Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103

 I recently joined a group on Facebook – “120 Day Bible Challenge” - reading the Bible in 120 Days.” (You can, too, if you want to…)   A colleague from seminary, Gary Manning, started the group, and kindly  mapped out a reading schedule – about 10 chapters a day, that has so far, been manageable and fun.  This is so in keeping with Gary, who has been one of my good shepherds, mentors and a “person-to-look-up-to” for a long time.  He was a third year student when we all started in 2001… and our teaching assistant for Greek.  He walked into each study session with the words, “fear not, little flock” – words we desperately needed to hear.  We looked, no doubt, like deer or wayward sheep, in the headlights of the requirements of our new school and curriculum.  He also led our senior year retreat – and his words about being an Associate/Assistant have come back to me, countless times…especially, that the Associate may be the person in the system who can provide comic relief.  The Rector is full of obligation and worry, other staff are overwhelmed (as are you, of course) – but the Associate can take the role of fool, jester, light hearted spirit – and can help the whole system learn not to take itself so seriously.  I have, from time to time, recognized that kind of foolishness in myself – as well as the other kind, which is not so light hearted! 

We all started May 9th and will end September 5th.  Folks are sending comments, including photos of where they are reading each day…I loved the one entitled, “reading the bible on Friday night”, which featured a candle and a glass of beer (Stella Artois, no less!) .   I’m reading at my kitchen table, as usual, the sacred site of studying, praying, writing, and eating – four of my favorite pastimes!   What I’m reading from is far more interesting – a new Bible one of the confirmation sponsors gave me. This Bible is called, the C.S. Lewis Bible – an NRSV edition, with quotes from Lewis’ letters and works.  What a providential gift – and one that decided me on starting this reading project.

Now, I’ve read through the Bible before – we were instructed to do so before we started seminary – so I spent many feverish hours speed reading, with little retention… those were the days when I did everything the church or the seminary told me to do.  (Thank God I got over that in a hurry!) And, of course, in preaching and teaching over my many years as a lay and ordained minister, I have read through sections of the Bible.  So, lots of stuff seems familiar, but the pace is great – and allows me to ponder and wonder about some little things I had not noticed before.

Like, I just noticed that Noah walked with God … as did Adam and Eve, it can be interpreted, before they responded to the invitation of a certain serpent to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… I had remembered, incorrectly,  that Abraham was the first to walk with God.  Actually, God tells Abraham to “walk before him”  - which may sound like no big deal, but one way to approach the Bible, is to notice, when things are said differently – because they often mean something different.  Why was it that God made a covenant with both men, but changed only Abraham’s name…changing of names is a really big thing in the Bible… 

I had forgotten that Esau gave away his birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup…and I wished once again, as I have many times, that  I had done more than audit  a quarter of Hebrew – the symbolism of names in this part of the Bible is awesome – and I know, escaping me!  

I remembered what playing favorites does to the unity of family life – and how hard it is to reconcile, once you have done another person “dirty.” Yet, there it is, again and again, God’s reconciling action among and between God’s self and the people.   I forgot that the key theme in the Joseph story is not about dreams (which always fascinate me) but that “only God can condemn and punish.”

Today, ending Exodus, I wonder why the tellers of this story, who repeated it around dinner tables and camp fires for generations, before someone recorded it – found it necessary and important to report, twice, that God admonishes the people that “no one should appear before me [God] empty-handed.”  I think about all the times I have come, with nothing to offer, but demanding everything….

And I really wonder, after reading pages and pages of minutely detailed instructions for constructing the Ark of the Covenant, the temple, the curtains, the priests’ vestments and instruments for sacred rituals that are more exhaustive than an architect’s blueprints – how those folks ever made it out of Egypt carrying a host of different gemstones, silver, gold, acacia wood, fine thread for weaving, and the like – how could that people move more than twenty feet with all that stuff???  And at the same time, no one thought to bring water or C-rations on a journey in the desert?  I am also grateful that we no longer require the priests to put ram’s blood behind their ears and on other places on ordination day.

