Thursday, October 19, 2017

What I Learned Over The High Holy Days

It's been a while since I've written. We can blame it on the insane amount of preparation and effort that goes into the High Holy Days. (And of course, then I wrote this and it sat on my iPhone for a week.)

But even though I am working during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, so often I end up worshipping.

This year, I discovered that singing the Misheberach, the song I prayed through the night while my father was dying, brings back all the emotion of that night. Even though we sang it multiple times, I still remembered that night and choked up. [Note: I wrote that post while still home in Australia and it needed some serious editing, so I think it is more readable now.]

The other thing I learned was the meaning behind the shofar calls. Hearing the shofar (a ram's horn) is one of my favorite moments, especially the last note.

One of the rabbis shared that according to 17th century Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, 
"each group of sounds begins with a teki'ah, a whole note, proceeds to shevarim, a "broken" note, or even to teru'ah, an entirely fragmented sound. But each broken note is followed by a whole note, another teki'ah. This, he says is the message of Rosh Hashanah: "I started off whole, I became broken, even splintered into fragments, but I shall become whole again! I shall become whole again!" "**
It makes the shofar calls a metaphor for all that Yom Kippur is about: having missed the mark, we break ourselves open, shatter, in order to be made whole again, and this is done in community as part of worshipping together.

Now, if you're Christian (and further, if you've heard Bishop Jim Mathes preach), this might sound familiar. Mathes describes communion as first blessing the bread while it is still whole, breaking it, and then giving it in community and to community. He equates it with us being blessed, us being broken open and thus able to share God's love in our community, becoming part of a one larger body; whole.

Finally, if that's not enough, here's a sermon that ends in song from Yom Kippur that was just so good, "Fail Better Next Time":

** from Arthur Green's "These are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life"

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Floating Islands...

Don't worry this is not going to become a cooking blog. I just wanted to share this story.

My spouse and I were watching an old Tracy/Hepburn film called "Desk Set", which I was pretty terrible honestly, not the least because nobody involved with the film knew how an actual computer worked.

But when the leads get wet in the rain and Katharine invites Spencer in, she produces Floating Islands out of her kitchen. (Well, actually, she asks Spencer to get it.) 

We were intrigued -- what was this dessert -- and while their impromptu supper descended into men beating chests and Katharine brilliantly looking completely disgusted, I googled.

I ended up with this recipe, and two hours later, I had Floating Islands, sans caramel sauce.

This month I am doing Flora's Creative Revolution Challenge and this fit in perfectly as a response to the prompt of Food Art. The interesting thing about this challenge is that it is in no particular order, I get to choose. This opens me up to all the potential possibilities.

I had problems with this recipe, derived from a Julia Child's one. I could not get the sugar to caramelize for love or money. And I even started over and tried it again.

with failed globs of hard sugar that is meant to be caramel
The island, which is soft (not crunchy) meringue, also took some fast fixing. The amount of egg white was one and two-thirds cups or "about 12 eggs". I rolled with the 12 eggs, not thinking to measure. Oops.

My egg whites foamed but no peaks. I put in the required amount of sugar (it said granulated and I used the finer Baker's sugar which is what I use to make meringue) and beat and beat and no peaks at all, let alone shiny stiff ones. Fortunately, I've made Pavlova for many years and so kept adding sugar and beating and beating until I got meringue ready waves.

Honestly, it was the best meringue I have EVER made and I am kind of bummed I didn't measure it because you know I won't be able to reproduce it...
The meringue fresh out of the oven ...

The creme anglaise involved a lot of hand beating and I probably didn't beat it enough. It also had this line: 

"You must be careful not to overheat it and scramble the yolks, but you must have the courage to heat it enough so that it thickens."

There was a moment when I realized it was starting to feel like scrambled eggs and I quickly took it off the heat. However it turned out deliciously, especially with the "optional" butter and rum.

Would I make again? Absolutely. I will have to see Julia's original recipe to check on the caramel sauce, and, of course, remember to measure.

 And yes, I own the same china pattern as the nuns from Call the Midwife...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What I Learned This Summer

emily p. freeman runs this link-up once a quarter. And of course I don't keep track of new things I learn like she tells us to, so here's my best go at it.

1. Life is too short. It just is. If you have lost an immediate family member, you know this. It has been causing shifts in my thinking.

2. My feet remember the uneven paths of my childhood. It sounds like the first line of a novel. But it's true. There isn't a sidewalk for a block and half from my childhood home to the local shopping center. My feet knew the way.

3. If you neglect an orchid, it will bloom profusely by itself. Bonus: you will also ruin your assistant rector's sermon as he used a metaphor about carefully tending orchids. Don't worry, he saw the picture of the orchids on Facebook and worked his way around it. I got this last year for my birthday. It got soaked in the monsoonal rains we had this winter, the roots rotting -- and all I did for it was empty out the water from its container. Once.

