Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Iceland Chronicles - Post 1

It's currently quarter til 11am in Reykjavik... quarter til 6am in the U.S. and I have not slept. So this post will likely be a bit short.

We're just back from visiting four banks in search of one that would cash my traveller's cheques. If you saw my WSJ post from the other day, you know that the three major banks in Iceland collapsed back in October/November. It occurred to me when I bought the traveller's cheques that perhaps these banks would not be interested in these bits of paper so much as they would real dollars, and it turns out I was right. They each flatly refused to cash them, which was a total surprise to Kris and to her father, who WORKS for one of those banks.

As it turns out, I finally cashed the cheques at a small bank whose name I've already forgotten (blame the lack of sleep), but whose logo is a four leaf clover. I knew we were good as soon as I saw that. 300 USD became a little over 36,000 krona. Kris says that 700 krona will buy me a glass of wine, and 10,000 will pay for one of the day tours we'll be taking later in the week. I guess that works out.

The sun started to lighten the sky with the first weak light of day about 10:15. It is about as bright as it's going to be at any point while I'm here, not much brighter than twilight. We're sitting just below the Artic Circle up here, so it's to be expected.

There's more to say, but it's likely rubbish. I'm getting excited over every little thing cuz it's all new. Headed to bed... watch this space for more later...

Monday, December 29, 2008

How to help folks in Gaza

I just got this info from my friend Corrie, who is based out of Cairo and works with non-profits in Egypt and the Middle East.

"Here's a way to help:

Medical Aid for Palestinians needs to provide surgical kits to Al Shifa hospital. To donate and further details see the link below.http://www.map-uk.org/regions/opt/gaza_diary/

And also:Send donations for Palestinian Red Crescent for surgical kits in Gaza, (this way the kits go straight to the hospitals and clinics, so there is no need for recipients to deal with either Hamas or Israeli import controls): http://www.palestinercs.org/User_Add_Donation.aspx"

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Your brother's blood cries from the ground

I am posting below, in their entirety, two entries from the Facebook profile of Safa Joudeh, a former GMU student who is on the ground in Gaza right now.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not likely to take the side of any political party. I'm on the side of the guy getting groceries or waiting for the bus who is blown to pieces due to a conflict in which he's unavoidably stuck in the middle... and I'm on the side of Safa, a young, very educated woman, who is bravely telling her story as long as the generators in her home keep the power going.

Regardless of your politics, please pray for Gaza. The people being killed are not soldiers. They're not Hamas. After this, they might be.

Day 1

"It was just before noon when I heard the first explosion. I rushed to my window, barely did I get there and look out when I was pushed back by the force and air pressure of another explosion. For a few moments I didn't understand, then I realized that Israeli promises of a wide-scale offensive against the Gaza Strip had materialized. Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzpi Livni's statements following a meeting with Egyptian President Hussni Mubarak the day before yesterday had not been empty threats after all.

What followed seems pretty much surreal at this point. Never had we imagined anything like this. It all happened so fast but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable, even to me and I'm in the middle of it and a few hours have passed already passed.

6 locations were hit during the air raid on Gaza city. The images are probably not broadcasted in US media. There are piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit. As you look at them you can see that a few of the young men are still alive, someone lifts a hand here, and another raise his head there. They probably died within moments because their bodies are burned, most have lost limbs, some have their guts hanging out and they're all lying in pools of blood. Outside my home, (which is close to the 2 largest universities in Gaza) a missile fell on a large group of young men, university students, they'd been warned not to stand in groups, it makes them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses to take them home. 7 were killed, 4 students and 3 of our neighbors kids, young men who were from the same family (Rayes) and were best friends. As I'm writing this I can hear a funeral procession go by outside, I looked out the window a moment ago and it was the 3 Rayes boys, They spent all their time together when they were alive, they died together and now their sharing the same funeral together. Nothing could stop my 14 year old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends laying in the street after they were killed. He hasn't spoken a word since.

What did Olmert mean when he stated that WE the people of Gaza weren't the enemy, that it was Hamas and the Islamic Jihad who were being targeted? Was that statement made to infuriate us out of out state of shock, to pacify any feelings of rage and revenge? To mock us?? Were the scores of children on their way home from school and who are now among the dead and the injured Hamas militants? A little further down my street about half an hour after the first strike 3 schoolgirls happened to be passing by one of the locations when a missile struck the Preventative Security Headquarters building. The girls bodies were torn into pieces and covered the street from one side to the other.

