a heartbeat. She has always loved to swim, even when the water is cold.

The gospel lesson for yesterday was so provocative (Luke 13:1-9). It is a lesson that easily fits into our contemporary situation. Jesus is teaching and someone brings up a disaster that happened in Jerusalem. Some folks from Galilee have gone into the temple to make a sacrifice and Pilate takes soldiers into the temple and slaughters them. It was of course illegal for anyone but the priests of the temple to make sacrifices, but Pilate's action is really an over reaction - this brutal slaughter was unnecessary. The people in the crown want to know why these people had to suffer in this way. Isn't that our question when we read about the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and so many other violent situations in the news? Jesus is quick to point out that these Galileans were NOT being punished by God for their sin. They were no more guilty of sin than we are. Jesus uses another contemporary picture - a tower in Siloam falls on 18 people and kills them. They were not being punished for was an accident which resulted in tragic deaths. There is a quote from Frederick Buechner that I love: "God does not reveal his grand design to us. God reveals himself." Suffering happens and it comes into our lives in so many ways. Blaming our suffering or someone else's suffering on God as punishment for our sin is not helpful, nor is it a part of Jesus' teaching. Of course suffering can be a result of sinful actions, but it is our actions and not God's desire to punish.

The parable Jesus tells at the end of this lesson is one of grace. The owner of the fig orchard inspects his trees and finds one that is barren - it does not bear fruit. This owner instructs the gardener to cut the tree down - it is taking up good ground and doing nothing. The gardener asks the owner to give him one more year with the tree - he will feed it and fertilize it and perhaps next year it will bear fruit. I can hear Jesus' voice whispering into God's ear: I know the struggles of living in the world Father, give me time with your people. I will feed them and care for them and they will bear fruit. It is a picture of Jesus' participation in our suffering. There is no suffering Jesus has not experienced and he knows our hurt so well. This is comfort in the midst of so much misery in the world.
This "chain scarf" with the felted flower is part of what I have been up to lately. A friend from Fayetteville, NC came up to Sparta and together we went to our very favorite yarn store in Elkin, NC. Ruth Hutton is the owner of Circle of Friends Yarn Shop and Fiber Arts Store. She is an incredibly gifted woman and a great teacher. She did a felting class for us and we had so much fun. I found this scarf pattern at her store. It looks difficult but is really not that hard and so fun that it is addicting! I added the flower to soften the look of the chain. I learned to make felt from wool roving and then cut the flowers out. Ruth's store can be found at and if you ever get to Elkin, NC go and visit her on Main Street. It is awesomely inspiring!

Yummy Colors in Ruth's Store!

The beginnings of a "Felted Easter Egg"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Contemplative Prayer...again!

Stop the Snow Machine!
It is a beautiful morning here in the Smokey Mountains! The sun is shining and the sky is blue. The online weather says it is snowing in Sparta, NC and I will check that out later when I drive down into town to errands. It's seven miles into Sparta but all downhill and not unusual to find the weather different at the bottom of the hill!
I was so fidgety this morning when I sat down to pray. My mind was jumping all over the place and I could not be still. I wondered if it was alright to scratch my eye or change my position; and then, of course, I got carried away with these thoughts. I realized that I was observing myself praying and got distracted by that. I found it helpful to remember some words from Into the Silence by Martin Laird:
"We cannot reduce prayer to a technique... Contemplative prayer is a skill, a discipline that facilitates a process that is out of one's direct control, but it does not have the capacity to determine an outcome...Contemplation is a sheer gift. There is nothing we can do to bring forth its flowering, but there are important skills, without which it will be unlikely to flower."
I have not idea how long it took me to settle into a rhythm of silence because the gift of being away for rest means that I don't have to watch the clock or set a timer...I can just be in the silence. And so it was a "sheer gift" to be able to become still finally and let myself be a part of the stream of God's love. That's what it felt like for me on this cold, windy morning. I was somehow one with a river of Love that eventually wound through the cares and concerns of our lives. In Laird's book he quotes Teresa of Avila, "Beloved, there is much we can do to open ourselves to receiving his favors." God is always Self-giving; it is a question of removing the obstacles that make it difficult to receive this Self-gift. This receptivity is what contemplative practice cultivates."
I am grateful for this time of cultivation in the silence of my friends, these mountains. When I was a child living among these oldest of mountains, I called them my "purple hooded priests." That's how they looked to my 11 year old imagination in the evening light. I doubt I fully understood the concept of priest then, except I knew from somewhere that priests listened to confessions and I wanted that "listening presence." And I had it in the gift of these graceful peaks.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lingering Winter

