Saturday, April 22, 2006

Awakening the Season

I love gardening.

Please note that I didn't say "yard work". I said "gardening" just so we are clear. I know, sometimes the one involves the other, but gardening for its sake is a refreshing exercise of physical endeavor and reawakening the senses with living things, green growing things, new life.

New life. We can all use a little of that now and then. But after a long, wet, cold winter, we in southern Oregon do long for the sun and warmer temperatures. Ideally it is wonderful to see snow in the mountains while enjoying the warmth of breeze and sunlight here in our little valley.
And the cherry trees bloom first after the crocus, then the daffodils, tulips, hyacinths; now my apple tree is blooming, and I always, always know when spring is truly here, and that is when the redbud trees flower on branch and trunk. The bearded iris are tall in leaf but I will have to wait a bit for any stalks to show with buds. Even the Japanese water iris are getting into the act, and I noticed a water lily leaf emerging from the duckweed this morning.

My friend in Tacoma sent me a lovely pink-tinged hydrangea a few weeks ago. It is still inside but away from sunlight. They are shade-loving and I will plant it in the shade garden after I am sure the frost is over. Earlier, about two months ago, she sent me some dahlia bulbs which I planted last week. Hopefully I planted them right. The peonies--both herbaceous and tree-- are doing well, but again, if I think it will frost, I have to cover their tender shoots or no flowers for me.
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My best friend locally had given me tulip bulbs in a wonderful heavy glass container several weeks prior to Easter, and I was able to enjoy watching them sprout and then bloom into delicate, light pinkish -tinged flowers. There is nothing like flowers in the winter to lighten one's spirit and refresh the soul. Thankfully these two friends knew just what I needed! Nature certainly knows how to show us that something indeed can come from apparently nothing.

I have always enjoyed the smell of freshly turned earth, the pungent scent of leaves and the loveliness of fragrant buds just opening to reveal themselves to us in all their mystery and magic.
And, while doing all of this, we can be surrounded by the chamber music of birds, insects and the comings and goings of creatures--furry or otherwise--that creation provides for our good pleasure.

I am in the unique position of having such creatures in my NWF Backyard Habitat which is actually my entire urban property. I truly think that animals can read English. And they know they will be protected in my sanctuary. I have had more than my share of opossums, racoons, field mice, accipitor hawks, ravens, piliated woodpeckers, stellar jays, and the usual fleet of goldfinches. I also room and board--in the woodpile--a family of rabbits, descendants of two store-bought rabbits that a neighbor let loose when they moved two years ago. They have become charming additions to the neighborhood and are not the villains some make them out to be. Once they use to run when I would step into the backyard, but now they just keep a watchful eye and we all go about our yardy business. Sometimes when arriving home latein the evening or at night, I have to slow down or stop altogether, roll down my car window and gently urge the rabbits to not sit in the middle of the street or to move aside so I can park in my driveway. Occasionally I have found little ones that are not as strong as the others and have provided them a safe warm place to return to their Maker. Maybe its the chaplain in me that knows that God cares for them as much as They care for us. And don't we all hope that we have a warm, safe place to die, and not alone, but perhaps with someone stroking our heads and speaking soft, kind words to us as we go...

So, I have much to do this spring. I need to weed, dig up things, move them to another place better suited to them, plant some new things, prune up some older things, rake, recycle, and then sit back and enjoy it all, over and over, again. I am toying with the idea of planting a small veggie garden this spring; one for me and one for the bunnies.

Cultivation is key in this process, or in any process where you wish for somthing to stay healthy and keep growing. There are many things in life that need that kind of care. But, you know, sometimes no matter how hard you try, some things simply die, regardless of how careful we are as they struggle to grow and blossom once again. And all the hoping and praying just doesn't get the job done--or so we think. So, we have to resign ourselves to knowing we did the best we could with what we had, and let the life go. There was no healing of it in this life, in this world.
I know I cannot save all the baby bunnies that find their way to one of my doors, as if asking for refuge in their last moments, but we can help them over the threshold into a longer lasting healing, and though we may not like the thought of it, death can be the beginning of healing for the unhealable in this life.