In all the locations people are going through the dead terrified of recognizing a family member among them. The streets are strewn with their bodies, their arms, legs, feet, some with shoes and some without. The city is in a state of alarm, panic and confusion, cell phones aren't working, hospitals and morgues are backed up and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them, kissing their faces, holding on to them. Outside the destroyed buildings old men are kneeling on the floor weeping. Their slim hopes of finding their sons still alive vanished after taking one look at what had become of their office buildings.

And even after the dead are identified, doctors are having a hard time gathering the right body parts in order to hand them over to their families. The hospital hallways look like a slaughterhouse. It's truly worse than any horror movie you could ever imagine. The floor is filled with blood, the injured are propped up against the walls or laid down on the floor side by side with the dead. Doctors are working frantically and people with injuries that aren't life threatening are sent home. A relative of mine was injured by a flying piece of glass from her living room window, she had deep cut right down the middle of her face. She was sent home, too many people needed medical attention more urgently. Her husband, a dentist, took her to his clinic and sewed up her face using local anesthesia

200 people dead in today's air raid. That means 200 funeral processions, a few today, most of them tomorrow probably. To think that yesterday these families were worried about food and heat and electricity. At this point I think they -actually all of us- would gladly have Hamas sign off every last basic right we've been calling for the last few months forever if it could have stopped this from ever having happened.

The bombing was very close to my home. Most of my extended family live in the area. My family is ok, but 2 of my uncles' homes were damaged,

We can rest easy, Gazans can mourn tonight. Israel is said to have promised not to wage any more air raids for now. People suspect that the next step will be targeted killings, which will inevitably means scores more of innocent bystanders whose fate has already been sealed.

This doesn't even begin to tell the story on any level. Just flashes of thing that happened today that are going through my head."

Day 2

"It's 1.30 am but it feels like the sun should be up already. For the past few hours there's been heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza city and the northern Gaza Strip simultaneously. It feels like the longest night of my life. In my area it started with the bombing of workshops (usually located in the ground floor of private/family residential buildings), garages and warehouses in one of the most highly condensed areas in Gaza city "Askoola". About an hour ago they bombed the Islamic university, destroying the laboratory building. As I mentioned in an earlier account, my home is close to the university. We heard the first explosion, the windows shook, the walls shook and my heart felt like it would literally jump out of my mouth. My parents, siblings and cousins who have been staying with us since their home was damaged the first day of the air raids, had been trying to get some sleep. We all rushed to the side of the house that was farthest. Hala, my 11 year old sister stood motionless and had to be dragged to the other room. I still have marks on my shoulder from when Aya, my 13 year old cousin held on to me during the next 4 explosions, each one as violent and heart stopping as the next. Looking out of the window moments later the night sky had turned to a dirty navy-gray from the smoke.

Israeli warships rocketed the Gazas only port only moments ago, 15 missiles exploded, destroying boats and parts of the ports. These are just initial reports over the radio. We don't know what the extent of the damage is. We do know that the fishing industry that thousands of families depend on either directly or indirectly didn't pose a threat on Israeli security The radio reporter started counting the explosions, I think he lost count after 6. At his moment we heard 3 more blasts. "I'm mostly scared of the whoosh", I told my sister, referring to the sound a missile makes before it hits. Those moments of wondering where its going to fall are agonizing. Once the whooshes and hits were over the radio reporter announced that the fish market (vacant of course) had been bombed.

We just heard that 4 sisters from the family of "Ba'lousha" have been killed in an attack that targeted the mosque my their home in the northern Gaza Strip.

You know what bothers me more than the bangs and the blasts, the smoke, the ambulance sirens and the whooshs? The constant, ominous, maddening droning sound of the Apaches overhead that’s been buzzing in my head day and night. It's like I'm hearing things, which I'm not, but I am."

Feast of the Holy Family

Sooo, today is the Feast of the Holy Family... I think I have that correct, since this is the first Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. The intercessions from Morning Prayer today really resounded with me. I think they'd be a fantastic meditation for me throughout the coming year, so I thought I'd share them in case anyone else feels the same way.

Let us adore the Son of the living God, who became son in a human family.
Response: Lord Jesus, bless our families.

Jesus, eternal Word of the Father, You lived under the authority of Mary and Joseph. Teach us to walk the path of humility.
Response: Lord Jesus, bless our families.

