About Me

My photo
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, October 31, 2009

Halloween Nostalgia, and All Saints Day

This is the first time I've been home for Halloween night in a number of years, and I'm feeling nostalgic. Perhaps this isn't surprising for someone who spent 20 years of her life with identity firmly fixed in "momdom." Today (raking up leaves into piles but realizing there were no small people to jump in them -- and haven't been for some time) I have been remembering my children's pre-teen years when Halloween was a BIG deal in our household and neighborhood. We spent weeks before the event planning what my son & daughter would be for Halloween and figuring out how to help them "be" that was one of my creative challenges -- (I was one of those moms who usually put together some kind of homemade costume). This was a particular challenge with my son who when he was in elementary school tended to want to go out as one of his imaginary friends, whom no one had ever seen. So I had to work with his instructions. My daughter would look forward exuberantly to the day, from the time she was very small, and our neighborhood -- and the neighborhoods of her friends, later on -- were very hospitable to trick-or-treaters. So it was a fun, family time. And since in those days all the neighborhood kids went to the same elementary school, it was a neighborhood time, too. It seemed as if it would always be that way though of course it was just 7 or 8 years of our lives, probably, all together. But it was a special time.

It also marked, for me, the beginning of "holiday season" -- when it was part of my role as the Mom to engineer the various special family traditions. That role persists, & I still love it, though now I'm observing it in less visible ways, e.g. by making the plane reservations for everyone to come home for Thanksgiving. And I'm recognizing that to the kids in the neighborhood our house is now one of the ones where people they don't really know live -- those slightly older people who appreciate visits from children. I'll need to leave the light on so they know they're welcome. It's fine being in this role -- but I'm remembering the other times, too, today.

And tomorrow is All Saints Sunday AND All Saints Day -- one of my favorite days of the church year. It was the celebration of All Saints, with its vision of a vast communion that extends through and beyond the boundaries of life and death, beginning where we are right now, that brought me into the Episcopal Church and its liturgical tradition, many years ago. (For a very good summary of what All Saints is all about read Peter Carey's post here). There have been years when I've been indifferent to Halloween, or even irritated or creeped out by some of the excesses in its celebrations -- but I always do look forward to the celebration of All Saints, the opportunity to renew my commitment to my Baptism and a vision for human life that is hopeful and strong beyond our wildest imaginings. (See last year's post for some more formal theological thoughts on All Saints Day) In the Celtic calendar, November 1 marks the turning of a new season, and it works that way for me, too. Moving into November, toward Thanks-giving and Christmas, I find myself anticipating good things, family, home-comings, reunions and various kinds of feasting. Our trick-or-treating days are long gone, but it is a turning-time for me, this weekend, this season, for various reasons, and one that I welcome.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hearing the Words of the Greek New Testament

Also on episcopal cafe

Call me a nerd if you like, but this past August, my end-of-summer treat to myself was to sit in on the three week intensive course in New Testament Greek that the seminary offers to incoming students. Students required to take a Biblical language expressed some surprise that someone would choose this, but people who know me and my love of language and languages predicted: “You’ll get hooked.” And they were right.

Even now, with my time more limited by the regular semester, I am trying to show up once a week for the continuation of the introductory course. It’s an exercise in humility; my brain is getting pretty full-up with verb forms and noun endings and vocabulary, and I’ve got a generous colleague and student TA reading my often muddled papers and quizzes. But I’m also finding that it’s a return to “vacation mode” for me when I can spend a couple of hours drilling on my flashcards, and solving the intriguing word-puzzles posed by the Greek-English translation exercises, and the “aha” moments that come with translating passages from the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament.

The reward, for me, comes in moments of exquisite clarity, when a passage from Scripture, familiar in English, suddenly makes sense to me in its own language. It began with learning to read and pronounce the alphabet. Words which previously looked like hen scratches on the page began to sound, and sing. Our teacher wisely provided us with the Greek of the first chapter of John, mixed in with the course materials, not assigned, but just there for our perusal.. Within the first week, I found I could transcribe and read: “En arche eyn ho logos” I puzzled it out: ”En Arche” “En" for “In” “arche” like “archeologist. In the beginning. Then a little word – likely to be a form of “to be” and a word I recognized: “Logos” - Word – and there it was – with the sudden immediacy of poetry: “In the beginning was the Word”.

Naturally, I looked further down the page, wondering what John 1:14 would look like in Greek. I could just sound out: : “Kai ho logos sarx egeneto” (And the word was made flesh) “Sarx” – like sarcophagus. Flesh, mortality. I remembered Bible studies where someone told us that there are 2 words for “body” in Greek – “sarx” and “soma” – and this is the one that is the gritty, fleshly, mortal one: even the sound conveys it: “sarx” – the sound sharp and guttural next to the smoothness of “logos”. There it was: the poetry emerging from what was once looked to me like secret code: now the words were singing.

“It’s like being there,” a friend remarked to me, telling of her experience gaining fluency in Biblical languages and reading the texts. I doubt I’ll ever reach her level of fluency but I’m learning enough now to receive in a new way the poetry of the New Testament – in the language it was written in – and so in the word themselves, now new gifts to me.

All this has me reflecting further – in ways for which I there are no words – about a reality that we meet, by God’s grace, within our humanity. Reading Scripture, I am receiving in words the revelation of a God who has chosen to come to us in ways that meet our humanity--our language--our bodies. En arche eyn ho logos. . . Kai ho logos sarx egeneto. It gives me the shivers. It’s like being there