There is such a lovely sweetness to this activity – to take the time to read and ponder, to wonder and delight, in the tiny morsels of meaning that such slow reading can serve up.  I feel as richly blessed as Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, who longed and dreamed of the richness that would come from spending time to spend in the synagogue, to read the holy books and to pray.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

I know this blog is to be about the Word of God, but in honor of Mother's Day, I wanted to post this amazing photo of my Mom and a poem I wrote about her a year or so ago.  She will be dead 10 years this fall, although that statement seems wrong to me, to be an exaggeration of a fact.  When she died I was in seminary, and one of my very kind and wise professors, a priest of many decades, remarked that our belief in eternal life means that relationship does not end with our physical  deaths, but, in fact, can deepen and mature, even after the end of life.  I came to know, quite soon, in fact, what he meant.  My Mom and I were a bit like oil and water - or cats circling each other in a closed room.  I never thought she understood me and I certainly did not understand her.  My teenage years were ones of battle - not because I was a wild party-girl, but because I was so religious, so judgmental and "holier than thou" (the truth must be told) - so serious and righteous...I now know she was trying to save me from myself, however clumsy or heavy-handed her attempts might have been.  Since her death, I have learned much about her, and about our relationship - she is still a living presence for me - not some macabre ghost, but more like a guardian angel.  Perhaps, without the pressure of embodiment, I have found the freedom to let her in, to allow a closeness I could not afford in my younger years. I have achieved a measure of the generosity and maturity needed to see her for herself, rather than a projection of my own needs or desires.  
It occurs to me, in this Eastertide, that the apostles had the same kind of experience after Jesus died - and even after all those post resurrection appearances.  He became clearer to them as time passed - as they told the stories and followed the advice and remembered the good times and bad - perhaps this is why we think that the Communion of Saints is so important. Relationship does not end with the grave, life is changed, not ended.  We continue to grow in our love for each other, in our understanding of the meaning of our common lives; lives shared, broken, patched up,  often subject to bad timing, lack of insight, and having to settle for doing the best we can.    

"An unusual Saturday night for the three grace girls"

An unusual Saturday night for the three Grace girls –
            there’s soda pop, chips and a babysitter.

Toni, the neighbor’s girl, arrives
as my mother descends from her bedroom …
              abandoned, the usual dungarees and my dad’s old shirt ...
   adorned, now, in her good black dress,
               nylon stockings and high heels.

She bends to kiss my cheek:

Hot, sweet breath of mother love
mixes with the plastic scent of  Congo Red®   lipstick

A whiff of that expensive powder lingers –
 “Lilies of the Valley” from the round, pink cardboard box
                                                                                                  on her dresser

The smoky memory of her last cigarette
            punctuates the kiss.                                   

Words of blessing and warning:
            “Have fun. Be good.”

In that moment,
            she’s once again the woman in my favorite photograph:
a glamor shot taken by my dad in courtship
a frozen moment
in Eastman Kodak Brownie black and white

She leans, arms crossed,
against the back of the big chair in her mother’s front room,
         elegant hands with long silky fingers, stroke the opposite bicep;.
her pixie cut permed, a chic bob.
She’s hot!

Her short sleeve sweater, clinging,
part of that twin set I’ve always imagined a deep purple.

A necklace of charms encircles her throat,
            matching earrings –
                        career girl jewelry
                                    that she bought for herself.

In the full bloom of womanhood,
she’s ready for love.

Not a girl,
not anyone’s mother,
                                    a living doll
                                    a dangerous woman
                                    a woman

Behind the camera,
perhaps my dad, her young lover,
                        eggs her on,
catching her in a sexy laugh at their favorite inside joke:

                                    “…which means to be jocular or humorous”

An out of the ordinary Saturday night,
            my parents go out on a date

And I see her.

Really see her.
 As she was, and truly is, and perhaps will be again:
strange, exotic, complex, seductive …
                                    with a past that does not include me,
                                                and a future beyond these child rearing years.

I see her.

Not imprisoned by the mono-chrome of motherhood
            but free, at large,
in the multivalent prism of full personality.

I see her.
A woman.

A person
with hopes and dreams too large to be contained
in a three-bedroom bungalow on Thorn Street.

I see her –
just for a moment.
My mother transformed.

a flesh and blood woman,
a shimmering presence
in Congo Red  lipstick and a good black dress
going out on the town with her love.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Alleluia! He is Risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!

I can't think of anything more appropriate to say about  tomorrow morning... too bad I'm not preachin'!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunday sightings # 2

I found myself overcome several times yesterday during our Palm Sunday service.  One of the really wonderful things we do on that day is we invite liturgical dancers to be part of the opening procession.  These dancers, beautiful young women, are under the direction of one of our parishioners, who is a professional dancer and instructor of dancers.  Their choreography, which tells the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, ends with three of these young women, lifting up the fourth – their whole bodies becoming the cross – it literally takes your breath away, coming as it does, without a warning, at the end of a long, beautiful, joyful, and pleasant dance of adoring fans.  The economy, simplicity and yet, profound message of this part of the dance solidifies the contrasts, the tensions always present in the story of Jesus’ last days.  What a gift.