Mary kept in her heart all that You said and did. May we learn in her example the spirit of contemplation.
Response: Lord Jesus, bless our families.

Christ, Yours was the strength that shaped the universe, yet You came to learn the tasks of a carpenter. Help us to see our work as a sharing in Yours.
Response: Lord Jesus, bless our families.

You advanced in wisdom and in favor with God and men. May we live to the full in You and build up Your body in faith and love.
Response: Lord Jesus, bless our families.

Amen.

Iceland's financial crisis

I'm headed to Iceland in... emmm... 2 days. This video is well worth a watch, not just because of what Iceland's going through, but what it says about dependence on debt in general.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Listening to Hester

To hear an audio version of this post, click the below link.
DS300083.WMA

When I was 14 years old, the summer after the 8th grade, my Dad told me that I needed to get out of my head, and he sent me to Friendship Manor, the nursing home, to volunteer for the summer. At that point, my parents didn’t know that I’d been depressed enough to make one small, feeble suicide attempt. My despair and ennui at that time weren’t sufficient to overcome my aversion to pain, so the slim cut across my wrist that I’d made with the razor blade didn’t draw anyone’s attention. It didn’t even leave a scar… but I knew, and I had come to be very frightened of the power of my own depression. So, I decided that my Dad was probably right. If I spent the entire summer indoors, as was my usual routine, I literally wasn’t sure I’d make it through alive.

For a depressed teenager, the thought of spending a summer working in a nursing home was excellent fodder for self-pity. I really enjoyed self-pity at that point, so I found a kind of reward in that as I trudged the half-hour to the nursing home. When I met with my supervisor, Loretta, I expected her to assign me to empty bedpans, or take out trash, perhaps wheel residents around in the hallways to look out windows onto views of parking lots or something like that. Perfect.

However, Loretta did something very different. I will never know why she entrusted this task to me, but she gave me the job of talking to new residents, and of making notes on any deterioration in their mood or mental state so that she could be aware of issues with adjustment to the nursing home and attend to problem cases. In other words, she gave me the job of listening to their stories, and of documenting what I heard. She couldn’t have picked a better job for me, a person who spent most of my spare time scrawling self-pitying poetry and songs into notebooks with worn edges and notepads advertising various industrial fastener and truck-driving companies for which my father had worked. If I knew anything, I knew about moods, and I knew how to write.

At first, I felt angry and even more depressed, walking into the rooms of complete strangers and trying to explain that I’d been sent there to see how they were doing. It was awkward, to say the least, although it suited my sense of irony, and served as confirmation that I was the Weirdest Adolescent in History. For their part, many of the residents didn’t seem to have much of a problem opening up to a 14 year old. If they did, I just thanked them and walked away, relieved not to have to listen to the tales of families that ignored them, of skin rashes and back pains and loneliness.

But I changed. I went to the nursing home three days a week, and Loretta set up a rotation of folks I was supposed to go and see according to their level of need. This meant that I was seeing some people almost every time I went there. I’ve forgotten most of their names, but I can still see their faces –

Mabel Cobb, the toothless, muppet-faced woman who sometimes smiled and sometimes cried when talking of her family --whose visits she forgot as soon as they left-- whose mood swings I found oddly comforting as depressed me tried to comfort her;

the 40-something woman with stumps for legs because of diabetes gone completely out of control, whose catheter bag smelled, but who was always polite to me, and talked as much as her energy would allow;

the steely-grey haired woman with the screaming roommate, who started out bright and sociable and deteriorated noticeably, about whom I wrote lengthy case notes for Loretta, practically begging her to move the woman out of that room;

the wheelchair bound African-American grandmother, whose half a room was a beautiful sanctuary covered with pictures of her family, who glowed with her peace, and who loved Jesus so strongly that I wondered if I could properly call myself a Christian.

But the one who impacted me the most was Hester. Hester was a gorgeous woman in her late 70s, with beautiful, shiny snow-white hair that framed her head like a crown; deep, Hershey-colored, brown eyes; and high, elegant cheekbones. Hester had had a stroke that left her incapable of movement on her left side, and was also totally incapable of speech. She lay almost entirely motionless in her bed, the frustration and intelligence shining out of her eyes. It was her eyes that grabbed me. Most of the residents had a slightly glazed expression that belied resignation to their state. Hester was probably the most helpless of any of the residents I saw, but when I looked into her eyes I saw a bright, powerful woman who was jailed within her own body, and not resigned to it in the least.