4. Taking part in a creative challenge where I get to choose when to do a particular prompt seriously opens me up to all the possibilities: shall I do the shape collecting today or food art? (Answer: food art. I now know how to make creme anglaise from scratch, but the caramel sauce eluded me. I'm blaming the instructions, 'cause I know how to burn sugar...)

5. Chocolate wine. It tastes like chocolate liqueur. And that's not a bad thing.

6. There are flesh-eating sea bugs in Australia. (The link is not for the squeamish.)

What did you learn this summer?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Preparing for Shalom

The High Holy Days are Coming! The High Holy Days are Coming!

It has a been a week. High Holy Day preparations are ever-increasing in urgency and yet we found the time to stop and look at the sun. With the proper glasses, of course.

Friday morning I attended the weekly shvitz minyan, which is gentle yoga/stretching with Hebrew chanting and learned something rather lovely.

Friday was the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul. Elul is the month of spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days and is beautifully summarized by a verse from Song of Songs. You see, the letters that spell out Elul are an acronym for a verse from the Song of Songs 6:3: "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li" or "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me". [which comes pretty close to an accurate Hebrew translation of my church's motto: "love. be loved."]

The above card was made by the rabbi who led the shvitz class. At the bottom you can see the word elul in Hebrew (read right to left and yes, the lameds look a  bit like l’s don’t they?) And yes, it's propped up against a bowl of lentils. I learned that calming technique from a priest who used to be at my church. (*waves at Rebecca*)

Rabbi said she learned that you have to start the month of Elul with the "ani" (I am hopefully not misquoting her), the "I" before being able to be for the beloved. Elul is about bringing oneself back into relationship with God. I see this as bringing wholeness, or shalom, to one's self. 

The weekly shvitz (which is Yiddish for sweating!) is one way of self-care, something I am ever so slowly getting better at making part of my week. Regular haircuts are another way of self-care because I used to not care for my hair at all. I mean, yes, I washed and combed it. I despaired of finding anyone being able to cut my curls properly. But I've found somebody close by and it's been a joy. 

The month of Elul wraps up September 20th, the night before Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish new year. I’ll be taking the time (a) madly preparing for the High Holy Days; and (b) bringing shalom to myself and to my relationship with God. The goal being to go deeper than stretching my muscles and keeping my curls in good shape.

This means I may be taking the month off from blogging the lectionary because that is a LOT of work to prepare, mull over and write.

How will you bring wholeness to yourself?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lectionary Says There's No Place for Racism

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

White supremacy has no place on this earth. Anti-semitism has no place on this earth. Nazism has no place on this earth.

For the Bible tells us so--especially in this week's lectionary passages, which are so perfect for a response to the burst pustule that is the shame of this country. We cannot let shame win. We have let it win in this country -- and in my country of birth (Australia) -- for far too long.

I knew, early on, that I didn't want to be racist, bigoted or a misogynist, but I lacked the bravery to speak out against it and for that I am deeply sorry. In recent anti-immigrant conversations, I shone a light on the inherent racism of it, telling people that I am an immigrant, I have been through the system, but is it okay that I am an immigrant because I'm a safe white lady?

Can someone be racist and not at the exact same time?

I wonder now at how many times I unconsciously responded in a racist way, remembering the many times I consciously chose to transcend it. 

There is no place for white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Nazism in this world. The Bible tells us so. Through the words of Isaiah, Paul, and the unnamed Caananite woman, we are shown what God wants for this world and reading those words gave me hope. May you find the same hope there also.

The prophet Isaiah is clear in showing how such sins don't belong in God's vision of the world. Read Isaiah 56:1, 6-8: "Thus says the Lord: maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. ... And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant--these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered."

God is welcoming of all who do what is right, they don't even have to make their sacrifices in the same way as the Israelites, so long as they do not profane the sabbath and keep God's covenant. That's a pretty broad welcome from a time when tribalism and kingdoms were the norm.

In Romans, Paul is explicit that there is no place for anti-Semitism among followers of Christ, not then, not now. His "By no means!" is emphatic. The lectionary skips the sweep of his final argument but the crux is this: the "gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable". (Romans 11:29) God doesn't take back his love or faithfulness to the Israelites. Not ever. The people of Israel are still in God's belovedness. That they don't follow Jesus Christ does not change this one tiny small iota. By no means!

Paul and the New Testament has been used to fan the flames of anti-Semitism but it's past time that this should stop. There are problematic passages throughout. The Gospel of John in particular, as beautiful as it is in other sections, can be read as condemning Jews. If you look at the context of the gospel, it's a Christian community trying to differentiate itself from the Jewish community and such things are never easy or kind. And there is no excuse for such vilification to happen. Paul is very clear on that.

Even in the gospel, Jesus defiles another by his own words right after telling the disciples that one defiles by mouth that comes from the heart. Yet the persistent Canaanite woman shows that what has come out of Jesus' mouth by calling her "a dog" does not mean she is exempt from God's all encompassing love and mercy. Jesus realizes it and her daughter is healed. The Canaanite woman's faith in God changes her daughter's life.

