About Me

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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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last day of the Pentecost Season: My Adventures with Scripture

Also on Episcopal Cafe

Today is the last day of the "green season" -- the season after Pentecost in the Church year.  And in 2013 it has been as long as the season after Pentecost can be with Easter so early.  Knowing it would be a long season, I  embarked in May on the Center for Biblical Studies’ “Bible in a Year” program; (more about this here) You read 3 chapters from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and one chapter of the New Testament every day. At this point I have finished through Ezra and Nehemiah and just moving into Esther and the Wisdom books, and I am just starting 2 Corinthians. I am going to take a break now for Advent s and move to the daily readings through the church year, picking up where I left off sometime later on in
2014. I find myself inclined to do this because of what I have learned, especIally now that I have read through most of the main story of Israel's relationship with God from Creation.
What I’ve learned, more deeply though I thought I knew it, is how compelling the story of Israel’s relationship with God is, and how human and distressing and appalling in places. We are seeing God often through the lens of tribal patriarchal cultures and sometimes there is violence and even genocide done in the name of God and it seems to be approved. And there is this thread which can be dangerous if taken too far - but it’s there in Scripture: The “deuteronomist” story line that explains the exile into Babylon by showing how Israel keeps turning away from the Covenant with God -- how God keeps calling God’s people back, and they keep messing up and they try again. “Again and again you called us to return” we say in our Eucharistic prayer -- and that IS the rhythm of the big story of Scripture, even when there are terrible moments. It is the rhythm of God’s relationship with humanity, and this is a God that for some mysterious reason WANTS to be in relationship with God’s people -- “you will be my people and I will be your God” -- the temple is cast down and rebuilt with rejoicing, the people know who they are and they keep forgetting. I’ve read in theologians as diverse as Verna Dozier and Hans Urs von Balthasar about this dramatic shape of the story but it has really been fascinating to “dwell” in it through this practice and I want to continue. I of course read it all primarily through the lens of my training as a literary scholar and reader of stories -- following the threads of the big story more than the often objectionable cultural pieces of it (most annoyingly for me the dominant voice of tribal patriarchy) in the way the stories are told. But the story of exile and return, falling away and being called back, burns through it all and I am now hearing the Scriptures read at worship with fresh ears, knowing that much more about the context and the tradtition. So I find I am reading each part of the story of Scripture in light of the “whole story” in which I have been immersed.
Meanwhile, my young adults Bible study group this fall has been reading the “Song of Songs,” whose refrain is “My beloved is mine, and I am his” - or “I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me.”. A rabbi we had visiting as our guest the other night confirmed what I’ve been reading in commentaries, the Rabbinic understanding of this book as a Holy Book, the “Song of Songs” as in the “book of books”. For the Rabbis it is an allegory about the faithfulness of God and the hope of a truly intimate and mutual relationship between God and God’s people that is established at Sinai. Steeped in her own tradition, the rabbi radiated a joy in being people who have been given the Law as a way of living faithfully with God. It was beautiful to see. I had known about the Christian mystical readings of the Song of Songs as an allegory of Christ and the church, or of the mystical marriage between the. Soul and God, but I am really finding powerful the rabbinic understanding of the story of Israel being about the possibility of real, loving relationship between a human community and their God. And the poetry is powerful.
I am open to this insight partly because a favorite artst and poet of mine, David Jones, has also written that ‘in the end there is only one tale to tell: ego amor mihi et ego illi (my Beloved is mine and I am his)./". I see more than ever how this is the story of Scripture as a whole, including the New Testament narrative of "the gospel of Jesus Christ" , which we’ll soon enter again from the beginning in the church year to come. I’m looking forward to pondering all these stories again, in light of the “whole story.”
So in short, I have been (in the words of the collect) “Reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting” the story of Scripture. I commend this practice to all: It has been a rich, often challenging, but ultimately deep and and fruitful practice for me, and I look forward to pursuing it in fresh ways as we begin this new cycle of the Christian story, in this new church year.
(BTW the picture I've used here is a painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner of Christ and his mother studying Scripture - I love the intimacy in this picture of learning.   And also the sense of solidity in the form of it.  See more at