I truly looked forward to seeing her, so I went and saw her every time I was at the nursing home, whether Loretta told me to or not. As time passed, she also became visibly glad to see me. Her eyes brightened, and she grasped my hand tightly with her one good hand. I was really struck by both her beauty and her need to connect, to communicate and respond as much as her body would allow. She struggled so hard to talk to me, gumming incoherent syllables in a deep, throaty voice, aware that she wasn’t making much sense –so frustrated—and yet trying always. I listened, I nodded, I said “mm-hmm” a lot, and I tried to understand, narrating back what sounded like it was sort of speech, responding to her facial expressions, her occasional gestures with her good hand, and stroking her hand and her arm and eventually her gorgeous hair when she finally gave up and collapsed back into the pillow, tears of frustration gathering around the corners of her eyes.

One day, I walked into the room and greeted her, and she looked up, gathered her strength, and said “Amy” in a deep, tired voice. I looked up at her brother-in-law, Jim, who was visiting her, startled. “Did she just say my name??” I said. “Yes, she did!” he responded brightly, with a smile. I praised her, hugged her as best I could, and stared down at her, wondering how long she’d had to struggle in speech therapy to be able to form those two syllables. She smiled at me, and relaxed back into her pillow, tired from the effort and relieved that finally she had made some sense.

It suddenly hit me that I really meant something to her. It was a shock that yanked me out of myself, how the very small thing I was doing every day was so important to her, was love in a way, and that she was returning love. I can honestly say that I have been given very few gifts that required as much of a person as what Hester did in teaching her lips and tongue to say my name.

There is so much power in listening to, and just as much in telling, the stories that we have in our lives. In our consumer society, we are obsessed with the experts, the celebrities, the “successful” among us. We spend hours watching television and reading books and magazines that narrate the stories of those we will never meet, envying their lives, feeling ourselves pathetic in comparison. We have become immune to one another’s stories, forgetting the power of the experiences of those within our own community.

This is one of our hugest sicknesses: we have forgotten to value one another, to value the community among us, to hear each other, to understand that we are all “experts” in our personal experiences, in what lessons life has taught each of us. Television and print media have led us to believe that the shiny product marketed to us by the media conglomerates represents what we as a people experience and believe. But it’s not us. It really isn’t.

Us is what is in the room around us. Us is what happens between people daily. Us is the story of our common life, and it is more important than any fame that may happen as a result of anything we do.

Art is one way that we tell our common story, and this too is threatened by the consumer society. In this society, artists are taught that they should want to be famous. We feel we can’t survive without it. We feel that if our story, or our song or our painting don’t receive wide acclaim, then we are pointless. But art is communication… all art, (and story-telling is also an art) is meant to communicate something very important in a way that regular conversation just doesn’t, something we’d miss in the day to day grind if we didn’t listen to it in just this way.

Art, I have discovered, is best experienced in community. When you share what you have with people who have the context to understand what this is requiring of you, what you are giving in creating and communicating in this way, it makes it so much deeper for all involved. I think artists are actually meant to produce art for our own local community. Fame, if it comes, has some merits, mostly financial, but that’s never the point. If it becomes the point then we end up exalting really crappy art (I'm thinking of pop music and paperback novels here), and we become cynical about ourselves, about what we have to contribute. It all becomes a marketing game… and why should I even bother, I’ll never be as famous as (insert famous name here).

…which brings me back to my story. Hester died many years ago, but I will never forget her. I will never forget what that summer in the nursing home taught me about the value of simple presence in the life of another, the power of listening even when that person doesn’t make sense, the power of recognizing someone who is struggling deeply. I will never, ever, ever forget the gift of hearing my name spoken by a woman who had lost the ability to speak.

So I have an obligation now, the obligation to tell the story of what it means to be simply present to one another, to not to forget those who are suffering, to listen. Listening to Hester also means telling her story to those around me, telling the story of how I came out of that summer changed, pulled out of myself, and how I began to fight my depression, in part inspired by her. I never tried to kill myself again. I won’t say I never thought of it again, but I never tried. Witnessing the fight inside a woman who couldn’t move or walk or speak made my two legs, my voice, my mobility a precious gift not meant to be squandered.

But more than that, being recognized by her gave me, my very presence, value.

