Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lenten Retreat: Standing to be blessed

This is my last day of retreat on Tybee Island.

My friend and I were up before dawn for the walk to the beach to see the sunrise.  Then we sat on a swing that faced the ocean and did morning prayers to greet the new day.

Returning back to the Blue Bird Cottage, enjoying the first coffee of the morning,  I continued to read and pray.  As is my custom when I travel, I prayed a month's worth of the St. Mary's daily cycle of prayer.  I love holding the name of each St. Mary's parishioner in my hands and heart and lifting them to The Holy One. It's a particularly good practice as I prepare to return to be with them for worship in the morning.

Yesterday afternoon I sat at the table the looks over the marsh and created a few cards.  As the sun set, I held friends and family in prayer.

Having time to wander through devotional practices this second week of Lent, I found writings of Mary Oliver to read; an Anglican website with a poem to read each day of Lent; a couple of new daily emails to subscribe and enjoy; and, of course, my quotidian spiritual practices.  Holding prayer beads I'm using for Lent as I did Centering Prayer each morning was especially precious.

My friend and I decided to live as simply as possible this trip--traveling less, eating out rarely, and not shopping except for groceries.  It is Lent, after all.  This morning, as we prepare to pack up, we'll eat whatever food we have left.  The money we've saved will go to the local Tybee food bank (we decided that a cash gift is probably a more useful for the ministry than going and buying groceries to donate).

We've let the light be our clock.  We've allowed the rhythm of the day be our schedule.  We've laughed a lot.

My Word for the week has been a line from Mary Oliver (Evidence:  Poems):

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lenten Retreat: Slow Time on Tybee

One of the most frequent questions I've been asked this week is, "So what exciting plans do you have for today?"

My friend and I usually respond first with silence and then say something about walking on the beach or making cards or being quiet.  The very kind folks usually follow up with a list of delightful suggestions of things we should do.  I am grateful, but those kinds of activities haven't been what I've been looking for this trip.

I've been thinking about the need to do things.  I have a job, which I love beyond words, that is full of  things done, and more often, left undone.  I am aware of how every choice I make has consequences, not only for me, but for a host of other people. I get a lot of feedback when those choices have unintended consequences, both positive and not so positive.  It takes a lot of thought and even more prayer to go though each day as a priest.

These past eleven months I've had even more things done and left undone because of decisions about rebuilding the Rectory.  I've gotten to a point that when friends ask me to make a choice, if it really isn't a big deal, I want them to make it (Which seat do you want?  Where do you want to eat?  Which movie shall we go see?).

On these five days on Tybee Island, number fourteen of what began as a vacation lo that many years back and has become an annual Lenten retreat, I find myself on slow time.  I love not having the clock tell me when to get up and having no schedule to follow.  My friend, who went through the flood, literally, with me, is going through her own healing process post-Tax Day Flood, and is in sync with floating through these days.

I've floated into new places this year.  This morning instead of getting up to see the sunrise, I slept in.  I was rewarded with flocks of birds in front of my cottage--herons, egrets, cardinals, and even bluebirds.

Yesterday, on our one, and most likely only trip off the Island until I fly home tomorrow, at breakfast at one of my favorite places in Savannah, Back in the Day Bakery, while enjoying the most delicious breakfast biscuit I've ever eaten with a luscious, foamy cappuccino, a woman dressed in very simple clothes stopped on the street, and appeared to look longingly at us eating our fabulous upscale treats.  After she began to walk away, on what I believe was a Holy Spirit nudge, I went out to offer to buy her breakfast.  If she was hungry, how could I eat this extravagant meal?  Alas, she was gone from view.

I looked out and saw several men on the corner, gathering because a mission that provided resources for them was across the street.  How could I keep from sharing?  As my friend and I left, a took a hundred dollar bill I keep hidden in my wallet for emergencies, and went inside and gave to The Old Savanah City Mission.  #15 of the 24 Project.  

After lovely pedicures at a spa in Savannah, my friend and I decided the other things we'd thought about doing--visiting an art museum, shopping at SCAD, lunch at a favorite local barbecue place-- were things that could be left undone.  Largely, I'll admit, at her urging, we returned to the Island in time for the Thursday healing Eucharist.

I'm accomplishing what I think God has in store for me this retreat in Lent:  time for my soul to catch up with my body.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lenten Retreat: A cold winter day

I can forget that it's still winter, when my air conditioner has been running occasionally since January with Houston's too frequent eighty degree days. With a wind chill below thirty degrees here on Tybee Island this morning, it was a good day to be inside.

A lolling day was just what I needed.  I didn't get up until nearly eight, and I spent the first hours of the morning reading and praying.

I had one project to work on while I am here.  Women Touched by Grace is a program for women clergy of which I have been part--first as a participant, and then twice as a facilitator.  Originated by a small group of women clergy in conjunction with the women religious of Our Lady of Grace Monastery, this ministry is a unique opportunity for women clergy to be in community and conversation with the sisters of the monastery.

The first three groups were funded through a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment.  For the past two years, I have been part of a group of women who have been working to secure long term funding for the ministry.  We have received ongoing financial pledges from all sixty-eight clergy women who have been part of Women Touched by Grace; we WTBG-ers, in turn, are inviting others to be part of a longterm financial effort called Circle of Grace.   Earlier this year, the Lilly Endowment invited us to apply for a grant that would assist us in securing additional generous funding.

