About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Approaching God through Poetry: Thirst

I've just returned from co-leading a weeklong conference at the Cathedral College on "Approaching God through Poetry". It was wonderful for me to work with Esther de Waal, Bonnie Thurston, and Dana Greene. And it was an exciting time -- 30-some participants, from a variety of denominations and faiths, gathered to hear talks on important poets whose work opens the way into prayer. We spent our days listening, sharing some writing, and participating in beautiful liturgy and enjoying the quiet of the Cathedral College's wonderfully "prayed in" space. It really seemed as if there was a hunger among the participants for the kind of freedom of expression in prayer that poetry opens up -- and for the community between praying persons that happens when we read a poet whose work speaks to our heart. The energy in the group was really wonderful, profoundly prayerful and grounded. A wonderful response, and a wonderful experience to be part of.

My presentation was on Mary Oliver, focusing on her new and quite compelling book, Thirst, in which her already deeply contemplative nature poetry takes on a new dimension as she begins to connect that vision more explicitly to a newly emerging Christian faith, apparently born out of her grief over the death of her partner of 40 years. I really recommend this book of poems. Quoting a poem or two doesn't do it justice because the way the poems in the volume go together is really an important part of the spiritual journey they record. Speaking to God in the title poem, Oliver writes "Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart." It seemed as if we entered that conversation in a lot of our sessions during this week. The conversation between the love of this bodied life, and of the earth to which we belong, and the love of our Creator, incarnate and transfiguring. It seemed to me that many of the connections we were making in this retreat are summed up in her wonderful poem, "Praying"

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak. (Thirst. Beacon Press, 2006, p. 37)

"A doorway into thanks" -- I feel as if I've been through that doorway this week, together with the participants, and I am deeply thankful.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Contemplative Writing

I forgot to cross-reference my blog earlier this month on Episcopal Cafe called "A Lenten Discipline for Word People." It grows out of the class I'm currently teaching - and loving - on Contemplative Writing.

It may be that I've been blogging a little less because I've been scribbling in my journal a little more -- there is something about pen-on-paper that seems more "embodied" to me than working at a computer keyboard. But there are always things that come out of the journaling that turn out to be worth sharing. So stay tuned. And meanwhile, you can read more here, if you haven't already, about this spiritual practice that I call "contemplative writing" - to distinguish it from both journaling and "creative writing." Link

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Anglican Communion and Our Saviour

The Lead at Episcopal Cafe continues a discussion of the new draft of a "Covenant" for the Anglican communion. Read the draft here, and today's post, about the Church Times's analysis of highlights, here. I find, mulling over what I read, and as much as I understand it, that this does what I hoped it would: provides a way of engaging one another within the Anglican Communion when we disagree, acknowledges the autonomy of each church within the Communion, and resists setting up some kind of centralized authority or magisterium, which would be very much at odds with the Anglican tradition as I have understood and embraced it.

Like many, I've been processing this covenant draft in the context of Ash Wednesday and our observances this beginning of Lent. And hence have been slow to respond. I was interested that this morning's gospel was from John 17, Jesus' prayer "that we all may be one," and focused our attention on the relationship between Jesus and his Abba, and the mysterious and real "bonds of affection" within the Godhead that are suggested in that prayer. I have to admit I haven't been following closely every step in this controversy but I notice in the discussion of the draft that there's a lot of focus on the legal issues it seems to lay down and not much about Jesus. What I like about the draft as I read it, somewhat naively and "from the pew," is that it seems to provide for a process of conflict resolution that respects autonomy and assumes a desire to stay together in the "bonds of affection" that unite the various parts of the Anglican community. There really isn't any way that any document can protect us from the ill-will of people who truly do not want to seek unity, and whose position is essentially: I don't want to be part of a church that includes those people." Isn't the whole history of the Church directed toward returning us to that radical goal of being united in Christ even when divided in other things.

The parish I belong to, the Church of Our Saviour (read my earlier post about it here) is the face of the Anglican communion: people are from West and Southern Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, and African Americans and European Americans etc. We love to worship together. We love to be together. We disagree about a lot, including theology and Biblical interpretation, but we understand that we are called into community in Christ. Many have relatives "back home" in Africa who are unhappy about the Episcopal church. Mostly we don't talk much about the Anglican communion, though we did for awhile in 2003. There were disagreements and hurt feelings. But I think we did pretty well at hearing one another and staying together.
When the whole covenant process was first proposed I remember saying to someone involved: My deepest hope is that nothing said in a covenant document will mean that my congregation cannot stay together. My view from the pew is that the St. Andrews draft of the Covenant is the sort of thing I had hoped for.

In the polarized media world we live in, the fact that we aren't getting much media attention, as Jim Naughton points out in his post on Episcopal Cafe yesterday , may mean that we are making headway toward that goal. People staying together in the midst of disagreement, conflict, bitterness, and hurt is apparently not news because you can't identify a winner and a loser. But maybe it means we're making some small steps toward holding up a vision of unity in the love of Christ. Counterintuitive. Countercultural, imperfectly realized. But I think the Covenant begins to give us some tools for this, with its insistence on autonomy within the body, and on fidelity to "bonds of mutual affection."

At least there is nothing in it that would undermine the work we are trying to do together in my congregation, to try to live and worship together, in and through our diversity, with a common focus on Our Saviour.

Friday, February 1, 2008

more random musings about vocation and discernment

I've been doing more thinking, praying, writing about vocation again -- I keep coming back to this, so urgently that it clearly part of my own calling to do something about helping other Christians realize that we are all "called" to some work, some diakonia/ministry/service to the world. I am so aware that the more we grow in Christian faith, the more we practice worship, hospitality, discernment, prayer, compassion --however we experience those practices--, the more aware we become that we are "called" to something larger than our own individual lives. That who we are is a part of something greater and more hopeful, and making ourselves available to that is urgently important.

Vocation, in other words, is not mainly about "what am I supposed to do in the future," or "how I'll make my living," or "what I'm going to do with this [training/experience/college major etc.]--though all of that comes up. But it starts with where I see the activity of God in my life right now. The practice that goes with this is discernment -- learning to listen for God. That requires self-awareness, prayer, and a community I can trust to help me sort out who I am, what I want, where I am restless and what gives me joy -- those are all clues to my part in the greater work that God is doing in the world through us.

This is a grand and vague way of putting what the gospels portray as Jesus' call to discipleship, the call to follow his example and to discern what He continues to be doing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in our daily lives, even when that is hard to see. I am sure it's important for all of us to be practicing discernment, in the sense of listening for God in all aspects of our lives. I'll post some more about this another day. . . .

Browsing some resources on the national Episcopal Church website I came across what seems to me to be a very good website for ongoing practices of discernment and also for exploring difficult questions of faith and practice - it's called "explorefaith"-- geared toward young adults but actually it seems to me there is something here for everyone. I wonder if any readers of this blog have checked it out ?