Share your story. We are meant to be blessings to one another, and to bear witness to the value of our common life. Listen to the stories of those around you, listen to the lessons that we all have for one another. Do not forget that every single one of us is precious, and that nothing we experience is without meaning. Don’t think that refusing to share your story is humility. It isn’t. It’s selfishness, a refusal to be open to others, a refusal to admit that we are connected to and truly need one another.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas

Love implies loss.
At some point, the object of one's love
will most certainly leave--
even if only in spirit--
and ultimately
will most definitely die.

When You were born
Your mother and father
did not suspect for a second
how You would die
or that You would return to life.

(and I'm sure that Your mother--
had she known--
would never have thought
You would not visit her
when You came back from death.)

Love implies loss.

We wait through Advent
for Christmas: for food,
and reunions, and rituals,
and then it is over.
We drive away, waving
wondering when we will
see each other again.

and 2,000 years ago,
Your disciples sat waiting
and watching the clouds
where they'd seen you last.
Every year we wait with them,
we sing "O Come, O Come"...

and every year Christmas passes
with all of us watching and waving
at the clouds
wondering when we will see You again.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Doppleganger

I've been hesitant to blog about this, since it's really sort of a mild oddity that I supposed only I would find interesting... but today I received the SECOND copy of Vogue magazine, correctly addressed, with my full name and address, including correct apartment number.

Anyone who knows me knows that a subscription to Vogue in my name could only be a form of mild psychological torture from someone who knows and dislikes me, an extremely misguided gift from someone who does not know me... or that someone with my exact name lived at my exact address... and forgot to cancel her subscription to that vapid, self-image destroying, insult-to-the-trees-that-died-so-it-could-be-published piece of glossy horse defecation. As completely impossible as this seems, I think it's the latter.

This would explain the mail from the sorority... the invite to a sorority ball, the envelope with a check in it reimbursing this woman with my name for her contribution to "that crazy party". The envelope with the check I tried in vain to return to the post office, only to have it returned to me. I can understand the confusion on the part of postal carrier. It's my name. It's my address. But it really really really ISN'T me.

Really.

This might also explain The Pajamas. Last year, at about this time, when I was living one floor down in the same building, I received a package from Victoria's Secret, addressed to me. I hadn't ordered anything from VS. Ever. I think of VS as that place people go if they need something very vixen-like. And, well, I don't... for so very many reasons that I won't detail here. So I open said package, and inside are the Most Aggressively Ugly pajamas I have ever seen. They are made of the fine waffle-patterned cloth that long underwear are made of, and they're made in the same style, only they are printed with HUGE black and white houndstooth print with baby pink trim. The pattern is so distracting and hideous that I'm pretty sure it could cause seizures in an epileptic. They also come with matching slippers, complete with baby pink bows.

I called Victoria's Secret, trying to find out if these were a gift from some very misguided individual. VS were apologetic, but couldn't give me any information about the person who ordered them. I was baffled. Something so hideously ugly could possibly be a subtle act of psychological torture on the part of someone who had a vendetta against me, but I honestly didn't know anyone who hated me enough to drop $50 just to f*** with my head a very little bit.

But they might have been for Her... the woman with my name who, even then, may have been living just upstairs from me, wondering where the hell her darling houndstooth Vicky's Secret pjs had got to. I may even have seen her, said hi to her, opened the door for her or asked if I could help with her groceries. Or I may have decided that she looked mean and ignored her most of the time.

As if that wasn't weird enough, there's more. My friend Ryan Walker, frontman for The Beanstalk Library, told me this summer that there is a girl living next door to him with my same first and last name. Ryan lives two streets over from me. I happened to bump into my postal carrier a couple of weeks later as she was loading the mailboxes and got into a conversation with her about that and found out that there are FOUR of us on her route. FOUR women with IDENTICAL FIRST AND LAST NAMES on one postal carrier's route. My mouth sort of dropped open when she told me that. I had no idea how to take it.

I mean, for real, my name is just not that common. Before this, I have bumped into one person in my whole life that had the same last name to whom I wasn't directly related... and to have FOUR people have BOTH the same first and last name in one neighborhood?? and one of them used to live in the SAME apartment as I do now??? What does this mean??? Am I supposed to DO something with this knowledge??