This hope, this faith, in God's promises to bring all nations together to live in a just world where we respect the dignity of each other and do not hold power over another is the dream we can hold onto in these dark times, and it's the dream we can work toward because we are an active part of making this a reality.

The first verse in Isaiah 51 tells us to guard justice (one of the meanings of the Hebrew word translated in the NRSV as "maintain" is to guard, protect), and as Karoline Lewis put it in the Working Preacher podcast: maintaining takes work. Creating a world of loving-kindness is going to take work and it will be hard work. 

It will be hard work as we reform the law and practices of this country and eventually, even harder work as we move toward reconciliation, something that has never happened in this country, not after the Civil War and not after the successes of the Civil Rights movement. We can't heal until we make things right. This is not the time for reconciliation, but it is ahead of us if we wish to avoid making the same mistakes again and again. 

First, we have to make white supremacy, anti-Semitism and Nazism totally unacceptable to all. As they should be.

We are not in this alone. God is with us. At the "Stand Up to Hate" ADL (Anti-Defamation League) rally I attended on Tuesday, one of the rabbis shared how one of the most radical and audacious prayers in the siddur (Jewish prayerbook) had helped her process the events in Charlottesville and the responses to it. Oseh shalom bimromav ... "May the One who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us, for all Israel and all who inhabit the earth. Amen." She said: "The prayer cries out and demands of God that God create abundant peace and that God do so NOW. Not because we deserve it, not because we've earned it but simply because God is capable and the world needs it, so it must be done."

At the same rally, we sang this beautiful song "olam chesed yibaneh", a world (olam) built (yibaneh) with loving-kindness (chesed, which can also be translated as steadfast love).

The English lyrics are:
I will build this world from love ...
You must build this world from love ...
And if we build this world from love...
Then God will build this world from love...
It takes all of us, you see, each doing our bit.

The song is beautiful and heart-breaking, but I have hope and faith that we will build this world from the ground of love, and that love is ultimately going to get us through.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The words I needed to hear this week...

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

It has been a bit of a week, to put it mildly, with two so-called world leaders engaging in a nuclear-themed pissing contest and with unashamed racists marching in the streets and driving through peaceful counter-protesters. 

While reading through the lectionary choices for today, my eyes settled on the following words, and in a form of lectio divina, kept returning to them again and again. 

from Psalm 85:10: 
Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
and Romans 10:8 (also Deuteronomy 30:14): 
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart” 
But the way to these words was not easy. At the end of the first reading into today’s lectionary section, Elijah is told by God that 7,000 faithful Israelites will be spared, but the rest destroyed. 

It’s the kind of comment by God that would give an End-Timer a hard-on. 

(Sidebar: OK, this story is one of my husband’s favorites because God is found not in the earthquake or the fire, but in sheer silence (or still, small voice) — and I wanted to go there, but it was not to be this week.)

This is followed by selected verses from Psalm 85, which is all about Godly sunshine and light, and you have to wonder what crack the lectionary committee was smoking. Or do they assume they’ll be among the 7,000 saved?

One should probably read the whole psalm.  It is not all sweetness and light for the psalmist. The writer is calling out to be saved. Or giving thanks for being saved. Apparently, the Hebrew verb tense is not at all clear.

Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

could be present:

Mercy and truth are meeting together; *
righteousness and peace are kissing each other.

or future:

Mercy and truth will meet together; *
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

And it is there I rested. Not knowing if I will be one of those spared the literal fallout of this latest international brouhaha, but wanting, needing, mercy, truth, righteousness and peace.

And where to find it? In the midst of Paul’s paraphrase of Deuteronomy:

“The word is near you, 
on your lips and in your heart”

God is not so far away, not distant, but within us. No matter what fire and fury rains down on us, or not, or with the next political/social catastrophe (which is already upon us), God is within us, to give us peace. 

But God/Moses/Paul is not calling for passivity or silence. For the word is also on our lips. This is an action, a prophetic action. As we head toward deeper relationship with God, we speak truth (and do other life-sustaining actions) so that those who are hurt and oppressed can find their freedom, and those who have turned away from God’s will and seek to oppress and hate instead of love will cease their oppression and turn back to God.

Resting with God in our heart and behaving like prophets (aka speaking God’s word) won’t make our suffering any less, but perhaps it will ease our souls and hearts, knowing God is in this mess right along with us.

Mercy and truth have met
Righteousness and peace will kiss
Mercy and truth are meeting

God is within us.

I was going to end it there, but I came across this incredible prayer written by a seminarian who was in Charlottesville yesterday. Pray it with me.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Transfiguration: The kingdom of heaven is revealed

In last week's reading, the kingdom of heaven was hidden: a mustard seed invisible in a field, a speck of yeast, a buried pearl.

