- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.
Friday, February 26, 2010
I've written quite a lot of poetry about "mothering life" and its blessings. But these past few weeks I have been experiencing a painful side of it all. A young friend and neighbor -- whom I've known his whole life through our babysitting co-op years ago -- died a few days ago. He was 20. He was also a gifted poet, and I had the privilege of working with him and his family on pulling together a chapbook of his poems, which is now the March Book of the Month at Finishing Line Press . But today I am writing my own poem of grieving, shared with a whole community of stricken friends and neighbors, who loved this young man and his family. Here it is.
The time was very brief when we could keep
Them safe, secure and happy, meet their needs.
We shared the work, the joy of raising them.
Now they are gone, or going, into a world
We can’t protect them from, where hard things happen
And this is part of life, we say. But No: Not This.
The little boy whom we remember, blonde, playful and earnest
Grows into strong young manhood, is a friend
And poet. Stricken with a tumor on a Christmas Eve, he lives
A whole life in his twentieth year, writes poetry
That speaks out of a wisdom beyond years
And dies, leaving us all
Speechless with grief, hearts aching for the tears
Of our friends, his parents, their empty arms.
February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
(Also on episcopal cafe)
Except for a brief grocery run between storms, I was “snowbound” for nearly a week, from February 9-13, with the two huge storms falling on the DC area. It took 2 days for our suburban cul-de-sac to be plowed at all – and then the second blizzard came. Unlike many in the area we have had our power on the whole time, so we were not materially deprived, apart from cabin fever. It was just a long stretch of time at being at home, mostly it’s been an experience of just being “stopped.”
At first we celebrated this time as an “enforced Sabbath,” something that is welcome in the workaholic culture of the DC area, when the weather conditions and the slowness of the cleanup process simply force us to let go of whatever important things we were doing. And for a day or so, yes, it was a welcome “sabbath time.” But after that a more insidious inertia set in.
Indeed, I have been wondering whether an “enforced Sabbath” is kind of a contradiction in terms. Sabbath is supposed to be a regular spiritual practice, a part of our routine – a way that we simply let go of busy-ness to acknowledge that God is Lord of all of our time and work, and that our work is not our own, but God’s. It strikes me that perhaps a more regular practice of genuine Sabbath would have been a good preparation for the spiritual challenge this snowstorm posed for me. For what I felt most of the time was a deep restlessness, a sense of being unhooked from any reliable routine or pattern, and so an inability to settle to much of anything – even settling down to read a good book, as I’d longed to do, and had time to do, or to write, or pray, or do anything much more than responding to what came: answering email, gmail chatting, facebook, grading the occasional paper.
By the end of the week I was snowbound both outwardly and internally. Unmotivated. Stuck. It is a place in life I recognize, and perhaps it has left me with a useful image, a new spiritual metaphor to remember when I do not have control over the way forward, and the place I’m in seems crowded, enclosed, confused, with too many competing demands. Outwardly, I kept busy, apparently “doing things.” Since I work at home, the work was all there, looking at me, and I picked my way through it, in an unmotivated way. But any substantive or creative writing was just blocked. With the rhythm of days flattened out, I lost the internal rhythm of prayer, study, work and rest that would normally steady and settle me. The computer was too alluring – a way of staying connected with people, emails and facebook posts that make me feel needed, important, not buried at the end of a suburban cul de sac. My spouse was at home, also working, we broke for meals together, and I did find that losing myself in the creative art of cooking does help to redeem a snowy day -- but even that grew old after 5 days.
Inwardly, my response to this snowstorm and the break in our routine was beginning to feel more like the kind of “stopping” of life that comes with illness, or grieving, or other unexpected interruptions. Times when we are “brought up short” – as theologian Richard Osmer puts it – where we come up against a break in our regular expectations of life and are not sure what to make of it. Sometimes such times turn out to be places of grace- but they sure don't feel that way when we're in them!
