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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Watching the Birds

also on episcopal cafe

My spiritual practice in the summer is to begin each day on my patio, in the cool of the early morning, sip my first cup of tea of the day, sometimes write in my journal, and watch what is going on in my back yard. We have a regular wildlife sanctuary this year, on our fifth-of-an-acre suburban lot. In the yard of the abandoned house next door (awaiting new construction), grass and shrubs have grown up, and a family of deer has taken up residence there. There’s now so much growing next door that they don’t even come into my yard any more. The rabbits, on the other hand, have eaten down just about whatever will grow – and yet there is something lovely, peaceful about them, browsing on the clover in the grass, in the early morning light. As I watch them, and the growing light, the sound of birdsong around me increases – cardinals, catbirds, crows and mourning doves, gradually drowning out the not-so-distant hum of cars on the capital beltway, half a mile away.

But what I most love is watching the birds on the feeder each morning. Though the English sparrows and grackles can be aggressive, a wonderful variety of birds visit each day, sometimes fighting over the black oil sunflower seeds, sometimes perched beside each other, simply being fed. Purple finches, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers, a flicker and occasionally a red-headed woodpecker, the occasional blue jay – and, this morning, hovering briefly over the bright pink and orange potted zinnias beside me, a tiny hummingbird!

I don’t get tired of watching them, even when they’re fighting over roosting spots or charging each other off with a flap of wings. Rather, I have the sense that I am being admitted into another world, watching them from my patio. They have their issues and their competitions but there is such a variety of species, colors, shapes among them – all birds, but abundant in their diversity. I find myself delighting in just seeing them all there together in all their variety – and I wonder, sometimes, how they see each other – across species and families yet within their bird-world. My feeling, watching them from the outside, is delight. They seem to be giving to another way of being, beyond my understanding. They invite me to watch and pay attention.

William Blake wrote somewhere, “How do you know, but every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?” He’s on to something there. Watching the birds each morning is a contemplative practice, bringing me to the limit of what I can see and observe, fascinating me, offering a glimpse into a beauty, a mystery, I cannot name, and teaching me to sit still and pay attention. In this way it is a contemplative practice. It is one of the things that I love most about the summer months –this time to sit outdoors, before the air becomes too warm, to watch and wait for the birds to invite me into the mystery of prayer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Invitation and Exclusion

Also on episcopalcafe

NB: Read information on my new book, "Waving Back", and pre-order information, here

Several weekends ago, I spent a refreshing and prayerful time on retreat at Holy Cross Abbey, a Cistercian monastery near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. As one might expect in an atmosphere infused with the monastic tradition, I felt thoroughly welcomed and quieted, and was nourished by the opportunity offered to enter what T.S. Eliot called “time not our time. In the one conversation I had with a monk, I was reminded of the Cistercian devotion both to prayer and to the intellectual life, two parts of myself that I’ve been a long time in bringing together. (A favorite book title of mine, about the monastic tradition, is called The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. I think that does describe something important about my vocation).

Sure of the divine welcome in the place (and of creation’s welcome, among the meadow flowers, birds and mountain scenery), I became vividly aware on Sunday of the obstacles to welcome that still exist in a church that is still far from the unity for which Jesus prayed. As a Roman Catholic order, the Cistercians abide by a discipline that limits participation in Eucharist to Catholics. I knew this. I knew I could present myself for Eucharist and no one would speak or object, but I was interested in the way that the non-invitation to Eucharist was worded. “The Catholic bishops do not allow us to invite non-Catholic Christians to receive Eucharist. We ask that you respect the discipline of the Roman Catholic Church and join us in prayer for the unity of all Christians, for whom our Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died.”

My own operative theology is scandalized at the idea of excluding anyone from Eucharist, believing that we go at Christ’s invitation, rather than at the invitation of a human community, however organized or faithful. And the careful wording of the placard I’ve just quoted suggested to me that whoever wrote it might even share the same operative theology. I’m certainly glad that the Episcopal Church has pushed back against any statement that would begin “The Anglican Communion does not allow us to invite. . . . " But there was also in this sad non-invitation a solid piece of truth-telling that I appreciated. I was grateful to the community for honestly naming the brokenness. It caused me to experience, as I have not before, what it is to be excluded from a rite that is our central expression of belonging. It was wrong. But it was true to how things are in the Church for whom Jesus prayed, and died.

So, I accepted, and learned from, the invitation to “join us in prayer for the unity of all Christians, for whom our Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died.” As people lined up to receive the Body and Blood, I remained kneeling, praying fervently and deeply for the unity of a broken church, the whole church catholic, Anglican, orthodox, whatever our sad divisions may be. I heard in my heart snatches of hymns: “Bid thou our sad divisions cease/ And be thyself our king of peace. . . . . “ “By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” It was a rich, full and genuine participation, in its way – a sharing in the broken heart of Christ, in the midst of the assembly. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of this way of prayer. But at least on this day, it was an unexpected gift.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Waving Back": My New Book of Poems, is coming out!

My chapbook of poems, called Waving Back: Poems of Mothering Life, is available now for pre-order at the website of Finishing Line Press. The poems come out of the years when my children were growing and reflect my sense of the richness and challenges of that time of life -- the volume also includes a series of poems that came out of my experience with breast cancer in the midst of all this, in the 1990's. They tell a story of a time of life, one that I hope will speak to others' experiences.