I also found myself remembering the many years and countless times I have come to church and heard the Passion narrative – most certainly now, nearly 50 years without interruption …and yet, the story never fails to touch me, to move me or to surprise me in some way.  I had the same reaction yesterday as I had when visiting the Book of Kells in Ireland last fall – and in a quiet moment alone in the chapel space at the Massive Cathedral/Castle at the Rock of Cashel…home to more than that famous bleu cheese.

As I gazed at those ancient manuscripts, I was overcome with an awareness of the deep love of God and God’s Word that prompted those monks to begin their illumination project – that same love, that sustained them and kept them diligent, in the making of the paper, the ink, and in the painstaking task of copying, editing and finishing those pages …the work of their whole lives…

Likewise, as I stood alone in the chapel of that ancient fortress, given to the church by a grateful, newly converted pagan chieftain …I experienced what felt like a visitation… a sense of being with countless others who had come to this place to find something holy, something beyond this world, to sustain them.  I felt such a solidarity with all the faithful who had left their milking, plowing, washing, and, probably, warring, to climb the hill, hear the words of Holy Scripture – the same words I’ve been raised on – and to receive the sacrament.  In good times and in bad, the faithful have come to these sacred places and liminal spaces – to listen again to the ancient story, to ponder the meaning of all that is so much beyond us, yet so meaningful present to us ….to feel the mystery and love of God rendered, albeit imperfectly, through the symbols of bread, wine and story. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A note to Reynolds Price

