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 17, 2016

Vandalism at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour: Some thoughts a week later

 Last Sunday I arrived at church for choir practice and the 10:00 service, to find that vandals had scrawled “TRUMP NATION: WHITES ONLY” on  the banner advertising our Spanish language service and on the wall of the Memorial Garden, the area beside the church where many of my longtime friends and mentors are buried.    We are a church proud of our cultural and racial diversity – close to 80% of our members are immigrants , from all over African, the Caribbean and Latin America.   When we gather for worship on a Sunday morning it feels to me like the reality of the “reign of God” – people from east and west gathered at Christ's table, joined by a common faith and spiritual practice that transcends our differences.

The event hit social media and has evoked outrage that this could happen – and expressions of support for our community and anger at those who did this.   What it represents for others is important for humanizing our national discourse.  But I hope that the story that breaks through ultimately will be the one I experienced:  the depth and clarity of the love that binds us as a community of faith,  carrying and grounding our response to this event and affirming of love as stronger than hatred and fear.  The coverage on WAMU, which included an interview with me next to the desecrated Memorial Garden Wall, makes a good start https://wamu.org/news/16/11/14/facing_racist_vandalism_diverse_church_in_silver_spring_meets_hate_with_love

Of course we were shocked and wounded by this event – in this community of “blue” Maryland that prides itself on our racial and cultural diversity.  But we didn’t dwell much on “who would do this?”  I was oddly unsurprised, I realize now: upset, but with more of a feeling of, “So, here it is:  we knew it was out there and it has come to us”– this atmosphere of hatred and fear that has become so pervasive in our political discourse through this election season.  But my reaction as a relatively privileged white Anglo may be different from those directly threatened, who have been feeling frightened and vulnerable even before this.  I am also aching for them – especially the children and the parents who seek to keep them safe.

What was inspiring was the way that the Church, as a Whole Church and the body of Christ, came together to support us.  The Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, came to celebrate communion  at our Spanish service and invited people from around the diocese to come at short notice, and they came.  Our rector, the Rev. Dr. Robert Harvey,  spoke for the welcome that binds our community.  Our preacher, the Rev. Francisco Valle, spoke inspiringly of who we are as Christians:  We are people who answer love with hate and this is the kind of time when we bear witness to this. He spoke from the heart, he quoted St. Francis, and he spoke for all of us. (see more here Afterwards chalk was given out and the people gathered, especially the children, wrote messages of love: Love WinsLove is stronger than hate; on the sidewalks around the church. 

Meanwhile Bishop Mariann and those who spoke for the church protested against these acts of violence against the vulnerable, and called on the President-Elect and his supporters to separate themselves from the hate-speech that this election has stirred up in his name.  It was not a condemnation of “those people” but a call to put an end to behavior that is hurtful toward the vulnerable.  Not a call for “political correctness” but a call for respect and empathy, and humane attention to the damage our words can do, and to the need for healing words.  This too is at the heart of our faith.

In the week since, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming –candles, flowers and cards left at our doors,  a new sign replacing the old and stating “Silver Spring Loves and Welcomes Immigrants.”  I was at the church on Tuesday most of the day working with our office of Samaritan Ministry and serving people from our community and our congregation who need help taking their next steps toward applying for jobs, improving computer skills, and other steps out of poverty and homelessness.  The gestures of support, and media calls  from all over the world, wer flowing through the church office all morning, all day, on Tuesday. The imam from up the road came with some of his congregation to pray at the church; 2 guys arrived from Pennsylvania with offers to clean the wall for free; others just stopped by to say "I'm with you" - and it continues.

At Our Saviour we have always been proud of our mission to be “a home for all God’s people” and we’ve  been clear that we are here to embody Jesus’ welcome to all, even when we sometimes have to work at it.  Being part of this community for over 25 years has been a privilege and joy.  It has kept me aware- if sometimes appropriately uncomfortable –of my own role and experience as a white person in this society, and grateful for the welcome that I receive because of a shared faith and the joy of common worship with so many people I might not otherwise have crossed paths with in the course of daily life.   And I’m grateful that my children were able to grow up with the experience of this kind of friendly diversity as normal and good and real – because I believe that that is what we embody at Our Saviour, and indeed what the Church at its best bears witness to.

