Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dress up

A couple of weeks ago our parish of St. Paul's Selma hosted our 9th Annual Lobster Fest - quite an affair!! To enter into the spirit of the occasion, David and I "dressed up" - tux for him, black dress and pearls for me! Such fun. There was no "dress code" - (of course) - but we did want to "dress up" and honor the occasion of St. Paul's welcoming the larger community of Selma into our parish hall for a "banquet"! That evening several hundred people visited St. Paul's - warmly welcomed by so many of our parishioners donning so many "hats" - hosts, hostesses, refreshment "hosts," decor crew, kitchen crew, clean-up crew, photographers, musicians, the list goes on and on.... Our dinner was served in the parish Parker Hall with the stunning Clara Weaver Parrish stained glass window of the Wedding at Cana "presiding over" the events of the evening. Perfect "window dressing"!!

As exciting as it was to "dress up," I am so thankful that our Lord doesn't have a "dress code" for attendance at the Heavenly Banquet! All are welcome...all are included...no matter what our exterior attire. But, come to think of it, there actually IS a "dress code" for entry into the feast that God offers to us every time we gather for the Holy Eucharist. That attire costs nothing...but costs everything. It is best expressed in the Collect for Purity that most Episcopal parishes pray at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP p. 355

Thanks be to God that we are all invited to the Feast....may we also be willing to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and so be transformed that we can not only enjoy the feast ourselves, but also seek out those who are hungering for the holy food and be gracious hosts as well.....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moving Morning Prayer

One day this past week, as I was driving into town to St. Paul's, my thoughts were preoccupied with to-do lists, deadlines, pastoral concerns, administrative details,  et cetera. A familiar feeling.
      My "commute" is actually a relatively short and lovely one..compared to those of commuters in larger cities driving on frantic interstate highways or facing bumper-to-bumper traffic.  The drive from our home to the church is about 8.5 miles...much of it through beautiful rolling green fenced farmland (guarded most mornings by a predictable and regal lone hawk sitting sentinel on his telephone wire "throne" - stunning!).
     Most days, it is a joy to make that fifteen or so minute journey through rural Alabama....a "grounding and centering" drive to prepare me for the day's tasks that await. But this particular morning, my mind was overwhelmed with what felt like a tsunami of responsibilities on all levels....all of them wonderful, all of them exciting...but, coming all at once, pretty overwhelming.
    At some point on the drive in, I happend to slide a compact disc of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli's Sacred Arias into the car CD player........ Instantly, the space in my 2005 Honda was transformed. As I continue to drive, I allowed the exquisite music and Bocelli's impeccable voice to wash over me, to "ground and center me" musically, to pull me back into the truth of the loving God in whom we live and move and have our being. As I drew closer and closer to town and to church, I felt those impending deadlines and lengthy to-do lists transformed back into the ministry from which they had emerged in the first place. A deep sense of patient peace descended upon me. As I pulled into my church parking space, I felt prepared to embrace once again the joys of ministry and mission in the name of Christ.
       A long-time spiritual practice of mine is to pray the Daily Office of Morning Prayer first thing at church (or at home on days "off") as a prelude to the day. That I continue to do. But...that morning last week in the car,  I was graced with a "moving Morning Prayer" with the great Andrea Bocelli as my "companion on the Way." It was beautiful. And as accessible as a little CD. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Missing Mozart - Lost and Found


The other day I was listening to NPR and heard a part of a Mozart sonata that I had played years ago when I was in high school. That Mozart sonata was SO much a part of me...I had memorized most of it, practiced it hours on end on my piano at home, and had a well-marked copy of Mozart sonatas that had been my "textbook"...and continued to be one of my most treasured possessions. That morning last week when I heard "my" sonata on the radio, I immediately went to our music collection in the living room to pull out my collection of Mozart sonatas.
      I looked for it. And I looked. And I LOOKED. Everywhere.  The book seemed to have completely vanished. I couldn't believe it. I knew I had played from it many times in the last few months. I treasured that old collection of Mozart sonatas with my piano teacher's pencil marks, its frayed edges, and the absent cover. As I absorbed the possibility of my music book's disappearance, I was....surprisingly even to me!!...devastated. I cried. It felt as though part of my heart had been cut out. I was reminded yet again of HOW important music is to me..and how I ache to resume a regular practice regimen...including, yes, "my" Mozart sonata.... That book of sonatas was a tangible sign of that. A sacrament, in a way.
      All I could do during that day was to pray that I would find my beloved music book of sonatas. But beyond that, be willing to put it back into the loving hands of the great Creator and Master Musician....and put myself there as well.....and find some inner peace in so doing....

      And then...hours later...prayers answered.... my Mozart Sonatas book finally surfaced...in a stack of unrelated music books that had been inadvertently moved out into our Guest House off the carport in a gusto of "let's straighten up the house"!!  :-)
      The joy I felt was so deep, so real, and so amazing. And, yes, I have re-committed to a regular piano practice time...pulling out not only "my" Mozart...but other pieces that had been so a part of my life and my heart for so many years. Hopefully my mind and fingers will be up to the task. I know my heart is.