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Atheist Churches and Disciple-Making Congregations

Also on Episcopal cafe

I have been reading with interest about the new movement among atheists to found churches. (an example here) The movement sounds a lot like what we hear in our conversations about congregational development and vitality: Atheist groups are adopting the word “congregation” to meet a widespread craving for what one Atheist pastor calls “a really close knit, strong community that can make strong change happen in the world. And he adds, “It doesn’t require and it doesn't even imply a specific set of beliefs about anything.”
His use of the word “require” reminded me of a character in one of Mary Gordon’s novels who quips that “Episcopalians are not required to believe in anything but the beauty of the burial service.” It’s a joke, but there’s some truth to it: We too have shied away from insisting publicly on “required” beliefs, in the desire to invite seekers, but we do still say the creed, commit to the baptismal covenant, retell the story of salvation at every Eucharist. To get people in the door we are more likely to promise things like close knit community, hospitality, a commitment to outreach. I was groping around for what seemed to be to be missing here: what is the difference between an atheist church and an Episcopalian Christian church, if it’s not just about “required beliefs.” What is the point of church anyway? The emergence of atheist “congregations” requires us to look anew at that question, in our own congregations.
I would say that though the difference is obviously in part about belief --God v. “not God” -- it goes deeper than that. What attracts people to an atheist church is a spiritual “practice” of gathering and sharing values. “Practice” has of course been a buzzword of late in congregational development circles and I will return to this in a moment -- but I would suggest that the purpose of Christian congregations is not just spiritual practice for our own sake, but practice in the service “disciple-making”, and all that goes into it. What if we thought about our congregations, our nurturing, our welcome, our outreach, in terms of sustaining discipleship, giving people what they need in order (to use Brian McLaren’s words in A Generous Orthodoxy) “to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.”
A disciple is someone who follows a master, who adopts practices modeled by the leader (“make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”, Jesus says at the end of Luke’s gospel). And this is done in the service of a larger vision -- as our catechism puts it the desire “to reconcile the world to God in Christ.” What might it look like to use this as the basis for mission building and ministry review in our churches -- to ask “How are we doing at making and sustaining disciples of Jesus, for the healing of a broken world?” I’d suggest three ways we might think about this, in our worship, our community life and our formation, and the headings are “Story,” “Practice,” and “Participation”
“Story” -- We have a story to tell, and it is good news. How can churches help people to own this for themselves and for their lives? A practice that has been neglected in our denomination, is helping people to learn and own the story of Scripture. We tell this story at the Eucharist each Sunday and we hear a lot of Scripture read in church, but the energy for discipleship comes when we can see ourselves in the story of God’s work in human history, understanding context, history, and ways of reading Scripture. Becoming more scripturally literate, as individuals and as congregations, can help us see how God’s story is unfolding in our own time. The process of grappling with Scripture, using our imaginations and our reason to make sense of it for our time, can be both creative and energizing, and it connects us to others who have found Christian faith to be life-giving and exciting. I was excited to see the diocese of Washington adopting an online curriculum that encourages people to study Scripture as “the Story” . This is foundational to who we are.

“Practice” -- It is now well documented that vital congregations can point to particular practices -- ways that people live out their faith through prayer, service, discernment, in that particular community. These practices are not just about self improvement - they connect implicitly to a vision for discipleship -- what do we do to keep ourselves alert to opportunities to live out our Christian discipleship in our lives? What opportunities do churches provide for us to practice our faith, through prayer, discernment, study, service, hospitality? These practices are not ends in themselves, to make us feel better or even personally “closer to God.” They are about forming us as disciples of Jesus - whatever that may mean in our time. My favorite “practice” is the practice of the discernment -- finding ways to attend to what God might be doing and how we might participate in this.