This week, the kingdom of heaven is in plain sight: and it's too much for mere mortals. 

In our Exodus reading, the Israelites and Moses' own brother run away at the sight of his radiant face after he comes down the mountain from his chat with God. They are only able to look upon Moses' bare face for short periods of time when he shares with them messages from God. The rest of the time, Moses is veiled, his face concealed, hidden, for it is too much for the people to live with. "It" being the reflection of God's glory, or, as I like to think of it, overwhelming divine love.

In Luke's gospel, Peter, John and James witness Jesus' face change and his clothes become dazzling white. Radiant. That and the descending cloud of God and God's voice sends them tumbling down the mountain. Well, that's how it is pictured in iconography -- these otherwise serious apostles upside down, and one even loses a sandal.

In Exodus, Moses is terrifying. In the canonical gospels' story of the Transfiguration, God's voice is terrifying. Hmm, where else have we seen someone being counseled: "Do not be afraid"? (Which Jesus says in the Matthew version of this story, 17:7) 

Oh yeah. Angels. Angels always begin their pronouncements with "Do not be afraid." These messengers of God are not just bringing the divine word, but like Moses, have been in the presence of God. And if you read some of the other books in the Hebrew bible (and Revelation), angels are pretty scary to look upon.

One theologian, William Propp, thought that the Hebrew word to describe Moses’ radiant face actually meant it had been disfigured. Luke doesn’t use the Greek for “transfigured” (like the other two synoptic gospels) but the Greek word meaning “became other”. Was his intention to show Jesus in that moment as wholly divine? Can the presence of God re-create us?

Why would the kingdom of heaven, the sight of God, be so terrifying, so overwhelming?

Is it because for that moment our encounter with God is completely out of our control? (but honestly has it ever been in our control, how we deal with God?)

Is it because of what we see in God's reflected glory? What we, made God's image, have to change in ourselves to bring this new kingdom to being? What we have to say yes to? *Who* we have to say yes to?

In 2 Peter, the letter's author talks of the day when the morning star rises in our hearts. The day when God comes to us and transfigures us.

Such a faint light, compared to God's radiance -- but still a response, a response to the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God's love.

The disciples in this portion of the Gospel take this revealed glory, this moment of unadulterated God-glory, this hint of the promised new heaven and new earth .... and say nothing.

Once more, the kingdom of heaven is hidden. The three disciples say nothing about this until after Jesus' death and resurrection.

I wonder if, in those days between transfiguration and crucifixion, that they, like Mary, treasured these things in their hearts, as if what they had seen was the wondrous morning star?

Commentary on the Torah by Richard E. Friedman
"Who Is Jesus to Us?, The Transfiguration (A, B, C) -- 2014" by Rev. Anjel Scarborough, Sermons that Work, The Episcopal Digital Network

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What are we waiting for?

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Earlier this week, I was complaining how impenetrable this week's lectionary readings are. At first glance, Genesis is a bridging passage between two important stories (and doesn't tell the whole story of Jacob's encounter with God); who can tell what the hell Paul is talking about except that we're hoping for something we can't see because if we could see it wouldn't be hope -- which is more indicative perhaps of either Paul not being imaginative enough or drunk or a deeper wisdom (hmmm....); and the parable in the Gospel is all about judgement and casting into flames all the evil doers of this world ... or is it?

In last Sunday's Grantchester, Sidney Chambers is asked why God can't simply answer a question and he says "but then it wouldn't be faith". He ends up having a crisis of faith himself. 

So what ARE we waiting for? What is this hope?

Let's start with Genesis. Have you ever had a God experience? Some movement of the Holy Spirit? Or you sensed the presence of God, that let you know that not only is God real, but you belong to God. Perhaps it was an inarticulate covenant, or even a whisper of what lies beyond. If you have, then you have experienced what Jacob did in this passage, with angels ascending and descending and God speaking to him. Paul has clearly also experienced this holy moment but lacks the vocabulary to describe it, as we all do. That "looking through a glass darkly" at God's promise to us.

The thing about God experiences is that they have the potential to transform us, and for us to become part of God's in-breaking of a new earth and a new heaven. Paul's road to Damascus is the most dramatic and obvious example, but Jacob's story is also one of transformation. Gods's promise is "I am always with you" in addition to the promise he gave to his grandfather Abraham of promising him land and becoming a father to the nations.

Jacob's awareness of this promise is transformative, because even as Jacob himself is tricked, and in turn continues his trickery, Jacob grows to trust God and so his yetzer-hara for always getting the best bargain (an admirable Middle Eastern trait) can at last be kept in check for him to pray to God for help in reconciling with his brother Esau. 

In the gospel, the parable of the weeds is Jesus telling us a most loving story, although at first glance it looks nothing like. 

It's not about smoking weed either.

On the face of it, Matthew's explanation of this parable brings to mind good people vs evil people, or chosen vs denied, not to mention hell and damnation. Maybe Jesus did tell this parable but the interpretation was something other than what Matthew chooses.

