Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Walking a retreat

Today I walked two paths. 

This morning I walked the river walk, a rails to trails project near Tallulah Falls. I walk here often when I'm visiting my friends; they walk it most everyday. 

In these last days of summer in the Georgia mountains, it was a rainbow of green. My walking friend is recovering from a foot injury, and it was good to walk a slower pace. 

On this day, gone were the "stations" I'd seen on prior walks on this path nestled in a state park. Last year, some soul or souls had tucked small rocks with Scriptures and words of grace along the walkway.  State officials, I'm told, didn't approve and removed them almost immediately. I always look in case one or two have been replaced. 

This afternoon, we walked the labyrinth at the local Episcopal Church.  The parish has a dedicated gardening guild, and I was particularly impressed by the herb and flower cutting gardens. Folks are encouraged to snip flowers and herbs for their own enjoyment, and the church has placed a little box with scissors and plastic bags to invite sharing. 

The labyrinth was moved when the parish did some renovations. Now built around a tree, it backs up to a neighbor's home. A beautifully crafted fence separates the church from the homeowner. One has to look very carefully to see a cross woven into the wooden screen. 

In Georgia, where words about Jesus are rampant, posted and painted on most any available spot, I was thoughtful about a public path where the Good News had been openly proclaimed, and removed, and a church that shared the Good News in nearly hidden ways. 

It made me wonder about St. Mary's and whether or not we choose to be stealth Christians. Do we proclaim the Gospel so openly that others are offended, or do we keep our Good News so quiet others may only happen upon it if they really really know where to look?

Perhaps rather than walking one path or the other, there is our own unique way.  May we be faithful to that as we proclaim by word  and example the Good News of God in Christ. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Walking towards my retreat in stages

I'm now seated on my friends' screened back porch surrounded by tree tops. I've been traveling towards my retreat in stages.  The trip to the porch was via two labyrinth walks. 

The first labyrinth was at the Presbyterian Student Center at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was created with recycled bottles; being a college student project, it appeared to be largely recycled beer bottles. The second was an Eagle Scout Project at a Presbyterian Church in Commerce, Gerogia.  

The glass bottle labyrinth required me to pay attention. A couple of the bottles had broken, and the outer path of the labyrinth was so near the fence it felt as if I were walking a balance beam as I carefully placed my steps. 

Students rushed by on their way to class as I prayed, and the sun shone through the glass, painting the path colors of green, yellow, and gold. 

The second path was smalI and simply--created with pavers and crushed stone.   At the entrance it had a sign that read:

Peace be with you---Jesus
Luke 24.36

Quotes by Jesus are always good to ponder on a labyrinth walk. 

It was a very brief walk, but the path was narrow, and once again, walked with attention and care. 

For years, I've wished for a labyrinth at St. Mary's. The Junior Daughters of the King have wanted to build one. Another parishioner proposed creating one as his Eagle Scout Project. Both were delayed as we finalized the master plan for our property so that we would know the best spot to place a labyrinth.  Today as I walked these two paths in Georgia, both created by young people, I began to think about, and pray about, a labyrinth for St. Mary's.   

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Five Day Retreat

After a Sunday of pure joy as we celebrated the Feast of St. Mary, I'm off for a five day retreat. I am grateful to St. Mary's Vestry who gave me extra days to process our post-flood lives. I am grateful to staff who tend our parish-life so that I can be away. 

I have my knitting, books and music on my iPad, and comfortable clothes. I'll stay with dear friends and ponder and pray and be open for God's good gifts and surprises. 

When I return, fall at St. Mary's will be it's usual whirlwind. I'll begin teaching at the Iona School for Ministry and continue facilitating First Time in Charge, the Diocesan mentoring retreat for curates. We'll select a contractor, and begin restoring the Rectory, and I will prepare to move home. 

This is a week to prepare to begin again. 

I am thankful. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Eve of Everything Changing

It is the eve of St. Mary’s annual celebration of the Feast of St. Mary. For fourteen days, we’ve prayed daily for God’s presence in the lives of each member of our parish family.  Tomorrow, as we come together for worship and fellowship, we begin to listen for another year of God’s yeses.  And God’s noes.

Today is the day before everything changes.

After over sixty years of walking with God, I am keenly aware of how quickly things can change.  In small and not so small ways.  It is thought-provoking to think about where we are one moment, and then it seems as if one thing happens, and everything changes.