And with death each fall and winter, comes the hope and realization of new and truly unending life in the spring and summer of each year. May we all enjoy and acknowledge the life around us and in us, and those we meet along the way, creature and person.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lines of the Dragon

"Sitting there, in my seat,
There is a dragon at my feet;
Loud and grumbling do I hear,
I think his snout is far too near.

A glimmer of fang, tooth and drool!
No, its only cheese curd and gruel.
Great gaping maw of endless breath?
No, just a means for kibble's death.

Oh so fearsome and so strong,
He pulls with leash there along
Down this alley, up this road,
With quick short step, a furry load.

Looking down now do I see,
A dragon snoozing, quite peacefully
A face so fierce, that in the dark
The noise he makes is worse than bark."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What Does It Mean To "Come To the Table?"

A friend suggested recently that I talk a bit more about the reason or reasons behind my blog "Come To the Table". After a bit of mind-bending and ruminating I decided to go forth and do just that, talk about the "why" of Come To the Table.

I think the first reason for this blogspot is because I CAN. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I can share perspectives on life--mine or the community's. I can talk about freedom, liberty to be "me", to move about freely without asking permission, at least within my own borders. I can be happy or othewise, and enjoy the freedom to go from one to the other as long as I don't hurt anyone, or do anything illegal. That is my perspective. I can come to the Table or crawl under it. You get the idea...

At one time or another, we all come to a table of one kind or another. And when we do come to a table, we bring things with us, inwardly or outwardly. We can come with peace in mind, or war [not advisable, but does anyone ever listen?], we can come as an individual or as a group to meet another person or group. We can come to the table for a meal or to do homework; creativity or hard labor; to read, sing, dance on the table if it suits us, or simply to be still at the table. We can come to the table angry, fighting mad, reasonable or not, or...we can come quietly and joyfully. We celebrate occasions at the table too; in fact we do lots of stuff at the table. Tables are places for feasting or for fasting. Tables can be lighted or darkened, set upright or turned all depends on the reason we are there and what purpose we envision, or what remains when we leave it.

That is all pretty ordinary stuff that occurs at a table. So, there are tables, and then...there are tables.

In my mind I see a special sort of table. This particular table is not ordinary by any means. It has a purpose beyond what we normally consider. In the Old Testament, there was a table in the Temple called the Table of Presence. On this table was the holy bread of the inner sanctum where only the High Priest was permitted. In pre-Temple times there were at various holy places altars set up for the Levitical sacrifices. Over time the two have been combined to be called the altar table. These are found in most churches of Protestantism and in the Catholic Church. I am specifically thinking of the one that I see in my church sanctuary at Trinity as an example.

When we come to this Table within the church, we come to receive the "holy food of new and unending life". This Table is a place where all are welcome to partake of food and drink, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The invitation is to all who wish to participate in the receiving of the blessed sacrament that is freely given not only for comfort but for renewal of spirit and soul. At this Table, Jesus Himself presides and serves us from His goodness and love for us. His Table includes everyone that wishes to draw near and partake. He turns no one away for any reason. How much more then should we also include anyone who comes to the Episcopal Church, and welcome them as Christ has welcomed us? As much and then some. Christ's message of love is for all. There is no partiality with God. We are co-heirs in Him who made us and loves us. At this Table all are loved and accepted by Him.

So, I invite you all to come to the table, His Table, and be nourished, fed, cared for, accepted and loved as He does us. The door is open, welcome to the Episcopal Church

Oh, you can stop by this one too but let His be your true destination.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Wishing My Friend In Maryland A Happy Birthday

Tomorrow, Tuesday April 18th , is the birthday of a special friend who lives in Maryland. She probably stopped counting which birthday it is, maybe 10 years ago, but only she knows for sure.

She is an Episcopal priest and a certified, bona fide, degreed counselor. She is good at what she does with both callings. But first and foremost, she is definitely and unquestionably a priest, and I believe she is an extraordinary one at that. I have read a good percentage of her sermons from the last few years; they are powerful, straightforward, pregnant with meaning and, to the 100th exponent, inspiring. I can only hope to write so well when my time comes to write a sermon!