Maybe this parable is not about the body of Christ (as in those who make up the people of Christianity) or the "true" followers of Jesus, but about our own body in Christ. Is this what Paul is also trying to get at with the Holy Spirit bringing our desires out of evil and into moderation?

For as the last verse into today's beautiful psalm says:
"Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting."
The entire psalm speaks of God knowing us inside and out, before we were even conceived, of knowing our strengths and our weaknesses. Jesus too, as the Son of God, knows each of us inside and out: the potential for fruitfulness (wheat) and the potential for destruction (weeds).

Breaking a bad habit is difficult, improving ourselves is hard. There can be much wailing and gnashing of teeth before the new habit, the new way of being becomes a part of us.

If God took away all the weeds the minute we received the Holy Spirit, that would also take away our free will that we were created with. If God had taken Jacob's trickster-self away, how would Jacob have ever been able to leave Laban and return home? Further, as the farmer in the parable says, what is good about us would be badly damaged and we'd be unable to fully grow into God's kingdom; and so new life grows alongside old ways of living, transforming us into new beings.

We cannot change on our own. We need the awareness of God with us but not even with the Spirit of God in us can we tame our out-of-control desires, although with God's help, we can get closer to that fruition.

I believe that each time we fall away from God and let the yetzer-hara get out of control again, the crop tended by God doesn't fail but God waits for us to return. 

So this is what we are waiting for: it's not judgement, it's rescue, it's transformation, reconciliation and restoration.

And with receiving the Spirit of God, we have the potential to transform, to become Sowers of God's kingdom. (See last week's blogging the lectionary.)

God longs for us to turn and return to God again and again and each time we do, the good wheat grows a little more and a little bit of the kingdom of heaven peeks into earth.

Maybe, just maybe that is what this parable means and that is what we wait, we hope and long for.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Can we be the Sower?

It has been a while since I blogged the lectionary. When I decided this past week that it was the time to get back to it, I discovered that I'd started doing this in Year A in 2014. And we're back in Year A again.

Today's lectionary readings:

This could be subtitled, "Wherein I get caught up in Paul but thankfully remember what it's all about. (Hint: God's love.)

In Judaism, there is no original sin. God created humanity in God's likeness, with free will, and so as Rabbinic Judaism describes it, humans have yetzer ha-tov, the good inclination, and yetzer ha-ra, the evil inclination, the latter being "a drive toward pleasure, property or security, which left unlimited, can lead to evil" (per However, this is not all that humanity is made of, so this is not a simplistic dualism. There is also the mind, the heart (equivalent to the gut in the ancient world, for example, a gut feeling), and the soul.  The two yetzers are what Paul is talking about when he speaks of the flesh and the spirit. Remember yetzer ha-tov (good) and yetzer ha-ra (evil, sort of). We'll get to Paul and today's gospel parable in a sec.

Let's start at the first of today's readings. Both Esau and Jacob exhibit these two natures. Esau has both good (we know because Isaac, who was consecrated to God, loves him) and evil: his desire for food is so great, he gives up his birthright. Same for Jacob, the yetzer ha-tov of living simply and wrestling toward God (as we'll see later) versus the yetzer ha-ra of coveting his brother's birthright -- and giving into that desire. Nobody in the Bible is perfect.

This idea of two natures or inclinations dates to rabbinic Judaism, which yes is after Paul, but Augustine's concept of original sin is also after Paul and has been read back into it. When Paul speaks of flesh it is yetzer ha-ra, spirit is yetzer ha-tov. Capital-S Spirit is the Spirit of God. Note also, that Paul uses different Greek words for flesh (sarx) versus body (soma). It's not Augustine's neo-Platonism of flesh/body vs. spirit/soul (or shadow vs reality). But two different parts out of many of being human.

It turns out I am not the only person who was thought of this: both W.D. Davies and his student E.P. Sanders say that Paul's word choices are consistent with a developing theology that led to (and was further expounded upon) by rabbis after the Second Temple's destruction.

Try re-reading Paul in this way: "But you are not in yetzer ha-ra; you are in yetzer ha-tov, since the Spirit of God dwells in you." (Romans 8:9)

Yet even with the gift of God's Spirit, we are still mortal and we still struggle between these two inclinations. Paul ranted about this in last week's lectionary passage: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." (Romans 7:19) And he's one who has the Spirit of God with him! You've probably thought to yourself by now, what does it really mean to be in Christ Jesus if we still struggle with yetzer ha-ra? The things we shouldn't do, but do? Remember Jacob and how he wasn't perfect either? We are none of us expected to achieve perfection. It is God's mercy and loving-kindness that sees us through the mess of human life.

But wait, there's more.