“Participation” -- The more we read the story, the clearer it becomes that we are called, not to change the world all on our own, but to participate in something that God is doing. One of my favorite prayers in the prayer book ends “let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which have grown old are being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection in Jesus Christ. . . . (BCP 280) What if each congregation asked “how are we participating in the New Thing that God is always trying to do in us and in our lives? Where do we see this happening here, in the places where we find ourselves, and in our corporate lives?
Of course I am using language about “God” and “Jesus” and Scripture in laying out this vision of discipleship as the mission of congregations, but without being very clear about “required” beliefs. . I think we work out what we believe about God and Jesus and discipleship in practice, and that is why we begin with worship and corporate prayer. That is the experience that churches offer that differs from a community center or a neighborhood group. “Praying shapes believing,” we tend to say as Episcopalians -- so do our practices of discipleship. As we seek ways to “follow Jesus” we find out what we believe about him.

I wonder what it would look like if we used the standard of “making disciples” as a way of designing mission statements and reviewing ministry in our congregations. What would it look like for leaders to begin, not with the question: are we giving people what they want, in a tight-knit community? but rather “How are we doing at making and supporting disciples of Jesus? And what particular ways are we doing that in this congregation?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What is Old and What is New


(also on episcopal cafe)
           In the upstairs choir room at our church, on the bulletin board, there is a set of crayon drawings by Sunday school children..   One of the Sunday school pictures has my daughter’s name on it.  Another has the name of her closest Sunday School friend.  My daughter is now 25.  The picture was probably made when those girls were in third and fourth grade, i.e. in 1996 or 1997.

The bulletin board on which the Sunday School drawings hang was once a room divider used in the undercroft , to divide up the various grade levels of Sunday school. Someone moved it up here at some point for storage, or maybe to create 2 levels of Sunday school in this space.  But  no one ever took the pictures down.

 And I find I can’t bring myself to take them down, either.   I feel sentimental about that Sunday School picture.  It reminds me of an era when I felt that my children shared a church life that was important to me, when they were part of a healthy church family, learning the basic stories of the faith and experiencing worship in community. It was the era when life in church was transforming me, giving me satisfying leadership roles as an educator and prayer leader, and steering  me toward a vocation that has been real and life-giving to me.  My life in those years was quite wrapped up in church, and I am still “active” in my congregation.  But the vocational path I started on in the 90s has also led me to different expressions and experiences of the Christian life. I still value and treasure that era of family life in church, and continue to be fed by worshipping with the next generation of younger families that have come. I come “home” to worship, I support this church financially, and I help out where I can with leadership.  But the congregation now is more a “home base” from which I go out, not the place where most of my ministry and social life are focused, as they were in an earlier time.

The room where these pictures hang is still called the choir room, and it is where the choir stores our stuff: robes and music, and where most of us vest. But it is no longer used for choir practice, either;   It is up a steep flight of steps, with no bathroom on that level, and the aging of choir members makes it harder for some of us to come up the steep stairs to this room, though it still houses a piano and metal file cabinets full of music. (As well as a number of tables piled high with music to be filed!).   The room  comes to life when the children’s hand-chime choir rehearses there, but their rehearsal happens in a space surrounded by clutter from the past. 

Certainly there is no longer the same kind of “Sunday School,”  no longer the large choir program that we had 20 years ago --  but the things associated with that era in our common life are still lying around.  No one (myself included)  seems to have the energy to  retire these reminders of the old way.  I have been noticing that many other churches I visit have the same kind of clutter lying around in their parish halls and meeting rooms.   It is the kind of clutter we stop noticing when we have lived in a house for a long time.  Just a lot of stuff that we aren’t really using any more, but we haven’t had the energy or a reason to move or toss or put stuff away.  And the sorting and tossing that would be required seems like more than we want to take on.

 I know something about the emotional energy this kind of sorting takes because in the past year I have moved our household from the home we lived in for 24 years, into a new and less cluttered space.  In the same year I have also helped to downsize and sell my mother’s condo, as she moved into assisted living.   Both projects began with a slow sorting process, a lingering over this or that thing or book or file or piece of paper that held a memory.  And revisiting those memories was important.  As my Mom was doing it, we took things slowly, even though her daughters were itching to get on with the move.  She needed to revisit those things, tell those stories, before tossing files and mementos into the trash, as she then did.   In my own sorting and packing, I found that after a time I Just needed to get someone to help me who wasn’t invested in the stuff, who had a vision for what this place would look like when it was cleared out, and how the space could work for the next owner, the new buyer, or in the case of our own move, for the next stage of our life as a couple and as a family.  The realtor, the decorstor, and the "College Hunks Hauling Junk" became important allies in the spiritual work demanded by moving.