As I reflect back upon this experience of the last few days, I cannot help but wonder how God must feel when one of his precious ones is "lost" ... and then is "found." The joy that God must feel when we return to God and are then able to be instruments once more of God's amazing grace:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see....

Thanks be to God for Mozart, for "finding" and being "found," and for God's "Amazing Grace"!! 

    

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Exuberance and the Kingdom of God


The lantana growing by our carport is simply unbelievable. David and I have had lantana before but nowhere has it thrived to the extent that ours is doing here at our home in the central Alabama countryside!! The "wall" of the carport is no barrier at all! That lantana seems determined to grow anywhere it can peek through to sunlight....even practically engulfing a lowly little cedar tree!! The one word that comes to my mind when I step out of the car and am greeted by lantana blooms and branches is....EXUBERANCE!!

This coming Sunday, our church will be kicking-off the fall Sunday School classes and weekday programs for children and youth. Like the lantana in our yard, young people radiate exuberance and a contagious joy and beauty in simply being alive. What a blessing it is to be a part of the church's ministry with and to its younger members. As we adults share life in Christ with our parish children, may our own lives become even more exuberant, more joy-full, and beauty-full!!

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. 
Luke 18:17

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Coloring Books

This morning during our Little Friends Preschool Chapel in our church's nave, the children and I were remembering the timeless Bible story of Noah and the ark. For some of the children, "Noah" was a new and somewhat strange name. We practiced it over and over again.  "Ark," too, definitely a strange and new concept for most of them. But the one word - the one image - that every one of these 3 and 4 year olds recognized was (you guessed it) "rainbow."  Eagerly, one-by-one, the preschoolers wanted to tell me ALL about all the colors of a rainbow. I had noticed that each child today was wearing something "blue"....one of the teachers whispered to me, "It's Blue Day." Ah-ha, thought I. I wondered what "color" I was "wearing" today. What it a "blue" day for me as well....or perhaps more "yellow"...or on the other hand, "grey"? More likely, a mixture of hues. A mixture that will probably look "different" tomorrow....

Lately I have been thinking a lot about colors...and "coloring books." I am re-discovering a very meaningful way of prayer...utilizing colors in a prayer journal.... an important way for me to express myself to God in a "coloring book" and to carry those prayers with me in my mind's eye throughout the day. A huge thank you to author Sybil MacBeth whose books Praying in Color and Praying in Color for Kids got me re-started along this particular path during this season in my life....

So, Little Friends, I join you in joyfully celebrating colors of all sorts, marveling at the many ways God speaks to us and through us in "all the colors of the rainbow"!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Green Cathedral

One of the first things that attracted David and me to our soon-to-be new home in the central Alabama countryside last year was its lo-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g curving gravel-and-grass driveway. Once you pull into the drive through the gate, your eye immediately travels down a green "cloister walk" of sorts..... the ~0.4 mile road to the house in a clearing is canopied by over-arching huge oak branches much of the way. Most days I try to walk the drive down to the highway and back a few times...both for good exercise and to "ground" myself in this "green cloister walk" that leads to our home. So far I have yet to meet up with any seriously dangerous "critters" [though we did find a 4' rattlesnake in our backyard a few weeks ago - yikes!].  Instead, my walks are serenaded by choirs of birds;  often accompanied by the scurrying of grey squirrels, fox squirrels, and furry rabbits; beautified even further by the flutterings of dragonflies and butterflies. And protected on all sides by those towering oaks, some stands of planted pines, and a couple of quiet pastures. And...today...after the heavy and welcome rains of the weekend, Green is everywhere!

During my three year seminary education in New York City a few years ago, I had the great good fortune to spend a summer working as a seminarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. The stunning beauty of this massive cathedral literally takes one's breath away.  I will never forget that summer's experience. It was almost as if I had been given a peek into the Kingdom of Heaven. I feel deeply blessed to have been given the summer weeks to walk the cloister walks of the Cathedral, spend holy prayer time in the magnificent nave, explore the various side chapels off the apse, and soak in the holiness of that enormous space.

But today, as I was walking once more down our gentle l-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g driveway, canopied by the green boughs of great towering old oaks and punctuated by all sorts of Nature's surprises, I was reminded yet again of the "sacrament of the present moment" (to quote Jean-
Pierre de Caussade), the holiness of all God's creation, and the great gift of just being alive.

"Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.... " 
Eucharistic Prayer C, p. 372, Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Water

Until a couple of days ago,  our property, like that of countless others, reflected the dry, dry conditions of the last couple of months. The ground was so parched it was actually cracking. The grass was turning brown. Some of our trees....a couple of lovely little gingkos, a couple of small Bradford pears, a couple of struggling azaleas...beyond hope.  Thirsty, thirsty.  That said, here in Alabama our situation pales in comparison to the even worse drought-stricken areas of the country. Our sisters and brothers in Texas reel in the real fear of fire and devastation in their tinderbox conditions.