I also believe that what sets her apart is --though I have not seen it myself--when she celebrates the Eucharist, she lives the one quote that has come to mean so much to her and exemplifies her spirituality and connectedness with Christ our Lord:

"A priest ought always to say Mass with this expectancy:
he ought to be prepared for the Host and everything to fall
away and Jesus Himself appear." [William of Glasshampton]

I know of only a handful of priests that I can honestly say this about, and Linda+ is one of them

I wish her the best birthday possible, with family and friends surrounding her in a joyous celebration of this blessed day. And I offer this heartfelt prayer as a gift to her:

God, our times are in your hand: Look with favor, we pray, on Linda+ as she begins another year. Grant that she may grow in wisdom and grace, and strengthen her trust in your goodness all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Alleluia! He Is Risen: He rose for us all...

What a spectacular day. Our Lord Christ has broken down the doors of death and depair for our sakes. ALL of us that is; not just some. Not just those who think they deserve it--the forgiveness, the grace, the unconditional love. He did not suffer, die and descend to the dead for those who follow the letter of the old law with all its patricarchy, its legalisms, its Pharisaical judgements. He suffered, died, broke down the doors of mortality and death for each and everyone of us, created in Their image: Father God, Mother God, Sophia-Wisdom-Holy Spirit, in all of Her fullness and glory.

And who is everyone, we may ask? All colors, all creeds, all faiths, gay, straight, right, left, inbetween, male, female, transgender, up or down on the socio-economic ladder...Everyone means just that EVERYONE. We who have been made in Their likeness, reflecting God back to each other, resonating with a Divine spark in each and every one of us.

With the sunrise, there is the Son rising from the dead as promised. There are new commandments now; not the old law but the fulfillment of the the old law into the Christlikeness He desires for us.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your being; and love your neighbor as yourself." Love your neighbor as yourself. Do for your neighbor, the homeless, the single mom or dad, the persons of different faith or color or sex or preference, anyone, as you would do for yourself.

It is actually a very simple concept but OHHHH so hard to put into practice. But that is what it takes: practice. Over and over again. And we are to do it without judgement or prejudice or what we think WE will get out of doing it. Give a cup of water in Jesus' name. There, you did it.
Easy. Buy some groceries for the single or disabled parent or neighbor, or homeless person. There, you did it again.

Are we going to do any of this perfectly? No. We are human, we get selfish, absorbed, needy, and then selfish and absorbed again, and again, and again. But in between those times, we can be good, giving and caring. It's ok to be a Good Samaritan. And what you get back from the doing of it, well, it's immeasurably good for us and our hearts.

Jesus gave, though He at one time would rather have not done so. But He did it because it was the right thing to do for the creatures They created together. And He feels immeasurably good eternally, then and now. And we will too.

He gave. We can give too.

Alleluia! He is risen! Christ has risen indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Holy Week: A time to be wholly weak

It's Good Friday today. It is a service that is not as well attended as I think it should be, but I am one voice in the myriad of voices, and I can accept that.

During the church year, I cannot think of a more poignant and meaningful service to attend. We tend to think of the traditionally major holidays or times of year. But if you think about it, could there possibly be a more important or meaningful day than Good Friday? Perhaps with the exception of Easter Day. Many forget that you can't have Easter Day without Good Friday happening to begin with no matter how you look at it. It is a solemn service but then the impending death of an individual for the sake of many should be solemn and give one pause in the overall scheme of things. Death is not something we take lightly in our culture. Yes death happens moment by moment and it will happen to us all in time.

The death of the Son of God is a different matter. Imagine God's grief at the death of Her only Son. Unless you are a mother, we have no clue to the depth of grief and immortal pain. We can sort of relate to it but not exactly. Suffering, as I have said before, brings knowledge eventually and a wisdom beyond what we think we can ever know. This was God's consolation: that Her Son would rise again and be glorified. Jesus, though He had asked that the cup pass from Him, knew how it would turn out but He did not skip the hard, tough part and go straight for the glory.

It is in many ways like Holy Week. As The Rev. Susan Russell put it this way: "some people go from Palm Sunday straight to Easter without the difficult parts in between." Jesus could have done that but He didn't; it was not part of The Plan. Instead He became wholly weak in His humanity; was humiliated, persecuted, physically tortured and then crucified.