One minute you are pregnant.  The next minute you are holding your baby in your arms.
One minute you are driving to work singing along with the radio.  The next minute you are changing a tire beside the road.
One minute the power is on, the next moment a fire hits the local power plant, and you are without electricity for eight hours.
One minute you have a bowl of milk, honey, and melted butter, then you add yeast, and the next minute there’s a bubbly mixture ready to leaven bread.

The truth is, we know that it is not only one minute of passing time for changes to occur.  All of those one minutes are actually a myriad of minutes involving an assortment of people and actions.  It can feel like like a snap of time, and everything changes, but we know that each change is the result of layers of choices and decisions.

Each minute is a moment of change, an opportunity for change, based on a trove of factors.

Prayer in the mix may be the most important change agent.  After that, comes our own yes and our own no in response to God’s yeses and noes.

Today, take a moment to pray.  It will take less than a minute.  And, yes, everything will change.

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. 
Strengthen the faithful,  arouse the careless, and restore the penitent.
Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Second Wednesday of the Vigil of St. Mary's: A Sabbath

Today is my Sabbath and I am at my mother's farm, having celebrated my brother's birthday with dinner last night, prepared by my mom, and eaten with her and both my brothers. Of course the dinner included pie, very delicious pie, made from pears from my mother's neighbor's tree.

Today, after the long drive yesterday, I rest. 

Sabbath, in it's theological meaning of stopping and ceasing to work, offers an invitation to enjoy the fruits of all of the labor of the past six days. I love that Sabbath allows me to have open spaces to allow good things to bubble up. To experience delight outside the whirlwind. 

For most who read this blog today, it is another busy work day. I pray that you will find a few minutes or even an hour this day for an open space to find delight and simply be. 

As I rest, I will continue to pray:  

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. 
Strengthen the faithful,  arouse the careless, and restore the penitent.
Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Second Monday of the Vigil of St. Mary: The First Day of School

One of the gifts of serving in a church called St. Mary’s is having a mom as our patron.  I think of Mary trying to get Jesus up in the morning.  Cleaning up Jesus’ spilled beverages.  Packing his lunch.  Washing his clothes.  Cooking food that Jesus may or may not have liked and listening to his complaints.  Mending clothes torn in play.  Answering Jesus’ questions after school.  Listening to his stories, especially when she was too tired to do so.  Tucking Jesus in at night and praying prayers with him.

It’s good to have Mary as a companion wherever we are in our parenting journey, whether being a biological parent, an adoptive parent, a godparent, and/or a parent in Christ.

Today many students go back to school in our area.  Teachers and school staff have been back for at least a week.  At St. Mary's, on Sunday, as has been our custom for a number of years, students brought backpacks to be blessed.  Blessings were bestowed on all students and school staff by our whole congregation.

And, as is our custom, we gave out backpack tags with the prayer that the children of St. Mary's (which means children of all ages) pray:

Good morning God.  This is your day.  I am your child.  Please show me your way.

Moms and dads have told me about praying this prayer with their children in the car on the way to school. I know that it's the first prayer that comes to my lips each morning.  It's the breakfast prayer I pray with my grandsons.

I love this prayer.  When I pray it, I hear the voices of the St. Mary's children praying it with me.  It feels like a new start no matter what has happened the day before.

There's a commercial on tv that shows a group of children preparing to have a good beginning to a new school year.  They are singing an adaption of the Whitesnake song, "Here I go again.”  It's the hopeful, kid-friendly version:

I don't know where I'm going,
But I sure know where I've been
I've made up my mind,
I'm not wasting no more time
Here I go again on my own,
Going down the only road I've ever known

On this first day of school, many children go to school wearing brand new clothes.  They carry new bags to hold lunches and new book bags or backpacks.  However, other children don’t because of economic and social challenges, and we pray for how we can make sure they have the clothes, food, and supplies they need and containers to carry their food and supplies.  How can we share our blessings with all children and help them feel confident and secure?

In God's kingdom, each day is the first day of life.  Each day, God gives us the garment of Christ to wear, the spiritual food we need, and hands, hearts, and minds to carry everything we need.

And so we pray for our parish family as we are parents to a whole world of children, with Mary as our holy model:

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. 
Strengthen the faithful,  arouse the careless, and restore the penitent.
Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church;through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Vigil of St. Mary: Day Four

Today at St. Mary's we celebrated our monthly Wednesday Eucharist, and it was fitting that we used the propers for the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin--a nice preparation for the St. Mary's Day Festival on Sunday, August 28.