Then there was the shoveling out: my way to freedom, once the roads were clear, thwarted by my own bad choices: I had parked the car in the driveway after the first storm, to save the effort of shoveling our whole driveway, which slopes uphill from the garage. But the second snowstorm buried the car under a snowdrift – so the work of digging it out doubled. In the end I needed to dig the whole driveway, roll the car back into the garage, and begin again. No work saved, hard to see how long it would take me – and no help in sight. The neighbor who had helped me after the first storm was tapped out; my spouse was laid up with bronchitis. My car would be free only when I could get it out.
The task itself was clear enough, but discouraging. I would dig away at the snow but there was nowhere to go with it – the piles blew back at me, and though I’m in decent shape it grew tiring, heaving each shovelful to the top of the growing snowpiles along the driveway. Gradually I’d begin to see patches of pavement, mingled with ice -- but I’d think: “this will take hours – maybe won’t be done by dark today. I don’t know how long my strength will last.” All I could do was to keep filling the shovels full, piling snow high on the already deeply covered lawn behind me. An unrewarding task for long stretches, but obviously the only way out.
Gradually, shovelful by shovelful, I began to break through to a way out.. It was fine as long as I could focus on the single task: lifting the next shovelful, moving the snow, pausing to admire the brilliant sky and the sparkling icicles around me. When I started to obsess about how long it would be before I was dug out, and whether it would be today or tomorrow, discouragement quickly overwhelmed.. There was no way of knowing how soon my efforts would pay off. I simply had to keep on. Knowing it would be done eventually. Not knowing when, or how long I could last, this shift, before taking a break.
But I can't say I did it all myself Help came, finally, when I was about ready to admit defeat for the day – from someone with fresh arms and a fresh approach. He moved the last few shovelfuls and backed the car out for me, up and over the icy hill, and finally, I was free.
I’m appreciating some spiritual insights from this experience of being snowbound. It may be reaching a bit, but the metaphor works for me, I shall try to remember all of this next time I am aware of being spiritually “snowbound” – in that place of interior “stuckness” that is all too familiar for me.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
I am a Sunday church-goer. Statistics tell us that may mean I’m part of a waning group – I keep hoping that’s not so. But for me it’s simply true: my life is grounded in the rhythm that includes showing up with other Christians, on a Sunday morning, to worship God, to hear the Word, to be together in the mystery, as it is for us that week. Since I’m also a “professional Christian” for part of my life – often teaching & traveling on Sunday mornings, I don’t always get to worship at my preferred place, the 10:30 service at Our Saviour, Silver Spring. But I usually get to church somewhere, sometime on Sunday, when I can. Sunday worship is part of the deep shape of my life. If I miss it or it is disrupted for long I begin to feel un-whole.
Sunday worship didn’t happen for me last week because I was traveling (I offered my morning prayers along the beach of Monterey Bay and felt connected with God, but the communal piece was still missing—and couldn’t be scheduled). This week it won’t happen, either, because we are buried under 2 feet of snow, and it’s unlikely our cul-de sac will be plowed out for the next 24 hours.
But one great gift of Anglican/Episcopalian tradition is the book of “common prayer,” and so this morning I have spent some time slowly and deliberately reading the service of Morning Prayer, using the lessons appointed for Sunday Eucharist by the Revised Common Lectionary, remembering that even though I am alone, here in this sunlit-snowlit place that is my study, there are members of the church at prayer at this time, today, somewhere – many of them reading and listening to these same words. This is a comfort to me, and a connection. It is said that 'When one member of the church is at prayer, the whole church is at prayer." I hope this is true.
This weekend would have been a retreat weekend for the vestry of our church – and I’m the Rector’s Warden – the senior lay leader for the church – so our worship, with these lessons, would have been a Eucharist with this small group, discerning together what our common call to leadership in the church might mean for the coming year. I am impressed by how appropriate the lessons appointed for today, the 7th Sunday in Epipihany, are for those of us called to leadership – and so I’m dwelling with them, and putting up a few thoughts that have been particularly vivid in this quiet worship time, and that I want to remember after the snow clears and I’m back into the busy-ness & complexity of life & leadership.