Why should Holy Week be any different for us, His disciples? It is ok to become wholly weak, to try to understand some of His grief, His pain, His humiliation and in our spirits, His sacrifice for us and His death. Part of our servanthood and the priesthood of all is to take part in and become Christlike to the extent that we can, bringing with the experience a deeper dimension to our lives and a more extensive compassion to those around us.

I know that Holy Week and all it contains will make my life a better life, spiritually and tangibly. And Easter morning, I will awaken with a new awareness of what it means to be His disciple and servant. Amen.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Boundaries: Awareness and detection, and the unusual benefits of sometimes crossing over...

Wiktionary online defines a boundary as:

"The dividing line or location between two areas."
The plural of course is boundaries, meaning more than one in some type of configuration to enclose a thing or things, or to repel a thing or things. So, it either embraces or pushes away, to protect or deny the crossing over of something or someone into an area or place that is off limits, whether well marked or not.

Humanity has created a lot of those from the earliest beginnings. They can be good things or, like anything else, they can be not so good things. It all depends on perspective and the perception of where the "line" falls, depending on point of view. Boundaries can be inocuous, invisible in fact. Like you don't press your luck by picking your nose at the dinner table or else you have crossed the "line" and get sent to your room for bad behavior in front of others, but most especially in front of people we care about. Most recently, the debate has been growing in the news about immigration boundaries. That is only one kind of boundary. It can be made of nothing but a line on a map, or a river or a mountain range, or it can be a Berlin Wall or a lot of razor wire trying to keep a people out of one place so the people in that place can feel comfortable, regardless of the misery on the other side. Keeping the status quo, whatever you want to call it. We tried that inside our own boundaries with racism, among other didn't work though there are some vestiges of it here and there. There will always be someone setting a boundary somewhere. It's unavoidable, whether on a large, global scale or inside our own bathrooms: this is your side of the sink and this is my side, ok? Ok.

There are less tangible boundaries as well. These are harder to define, harder to see or be aware of. They cause a whole different sort of dispute, anguish and loss. Yeah, loss. Deep, painful, irreconcilable loss, or so it seems at the time. I have been experiencing a variety of losses this last year. Some tangible, some rather intangible and less easy to remedy; some that are downright confusing and invisible. Some boundaries are set like boobytraps or landmines; you don't know you have tripped them until someone tells you, then it can be too late, and a relationship is out the window, down the cliff, no toeholds and no lifeline. You can call for help, confess you didn't know "it" was there but the deaf ear has been turned and no matter how hard you confess, repent, do penance, self-flagellate, drown in remorse, you cannot be, you will not be heard because the person who set the boundary and didn't tell you about it, acts as if you should have known something or read their mind or whatever. All of this in spite of their complaining, grumbling and anger at not being able to do something about the issue. Who was to know that "it" had a forcefield around it that you could not see much less know about?

Recounting losses for a moment: I lost my mom last spring due to the body just wearing out and the decision not to fight anymore. It was hard; we were close, but she knew she would be crossing the boundary from life--such as it was--to a new place. Not everyone believes in a "somewhere else" after this life. And that's ok. She anticipated the crossing; she knew it would be there and she welcomed the trip. Sometimes boundaries are hard to cross because of the frailty of the human condition. The physicality can be a problem but the mind and soul is free to come and go as it pleases during that "thin place" in our lives. So, she took care of business and went, crossed life to death. I crossed a boundary too. From having a constant in my life to a constant that no longer existed for me. I crossed from caregiver/daughter to woman/alone. It has been quite the journey and its only really begun. I did not begrudge mom her journey as it healed her in the only way available to her type of suffering and pain. But a new suffering and pain began for me, physically and mentally. About seven months later I felt I could face life again on an entirely new plane. I probably passed many a boundary on the way from there to here without even noticing. I knew I could be happy if I let myself have that, happiness. I am still giving myself permission...