Nine of us gathered for worship and prayer.  We anointed with oil those seeking God's healing and sent out Eucharistic Visitors to visit four families.  We offered the Eucharist in memory of those who had died in the past month.  Of course, as our Offertory prayer, we prayed for our parish family.

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth,
 hear our prayers for this parish family. 
Strengthen the faithful, 
arouse the careless, 
and restore the penitent.
Grant us all things necessary for our common life, 
and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

The color for this feast day is blue, and Alan and I pulled out our blue stoles.  Hanging on the door of the sacristy closet was my blue stole from Guatemala that my brother had given me when I was ordained a transitional deacon twenty four years ago.  When I received it, the stole was a bright, bright blue, not really the "correct" Advent blue. However, over time, it became a favorite Advent stole, and eventually, because it contained every liturgical color within its design, it was the stole I kept in my car to wear for home communions.  It has travelled a lot of miles being part of the blessing of bread and wine, persons and animals, homes and even a sports bar.

My bright blue stole went through the flood waters of the Tax Day Flood in my Prius, not safely parked in three feet of water in my garage. We rescued the flood-covered stoles and hung them to dry in my back yard.  I decided to burn, reverently, the stoles because I thought that they were so damaged that they were past saving, but a parishioner was determined to restore them to use.

After many launderings and soakings, my stole is wearable again.  Granted, it is now faded to more of an aqua color--befitting its flood journey.  The panels have become more like stained glass, the dyes having bled and run together creating new colors and patterns. I wore this well-loved and well-worn stole for the first time today for the Eucharist honoring our patron, Mary.

As we read the Gospel appointed for her day, that Gospel we call the Magnificat, I was struck that those words were sung by Mary days after she had received her invitation from God to bear God's son.  Everything was new for her--it was like she had been given a brand new, bright blue stole.  She had no idea the wonder and delight and, yes, suffering she had before her.  By the end of her life, her "stole" would have been faded, damaged, no longer pristine, but beautiful with the memories of service that she had carried.

My stole, after the flood, is more perfect because of the wonder, delight, suffering, and prayer it represents.  This stole was given in love, worn in love, and repaired in love.  The changing colors and patterns, more beautiful in surprise, are an image of God's yes to the prayer we are praying for our parish family--the faithful strengthened, the careless aroused, and the penitent restored as we do have all things necessary for our common life, through Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary.  AMEN

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Vigil of St. Mary: Beginning as we intend to go on

In the Coptic Christian tradition, the six weeks before the Feast Day of St. Mary is spent in prayer, fasting, and preparation.  Today is the Feast Day of St. Mary, and our brothers and sisters in the Coptic Church are ending their spiritual practice.  However, at St. Mary's in Cypress, we are in our second day of spiritual renewal as we prepare to celebrate Mary's Feast Day, transferred, on Sunday, August 28.

It's been our practice for several years to celebrate in community the feast day of our patron, Mary, on a Sunday nearer the beginning of the new school year.  We believe that Mary, being a mother, would understand trying to accommodate the needs of our parish families.  But in the waiting, we have decided this year to spend time intentionally allowing God to ready us for what God has in store.

It was fitting that we began yesterday during worship.  It was a day with flooded streets and some parishioners unable to find a way to church.  The Welcoming Retreat had to be rescheduled because the leaders' roads to church were undriveable.  Our bread baker was flooded in.  Our nursery staff were unable to find safe roads to St. Mary's.  However, we had two hundred faithful souls join us for worship between our Saturday night Youth Sharing Faith event, three Eucharists, and home communions.  People stepped up and stepped in (even with wet shoes and socks), and by the 10.30 Eucharist, the nursery and chapels were open to serve the children of St. Mary's, and our Eucharistic Visitors were able to bring the Lord's meal to most of our ill and infirm.  We ate wafers for communion instead of baked bread.  

And we began to pray even more intentionally for our parish family.  It was a very fine day.

Will you join us in praying each day for people of the church where God has called you?  And to the folks of St. Mary's in Cypress, Texas, you are especially invited, by me, your rector, to pray for us as we prepare to begin another year together.

This is our Vigil of St. Mary daily prayer: 

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.