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.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratefulness - on Thanksgiving Day

Everyone is home, and I am full of gratitude.
My children, in their twenties,  -- arrived yesterday, safely, flying in from long distances, but without undue traffic or airport delays.  I am so grateful for this .  They are home rarely and it always seems like a moment of miracle when they come in the door,  as they did together, yesterday evening.  This year I added a ridiculously "Norman-Rockwellish" touch to their arrival by making the apple pie while I waited for them to navigate the Dulles Toll Road and get home.  It was in the oven when they arrived and they responded immediately to the "smell of food"  as they came in the door, warming my own heart.    And that evening all four of us gathered around the dining room table for dinner-- as we only do now when they are home -- for a meal I had prepared and good conversation -- And I was so grateful for this chance to enjoy firsthand who they are growing up to be.

Last night after dinner, the "kids" dispersed to their rooms to do their own thing, my husband sat down to play Brahms and Chopin on the piano, as he does most evenings, and I stood at the kitchen window, listening, washing more dishes than I am used to washing -- one of the things I notice when everyone is home-- and just feeling overwhelmingly glad, that gladness washing over me as the water washed over the plates in the sink.  I am so grateful that once again,  another year, everyone is home, and whole, and here, for a time.

We have a lull this morning, again just hanging out, all adults together under the same roof.  This is something I always hoped for when they were growing up, that we could be comfortable and at home together, at least sometimes, once they became adults.  That was a blessing I had from my own family and I have hoped for it for us.  And here we are.  I don't have to cook today.  Later we will go to a friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner with long-time friends.  My contributions are pumpkin and apple pies, which I enjoyed preparing, these last few days, in anticipation of the feast.  Nice to have them all ready to go -- all we'll need to do is get dressed and drive to the feast this year.  (My turn will come at Christmas).

Gratefuless, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, is the heart of prayer.  I am full of gratitude today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My "Adventures in New Testament Greek" John 3:16

 Scott Cairns, one of my favorite poets,  has a series of poems he calls "Adventures in New Testament Greek." (you can read an example here).   The Young Adults Bible study group I lead is reading the gospel of John this year, and I have been having my own adventures in New Testament Greek as I prepare for our meetings and reread this so-very-rich gospel.  On my new ipad I have access now to the Greek text and a Greek-English study dictionary- and just enough New Testament Greek to be able to follow up on my literary instincts when I wonder "what was that word in the original." (I've basically had a semester of seminary level NT Greek -- a few years back -- see my post about that here).

There are a lot of important "key" words in the gospel of John -- including many that have become almost jargon for readers of the Bible and church people -- light and darkness, believing, being born again, seeing the light or not.  Staying with some of these words (and I may come back to this in future blog posts -stay tuned) has helped me as I reread this gospel deeply and prayerfully, letting it "speak" to me imaginatively, and paying attention to the words.  All of this is opening new doors for me.

A good example is the word "believe" --which has become kind of a slogan in fundamentalist circles   "John 3:16" gets held up on signs at football games as a kind of inside code or rallying cry for evangelicals and it IS, arguably, the heart of the gospel. But what does it mean.    "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." That "whosoever believeth" has too often been an entry into the perilous territory of "well, what happens to those who don't believe, or what happen to me if I stop believing --  and does that mean if I don't agree with you I'm going to hell. And how can anyone believe any of this" and . . . well, you know.  It's a rabbit hole.

But looking at the words more closely gets us to a very different, freer, understanding -- supporting what Sam Lloyd, former dean of Washington National  Cathedral, has called "a generous and open-hearted Christian faith."  Here's how this passage speaks to me, paying attention to the words.  To me the heart of this is the love part -- God loved the world the Greek verb there, "agapein" is about the kind of love that knits together families and communities (not so much a sacrificial, costly love that creates an obligation for us, though that's in the mix --  but "agape" is about passionate, faithful relationship, a love that reaches out and awakens our willing response and knits us together, creating community and mutuality).  So this is a God who wants to connect with us -- to be in relationship with the world - and Jesus, the "Son," -- especially in this gospel -- is all about that relationship.   He keeps inviting people to "come and see" for themselves. (See for example John 1:39 - more on this perhaps in a later post).

The word "believe," as in the King James "whosoever believeth," has tripped us up in fights about who is a "Bible believing Christian" and who isn't.   But if you look at the way the word is used throughout John it really seems  to a disposition of the heart quite different from "belief" in a set of propositions.  The Greek verb "pisteuo", translated "I believe" really means something closer to "I have faith in", "I trust"  -- related to the adjective "pistis" meaning faithful, loyal.  It's about a human relationship, not about assent to propositions.