Now begins the self-promotion that has to come with the appearance of a new book. The book is available for pre-order now, and will be out November 13, 2009 (in time for Christmas, I hope!). I'm hoping for several readings and booksigning opportunities in the DC area once the book is out and will keep people posted about that. But I'll be very grateful to friends and fans who are able to pre-order a copy, since the publisher decides how many copies to print based on the # of pre-orders. Just go to the website, scroll down the books (alphabetical by author's name) and you'll find it!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Enjoying August at Home

We aren't getting to the beach this year - which I'm sorry about even though it's because we took a great vacation earlier in the summer instead. Will have to rely on Wordsworth (see my post from last August) to remind me of what I need to remember.

Being at home in August, I can understand why most people around DC are at the beach or somewhere else if they can be. It gets pretty hot, and there's a lazy feeling. But I'm savoring this week, which amounts to my last week of really "open time" at home -- I start regular class meetings next week (will be studying NT Greek with the incoming seminarians - something I've always wanted to do and in that way a "vacation activity" still for me - but it will be hard work and a daily commute). I just want to post a few things about today - my favorite kind of summer day - so I'll remember the peace of this week.

I started the day on the patio watching the birds, as I do every summer morning when it's not raining. It becomes my contemplative prayer time, with that, a cup of tea, a journal, sometimes some reading. Then I came inside, got coffee & lunch together for my husband (a daily ritual), and settled down at the computer for my "butt in the chair" time working on the book I've been writing this summer (I'll be looking to readers of this blog to help me publicize it if I ever get a publisher interested -- working title is something like "Fully alive: Discernment for Discipleship in the 21st cantury" -- lots of themes that started on this blog, and workshops I've been doing, especially with young adults but the audience for the book spans generations I hope).
Anyway, I poked along at that - (yesterday was a really blank day as far as writing went -- couldn't get anything down so I just gave up and did other stuff around the house, feeling frustrated; it paid off b/c I woke up this morning with an idea about how to regroup and fix the chapter I was struggling over).

By about 11:00 I knew I couldn't spend any more time on the computer, and the writing wasn't really going anywhere. It was relatively cool today, so I went out for a walk, taking the printout of my whole MS with me. (It's still very rough but I think I have something down now for all 6 chapters - about 100 pages). I stopped off at my congresswoman, Donna Edwards's office to tell her how heartily I support the passage of Health Care, and her handling of the issue and her response to opposition (more about this in another post) To my astonishment, ran into her in the hallway and was able to say my piece to her, which was fun. Then went in and talked to a staffer. I really feel strongly about this issue. And it felt like "democracy in action" to be able to stop off at her office on a walk around my neighborhood near downtown Silver Spring.

I wound up at Starbuck's, where I bought a "for here" skim chai and spent a couple of hours with my MS and a pen, seeing what parts of the very rough draft work and what parts don't. Discouraging in spots, encouraging in others, but at least I had a little distance and could see what I have -- it is almost the end of the summer and this was to be my "summer project" so it's time for some stock-taking.

Anyway, after that pleasant "writer's time" in Starbuck's, I took a pleasant route back home, one that took me past my neighbors' well groomed yards and lawns. One thing I love about the DC area in August is the crepe myrtles, blooming everywhere, I don't have one in my yard but I love my neighbors' -- Walking through the neighborhood and the park, listening to the cicadas who are singing all day now that it's August (crickets mixed in, perhaps), I have been enjoying the summer day. The rich magentas of the crepe myrtles, the brilliant gold of black-eyed Susans in a sunny garden -- even the somewhat reassuring observation that like me, a lot of my neighbors have been pretty much defeated by the wild grape vines that grow over pretty much everything by this time of the summer. But it's familiar, it's home, it's been a comfortable day to be out enjoying the beauty of my neighborhood, and the fruits of my summer writing-mode - a part of the pattern of academic life that I love, and have never lost track of.

Again a familiarline from Wordsworth comes to mind, one I usually remember late in the summer, from "Tintern Abbey" where he reflects, revisiting a familiar landscape in summer "That in this moment there is light and food/for future years." Looking back I see I quoted this and other parts of that poem in last year's August blog! I guess there's always a certain wistfulness, mingled with the quiet joy of the time, that comes to me in these later weeks of the summer. I still have hours ahead of me now today, and a stack of reading to do - but glad to have the time to give it my full, luxurious attention without any plans or interruptions. Nice to have a little time for blogging, too!

May I remember the pleasant openness of this summer day as the fall routine heats up and this kind of open day for walking, writing and reflecting becomes rare indeed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Good Quote about Grace and the spirituality of time

Have been reading a wonderful book by my friend Bonnie Thurston, written 10 years ago, but I'm just running across it now. It's called To To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time and offers many wise words about spiritual practices around time and how our attitudes toward time and our obsession with "busy-ness" create spiritual problems for us. Here is a quote from the book, one of the best expressions I've found of a Christian theology of grace:

Nothing I “do” ultimately assures my value. My value as a human being is already secured by God as the source of my creation and by Jesus Christ as the source of my salvation. I may choose to engage in “good works” – benevolence, charity, whatever – as a grateful response to these gifts, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to earn them. The bottom line is I don’t have to do anything; I just have to be, that is, to accept God’s gift of life and respond by grateful living. Why is it that this Christian ontology is so hard to accept? Could it be because the nature of God is so foreign to us? We do not deeply, existentially, understand that God is Love, that God loves us because that is God’s nature, not because we are smart or pretty or productive or “worthy” of such love. Because human love so rarely comes to us unconditionally, many of us have decided that God’s love never could either. We are wrong in this assumption, as the cross of Jesus Christ so clearly demonstrates.
(Bonnie Thurston, A Spirituality of Time, pp. 75-6)