Tonight I have on these fantastic sky-blue wool socks my friend Bethany got for me when she was living in Kyrgyzstan... she bought them from an elderly babushka at an outdoor market, and they are verrry well made. They're also great skiddin-socks... by which I mean running a bit and then skidding across the lovely original-hard-wood-floors of my circa-1950s apartment. So I was skiddin around the apartment tonight, frightening the cats, and I suddenly thought, I bet the other woman with my name never did this... her and her stupid girly magazines and sorority membership. Bet she would have been afraid to mess up her designer socks.

That made me feel better... what's in a name, after all? I mean, I'm still me, still 100% original Moff, a professional in her early 30s skiddin around her apartment like the pre-Scientology Tom Cruise in "Risky Business".

That being said, I hope I never run into any of these women in the street... I might die or be sucked into some sort of cosmic vortex or something. (cough) Or maybe not.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stand By Me (in case you missed it)

Chills and chills and chills. Just wonderful...

Here's the explanation, which I lifted straight from Mr. Jones' blog:

"A note about the creator of this short music video:
Filmmaker Mark Johnson traveled around the globe getting street musicians and others to record part of the track for Stand By Me. Using battery powered equipment and a pocket full of Frequent Flyer miles he got tracks from dozens of performers. Each one was able to wear headphones and hear what the other performers had done."

And I'll add that this is only part of a larger organization that Mr. Johnson has co-founded (I think) called Playing for Change, which aims to promote world peace through music... very broadly speaking. There's a gorgeous article by Mark Johnson that gives a much better explanation of what he's done and why he's done it here.



HT: Tony Jones, via Mike Croghan

Monday, December 15, 2008

Today's service is brought to you by Kleenex...

Yesterday was one of those days that I'm really thankful I go to two churches. It was also one of those days where I go through multiple packs of tissues... both church services moved me and brought me to tears, particularly the service at Convergence, where I spent a good 1/3 of the service blubbering like a toddler who just had their toy taken away and given to another child.

The two churches handled the third Sunday of Advent very differently, as per usual. Brother Mike Croghan at Common Table put together The Most Complicated "Simple Service" ever, asking nine different sets of folks to read and interpret (a bit) nine different advent-y passages. He nicked the idea from Proost, but the result was pure CT. I won't go into all 9 readings, suffice to say that they represented the organic, unforced diversity of life experience and perspective that is CT... and that every presentation was moving in an entirely different way.

I will, however, make mention of the opening reading, an interpretation of the story of the Fall from Genesis 3, delivered by our own Not-The-Pastor, Mike Stavlund. He opened up with his typically beautiful poetic observations on the passage, but then moved into a Eucharist of the Fall that was composed by his wife, Stacy... complete with blood-red-dripping pomegranate, broken and consecrated. We each processed up and took a bit of the fruit, staining our own hands red in a reminder of a our complicity in Eve's sin --and our continuation of that sin by thinking ourselves as wise as God-- and the resulting sacrifice. As Mike started into the first words of the liturgy, my mouth dropped open and stayed that way. I can't do it justice in the space I have here... you can read the full text here.

Fast forward to Convergence's service, installment #3 in the Flesh series, which approaches Advent with a focus on the incarnation. This week focused on the frailty and brokenness of our flesh (the text of the main meditation from the service is here), so I knew it wasn't exactly going to be a chipper, upbeat service... but I was unprepared for how much it was going to affect me.

The service started with a soundscape titled "The Crucifixion" by Jay Smith, Convergence's Resident Musical Genius and one of the guitarists... eh actually I'd call him a sound artist... for Middle Distance Runner. Jay's genius is in creating multilayered atmospheres of sound using his guitar and a big box o' pedals and sound distorters and other various assorted magical music thingies. He's a symphony in and of himself, and it's no exaggeration to call what he does a "soundscape"... he creates another world when he does his thing.

Jay and I had been talking before the service about some of the deep and horrible shit he's been through, and combined with the topic of the service, this led me to reflect on pain. As he played, I closed my eyes and gradually became aware that I was imagining Jay as a dark shadow surrounded by sort of colored auras, and then I was just seeing waves of auroreal light. So I wrote this:

Space of Unrest
Pain is a window into the surreal
Breaking out of the flow of day to day normality
Pain moves you into an auroreal existence
Seeing the soul of things
not their details

Pain is clarifying even as it obscures
We drop down, we are lifted up
Carried by faith into hope's vision
Able to see
at last

3 weeks ago when the topic of this particular service was announced, I thought immediately of Anna Budd, one of the members of Convergence. Anna is... Anna is a lot of things. She is a wife, a mother, a cool, plucky, awesome, down-to-earth person. She bears a strong resemblance to my late grandfather, and being from Southern Virginia as I am, she just feels like home to me. Anna has also just finished a long, horrible, months-long series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She and her husband, George, have repeatedly inspired everyone at Convergence with their determination to stay upbeat and hopeful about Anna's ability to fight the cancer, and their solid faith in the power of prayer.