So when I say I "believe" in the gospel, it's not about insisting that this or that event actually happened, historically, exactly and verifiably as described, or even about fussing over what Jesus did or did not "actually say."   (Actually John 3:16 is one of the passages where scholars disagree about whether these are meant to be the words of Jesus or an commentary by the evangelist -- but either way, they invite us into the good news if we want to pay attention).  Rather, it's about setting my heart to the truth that the stories point to.  When I come to something I stumble over on the literal level, rather than dispute about what's factual, I try to pay attention to what's true.  I ask "what is this saying to me?" what else is here?  why were we given this passage, this story?  This is a way of reading Scripture that takes the Bible very seriously, without taking it literally.  Indeed, to take the gospel of John literally, i.e., according to the "letter" of the King James version, as many fundamentalist traditions have done, is to miss a lot of the wisdom in this gospel.   In John, Jesus is all about inviting people to "come and see" for themselves -- to be in relationship with him, to walk alongside him, really, to imagine God as a human being who desires to be in a good and right relationship with us.   So I like better the versions that translate "to believe" so that it's "come to believe" or "come to have faith in" or even "come to know".  It's about experiencing a God who is engaged with our humanity and desires our transformation.  Reading the text of John with that in mind opens a lot of new doors.

Every translation of course is an interpretation, but here's my translation/interpretation/testimony about John 3:16, with my very elementary Greek and my experience of this gospel fully in play.   "The God of Scripture is a God who is so passionately engaged with the world, who so loves us, God's  chidlren and creatures, that God became one of us, fully sharing our whole human experience warts and all, so that in the process of coming to know Him, we might know what fullness of life really is, beginning now."  The more I read and reread this gospel, the more I come to see that it's about growing into relationship with God, in and through this life, and about an eternal life that is not in some far away place, but beginning here and now.   And the more I read the more my own faith is deepened -- and this is what "coming to believe" is all about.

The lens I'm bringing here is consistent with contemporary thinkers who say that Jesus is a "Wisdom teacher" -- (see for example Cynthia Bourgeault's The Wisdom Jesus) --  that is, his teaching invites a response of the heart and a transformation of life,  more than an assent to propositions.   The more I "get" this, the more excited I become about what I am learning, re-reading this gospel. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November 1

November 1 - just getting around to writing and the day is almost over.  It has been lovely, increasingly muted fall weather today.  And it is a day I associate with a "turning" in the year.  In Celtic tradition, this day is Samhain, the beginning of the new year, celebrated as the harvest is complete, as the days begin to shorten visibly.  And indeed today, busy with office work most of the day, I barely got a walk in before nightfall, though it was quite lovely -- Rock Creek Park and the Georgetown Branch trail at twilight.  At this time of year,  when the dark comes, it seems darker. It is why the spookiness of "Halloween" feels right at this time of year.  Halloween is, of course, All Hallows Eve, and November 1 is All Saints Day - a festival that I've always particularly enjoyed since I've been an Episcopalian and so part of a liturgical church.  We won't celebrate the day until Sunday at my parish - but I've been aware today, and praying for the faithful departed in my life as I've thought of them, with gratitude. The influence and memory of those who have gone before me, and whose example has guided me spiritually, is very much on my mind this time of year.   It also happens, oddly, that November 1 was the birthday of David Jones, the poet and artist whose work and ideas have been so thoroughly formative for me).  A number of family members in my family and family of friends have just died in the past couple of weeks, and so that border between the worlds does seem thinner today, as we enter a time of year when the world feels like a "thin place," the trees growing barer, the leaves, thinning out, still lovely orange and red-gold,  and the sky often so dramatic late in the day.

I'm thinking about my friend Esther de Waal's reflections on  the Celtic cycle of celebrations -- November 1 for Samhain,  Feb 1, St. Bridget's Day,  May 1, May Day, and August 1, another Celtic harvest time-- and how they bring us into what she calls the "border country" of our lives, inviting us to be in tune with the rhythms of nature rather than the artificial rhythms of our "plugged in" lives.  (I think her reflections on this are in her little book called To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border   .I've  been very aware, today, of what T.S. Eliot calls "time not our time" -- that passage of the seasons of nature and the church year (it will be Advent less than a month from now, I know), the holiday season (my children will be home for Thanksgiving in November, and beyond that Christmas and the other New Year.. . .)  And so the year is turning, and I with it.  I welcome the darkness, which is another country in its way, the thinning trees and opening sky,  the mystery of the passage of the time and the borderlands where we glimpse other dimensions of life, beyond the busy-ness and occupation  of our daily routine.