In one way it is exciting that as a result of this ugly event our common vision and commitment to one another is on display for all to see.  In another way it is exhausting, the way any grieving process is exhausting,  sorting out the sense of violation the  loss of the sense of safety we had,  and becoming a public symbol on social media across the world, because of the way that this hate crime reflects the sad and broken state of our country.  At Our Saviour we haven’t been spending much energy on “Who did this?” Or “Why did they do this?”  Jesus was the one who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  My comfort and my hope  is that all this public exposure will invite people of good will, across the political spectrum,  to think on these things, and recognize the need for far more compassion and empathy, and firmness in the struggle against hate as we journey together through the very challenging time that lies ahead.www.episcopalcos.org.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My thoughts as I'm watching Hillary's Concession Speech

So here we are after this election.   With headlines I and most of my friends and family did not expect.  I am watching Hillary’s concession speech I am and probably will be for awhile on the edge of tears, and maybe over the edge.   Perhaps for the first time in my life I’m aware of the rejection of someone I admired and deeply identify with:  an educated, organized, strong white woman. I really thought it was our moment.  And I just ache for Hillary and all she has been through, all she has offered, the President she could have been and knows she could have been.   She is such a class act.  

OK. Here come the tears.

And I also know that we have to go on, with our eyes wide open and clear, and avoid denial and smoothing over and continue, those of us with means, privilege and power, to work for those who continue to be left behind and rejected in our system.   And to watch for ways to do this both within and outside of our political system. 

 For me it has been a rollercoaster week.  I spent all day on Monday ringing doorbells in Pennsylvania for Hillary, in Reading PA – meeting people across the spectrum – in small working class homes, in student houses connected to nearby Albright CollegeThe canvassing team of 4 that I was assigned to included me, a Jewish woman about Hillary’s age, a young African American man (a lawyer), and a Muslim neighbor.     It was a high-energy, hopeful group, the busload of us who spent the day traveling from Maryland to a neighborhing battleground state – we bought into the strategy, and we met people who had great enthusiasm about voting.  I walked up and down hills in residential neighborhoods in beautiful fall weather – I think the images of that day will stay with me, and I’m glad I did it.     

Then on Tuesday, I spent the morning at the SamaritanMinistry office, doing casework with people who need to find jobs and are shut out of the system because of the shredding of the safety net, the high cost of housing, the lack of education and support sytem.    I will continue this work and find more ways to do it and to work for whatever political change can happen – on the most local level if necessary. 

And in the afternoon, speaking with my spiritual director.  And then the evening as the election returns came in and began a period of mourning for me.  The grieving, the anger, the deep sadness will continue:  and I have also learned that mourning, and anger on the side of the oppressed, help us to grow in compassion.    It has to.  And my days of canvassing, of meeting reasonable, lovely, diverse people did make me feel positive about this country, our diversity and strengths. It was the America I believe in:  “hopeful, resilient and big-hearted” as Hillary says. 

Sustaining me is the hope that there is resilience in this country, and among us who believe that we are “stronger together.”  That was not just a slogan: and it doesn’t mean papering over differences. But it means continuing to see each other clearly.   Standing up for everyone and supporting one another and those who have no voice.    Opposing outrageous policies and craziness.  And being, really, yes:  “stronger together.”  

This evening I am on to lead a Bible study at a local church -- the Gospel of Matthew, looking at Jesus' teaching and the Sermon on the Mount.  The story of Jesus that we have in this gospel Matthew is about a community that forms in the midst of great political turmoil and surrounded by values that are not those of this community.    And he preaches inclusiveness, care for the poor, healing for those who are left out.   Reading this part of the gospel story today I am impressed by the way that Jesus’ teaching of his disciples invites and describes a way of life and an attitude that is a life-giving way in any and all times.  And for me the shift in national fortunes makes this even more vivid.  

I've posted on a separate page my poem "Judgment Day" -written in 2001 -- which sounds in a different way what I'm still mulling over, as someone who belongs to the now-discredited "elite" and aware of my connection to so many of my neighbors.  Still not sure how to paraphrase the insight but I think it still speaks.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Back from a wonderful conference on David Jones - some reflections on return

David Jones "Mother of the West" 1942  Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
used as logo for the conference
I am just back from a conference, “David Jones: Dialogueswith The Past", held at the University of York from July 20-23.    These conferences happen every few years and I don’t always get to the ones that are in the UK but I am very glad to have been there for this one.  The connections and friendships with what we sometimes call the “David Jones community” really inspire me  and keep me going in what has become an ongoing  spiritual practice of reading and scholarly reflection for me.  That process  nurtures my identity as scholar and as poet,  and these gatherings remind me how deeply this practice is rooted in years of work on David Jones even though it ranges wider now. 