There is another kind of loss that I have alluded to earlier, and that is the harder to define kind of loss. No ONE has died but a thing that existed between two people has been lost. Friendship is a tenuous thing at its best moments, much less at any other time. It can be slow to grow or burst out to fullness at a moment's notice. Very unpredictable stuff. Unpredictable but wonderful stuff. Not only is it possible for you to grow as a person in the presence of a friend but the other friend can grow too, not to mention the relationship itself. I had a friendship with someone, based on the love of Christ and mutual interests. A good basis for any friendship. The love of Christ isn't always an obvious ingredient in all friendships but it helps if the people involved are spiritual types, which we were, me and my friend.

If there were boundaries, and there most likely were, either we were consciously aware of them or unconsciously. For instance, as you are just getting to know someone, you don't off the bat ask them a lot of personal questions. Why? Because there are social boundaries that say those sorts of things are not done initially. One must wait until a comfort level has been established and then tentative questions can be alluded to more easily. Let's assume for space sake, that time has passed, the comfort level is well established and we can ask each other virtually anything, everything is allowed, nothing is taboo. Ok. A routine is settled into of discussions, phone calls, emails, text messages, et al. We reach the stage where we can grip and hiss and spit about things that bother us about work, people, family, friends, politics, music, books, the entire gamit of possiblities. We occasionally, if rarely, get into a tiff and perhaps argue or bitch at each other a little but we end up forgiving and making up because we really didn't mean to come off as, well, bitchy. This understanding deepens an already solid friendship and life moves along.

What we don't know is that one of us has erected a few invisible boundaries along the way, set a landmine [ok, maybe if fell out of the back of a Honda or something...] and the driver of the Honda didn't know she was laying a landmine that would eventually claim part of her friend who--wouldn't for the price of gold on today's market--do a thing intentionally to cause the Honda driver pain or anguish in any form. But there it is, waiting to go off. Let's call the unsuspecting friend a Bimmer driver. Honda has complained and wept about how someone in her family has not returned calls regarding Honda's father who is ill. The bitter anguish and irritation is quite evident to Bimmer.

Bimmer, perhaps not thinking the entire idea through to include consequences for Honda, decides to contact Honda's sister and kindly ask her to stay in touch more with Honda about the mutual dad. She is hoping that said sister will have the intelligence to understand that Honda doesn't know of the contact by Bimmer because Bimmer wants Honda to think it was all the sister's idea and brilliant brainstorm to be more communicative.


Bimmer is understanding the consequences of clueless sisters as we read this blog. She is also understanding the boundary that was not seen or heard until the landmine went off. Honda is very unhappy and now won't talk to Bimmer. Life can really suck. And that is putting it mildly. There was a boundary that Honda had set but Bimmer was unaware of. Boy, is she aware of it now, now when it is almost too late to do anything about it. These are the boundaries that can kill and maim the heart and soul of individuals and relationships. It is too bad Bimmer didn't have a boundary detector or a sign to warn her away. I guess it has created in Bimmer an awareness of boundaries not considered before in friendship.

I am aware of them in chaplaincy work however, which I do on a volunteer basis. We know as chaplains that the patient room is a sacred space, not to be entered into lightly. We prepare ourselves for the entry and the exit in such a way that while we are there we are truly not our normal selves but we are changed by the suffering that goes on within; we are changed by suffering itself, whether it is we who suffer or someone else, whether we know who is suffering or if the person suffering is a stranger. Regardless, suffering happens, whether we like it or not. Knowledge is gained from suffering, it refines us and makes us better people. We learn not only about others but about ourselves, and in so doing, we grow and are stretched, sometimes beyond what we think we can endure. Suffering and the knowledge it brings to the table can deepen relationships and even deepen love and compassion for others.

Suffering knows no boundary. It can enclose us or we can try to create boundaries to repel it. But if we try to repel it all the time, we never learn a thing. I have learned much in the past six months from Honda. I would say to Honda--if I could--that maybe we were both supposed to learn something but not let it destroy the bond we had, which was strong and good and real. I can hope that it will be repaired and we can start over again at some point. I hope Honda thinks so too.

Boundaries: the good and bad, the visible and invisible, the tangible and intangible. They exist but can be changed for the better so that the maiming and the suffering can be kept to a minimum. I urge us all to be more aware of boundaries and the losses or blessings they can incur.