And, now arrives our weekend guest, T.S./T.D. Lee. Lee's heavy intermittent rains are already making a visible difference in the green-ness of our property. The ground is drinking up the water. The foliage looks...well...happier. Even the weeds now seem healthier. A mixed blessing. Granted, others on Lee's itinerary have had to cope with damaging winds and floods. And, on the morrow, we too may find a tree down across our driveway or on the road into town. So far still with power...but may lose it before morning. But for now, the rain against the windows and wind blowing across the chimney is comforting...and life-giving.

I am reminded of an experience years ago when I was on-call as pediatrician in an Emergency Room in Lower Alabama. A little two year old girl, severely dehydrated, lay motionless on the gurney in the pediatrics treatment room. I hurried in to offer what I could to the child medically. She was limp, pale, and sunken-eyed. Huddled around her were several of the hospital's most experienced nurses, trying with great difficulty to start an IV in the child's also-sunken veins.  (Dehydration, paradoxically and unfortunately, also makes starting an intravenous line extremely challenging...). As I drew closer, I thought I heard the child making a noise. Carefully I listened. At first I was puzzled. What was she moaning? Wah. Wah. Gradually it dawned upon me. In her toddler language, the little one was letting us all know exactly what she needed. Water. Water.  Life-giving water. Blessedly, saline fluid ("water") soon began flowing into her little collapsed veins. Two days later, she was home. TBTG.

And yet....water can be dangerous and life-threatening, as tonight's news reminds us.  Flooding and fears accompany storms such as Lee. Hearts are being broken, homes destroyed by the same water that has greened up our yard and restored life to dying plants.  Water that Texans are praying for can also be water of someone's worst nightmare.

So....how to reconcile all this? Like a good Anglican, I won't try, seeking instead to live with the tension. And yet, I will never forget the plaintive cry of that nearly-dying child....wah, wah.  She knew exactly what she needed to live. And I know that for me as Christian, my thirst, my emptiness, is only full-filled by the Living Water of Christ. Water in which I was "drowned" by baptism and then raised to new life as God's child.  The waters of baptism are not "tame" .... just like the water brought by Lee to our yard tonight is not "tame." But, by God's grace, those waters bring new life and new hope. May we too, like that toddler in the ER, seek always the water, water through which all of us are born anew.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pictures

Slowly but surely, David and I are getting settled in our home. After a year, it's about time! But each week, each month, sees more pictures on the walls, fewer boxes sitting around the house, and more familiarity with what it takes to "look after" the property on which we now live. Somehow hanging pictures is symbolic of claiming our home as ours. Pictures that remind us of our "story" as a couple...and the stories of our families. Pictures that have been given to us through the years, bought by us through the years, or, in a couple of cases, even painted by us through the years. Hopefully there will be even more of the latter in the years to come.  Just this afternoon, we hung up a few more pictures...finally agreeing on exactly where each should go! David is the master picture hanger. I am the "measurer." Usually we agree. Usually.

Pictures. My mind wanders to the "pictures" surrounding us in the nave of our church. Stained glass windows ("pictures") that tell the story of our faith. The stories of our forebears in faith...windows that are often gifts in memory of departed members of our parish family over more than a century. Stories in stained glass or in engraved bronze that serve, among many other things, to help us claim God's house as our "holy habitation." Our Home.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Missing our "boys"

I created this blog over a year ago when we moved from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the Black Belt of Alabama. My previous blog (such as it was...) was called "palmettopriest." But, for obvious reasons, the move to Central Alabama took me far from palmettos! Thus...the new name and new blog.

The months since have been extraordinarily full. My time has been devoted to church and family responsibilities. We are loving Selma and the Black Belt and St. Paul's Episcopal Church. We are re-learning the rhythm of small town living...and in our case, country living, having settled out from town on 17 lovely acres. Pictures forthcoming.

It seemed time...finally....to establish a regular blogging practice. For fun and for those who care to stay in touch. As I logged onto Blogger though, I was immediately and poignantly reminded of a member of our family who is no longer with us....dear Dominic, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who crossed over the "Rainbow Bridge" at 16yo last June. I had forgotten I had posted his picture with me when I created my new blog page. It is too soon to remove the picture...so I've decided to keep it up for now. For sure, Dominic's spirit lives on with us...and I can still feel him in my arms. Even more importantly, I know Domie rests in his Creator's arms. And so does Cavalier Crockett, Dominic's "brother," who preceded Domie by eight years over the Bridge.....R.I.P., "boys".....

All that said, I hope now to be regular at posting on the blog...but I also knew I had to address the "absent little ones" in the picture and in our life first. So, now....on to Alabama Grace Notes - a now-and-then chronicle of my life and God's grace in Historic Selma and Alabama's beautiful Black Belt!!