In this service, Anna was asked to share her reflections on the frailty of the body. She started to cry. George jumped in and gave their usual positive testimony about her ability to get through this and how powerful prayer was.

And then Anna said "they burned me"...
and described her last, excruciating radiation treatment, how they basically burned the whole left side of her body, leaving her skin traumatized, oozing, and sore.
and then Jay got up and sang another original song (the words are here), with Jesus telling John at The Last Supper how afraid he is of the suffering He has to endure.

and I lost it. I started to cry and I couldn't stop. I was so angry that Anna continued to suffer so much despite our prayers, despite her usual plucky testimony... I was overwhelmed at my own complacency, that I had never gotten REALLY angry so far... the phrase "they burned me" juxtaposed with the crucifixion image from Jay's song just slammed it home to me. During the prayer time, I blubbered and went through tissue after tissue as I prayed strongly, angrily, for God to PLEASE heal Anna... to end her suffering and bring this ordeal to an end. If you've managed to make it to this point in this loooong post, I'd appreciate it if you'd add a prayer to mine. Pray that Anna Budd is healed entirely from cancer. Pray that she returns to full health, and quickly.

So. There's the beauty of community, and then there's the heartbreak of it. We share each other's joys... I seriously feel like a cat basking in the sun everytime I witness the brilliant creativity of my church friends... but we also have to witness each other's frailty, and our own, and cry and internally scream at God to please please STOP THIS.

and I guess all of it makes me cry.

and that's good. It means I'm awake. It means I'm alive. It means I'm blessed to love and be loved by folks.

and it means I'll be keeping Kleenex in business.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My 15 seconds of relative fame...

So chances are if you're reading this blog, you're already aware of this, but thought I'd toot my little horn and post a link to the Vanishing Post referencing this blog on Tony Jones' website. Evidently the Famous and Powerful Mr. Jones found it via the blog of The Best Writer I Know Who Isn't Published (yet), who lately has been doubling both as my pastor and my P.R. guy. Bro emailed my poem to none other than The Great Phyllis Tickle, who said "What a beautiful writer she is, and how completely she captures what we all sense is happening..." Heh. Yeah. What SHE said.

It was quite a rush to be referenced by T.J.... and so very Moff's luck that the post vanished from his main page within hours of his posting it. lol

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Light

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/fablab/1191221165/
Eleven years ago today, I was received into the Roman Catholic Church at St. Mary of the Angels in Bayswater, London. December 13 is the Feast of St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind. Supposedly, this is due to the stories surrounding her martyrdom that tell of her having her eyes gouged out. Yikes. She's also, evidently, the patron saint of salesmen. I have no clue why that is. Maybe she tried to sell something to her torturers before they killed her. Maybe that's really why they killed her. Or maybe there's a close connection between the experience of trying to sell things for a living and having your eyes gouged out. I'd wager on the latter.

Since Lucy's latin name, Lucia, contains the root "lux" (the Latin word for light), she is also frequently associated with light. Given how short the days are at this time of year, this is a time when that association is particularly salient. The association of Lucy with light had particular significance to me when I found out I was being received into the R.C. Church on her feast day, which I hadn't known when I initially picked the date. I felt my choice of day was fortuitous, that I was emerging into the light of Mother Church... or something like that. As it so happens, when Father Mark anointed me with chrism, I looked up and saw light in the shape of a dove coming through the window behind him and a little to his right. I'm not making this up. So that, too, was a kind of sign of blessing.

Of course, a lot has changed in the ensuing 11 years. I was received into the Episcopal church at Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, VA, in November of 2001, so technically I left the Roman Catholic Church a little less than 4 years after I officially joined. Joining the Episcopal Church was the product of a lot of things, but I should be honest and say it wasn't totally pre-meditated. The Bishop was there that particular Sunday, and I'd been going to COA for about 3 months at that point. All I had to do was go forward and have him put his hand on my head and say a little prayer. I got a certificate in the mail a couple of weeks later. I was in. It was pretty damn easy, and it was a kind of ritual way of putting behind huge amounts of pain and confusion associated with my relationship with and broken engagement to Phil, the Catholic guy whom I'd more or less followed into the Church.