This is also where today's gospel parable comes in. Because receiving the Spirit of God isn't a passive act. It's a get-up-and-go active response. "Let anyone with ears, listen!" (Matthew 13:9) Listening is not a passive reception but active. We need to want to hear the word of the kingdom first. How and why we don't listen are the reasons behind the lack of fruitfulness of the first three soils, various yetzer ha-ra motivations. If we can hear and understand, then we become fruitful in the sense of becoming a sower ourselves, bringing in a new creation, "pursuing what is right for everyone" (Jewish Annotated New Testament, my emphasis). 

The important thing is the Sower doesn't give up. The sower can be God, Jesus, the disciples, or those who have the Spirit of God through Christ Jesus as Paul does, that is, us, our active response. Again and again, the word of the kingdom is sown, the Holy Spirit is sent, without discrimination, without judgement, without despair because a seed fails.

All types of ground, all types of people, are are loved enough by God for the Beloved to sow the word of the kingdom. And God does not give up on us and will sow the word again and again, hoping, always hoping, that this time there is understanding, that this time a heart will be open, and the word will take root.

Commentary on the Torah by Richard E. Friedman
"Paul and the Yetzer Ha-Ra" by Mark Wauck on his blog meaning in history which quotes W. D. Davies' Paul and Rabbinic Judaism
The Jewish Annotated New Testament (NRSV), Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Butler, editors
Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors
Sermon Brainwave podcast by The Working Preacher "SB549 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Ord. 15)"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Praying to the One Who Blesses

In the last weeks of Dad's life, I wanted to go and sing him a prayer I had learned in the synagogue, a healing prayer called the Misheberach.

Unfortunately, he passed away before I could get to him and the news that he was hours from death wiped out the idea of singing it to him over the phone, whether or not he could hear me. 

It became a prayer that I prayed for my dad as I tried to keep vigil halfway around the world. It became a prayer for me as I grieved. I had a notion of singing it at Dad's funeral as a healing prayer for others, but there were already so many sticking their oar in and I also knew myself well enough that it would not be a day that I could sing anything.

The first word of the prayer means "the One who blesses". The tune I learned was by Debbie Friedman and it is a mix of Hebrew and English.

You may be wondering why I didn't cling to the Lord's Prayer or some other Christian mantra. The words have been a source of comfort and an expression of grief. That it comes from another tradition are completely irrelevant. The words in English had a great deal to do with it too:
May the Source of strength, who blessed the ones before us Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing And let us say: Amen.
Bless all in need of healing, with r'fuah shleimah**:
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say: Amen.
The celebrant at Dad's funeral talked about how coming together as a community to mourn someone can be a life-changing experience. For him, it ultimately meant a move from Scotland to Australia. Similarly, I find the words "help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing" a similar impetus to re-center my life. Something to gnaw on and discern in the days ahead.

** r'fuah shleimah means complete recovery (from a page that I read about this song)

Debbie Friedman sings the song below:

Friday, June 2, 2017

What I Learned This Spring

Here are a few things I learned:

Talk to your loved ones, even if they annoy the crap out of you. You may never get the chance to.

My dad passed away this week. We are two terrible communicators and not all the calendar reminders in the world were sufficient for me to send an email. (We are separated by an ocean.) And then, after a visit and a promise to talk more, the cancer metastasized. We started talking weekly. The cancer took him quicker than we all thought. I thought I had time to get home. I didn't.

Kindness is an incredible gift. I wrote about the kindnesses exchanged when a group of us went to support the local Islamic Center. You can read about this incredibly moving experience here

Are you creative? (And don’t mind the occasional four-letter word dropped?) The Pug Party Podcast might be for you. It’s Roxanne Cable, mixed media artist, and her husband James, comedy writer, talking about the creative process, their careers, the nerdy things they are into, and of course, their two pugs. The link goes to Roxanne's blog, but you can also subscribe on iTunes.

What did you learn this spring?

Monday, April 17, 2017

What's the difference between being a writer and an artist?

What is the difference between being a creative writer and an artist? Aside from learning different skill sets, of course. This question popped in my mind while listening to a podcast recently.

The Pug Party podcast is hosted by Roxanne Cable, artist, and her husband James Siciliano, writer. They talk about art, writing, being nerds, and occasionally pugs. (They own two.) As someone who has been a writer and is now an artist, it's really interesting to hear their perspectives on their work.

In their first episode, they talked about their creative processes. James spoke about story circles, which is a way of envisioning Joseph Campbell's the Hero's Journey.

Unfortunately, what sometimes happens to me in listening to podcasts is that it provokes my own thought processes and I end up going down a completely different track. Which may mean I'm not as good a listener as I thought I was, but also, I rarely listen to podcasts because I tend to drift off with one voice talking for too long. I am much better at watching or reading. Or in person.

I ended up thinking about my own work both as a writer (I used the Hero's Journey loosely -- it was more about turning points for me) and as an artist.

In writing, there is a ton of work on character etc that doesn't get seen and in the longer format of a novella or novel, you travel with the character through a part of their life.

In my art, it is more a moment, a glimpse into a story: whether it is a moment of my life or an imagined character. 