The first lesson is that wild passage from Isaiah 6: 1-8. The story of how the prophet Isaiah, praying alone in the temple, has an overwhelming vision of the holy – so overwhelming it makes him completely aware of his own unworthiness, as a mere mortal, to have anything to do with God. (“Woe is me,” he says, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”) But the point of the story is that God calls him and makes him worthy: it’s a strong, shocking image: the angel puts a burning coal to the prophet’s mouth, in his vision, and says, essentially: “God has made your lips pure. No excuses now.” The next word from God is the naming of a need –“Who will go for us?” And the prophet, made whole and inspired, says “here am I , send me.” Not really knowing what he’s getting into – but face to face with the power, beauty, and ultimate trustworthiness of a God who seems to want to be in touch with humanity, and to use this particular human being for some purpose. “Here am I, send me!” seems the only answer.
Not all of us identify with that story just because it is SO dramatic and supertnatural: for Isaiah it is the source of his conviction, what makes it possible for him to proclaim an unpopular message that will not be heard in his generation. He agrees to play his part in an unfolding story whose redemptive ending he will not live to see. Kind of grim. But there is joy and conviction in his willingness to say “Here am I, send me.” That’s what stays with me. What might that spirit of joyful obedience look like, for me? Something to ponder.
Then there’s the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul bears witness to the Resurrection as the core event that defines all of our faith as Christians – how Christ Jesus appeared to the disciples, to James, to the apostles, and last of all to him. That witness, placed next to the Isaiah story, sounds to me like profoundly good news: Though the Isaiah story seems to me just, well, crazy, I can think of moments in my life when I have felt sure of the presence of the Risen Lord, as an invisible but active, joyful, personal love, calling me to embrace and affirm life even in the face of great suffering and loss. Many Christians can point to these experiences in their own lives. Or they have been brought to a place of hope by hearing others’ stories of Resurrection faith. Or by the conviction and joy at the heart of an Easter celebration. Our connection to the Risen Lord as we’ve experienced it (sometimes we don’t call it that) may be the equivalent, in our lives, to Isaiah’s vision. It is what makes us able to say, in some way – as any of us who are involved in leadership have said – “Here am I. send me.” I wonder if we should be sharing, more intentionally, these stories of Resurrection faith?
And then we come to Luke 5:1-1l. My favorite among the stories of the call of the fishermen that we run into in all of the gospels. Jesus singles out Peter, and asks to use his boat as a place to teach from. So Peter sits beside him in the boat, presumably listening to what he is preaching – the good news of God’s love for all, and especially for the poor and the marginalized (a big theme in Luke/Acts, especially). After this Jesus tells him, “Put out into deeper water and let down your nets.” And Peter’s response is like the one I’ve given a lot lately, in moments of distress over the struggles of the church, especially – “Lord, we’ve tried that already, a million times. It’s not going to work.” Jesus is persistent, and Peter replies, faithfully, “If you say so,” -- and he puts down the nets and finds an abundance previously unimagined. What is the equivalent, for us in leadership today, of that invitation to “put out into deeper water and cast down your nets.?” Where are we resisting invitations to find abundance?
These are my meditations coming out of my “Sunday time” – not the same as it would have been, in church with others, singing and listening – but a time of worship and listening nonetheless.
After the lessons, the service of Morning Prayer takes us into the prayers – and includes a “collect for Sundays” – which I almost never use because I’m usually at a Eucharist on Sunday morning, rather than at morning prayer (two distinct services in the prayer book). But this does express well the simple blessing of Sunday church, as a practice that shapes my week -- what I’m missing today, and what I’ve partly reclaimed, in this time of solitary “common prayer” this morning:
O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to be come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.