Images and moments that are staying with me from the York conference remind me how in the true spirit of an incarnational aesthetic we were engaged with all our senses, beginning with  the great intellectual stimulation all around, but also with feasting for the eyes, the tongue, the ear, and the appreciation, always deepened when we engage with Jones, of what Paul Hills called "the good bodily image" (quoting from Jones).

Despite Jones's strongly anti-technological bent it was quite wonderful to see, at this conference, what technology permitted:  starting with the welcome from William Blissett, the "don" of David Jones studies at age 94,  and receiving his avuncular advice about Jones studies and Jones conferences – it was just right to have his voice and image to gather us since he couldn’t be there in the flesh.   It was great to have the right equipment to look together at Jones’s art work and linger over thorough readings – notably of course in Paul Hills’s keynote on “the good bodily image” and his invitation to look at Jones’s work alongside Italian Renascence images that he knew and loved in the National Gallery.   And there was Rose Lavan’s attentive reading of Jones’s “Female Warden” and Hilary Davies’s and others’ images from Stanley Spencer and reflections from artists present among us, who could talk about their work in the context of David Jones.   We encountered “The Dream of the Rood” in a variety of ways – in papers and also in Rahul Gupta’s riveting performance of Anglo Saxon text and his translation at the conference dinner.  And trees – everywhere – it kept coming up.  The destruction of trees at Mametz at the heart of it all – but The Dream of the Rood and the Vexilla Regis and the Tree of the Cross and actual, green, bodily trees.  It stays with me as an image.  There were challenges and new insights to reflect on – Tom Dilworth’s addition to psychological reflection on Jones’s life and work,  Fr. John David Ramsey and others directing our attention the gestures and movements in the Tridentine mass and how they help us see more in Jones.   And good, engaged, reflective conversations – I could cite many but remembering, for example, wide ranging discussion on the relationship between “sacrament” and “forgiveness,”  and the feminist thing (if it’s a thing in Jones - I think it is) and the Anglo-Saxon thing and of course the Roman thing -- lots of food for futrher thought, and the thrill of seeing good work well done and well presented. And Adam Schwartz’s closing keynote, which kept the energy up through the very end of a rich and stimulating conference, and his intriguing suggestion, with a quote from Siegried Sassoon, that perhaps we have in In Parenthesis  the epic of the Great War that would be appreciated "in 100 years time" - this of course particularly relevant on this 100th anniversary year of the Battle of Mametz Wood.  

As I said in the closing, it was wonderful to witness conversations “in the flesh” between people who knew each other from reading their work but had never met!   And to be in these conversations myself – meeting, for the first time, Christine Pagnouille,  Luke Thurston, Adam Schwartz, among others.  And most of all to have so many young scholars with truly fresh approaches joining and really leading the conversation. 

But to the bodied experience, and all the senses.   I loved beginning my own time at the conference by hearing early mass at St. Wilfrid’s,  with Fr. John David Ramsey presiding,  And then I made a solitary visit to the Minster, and knelt and sat and walked in its vast, illuminated spaciousness, and took in the layers and layers of history there, and lit a candle for absent friend Tom Goldpaugh. 

At St. Wilfred’s on Friday, the ineffable beauty and rightness and depth of Opus Anglicanum’s performance based on In parenthesis,  with the added richness of hearing it in company with this particular audience.    And then the feasting afterwards:  good food, good conversation, good poetry to hear.  Feasting also went on after the conference events on other nights, at the Dunmore Arms, moving between tables and having conversations and deepening and renewing old friendships.  It was lovely how generously the wine flowed at several conference events, enhancing conversations. 

And at the heart of all of it – a true gift, made possible by attentive scholarship and and new technology, the showing of clips from the Mabon Studios tapes of David Jones,  painstakingly edited by Jasmine Hunter-Evans and Anne Price-Owen.    We shall all retain that full screen image of David Jones's mobile face, with its puckish smile, as he listened to the interviewer’s question,  and then, in a strong voice, and countenance fully alive, reading from the opening lines of “The Tutelar of the Place”  and the closing pages of The Anathemata.

At which, I was undone.

I shall remain deeply grateful and delighted by the fine work of the conference organizers, Anna Svendson and Jasmine Hunter-Evans and the presence of all who participated. What a feast these last few days have been!!