Artist Michael Reardon in a video teaching painting watercolor cityscapes remarked, " [This] window has all these fancy mullioned patterns, but it’s really not the story...”  The story for him is told in the play of light and shadow around buildings and water, not in every single detail.

This editing is true in creating both art and writing -- unless you're James Joyce or Diana Gabaldon (whose books have reams of detail) -- you choose what to show. (This is why you so rarely read about a character going to the bathroom unless its intrinsic to the plot.)

In my art, the story is still there, often intuitively, not intentionally placed, and the viewer of the artwork can bring as much or as little into the piece as they want. This interaction exists in reading, of course, but a lot more is spelled out. (Baroom ching) The reader gets to imagine the characters and the scenes, helped by the writer but it is ultimately the reader's own story/life experience that comes into play.

What differences do you see between being a writer and an artist?

Monday, April 10, 2017

an Artistic Autobiography

When I went through Education for Ministry, we learned four different ways to tell our spiritual autobiography, where God had shown Godself in my life. Two of the ways were by using a timeline or by using images.

Now that I have recognized that I am an artist and in particular a visual artist instead of a writer of fiction, I thought it would be interesting to see where art has been -- or where I have been an artist -- in my life.

The first story I remember writing was a few sentences on top of a page illustrating a blue monster, which represented the bullies in my young 8 year old life.

I remember my mom taking us kids to the art gallery, and I loved the quiet space and the art on the walls both realistic and expressionistic.

Art was one of my favorite subjects throughout primary (elementary/middle) school and high school. Projects leap out of my memory: using watercolor pencils to do a continuous line sketch of branches and the whorls within; creating a clay bowl without a wheel and the grey lizard I shaped from the memory of the little grey skinks/lizards that are so endemic where I grew up. 

Weirdly, art as a subject was also one where the fear of failure was real. I was pretty much an A student (except for home economics and sewing), but brain smarts had no place in art. At least, so I thought at the time. It was like diving in at the deep end.

Art became an elective in the last two years of high school and I took an extra unit of maths instead of art. It was the practical thing to do. But there was one free period that I had a week and I ended up sitting in on the art class, watching and chatting until the art teacher, Mr. C., told me if I was going to continue to be there, I had to submit art of my own. I bought a handful of pastels and some cheap watercolors.  I did the bare minimum and was a smart arse in the process, submitting a "painting" of a brown envelope, addressed and stamped. 

In the first year of university, I dabbled in recreating costume sketches from Drama class and drawing palms against the sky. (At the time, I was studying computer science and had Drama as my one Humanities course: art wasn't an option.) I also had this cartoon character that ended up in the margins of my notes.

After that first year in university, The visual arts drifted away, but I continued to write. I didn't come back to art until I started scrapbooking. Because, paper, obviously.

Then my part-time, on the side, writing career started to fizzle. I discovered Suzi Blu, a mixed media artist. Scrapbooking became mixed media and art journaling and I was hooked.

All my paintings of girls looked very po-faced, but I was having fun. There was delight and joy despite the frustration of not being able to draw what I wanted.
My paintings are now of strong women, not sulky girls, and I think they might be becoming recognizably mine.

That would be thanks to Lifebook 2015, which is a year of mixed media classes, creating paintings and journal pages with a whole bunch of teacher-artists, including the sweet and kind class coordinator, Tamara Laporte. It's through Lifebook 2015 and 2016 that I discovered different ways to paint faces. It's through Lifebook that I discovered Flora Bowley and got a taste of her intuitive painting method. 

And it is with Flora that I discovered painting *created* joy. Whether I was angry or upset or frustrated, painting abstractly on a canvas cleared out the negative feelings and brought a quiet and very real joy and even delight.

So that is where I am now. I manage to get into my art studio three to four times a week, despite working full time. On the weekends, I can spend hours in there, while during the work week, it might only be 15 minutes or so and it'd be a sketch, or putting down a layer of gesso or some collage.

Art is for myself, right now, no performance anxiety or "will they like it?" is needed, although I was excited to share two self portraits that are recognizably me and more recently got even more excited when two other artists I admire (Annie Hamman and Misty Mawn) complimented me on a third self-portrait and encouraged me to do more.

Wanting to do more is definitely something I want to do! As I've been reflecting on my word for the year, joy, art is a central part of that. This month's one little word project was to create a vision board of our word. Here's the art related one:

And that's the story so far!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Kindness is Infectious

A few people from my church have been standing with some friends outside a nearby Islamic Center with signs saying “We stand with you”, “We are all brothers and sisters” etc. They started doing it after the first travel ban executive order and are there during the main Friday prayer services. A little way to show love in a country that screams hate at Muslims.

I’d been wanting to go but there was always a reason not to. Friday is my tie-up-loose-ends, get ready for Shabbat day and I was concerned about the amount of time it would take from work. I had some overtime up my sleeve, saved for taking time off to make art, but doing this act of love was more important. So I finally went.