Icicle Outside Church Office
I love the icicle pictured above - it looks like a bird in flight. Yesterday I drove to Sparta, NC for a week of rest and quiet. Katie (my intrepid golden retriever) and I got to the house around 5:30pm after 10 hours on the road. It's not a difficult trip but long. When we got into Virginia from Tennessee it became a snowy landscape. By the time we got to Galax, VA it was obvious they had been hit by the same storm that covered the east coast. I think their snow began in December and they haven't seen the ground since!
I took the Blue Ridge Parkway from Galax to Glade Valley where the house is. There was still a good bit of ice and snow on the road and evidence of lots of fallen trees which someone had cleared. That part of the Parkway is used quite a bit for local traffic. There were deer everywhere! I was so grateful it was still daylight so I could see them. The deer here are gray colored instead of the brown beauties in Indiana. We got into the house to find a foot of snow still remaining on the ground. Katie and I spent the night without heat due to a furnace problem. Wonderful folks from the company I use came out to help and make the diagnosis. We were fine - Katie generates enough heat for a small country! And today everything is fixed and the driveway cleared. I did see a fun sign on a church in Galax - "GOD LOVES YOU SNOW MUCH!" Clever. I drove down to Elkin, NC today for a few things. It's 23 miles and when I started back it was 56 degrees in Elkin and 41 degrees at the house. Amazing what a couple of thousand feet in elevation can do!
The silence here is so wonderful. It is a wonderful place for prayer. I am amazed still at how time seems to stand still in the silence of meditation. I have been working my way towards 30 minutes of meditation each day. Twenty minutes is the most I have been able to do so far. I don't really think about the time but try to let myself end where it feels comfortable - sometimes that is 10 minutes, sometimes more or less. I keep reminding myself that this is not a contest, not a race, it is about being with God, being silent and listening. I do know that when I end my time I feel like the world is bathed in quiet. I want to whisper so as not to disturb. Wonderful!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Books for Lent

Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God: The Practice of Centering Prayer
by J. David Muyskens

Into a Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
by Martin Laird

The book by Laird pictured above was sent to me recently by a friend. Many books on contemplative prayer are difficult to read and hard to follow. This book, which I am halfway through, makes contemplative prayer accessible. It is an encouraging book which gives clear direction to those of us who want to find that place of silence where we know God's presence. Martin Laird, who is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, talks about God being our "homeland" (from St. Augustine's The City of God: "We must fly to our beloved homeland"). That is just one of the evocative images that Laird uses in describing the practice of contemplative prayer. In the opening chapter, Laird talks about our desire to see the mountaintop experiences with God. Discovering God in the silence of contemplative prayer is more about becoming part of the mountain. Finding stillness is about allowing the patterns of life's weather swirl around us. We are part of that which cannot be moved. Laird points to Psalm 123:7 "Whoever trusts in the Lord is like Mount Zion: Unshakable it stands forever."

Over the past couple of weeks I have been setting aside time each day to practice this contemplation. I am still in a very beginning place with contemplation, but the encouragement and help I am receiving from this book is wonderful. A couple of times (okay, more than a couple!) I have gone to sleep after about 10 minutes of prayer. I tried to avoid feeling guilty about this and realized that the profound relaxation of this kind of prayer is something I am not used to. So, gradually I am getting more aware of that place of relaxation and how I can enjoy its comfort without falling asleep.

The other book I am going to use is the one at the top of the page which has 40 small chapters (1 to 2 pages) - one for each of the weekdays in Lent. I am longing to let this Lent be a time of finding God in stillness and quiet. I am sure in my heart and mind there are other motives for this discipline - like, it will make me a better priest, or it will somehow make me more quiet of heart and mind - but my conscious desire is to draw close to God and find a place where I can find shelter from the weather of life. I hope to write more over the days of Lent about what I am learning about contemplative prayer in my life.

On a more mundane (should I say, earthly?) plane, we had about 6 inches of snow last night. The wind was quite high with it and so I now have some places in my backyard (on the north side of the house) where snow is a good 18 inches high. I have shoveled out a path down to the lower part of the yard this afternoon. Katie was with me and at one point I looked around and she was just lying in the snow watching me. She has always loved to be "cool." I have a picture of her lying on a mound of ice where someone emptied a cooler when we lived in Fayetteville, NC...but that was in July! Anyway we got the job done and fed the birds while we were out. A good snow day here in Indiana!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentines and Ashes

