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.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"It's So Good to See you"

(also posted on episcopal cafe this month)

For my church’s 50th anniversary celebration we held a “homecoming” party recently, inviting back former clergy and active members who had moved away, for an evening of food, wine and mingling, a wonderful slide show of our history, a hymn-sing and some remarks from former clergy. The program for the evening was deliberately loose and simple. The point was to come together and to enjoy seeing one another again.

And the evening was full of the usual family-reunion exclamations: “How are you! Look at you! How you’ve grown! You haven’t changed! Wow! Here you are! Here we are! And, since this was across generations: “If only x (not here) could see us now! I really want you to meet x! It’s hard to believe you’ve never met, you’ve both been so important to me!” And of course, the greeting heard most commonly, that evening “It is so good to see you!”

“It is good to see you!” The experience of being together belongs to something that goes even deeper than the conversational details of questions like “How has your week been?” “What are the children up to?” “How’s work/what do you do for a living?” Even without specific personal information, there is something holy about the presence we are for each other when we gather for church. The familiar faces, and companions in worship, tell us something about who we are and what we belong to. I believe it is our way of expressing and experiencing a growing culture of ubuntu, that concept that has been held up as a model in our conversations about the Anglican Communion. Ubuntu is the awareness, essential to African culture, that “I am because we are.” In his book God Has a Dream, Archbishop Tutu writes, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation. . . ubuntu is “the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours.” (God Has a Dream, p. 25)

“It is good to see you” It is good to be together, because each of us is shaped by what the other brings. Ubuntu, I have come to believe, is an experience, rather than a theological concept; I have learned most about it simply by worshiping with people from various parts of Africa, who make up a large proportion of our congregation now though we started life, 50 years ago, as a suburban “white-flight” congregation like many others in the suburban DC area. At our festival celebration, Bishop John Chane described our congregation today as “ the face of the Anglican Communion,” and this rings true. The welcome we gave each other at our homecoming weekend stretched across generations, cultures and races, reflecting the increasingly multicultural history of this congregation and of the larger church we belong to. It reminded me, repeatedly, about God’s dream for us and who we are called to be as church, both locally and internationally.

“It is so good to see you!” When we say the to each other on Sundays, or at a reunion, we are not just making conversation. “I see you” is in fact an African greeting. To see each other, gathered for church, is to see who we are in God’s presence. We sing together, with great enthusiasm and expressiveness; we gather at the altar, and we recognize in these experiences glimpses of who God calls us to be as a human family. Even though there is little we fully agree on, even though we have our conflicts, anxieties, financial issues and prejudices, there is at the heart of our common life an awareness that being together has shaped us, each of us and all of us, in our journey with God We are learning, slowly, that church is about welcoming one another and being transformed, sometimes radically, by each other’s experience. We are learning that what draws us together, in song and prayer, worship and common mission, is greater than the differences between us.

“This is what heaven will be like!” one old friend remarked, as more and more familiar faces appeared at the homecoming party. But even more moving for me was the simple joy of being together at this event. It offered a glimpse of how we live into the Dream of God in this life. At the hymn-sing, full of old favorites, we sang the truth about ourselves in God’s eyes: “O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,” we sang. “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known,” we sang -- “we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground. . , to” the beautiful city of God.” We’re not there yet, but we are on the journey together, and we continue to grow from being together. It is good to celebrate that, each Sunday, as at our home-coming -- good to be together, Good to see everyone again!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Time to be Alive in

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive," wrote Wordsworth about the early days of the French Revolution, "But to be young was very heaven!" I have thought of those lines a lot in the past 48 hours, since the announcement of Barack Obama's election. It is thrilling to me to see so many young people engaged in the political system again, and believing that maybe things can be changed. Not all young people, of course. I did bring all this up in my poetry class the day after the election. It wasn't so high energy, I guess because people were dog tired -- and I also sensed some bewilderment about why all the adults were saying they were supposed to see this as so "historic." For many of them there was a lot of excitement about this having been the very first time they voted! (And they WILL remember, I know, that this was their first vote (just as I remember that my first vote was for George McGovern - in Massachussetts, mind you). Their memory of this will be far more compelling than they think, whatever comes next, and definitely something to tell their children! Even if they don't know it now-- and of course I saw lots of young faces in Grant Park who already get it!)

I was even more very inspired by the experience of going door to door on Election Day morning, near Fredericksburg, Virginial, leaving door signs and "getting out the vote." Though most people were at work by mid-morning, at one stop I knocked on the door and was greeted with joy by an African American mother, with her 3 school aged children crowding to the door with her. "Yes!" she said WE voted already -- they came with me and helped me cast this vote! This is SO EXCITING!" and we shared the excitement together. I a 50something white woman, she a younger mom in her thirties. Later on I had a similar encounter with an African American dad. He pointed to his young daughters and said. "Yes. We voted already. And they voted too. We're just going to let their votes ripen until they're old enough to cast their own!" I made the rounds with a woman older than I who had come to Washington in the 60s with her husband to work in the Kennedy Administration -- an era I remember from being a teenager. The sense of new possibility and new participation in the political process is so thrilling. And when I woke up Wednesday morning and learned that Virginia had turned blue, I thought "I helped to do that." "Yes, we did!"

An acute reader will point out to me that Wordsworth's long poem, "The Prelude," goes on to recount the disillusionment that followed the French Revolution and of course he's taking a long view, but in the poem, the social disasters that followed did not wipe out the memory of that dawn of new things, and the new ideals, of liberty and equality, were here to stay despite what came later. We will have our challengesin the time ahead but the sense of hope and possibility, and the conviction that this is how things REALLY are supposed to be, remains - as it remains in the poet's lines, despite what comes after. Whatever may lie ahead, a new thing has happened now that cannot be turned back. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive" - that's how I'm feeling today!