I’ve now been three times and it’s such a life-giving and life-receiving experience. We’re a mix of Christians, Jews and “just people”. We welcome all coming to prayer and they smile, wave and thank us … and return the kindness by feeding us and making sure we have something to drink, etc.  This is part of who they are, the great Middle Eastern core value of hospitality. It is a wonderful feeling, everybody loving on each other. It no longer is us vs. them, but brothers and sisters, humans acknowledging each other's existence and being kind.  It's kindness creating kindness creating kindness.  The love and kindness shown remains in my heart and ripples out to be shared with others into the next week. 

I think this is what the theologians (and the prophets and Jesus) mean when they talk about compassion and loving-kindness. The effects stay with you, growing your heart and you keep wanting to come back and give more love and kindness and receive more love and kindness.

How are you showing love and kindness?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What I Learned This Winter

When I meet with my spiritual director, the first question he asks me are: what are the fruits?

Sabbath is so important. I've just started disconnecting from Facebook on Sundays. I figure POTUS will tweet or sign an executive order whether or not I am there to witness it and share my outrage. So far, it has been sanity-giving. I've been considering extending it to Saturdays for Lent. (Although I've already been on Facebook this morning, oops.)

Meditating. This month's prompt as part of one little word was to take on a daily practice. I figured that my initial idea of praying through frustration and anger would be a much needed daily practice but it has come down to a simpler (and yet difficult) practice: closing my eyes and breathing and observing thoughts and feelings rather than chasing them down the rabbit hole.

Watercolor. After completing the Ever After course run by Tamara LaPorte, I determined that watercolor is all very well but not for me. Three of my last four paintings in my art journal have been predominantly watercolor. So, um, so much for that decision. I have fallen in love with Daniel Smith's Moonglow in particular.

Raincoats. It turns out that raincoats only last about 25 years before they completely lose their water resistantness. I found this out during the last batch of heavy rains that hit Southern California. Thank goodness I also had an umbrella. A new raincoat is on the way.

House-cleaning. I now know how to clean under our sofa. Throw a ball under it. Turns out Miles-the-dog can wriggle into and out of some tight places. I nearly fell over laughing.

Quote of the Quarter: "Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity." (from an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

linking up with Emily's "What I Learned This Winter" at "chatting with the sky"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

God's Love Stories: Links of Listening and Love

This week I'm pulling together a couple of videos and a few other links that have been helpful since the election (and before you think they are political, they are not. If you want politics, you'll need to find me on Facebook. I post a lot of stuff there. The visa/travel ban has been the on that's upset me the most.)

If you only have time for one video, please watch the first one:

Rev. Stephanie Spellers on the Revolutionary Art of Listening, from December 1, 2016 at Tedx New York (click on the picture below):

If you have only time to read one thing, read this: Continue, 2016 by Leeana Tankersley, always we begin again.

And the others:

Video: Brene Brown on why your critics aren't the ones who count at the 99u conference. Which seems to be the inverse of listening, but there's the listening to understand the other person, and then there's not listening to the attacks that keep you small. Rev. Stephanie would say you would then ask your critic what their hurt, their dream is.

And finally a photo with a story:

This is all that is left of a purple papier mache box (the tiny knob) and my Associates cross (the cord is missing), both presumably consumed by one or both of my dogs. So far, no ill affects, but I am a bit worried about that cord.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My Word for 2017

I don’t actually remember if I picked a word for 2016 (possibly, unofficially, it was Breathe which was a theme in my meetings with my spiritual director) but I certainly have in the past: Selah, Behold are two. This year, my word is joy.

It’s not just focusing on what delights me — although that is part of it, but making joy a core part of who I am. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu’s The Book of Joy shares 9 pillars of joy. Here are a few off the top of my head: generosity, gratitude, acceptance and forgiveness. I’ve explored the practice of gratitude before but I have let my practice of writing down three things lapse.

“Joy” as a word chose me for 2017.  Toward the end of 2016, I had resigned as Chair of my church’s worship committee and dropped out of the church choir. I had held onto the chair position because my church was in transition in finding a new rector. I didn’t need to hold onto that any more and I needed to take care of me.

So I can see me continuing to shed the “ought to”s and things that no longer give me joy and continuing to make my priority those things that do give me joy: the process of making art, fresh air, bubble baths, etc etc. 

And maybe even finding joy in God. (I have not yet explored where I stand with this but the sentences popped into my head so there it is.)

I already had in mind to work slowly through the practices shared in The Book of Joy but then Liz Lamoreux in her blog (be present, be here) referred to Ali Edwards’ course one little word.

I took a look at it and realized that not only would it help me keep on track with exploring The Book of Joy but would potentially help me to go deeper into all aspects of the word. One creative prompt a month didn’t seem like too much of an additional burden — although y’all know I will make a journal to put it in. Probably.

I hope to share here my explorations of joy -- but we shall see!