This morning was the time I'd set aside to write my part of the grant. I am passionate about supporting clergy, particularly women clergy, and it was a fine way to spend a part of my Lenten retreat.

The high winds ceased late this afternoon, and bundled up, a beach walk was finally possible.  I've walked the beach on Tybee hundreds of times.  It's not a spectacular beach, but it's a perfect place for a Lenten retreat.

I've loved the slow day.  When my friend and I went to the local IGA after our walk for groceries, we saw that the local food bank is having a large distribution next week; we'll be going back to buy nonperishables to donate.

Tonight I funded number #8 of the 24 Project, my thank you gift for my twenty-four years of ordained ministry which I'm  celebrating by giving twenty-four $100 gifts to ministries chosen by  twenty-four folks who have joined me on my journey.

This time I gave in thanksgiving for my spiritual director, Sarah, a remarkable woman who has walked with me in both joyful and sorrowful times and has helped me stay on God's path.   She asked that I give to Life Houston, an organization that provides food for infants.  $100 feeds an infant for one month.

Full from a delicious dinner of local fish and chips, a pint of ice cream ready for me to enjoy, I am sobered by the local statistics on the Life Houston website:   26 percent of children in Harris County are food insecure, and Houston is second in the nation for food insecurity in children.   God of enough, what would you have us do?

The sun is going down over the marsh.  A freeze is expected tonight.  I am once again aware of what a woman of great privilege I am.  I am surrounded by beauty.  I have a warm, safe place to sleep.  I have more food than I need and an abundance of clean water.  I have a suitcase full of clothes.  I have people who love me and who pray for me and are there to offer support whenever I need it.

How does God call me to share God's warmth that pours from my heart?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lenten Retreat: Receiving love. Loving others.

It's Tybee Time, again.  For as many years as I can remember, I spend a few days each Lent in this sleepy, quiet beach town outside Savannah.

Up at 4 AM to catch the first flight out, my mind was still pondering last night's Vestry discussion.  We watched the 5 Marks of Love video appointed for that day in Lent and responded to the question posed:

How have you experienced God’s love? How does that experience inform how you love others?

As the Rectory nears completion after the flood eleven months ago, as I am surrounded by peace, care, and beauty, my heart overflows with God's love.  As I drove to the airport, I could feel that love seeping out to those around me.

It started on the shuttle bus from the parking lot.  I found myself praying for the folks traveling with me, and especially for the two dark-complected men who spoke to one another in Spanish.  I wondered about them and the people they love--are they anxious or fearful about possible deportations?

My driver was especially gracious and helpful.  He did little things to make that trip easier--found out when our flights were leaving so he could be sure that we got to our terminal on time; updating us about changes in the parking rules and how we could make things go more smoothly.

When I arrived at my terminal, as I gave the driver a little more generous tip than usual (it is Lent, after all), I thanked him for his service and complimented him on how well he did his job.  He teared up and told me that his whole day had changed.  Having experiencing God's love, loving others.

When I got to my gate, the flight was way overbooked.  I am an anxious traveler (my growth edge with God, for sure).  I told my friend who would be meeting me in Atlanta that there was no way that I would give up my seat.

Then the gate agent asked for volunteers. They were guaranteed a seat on the flight leaving an hour and a half later, with an upgrade, a voucher for food, and a credit for a future flight.

As if a hand was pushing me out of my seat, I was first in line to volunteer.  I decided it had to be a God thing, and as folks who had been waiting for seats were given tickets, I wondered if there was someone who really, really, really needed to get to Atlanta, who was now able to go. I'll buy my friend a coffee in Atlanta with my food voucher to thank her for waiting an extra hour or two for our retreat to begin (thankfully, she hadn't left home yet).   Having experienced God's love, loving others.

So I'm waiting a little to get started on my retreat.  But maybe if my retreat is to be about having received love, then sharing that love in small and not so small ways, perhaps I've already begun.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How can I keep from singing?

On Sunday in Adult Christian Formation, one of our responses to the Scripture we read was to write a love letter to God.

I began my letter of love with words describing an image from the night just days short of eleven months ago when flood waters poured into my home.

A man I'd never met before and a man I consider a trusted friend kayaked, then walked, through the murky thigh high waters to rescue my best friend and me.  As I sat safely in the kayak, being rowed to dry land by a man I didn't know, holding a zip lock bag with all the possessions that I knew for certain would make it to safety,  I was full of peace that passed any understanding.

Floating on the quiet waters that filled my street, the night lit only by street lamps that were somehow miraculously still working, the stillness and the silence except for the sound of the oars, was a defining moment of God's love.

The days and weeks and now months that have passed have been the most challenging of my life.  My life as rector of  a parish with its own day to day joys, tasks, sorrows, and conflicts continued amidst the gutting and and throwing out and restoring and hauling as I redefined home. Grief, anger, joy, laughter, exhaustion, chaos, rest, and peace have measured my days.  As I look back, now I begin to see God's love in each and every moment.

This morning's Lenten devotional quoted a familiar hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing.

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Refrain:  No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

As I did my morning prayer walk this first Tuesday in Lent, still in my temporary home, there was a visible sunrise for the first time in days.  Completing the walk, I looked back on the way that I had traveled this morning.  I noticed that the gravel path was full of puddles from the last few day's rain--little pools of flood waters.  The spring green of new growth framed the road.  All the morning birds were singing their hearts out.  At the end of the path was a gentle, beautiful sunrise.

Another love letter to God.

How can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? 

Refrain:  No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. 

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? 

Refrain:  No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?