 It is easy enough, from the outside, to say, “Just throw it all away, simplify and start over again!”  But in fact the process necessarily involves some real decisions about what to keep and what to toss.  My mother took comfort in knowing that her daughters would take some of her most valued possessions, and the process of adding those family treasures to my own household has deepened my sense of continuity between my new home and my origins, and the places I have come from in life. I kept boxes of family memorabilia, for example, knowing I had space in the new house to store it, and wasn’t ready to part with it yet;    The sorting out of “treasured things” from “stuff” is a long labor of love, and takes a lot of energy before the time comes to call in the “College Hunks” and say “just take the rest away.” 

            We have known for awhile now that at this moment in the life of the Church, there  are things that need to go, and things that need to be remembered, and the process of discerning which is which involves a conversation between the generations, some story-telling, some mutual listening, and a lot of emotional energy.    This is what Phyllis Tickle means  (quoting Bishop Mark Dyer) when she refers to the “rummage sale” that goes on in the church every 500 years or so, an event that she calls the “great emergence,” which we are in the  midst of now.

When I look at that room in our church building, I ask myself, “What is this room for, now?” And I find I don’t have an answer to that;  right now it is mainly a room that stores stuff from the past.  It will take some creative thinking, and conversation with a next generation of leaders, if it is not to remain simply a cluttered room, but a place where some new creative thing can happen in the life of the church. In this way it stands for the larger, physical presence of our particular congregation in the place where it is.  What is here that is worth cherishing and remembering?  What is clutter that needs to go?  These are serious questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves, as leaders and long-time members in congregations, who care about both the past and the future of the church.  And it is a conversation that needs to happen across generations.

When I last went up to the old choir room to collect my robe and music on a Sunday, I once again noticed those church school drawings still on the old room divider.   And  I thought of a saying of Jesus that deserves wider attention, in this time of transition in this church.. Asking his disciples how much they’ve understood of his teaching, he declares:  “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old..” (Matthew 13:52 (NRSV)   Words to reflect on and act on, as we move through this new time of “emergence” in the Church.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Remembering Seamus Heaney


  
I happened to be reading the final chapter of  Malcolm Guite's excellent book, Faith Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Ashgate  2012) today, when I learned of the death of Seamus Heaney.  Guite uses Heaney to frame his argument and so this was a great revisiting of much that I have loved in Heaney's work.
       
         I met him once (Heaney) -- had a conversation with him about the work of David Jones in 1987 when I was living near Cambridge and Heaney was at Harvard.  We talked some, I remember, about Jones's preface to The Anathemata, and Heaney had a sense of "of course" in thinking about David Jones's portrayal of the artist as a maker and offerer of "signs" and of the sacramental quality of sign-making.  And hehad a poet's appreciation for Jones's craftsmanship and Celticity --Jones is very much a "poet's poet."  But what I remember best about the conversation was just Heaney's quiet, available human-ness. He gave me tea and we talked about his life at Harvard, in the fairly humble quarters he had in one of the houses on campus.   And about poetry -- I did not yet see myself as a poet -- was interviewing him in my role as a Jones scholar.  But the conversation quickly became just a good conversation between two people who cared about literature.  I didn't take enough notes to make the interview "usable" for my scholarly purposes, but I have always remembered and appreciated that encounter.  He gave me a signed copy, to give to my dad (a devoted Harvard alum) of the vilanelle he had written for Harvard's 350th anniversary.  I have it on my shelf still:  "To Russell Henderson, "Seamus Heaney, 1987"  It is now an even greater treasure.