Dear friend of many happy hours:
I have loved you for some years now, since the time by happenstance, I picked up your Good Priest’s Son at the makeshift bookstore at clergy conference.  Just about three hundred pages later, I knew I’d found a lifelong friend.  From then on, you were often, tangentially in my consciousness, as I spent time seeking your old novels in beach bookstores and on the tree-lined avenues in Savannah, where I thought they would most likely be.  I built up a pile of them, ladies in waiting, for stolen hours on my Monday days-off: first Kate Vaiden, then Blue Calhoun, and The Tongues Of Angels. Others languished on my Amazon wish list so that I would not forget the ones outstanding and  would remember to use Aunt Jody’s annual Christmas gift certificate to treat myself to another few days with you. 
It was not until news of your death reached me in early January, 2011 that I allowed myself to purchase the pricey hardback version of your most recent self-revelation, Ardent Spirits. …two years of waiting for the cheaper paperback version seemed enough.  Several pages into it, I knew I had to start somewhere else.  Several days after that, I opened the homemade package received by mail at a discount from some Mom and Pop mail-order bookshop, to begin the story of your greatest challenge and victory, A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing
It soon became clear why I had so often and instinctively felt a bond with you for so long: an older, gay, bachelor, “story man”, whose writing has inspired and discouraged me all at the same time.  “If only I could write like that…” I breathe with desperate longing to myself at every chapter ending.   Sixteen years ago, a tumor in my cervix announced itself in much a similar way as did your slimy spinal eel.  I, too, had known at some level, of its existence – clues veiled in the erratic, sporadic arrival of my no-longer monthly visits of blood and cramps, that strange sloughing off of tissue, almost also missed,  but occasionally found in the shower drain…
Words like malignant, hysterectomy, radiation, terminal, and oncology became personal rather than conceptualized.  By necessity, I, too, had to find a new incarnation… no longer could I know myself as a single, self-contained mistress of my own destiny, long resigned and capable of self-sufficiency; competent, complete in her independence.  I was now forced to recognize that stance for what it was … a delusion based on need for control. Now, the self-less care giver had to ask others for time and food and transportation – for an emergency trip to replace a catheter, for God’s sake…oh, the humanity!  But thanks be to God and to faithful family, co-workers and friends, those needs were met – pressed down and overflowing, again and again.  
I found you, a friend, again, in a deeper way, in your account of those first months after surgery, radiation, and of those terrifying predictions realized.  You lived for twenty-six years after the initial diagnosis. Oh, yes, those years lived in a wheel chair, but mind and heart somehow escaping the paralysis that captured your legs and feet.  If our stories continue to be so similar I, too, can count on at least ten more years. That’s the same prediction, I realized with eerie mindfulness, which the Church Pension Fund made about me, using their omniscient formula that claims to take into account all the things that limit or extend a human life and put them neatly into a mathematical calculation. .
I wept at the story of your mystical visit to the sea of Galilee, loving the Jesus who  bathed your gentian tattoo and placed his cooling hand on your hot wound and reassured you.  “Cured?” you asked.  “That, too, that, too”  He promised.  My visitation,  not half so clear or dramatic, came in the words and music of an old spiritual issued over the radio one desperate, lonely night  – I don’t remember where or when:  “His eye is on the sparrow, and … I know he watches me.” 
I walked with you into the cancer unit on the way to the radiation suite each day.  I saw those same people: flamboyant scarves hiding those same bald heads, dark glasses protecting those too familiar sunken black-rimmed  eyes.  My heart ached with yours at the sight of those tiny valiant children with their bandaged foreheads and the look of dull terror in the eyes of their parents.  I had my own heroes in that place, as did you in yours: caring nurses, a humorous and kind radiologist, and my favorite, the funny old man who had the appointment time right after mine. This was his third round with cancer, this time all through his “pelvic region.” (This man was too polite to say the word “groin” to a younger woman who was no kin or relation).  His impeccable manners allowed us only veiled references to our deep and abiding gratitude to the makers of Imodium and Pepto-Bismol, our deliverers from the side effects of being radiated in the abdominal area. I treasure the memory of one sweetly shared moment of intimacy, of complete and amused understanding, as we found a coupon for one of those wonder drugs  - buy one get one free – on the end table next to our chairs in the waiting room. “I’ll flip you for it” I said with a grin…and we both laughed until we cried.
I remember the day I understood what it truly meant to have a terminal illness.  I was back at work, at the large United Way where I was a senior staff person.  I was assigned some light duties for a time, in the near aftermath of my radical hysterectomy, five weeks of external radiation and three days of internal radiation (a live piece of radioactive plutonium inserted into the appropriate cavity). One of my jobs was to deal with folks who walked in with miscellaneous requests or information.  An older couple arrived. They appeared to be around the ages of my own parents, had my Dad lived beyond his 51 years.  Their only daughter, who had turned 40 the year before (just like me) had only recently died of cervical cancer. Their friends had taken up a collection at the funeral, and they wanted to share it with an organization that helped cancer patients.  “It’s not much” they demurred “but we hope it might help someone like us.”   I barely heard them, because as I stared into their faces, their eyes still swollen from 12 months of tears, I saw the faces of my own mother and father – and imagined them coming to give a contribution in memory of me.   For what seemed a life time, but I know only lasted a moment, I was plunged down the dark, desperate tunnel of what might have been.  And, as I feel again and again when I recall that moment, I was brought to a sensation of profound gratitude, of thankfulness for skillful doctors, incredible advances in medical science, and the providential care of a God who, does, I know for a fact, keep an eye on me and all the defenseless sparrows of this careworn and wondrous world.
You shared a lot about yourself and your new world after illness in that book, and I found much to delight and inspire me, once again.  The last lines are my favorite, though … as you describe the many ways life had become enriched, albeit different, in  the wake of your life-changing challenge.  “Even my handwriting looks very little like the script of the man I was in June ’84.  Cranky as it is, it’s taller, more legible, with more air and stride.  It comes down the arm of a grateful man.”  Thanks be to you, dear friend of many happy hours, and thanks be to the God who protects and preserves us both.

Entertaining angels unaware (Genesis 18, Hebrews 13)

His name was Tommy - later he told me he was over 65, but I'd already guessed he'd been retired for a while.  He was packing my bags at Publix - something about his open face and my clerical collar created a mutual attraction.  "Are you a minister?" he asked. "An Episcopal priest." Without missing a beat, we began chatting away and somehow discovered that we were both Pennsylvania Yankees transplanted into King Cotton's Court.

I never let those folks carry out my bags, but he insisted. "C'mon" he said. "This way we can talk."  Since I'd parked at the edge of the lot, the distance provided a nice space for conversation.  He was from Altoona, a city I have driven through countless times on my way to and from college, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.  We both remembered the huge diner at the turn on Route 22 - recalled their great milkshakes and our favorites from their "blue plate special" menu.  He drove a bread truck for years - ended up owning the company, in fact.  Then he moved to Florida to start another successful business.  All had gone well, until retirement - when he had lost all of his savings in the market downturn.  He and his wife had moved up to Atlanta to be with two of his four sons.  He rattled off their names, ages,and professions to me - proud as a peacock of them, two police officers, a lawyer and a businessman.  The two sons had moved back to Florida for work, and now he and his wife were alone in Decatur - unable to sell their home and follow their family.