These People are Serious!

A Sermon preached at Brent House, the Episcopal Ministry at the University of Chicago. All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2008

When I was a graduate student at Yale in the late 1970’s, the Episcopal Church at Yale was a community that understood ourselves as grounded in liturgy. We were especially into processions: we had processions around the Old Campus at Yale, with its neo-gothic buildings, on Palm Sunday, at the Easter Vigil and – my very favorite – All Saints Day, always observed on Halloween night when the whole campus was showing up in Halloween costumes. On that night – in a tradition that started during “the revolution”- as Yale calls the student protests of the late 60’s—the ECY would process around campus, pausing to bless key places: the administration building, the library, gathering places. (During the revolution, I understand, they were exorcising these places, in a blend of liturgy and political protest, but by the time I was there we understood ourselves as bringing blessing – complete with vested priests and servers, a processional cross, incense and candles). Bagpipes accompanied our procession, and we chanted parts of the litany of the saints – with names we had contributed --as we paused for prayers). Following in our train were probably100 Yale students in Halloween costume, – in the fall night, with the neo-gothic buildings, this parade created a decidedly medieval, carnivalesque feeling for all involved. I particularly remember one time, when we stopped to offer our prayers of blessing, and I overheard one of the costumed Yale students turn to his friend, point toward us, and whisper – “You know, I think these people are serious!

In that moment I realized that we were functioning as the visible church of Christ on the campus: We were serious about what we were doing -- offering blessing, prayer, a presence oriented toward God, and having serious fun as we did so. I remember this incident when I reflect on my own calling, which seems to be to be a reasoned, creative Christian voice in the world – and to be a presence that somehow brings blessing. It tells me something about what it means to remember the saints and to “be a saint” in the settings where we find ourselves in our daily lives and communities.

The epistle to the Ephesians that we just heard read tells us something about our identity as “saints,” that is, as people who have been made holy by God’s love and grace, and by the fact that God has called us into the life of Christian discipleship.. Listen especially, to these words f
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints. . . .

What he’s talking about here is the gift we call “discernment” : the ability to recognize the shape of the new life we have been called into as Christians: And the way he puts it I love: “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints”

What is the hope to which he has called us? (And no, I’m not giving a campaign speech for Barack Obama: the language of hope and transformation are at the heart of the gospel). The Beatitudes and woes, offered by Jesus in the sermon on the plain in Luke, are not merely new laws: “Do this, don’t do that, in order to be blessed.” Rather, they are descriptions of what it’s like to live in a world where we know our dependence on the love and care of God. The poor, the persecuted, the mourners, know this dependence far better than those who are able to rely on themselves for all their sense of security. The hope that Jesus brings is also promised in that other classic Lucan text, the Magnificat, when Mary sings:” He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty, he has put down the mighty from their seats and has exalted the humble and meek.”] The hope to which he has called us opens the eyes of our heart, enables us to see that the world looks different when we see it through God’s eyes. This may make us uncomfortable, call us to conversion – but what we “with the eyes of our heart” may give us clues about the growth and transformation each of us is called to, for the sake of the world we live in now.

The primary call of Christians is to be in the world as the loving, healing, reconciling presence of Christ. The prayer book says the ministry of the laity is “to represent Christ and his church, to bear witness to him wherever we may be and according to the gifts given us, to carry on Christ’s ministry of reconciliation in the world. We are called to represent Christ, and the hope that the gospel brings. -to be a blessing wherever we find ourselves. (In this way, the calling of Christians as the church carries on God’s original call to Abraham in Genesis: “you shall be a blessing. . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:2-3). )

This is why I am so interested in listening to and helping people tell their stories about vocation. Each person’s experience of call teaches the rest of us something about the work of transformation and reconciliation that God calls us to, as church, and as members of the Body of Christ. The central vocational question, I think, is not so much “What is God calling me to do with my life,” though that is a part of it, – but rather – What is the work that God is doing in the world as I see it, and what is my piece of that work? These are not questions about the future but questions about where we are right now. Where is the need for blessing, reconciliation, healing, in your circle of friends, in the systems and structures that affect your life; in what way might even the work of studying and writing papers be offered as part of God’s work in the world? What makes you, each day, aware that there is something more to life than just getting through the day, that there is a greater hope that we are called to live?

What does it mean to be a saint? I think it is partly to know that the way the world is is not the way it is supposed to be, and to pay attention to the ways large and small that we are called to participate in the new thing that God is doing. This, I take it is, why we read the Beatitudes on All Saints Day, and why we pause to recall the lives of those who have gone before us and who still mysteriously surround us, a cloud of witnesses that “the hope to which God has called us” can be embodied in our lives, right here, where we find ourselves now. To be a saint is to be blessed and to be a blessing, to inherit a promise and to live in hope. It is not to be a perfect person; rather, it is about being a part of something – part of a human community that persists, from generation to generation, oriented toward God’s desire for healing, transformation and reconciliation.

As the Yalie in the procession observed, we are serious about this. All Saints is a seriously joyful celebration of who God has called us to be, and of the hope that is in us, because of what God has done in Jesus. Each of us will find that God calls us to do this in our own unique way, and that is why the prayer in Ephesians is so compelling, and so appropriate on this day: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [us] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as [we] come to know him, so that, with the eyes of [our ]heart enlightened, [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called [us], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints. . . .