        But reading Guite's book also reminded me of so much that I have loved in Heaney's poetry -- his ability to use language to help us "see things" afresh, to see down into the heart of life.  And I recall especially lines from his poem "North" about the way that a poet experiences language and the poetic process -- the "word hoard" that gives shape to our perceptions of present and past, culture and Reality.  You can read the whole poem here,  but what I love particularly are the closing lines:

‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow   
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.   
Expect aurora borealis   
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure   
your hands have known.’

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cast Down and Raised Up: A Favorite Prayer




Also on the blog for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

At the Good Friday service this year I was struck once again by one of my favorite prayers in the prayer book -- a prayer we encounter most often at ordinations, and so a prayer treasured by many in the clergy -- but one that most of the laity do not hear except on Good Friday, if they are in church (and sometimes at the Easter Vigil -- I’ll get to that).   It comes at the point in the service when we have heard the story, and been drawn as deeply as we can be into the utter brokenness of the world God loves, and the mystery of the Cross - whatever it has come to mean to each of us on this year’s round of our shared journey.   We gather at the foot of the cross, as the Church, and we offer prayers for healing and reconciliation for the whole world -- and the prayers are summed up in this collect:

            O God of unchangeable power and eternal light:  Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery;  by the effectual working of your povidence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  (BCP 280).

The prayer names the connection between the utter darkness and ugliness and cruelty of the Cross-- Jesus, the loving God experiencing all the brokenness that our human sinfulness creates-- and the Cross as the beginning of the story of  Resurrection that we are continuing to live:  “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new”.   By offering this prayer we are drawn into the New Thing that God is already doing, and invited to join in.  And it all begins at the foot of the Cross.

The other place this prayer appears, besides in the ordination services, is at the Easter Vigil, after the last reading from Zephaniah  which tells of the gathering of God’s people (BCP 291)   Even if we attend the Easter Vigil we may not always hear this prayer offered because most churches choose just a few of the readings, and Zephaniah isn’t always one of them -- but I like it that this particular prayer is placed right before the celebration of Baptism at the Vigil, reminding us what it means to be the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ in the world.  I’d like to see the people of God claiming and offering this prayer more intentionally, and I use it a lot in my teaching about the vocation of all God’s people.  But I was especially moved again this year by the reminder that we offer this prayer first on Good Friday, at the foot of the Cross.  I am offering it in my own prayers this Easter season, breaking up the central part of it as a poem, so I pay closer attention:
Let the whole world see and know
That things which were cast down
Are being raised up
And things which had grown old
Are being made new
And that all things are being brought to their perfection
By him through whom all things were made.

Or to put it another way: 
Christ is Risen!   The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
 

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Stop! No more of this!” Holy Week Musings on Violence and kenosis