We commiserated about our mutual dislike of Atlanta - whispering together like co-conspirators. He called me pastor, and told me stories of his childhood in a Polish Catholic family - replete with strict, demanding nuns, regular duties as an altar boy, and the life long practice of saying the rosary, which he added, takes him only seventeen minutes! 

We shared a belly laugh over the many similarities of our backgrounds - Irish and Polish Catholics are like peas in a pod.  He's the first person I've met in 40 years that also has a set of "glow in the dark" rosary beads!  He promised to give me a holy card and some handmade rosaries, next time we met. He left, cautioning me to not start drinking, like so many of the priests and nuns he had known in his life!

Men like Tommy make me homesick!  They make me remember and long for the people of the Steel Valleys of metropolitan Pittsburgh.  I loved living in that ethnic hodgepodge - so many people came from so many different places - eastern Europe, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and other parts of the British Isles.  They are the salt of the earth, who love life and persevere, endure like rocks, always rallying even when life gives them a good kick in the pants. These folks provided a rich context, a intricate tapestry, for my early upbringing.  With names like Scalercio, Russo, Brennan, Olsen, Entwhistle, Kmetyk, Cronin, Chirumbolo, McIntosh and Woytanowicz. Like Tommy, these folks were stocky and strong, no strangers to hard, physical work, not above taking a drink or two on a Saturday night.  These were lovers of baked ziti, kielbasa, homemade shortbread, blood pudding, stuffed cabbage, and a host of charming traditions and rituals brought from a variety of "old countries."  They lived in small houses clustered together on narrow, winding streets and sides of hilltops - not one driveway or two-car garage among them.  Their kids shared beds as well as bedrooms, had paper routes and full-time summer jobs in order to help out, or get enough to go to the nearby Community College when it was time. The ones of my generation were often the first to finish high school or to even consider a bachelors degree. But the unifying value, regardless of ethnic background, was that their kids would have it better, easier, richer, fuller, than they had.  Life there was hard, but always,somehow, joyous, as lived full out, with bravado, passion, but always laughter even amidst grim determination.

There was a level of instant intimacy between Tommy and me that I've experienced with other folks raised Catholic.  Episcopal priests are different, of course, but they trust us because we are similar enough to the men and women religious who lived among them, taught, pastored, counseled and danced with them at weddings and CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) mixers ..."just one time, now, leaving room for the Holy Spirit..."  I've been stopped in hospitals, doctor's offices, airports, gas stations and once leaving the ladies room at Arby's - and been asked for a word of advice, a prayer or a blessing by current and former Catholics.

The encounter with Tommy delighted me - exhilarated me, in fact.  I left pondering how soon I could return to the market on the chance we might meet and talk again.  The encounter had all the earmarks of a sign, though, of what, I am not yet clear.  But it sure felt in the brief interlude, like I'd been "entertaining angels unaware."

Friday, April 15, 2011

No Matter What

Yesterday a friend told me about meeting a man who had the words, “No matter what” tattooed on the inside of his left arm, wrist to elbow.  The situation was such that he did not feel comfortable asking the man for the details – the why's and wherefores of this cryptic message.

Then this morning, in the devotional booklet I'm reading for Lent, Albert Holtz, a Benedictine monk, entitled his meditation, “hoping no matter what.” He told a story of his visit to the building in Amsterdam where Anne Frank was hidden with her family during World War II.   He quoted that oft repeated segment of her diary: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart.  If I look up to the heavens, I think this will come out all right…”

I have learned to pay attention to such synchronicities.  There is something to be considered in that phrase, “no matter what.”

I wonder about the motivation of the tattooed man – why did he feel so strongly about those three words, that he had them permanently affixed to his body?  Were they reminders of something positive, inspirational, like Anne’s stirring words ... or perhaps, a grim promise of eventual revenge, of retribution, a cue to “stand against the world”, no matter what….

