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.