Shadow of Cross on Iona
This is the last Sunday of Epiphany. Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday and tomorrow is Valentine's Day. And...if those are not enough images we have the Transfiguration of Jesus as the gospel lesson tomorrow! It is a feast of images! And the choice is not just of images to fill our minds. We also have to decide what we will DO for Lent. Will we "give up" our favorite thing to feel some sense of sacrifice? Or shall we "take on" a new discipline to strengthen our spiritual life?
Peter and James and John went with Jesus up onto the mountain. It's possible that they thought this would be a time for rest, or a chance for intimate conversation with Jesus - perhaps he would reveal his deepest secrets to them. Revelation does occur on the mountain. Jesus is revealed as the fulfillment of both the law (through Moses) and the prophets (through Elijah); and he is revealed as God's Son. "Listen to him!" says God, for he is the Chosen One.
Can it really be that simple? Does it all come down to that one act of listening? Perhaps there is nothing so important in our lives as listening. How many arguments; how much pain has been wrought because we did not listen? How many opportunities have we missed by not hearing? Oh, if we could only go back and listen, really listen to our parents, spouses, friends, doctors, and co-workers. So maybe, just maybe, our Lenten discipline should be to listen. To stop all the furtive activity of life and spend time listening. We could begin each day just sitting in silence listening for God's heart beating in ours and for God's love echoing through the creation. We could continue during the day by stilling the replys and lists we are forming in our minds as others talk and instead...just listen. What would we hear...?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mid week thoughts

New Harmony must be on the "flight path" for the geese as they navigate between summer and winter homes. The past few weeks they have been on the move north. The sky is thick with them as they come overhead to follow the Wabash north along the Indiana / Illinois line. This winter I feel like they are a tad on the early side. We have had one snow storm after another with temperatures in the teens. But there they are winging their way north into even colder temperatures and frozen lakes. They are quite noisy as hundreds of them fly together. We get to see them a lot in the early morning when we are out mushing around in the snowy backyard.

A friend sent me a news report from the Church of England Synod today saying that the conservative priests in the C of E are threatening a mass exodus to Rome if the Synod approves a resolution to allow women priests in England to become bishops. I have several feelings about this. It seems to me that they are holding the C of E hostage to get their way in a matter that was really decided when they chose to ordain women priests. If a woman priest is gifted and called to the episcopate is it impossible that it can be God's call? I know that those priests who are making this demand base it on scripture's witness of a male dominated church and some of Paul's statements about women. I hope that we have come further in both our understanding of Middle Eastern culture and the interpretation of scripture than this. When I was in Rome last year we went to the Catacombs of Pricillia just outside of Rome. We went there because one of the paintings on the wall (which date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE) is of a woman in the "orans" posture. This is the posture one assumes when celebrating Eucharist - arms outstretched. It is thought to be an early picture of a woman presbyter. So, I think Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury should tell the men who are threatening to leave that he will not negotiate on this matter. I know that Pope Benedict will joyfully receive those priests...and their wives!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Epiphany V

Fishing with Jesus

Jesus tells the disciples who have fished all night and caught nothing, to put their nets out into the deep water. (Luke 5:1-11) I don't like deep water. Oh, I don't mind it in the swimming pool where you can see the bottom. I can swim and when I get tired I can float. What I don't like about the deep water of a lake or the ocean is that you can't always see what's out there with you. What if there are undesirable creatures lurking out there in the deep. It's so hard to know when you cast out your net into the deep exactly what you will get back!

It's the fear we all face when we find out that God wants us to fish for people. What about all those unusual fish out there in the deep waters of life? What if we catch one of those in our net? What do we do then? It's enough to make you stop fishing, which is what most of us have done. Church attendance is down and we blame it on the secularization of our society. The main reason we don't have more people in church is that we have quit fishing. When was the last time you or I invited someone to church - one of those folks in the deep water of life? Fishing is not easy work - ask anyone who fishes. It takes time and hard work.

Jesus got my attention with this bit of fishing advice. Perhaps I can overcome my fear of deep waters...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lost Things

Stone Spiral

Some times I feel like I am walking in circles. I spend so much time looking for lost things and I retrace my steps over and over looking for the thing I have misplaced or lost. The real frustration of all this activity is that I usually find the thing I'm so desperately searching for when I least expect it (and, sigh...not when I need it). I am perplexed by several things which I have lost lately. One very important item I have lost recently is the cord that transfers pictures from my camera to the computer. I have searched for it everywhere I can think of and I suspect I have thrown it into the trash by mistake. I wish I could just remember when I last saw it, but alas, I am growing older and ...

The awareness of "creeping senility" is supplemented by another lost item - my double pointed knitting needles. I picked them up recently (last week) to move them - I remember having them in my hand, but you guessed it, I can't remember where I put them! I have looked in and under all the usual places but cannot find them. I wonder if the "prodigal" needles will come home or should I make a trip to the store to replace them. I think of the parables that Jesus told about "lost" things: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (Luke 15). My angst over mundane things like a camera cord and knitting needles is less than noteworthy compared to God's grief when we become lost from God. We wander, we stray, we go to "foreign" countries; and then in those grace - filled moments of revelation we see how far we are from home. It is in those moments that we, like the prodigal son, run toward God. It always startles me to find God running in my direction to meet me.