My first association to these words, of course, is the promise made by the Jewish people in regard to the Holocaust – the phrase “never forget.”  But I also thought immediately of the poetry of the Song of Solomon, 8:6 – “set me as a seal upon your heart, a seal upon your arm…”  And, also from Deuteronomy, Moses’ instruction to the people of Israel, to always remember the greatest and first commandment – You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. Keep these words in your heart, he tells them.  “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise… bind them as a sign upon your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, write them on your doorposts and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)

It does not take much of a leap of imagination for me to picture those words tattooed on Jesus’ inside forearm, and to see him setting them as a seal upon his own heart, in light of what he sensed he would have to face in that last week of his life.

The words beg a question: what might they mean to me? to you?  What do we want to do or be, to remember to feel or act on, “no matter what?”  The list could be endless:  hope, love, serenity, wholeness, generosity, truthfulness, justice, strength, compassion, or on the other hand, vengeance, suspicion, self-protection, self-promotion, self-absorption, self-righteousness….

What is the most important, most significant, most essential thing to us…"no matter what"?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

“In the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed” Khalil Gibran

A few Sundays ago, my heart found its morning and was refreshed. 

In the ordination service of a priest, one of the first things that happens is that the Bishop reads the “charge” – that is, a summary of expectations of an ordained minister of God.  As you might expect, there are standards that include proclaiming the Gospel in both word and deed, as well as maintaining a certain standard of living, i.e., “fashioning one’s life in accordance with Gospel precepts.”  Both are difficult to do at times, and especially, on a regular basis. (Most of us can fashion our lives in a good way for a while, but every day – come on!)
     But the next obligation is even more difficult – yet, paradoxically, as easy as breathing: “You are to love and serve the people among whom you work.”  
So far, I’ve been given the role of priest in three different communities.  Even as a seminarian, I was given the authority and privileged place of a minister in the lives of the people.  Very soon after I began in each of these places, I had a similar experience – always in the midst of celebrating the Eucharist.  About three to four months into my tenure, I found myself looking out into the congregation, and being filled with a strong and deep sense of love for the people “among whom I worked.”
     This is always a mysterious and sacred experience – overwhelming in its intensity.  The way I understand it, I believe it is a kind of visitation from the Holy Spirit, which gives me, for just a moment (for that is all I can handle), a sense of the great love that God has for God’s people.  Just for a minute, I am given the mind and especially, the heart of Christ, the good shepherd, who loves these particular sheep so much.  I am grateful for the experience, and find that it enables me, inspires me, re-commits me, every time I remember it.  And often, as I share that sacrament of remembrance with these people who have been entrusted to me, I feel that love again and again.
     I am now in my fifth year at St. Luke’s – the longest I’ve served in any one place.  I feel that love more and more as time goes on.  Sunday was one of those especially tender days for me – getting to teach with a parishioner, who from the start of my time here, has been a good colleague, dear friend, and a  challenging fellow pilgrim on the journey.  We facilitated a class together, peopled with folks that almost to a person, I know well – have worked with, heard their stories and they mine.  These were people who take the notion of a spiritual life seriously – and how rich our time was that morning – how rich their time together was!
Sunday was also “baby day” for me, that is, full of special greetings, special moments received from children – some of whom I’ve known since their birth.  Ben, three years old, in a back pew, spontaneously, un-self-consciously raising his hand in salute as I passed him going down the aisle in procession; Annika, her face so full of life, hope, interest, joy – reaching up to me for the bread –then, impulsively (she felt that holy love, too, I think) – reaching out to give one of those that special, around the-knees- little- kid- kind of hug.  Griffin,  now at the “me do it” stage, climbing the front steps on his own – but getting a little overwhelmed half way up – and instinctively reaching for Mama’s hand – who blushed with pleasure, that her little boy still needed her.   Our eyes met, a shared moment of holy communion as we both realized how far he has come, against so many odds. 
     Not every day in priestly ministry is so rich and so good.  Many, many of them are.  But this work is also disheartening, frustrating, often thankless and usually humbling – and not always in a good way.  Lillian Daniel, a UCC minister who writes a lot about being in ordained ministry, commented on how important length of service is, in understanding and coming to truly love a people and their place.  She describes it as “the experience of hope that comes from the redemption of long term service.” She thanks God, as do I,  that we have had more than those early years of ministry in one place to sustain us  – and the grace to be called to shape, form and live among a group of people long enough to see change and growth and experience; to enjoy  a deeper kind of relationship that comes from shared experience – from times of both success and failure; times of deep joy as well as discomfort and conflict.