Becoming "un-Catholic" wasn't that easy, though, and while I have a lot to give thanks for in my time at COA and then my almost two years at Truro Church, I wasn't quite Episcopalian, either. I'd considered the Episcopal Church to be a logical jumping-off point from the R.C. Church, basically a little life raft I hopped into to escape the sinking ship of my conception of Catholicism. Life rafts aren't meant to take you very far, though, and as it turned out I felt much more at home at Northern Virginia Mennonite after Truro came out swinging in response to Gene Robinson being ordained Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. I loved and still do love what I know of Mennonite theology. I don't agree with all of it, but it'd be safe to say I'm closer to being a Mennonite than I am to anything else I've been.

However, attending a Mennonite church for two years still didn't totally erase my Catholic identity, either. Even while I attended NVMC, I started going to Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Agnes in Arlington on my way home from work and on weekends. I wanted to pray there... could pray there better than pretty much anywhere else. When I started dating a Catholic guy, I started going to Mass with him, illicitly taking Communion. :^) I particularly enjoyed Mass at St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington, which was festive and energetic and felt, again, like home. When I stopped dating the Catholic fellow, it was only a couple of months until I found Convergence, a Baptist church for artists. I was hooked from the first service, because it felt like --what else?-- home.

So I felt at home in the Mennonite church AND I felt at home at St. Charles Borromeo AND I felt at home in the Blessed Sacrament chapel at St. Agnes AND I felt at home at the Baptist church for artists... and the way I explained that to myself is that I was following the Holy Spirit around. If He was there, it felt like home. If He wasn't, or if He was struggling to get airtime due to the life-choking rule books or obsessive busy-ness of church members, it wouldn't feel like home. I knew that was arrogant --as though I alone could perceive the Holy Spirit--but I didn't know how else to explain it. These churches weren't like the church I grew up in, so it wasn't that which made them comfortable and familiar to me... what else could it be?

I think reading about and becoming more involved with the emergent church is bringing this issue more into focus for me... and I think that maybe it isn't too far off to believe that I was coming into a light of sorts when I was received into the Roman Catholic church. The experience of praying Night Prayer with Karen Sloan in Memphis last week seems to have pushed into full bloom something that had been in pregnant bud for a while... a re-examination of my conversion to Catholicism.... notsomuch for the purpose of running back into the arms of Mother Church as much as for mining the experience of departing from the theology I'd been raised with in favor of embracing the mysterious Other... walking into a religious identity I could not, did not, fully understand for the sake of freedom to worship Christ, and to worship God as Mystery, not as the object of a Theology of Deadly Precision. I'm living in a sense of the past being yanked into the present, the sudden salience of things that happened 10 and 11 years ago, and I'm choosing to believe that this is for the purpose of understanding why all this has happened, and not that I'm rehashing the distant past because I'm bored with the present. We shall see.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Great Emergence

The tears finally came when I put away my dishes
Two days after Memphis
Standing in the kitchen, sobbing with a dish towel
Feeling Ave Marias and Sola Scriptura and peace doves and incense
and all of the ways I've entered into worship
accepted
redeemed
redeemed

I have come home.

Feeling myself, once one boat on a vast ocean
suddenly surrounded by an armada
suddenly aware that I was never really alone

Standing in the kitchen, one woman in one city
suddenly a member of a family of nomads
of wanderers whose only passion is Jesus
and Him crucified

who will break down all barriers to see Him glorified
who will threaten their own security
so that He alone will be honored

who will not stop until we emerge into His light

I feel all the painful past endings in this new beginning
I feel the wounds exposed to light
I feel the awful ache of hope, of belonging
of love for people I barely know
but who I recognize as long lost relations

I have thought I was home before.
I have been wrong.
I am afraid.

But I prayed Night Prayer with a female Presbyterian minister
I talked about ptsd with an ex-nun Lutheran minister
I talked Reformed theology with a pastor to artists
and I, a woman in a tube top and clingy jeans,
led a congregation in the Our Father while everyone held hands

Do I
dare
to hope
in His people
again?