I remember studying the parable of the "Lost Son" and realizing that for the father to run to the son who returned, he had to lift his robe. Showing one's legs in that culture was an embarrassment. But the father was so longing for the son's return that this embarrassment was nothing to him. In the same way God gives up every thing to pursue us. I am grateful...

Well, I am now on to the big event of today - trying to catch Pumpkin to put her in her carrier for a trip to the vet. It's her yearly physical and usually results in a lot of drama. But what are Mondays for...?

Pumpkin - in one of her "better" moments!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Winter Walk

I took this picture in December while I was at our clergy Advent retreat. We were at our Diocesan Camp and Conference Center, Waycross. It is near Bloomington, IN in the Brown Mountains. It takes about 3 1/2 hours to get there from New Harmony and it is a lovely spot especially for quiet reflection.

I found a folder with some of my writing - stories and poems - while cleaning out some papers. One of the pieces was a reflection I did just a few days after 9/11. I was living in Albuquerque, NM at the time. My home was out on the west side of Albuquerque in a new housing development surrounded by wonderful desert mesas. My faithful Katie was a much younger golden retriever then and we loved to go out walking on the mesas every morning. I realize in these journal entries my continuing struggle to understand reconciliation. From September 13, 2001:

"Walking on the desert these past couple of mornings has been comfort to my soul. I feel blown apart by my own conflicting emotions. I weep, but no real relief comes. It is a matter of coughing up the wracking sobs within until I can breathe easier. I look at the pictures of wreckage and pain. I hear the stories. I listen to the analysis and I grow quieter. I have no words to say to others. Inside I am guarding my heart. For I know that there is another shoe to drop. The word RETALIATION rises up. And against it constantly vibrating is the word


My head aches with this word which vibrates. More lives will be lost. More pain. More anger. Where does it end? And so I ask, God comfort us with the balm of Gilead. Oh how I have come to love the comfort of the desert and the wildness of God's creation. It was raining this morning when Katie and I ventured out. Out into the sand and mud in search of treasures and bunnies and good smells. I love to watch Katie as she scares a bunny out of hiding and it flies across the desert to safety with Katie in pursuit. And I am thinking, 'Fear not bunny, Katie is a slow footed lover who only wants the chase.' I laugh at her, but I know she is serious in escorting bunnies to their homes. She is puzzled by their tiny homes and the crevices that they squeeze into. She lingers, sniffing, waiting for an invitation in. But even though she is fluffy, she will not fit. I love her innocent face - 'Where did they go Mama?' And so we go home to have coffee and wonder about a time when lions and lambs, and bunnies and golden retrievers will lie down together in peace."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Again...A New Start

505 Granary Street - Home Away From Home
It's been a long time since I posted on my blog. I thought a new look might be appropriate for a new beginning. The above picture is part of why I have not been posting. In December we moved our church office across the street from the old parish house in order to start construction on the new parish house. We are currently housed in the Mother Superior House, a guest house of the Blaffer Foundation here in New Harmony. The front of the house is still a lovely guest house and we occupy the back part. The middle of this house is an old log cabin which was used by the Harmonists. It has a deep iron kettle set into one corner. It may have been used for cooking or for dying fabrics with indigo. Although it is a small space, we are having our coffee hours here. The other part of the house is a Harmonist built house. Glenda's office is in one room and mine in another. Moving a church office, even if it is just across the street, is a huge process. it took us 3 weeks to get the phones and internet straight with AT and T. The construction on the new parish house went well in December while the weather was better. It's been either too cold or too wet this month for construction. It's good to have it under way.

Window on the West Wall of St. Stephen's

This window at St. Stephen's really lights up in the late afternoons. The gospel lesson tomorrow is about Jesus teaching in the synagogue. He comes home to Nazareth and attends Sabbath services with his family. During the worship he is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He reads Isaiah's words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then Jesus preaches a sermon of one sentence: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke's telling of this incident is dramatic. I think Luke wants us to gasp with incredulity at Jesus' words. "Who is this guy and how can he say this?" Of course there are no surprises for us - we know who he is and we know the end of the story. It must have been quite an epiphany for the people gathered in the synagogue. If you had been there would you have followed this man? Sometimes I still wonder if we (including myself) who know the whole story are ready to follow Jesus? The purpose Jesus has set before us (bringing good news to the poor, etc...) is an enormous task. Only with God's help can I make even the first step towards following; only with God's help...