       I was glad to hear on the news today of the witness of Episcopalian leaders from the diocese of Washington and the diocese of Connecticut, among others, against gun violence, and it seems fitting that they embodied the protest in the ritual of the Way of the Cross, right in Washington DC   In a way this meshes with two thoughts that have been working on me, since yesterday’s observance of Palm Sunday with its  reading of the Passion narrative in the gospel of Luke.  I listen with a poet’s ear, for patterns and language that seems to shimmer..  And the phrase that sticks  with me now is “Stop! No more of this!” (Luke 22: 51 Common English Bible version) )
            Jesus says this in the garden when he is being arrested.  Peter has just cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave, in an effort to defend Jesus, and Jesus says -- in what I imagine is a voice of weariness and anguish:  “No more of this!”
            And then he heals the slave boy’s ear: the last act of healing we see him do in the gospel.
            This goes with something he has just said at the end of the Last Supper, when he has warned his disciples:  “Remember”, he says,” how I sent you out to preach without a purse or a sword, just relying on the good news itself to carry you?  Well, now,” he says,,  “you are friends of an outlaw -- time to get your purses and swords because things are going to get dark.”  It’s a warning -- like the one he gave earlier in Luke’s gospel, when he said “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”   “Now we’re there, “ he’s saying to them:  things will start to get ugly: whoever has a sword had better grab it now.”   I really think he’s speaking figuratively there though I can’t prove it -- because when they say (trying to be helpful?)  “Look, we have two swords” he says (again, I imagine, with weariness:,  “It is enough” -- Not, I think, as in “we have enough swords to fight the Romans.”  But really, “enough violence, already.”  Enough of that! (Luke 22: 38)   Or as he will say in the next scene:  “No more of this.”
            In our time, every bit as violent as was the time in which Jesus lived, the resistance to violence that the story of his  Crucifixion and Resurrection offers is profound.    It is deepened for me  by another lesson that we read on Palm Sunday (the second thing staying with me this week):  the passage from Philippians 2 where Paul writes that Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”  This is the theological heart of the gospel -- the theological word is the kenosis,  the self-emptying of God  (not as a scapegoat to offer payback for our sinfulness, but in love, to show us a God who will give everything for our transformation). The one who says “No more of this!” to the violence offered on his behalf is also the God who has “emptied himself,” sharing our human experience and bearing all of the evil consequences of human brokenness, in order to open a different way.  It is a mystery -- grasped more in the reading and acting out of the story than in any analysis, and I am moved by the thought of the One who made and loves us, now facing his own human death and saying “No more of this” to the violence that will culminate in his death.  He heals the victim of the violence offered on his behalf, and a little later in the story, he will speak to the lamenting women of Jerusalem and protesting what is being done to him, again naming and protesting the violence: “If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  As if to underscore the counter-cultural love he embodies, we see reconciliation happening around him,  even in the extremes of this time--the rivals Herod and Pilate become friends,  and in Jesus's presence the thief on the Cross is given the hope of  Paradise. That's how the story is told in this part of Luke:  it is all active, nonviolent resistance in the midst of a culture of violence.

            Here is a God who knows all about the sinfulness, the brokenness of the world and who decides to come and bear the human consequences of it all, offering a gospel of healing and reconciliation.  The message of Incarnation-Cross-Passion is, and continues to be:  “You can’t kill the love , the mercy or the justice of God, because God knows it all and continues to draw us into newness of life.”     That is what I am carrying into this Holy Week:   Jesus as the God who takes on the broken world, in total self-offering, shows it for what it is,  and calls his followers to look squarely with him at the world’s violence and brokenness , at its victims, at our own complicity.  And to say with him, in faith: there is another Way:     “No more of this!” 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making a Place

also on episcopal cafe - (posted 1-25-13)

I haven’t posted in awhile because for the last three quarters of 2012, I was in the process of moving, from the split level house where we have lived for 24 years, and where our children grew up,   to a newer house,  walking distance from my husband’s work, a “tradeup” that worked for us in the current economy.  I posted this piece on episcopal cafe in January, during Epiphany -- but it continues to undergird my reflections now as I move through Lent in our new place.
            My goal when we started was to be settled in the new place by Christmas, and we were: we welcomed family and friends and celebrated the new places where we now find ourselves.
            Then, moving into the New Year, in the season of Epiphany, I finally settled down to write, in this spacious, light filled space that is the main floor of the new house.  Only then could I begin to reflect on what the move has meant for me.
            Though friends have commiserated along the way about how traumatic a move is (some have said “why would you choose to move?”)the process has been oddly serene for me.  Yes: it has involved sorting through and throwing out the accumulated mess of 24 years and more.  But it has also involved deciding to keep a lot of things that seem to contain our story:  we have space, so I have kept boxes of memorabilia from our childhoods and college years, and from our children’s years in school, camp, growing-up-life.  Some things we probably should relinquish but cannot yet:  our complete collection of vinyl records -- the music we acquired separately and combined into a fabulous classical music collection.  We grew and enjoyed that collection during the first decade or so of our married life -- before digital vinyl gave way to CD’s and mp3s.    We did throw things away: truckloads, in fact.  But we have kept a lot, too.
            I have seen this especially as I put our books back on the shelves: the last step in the move-in, which makes me feel fully “at home here.”  I arrange them by genre, and alphabetically by author, with special photos and knickknacks breaking up the monotony of library shelves.  Fiction and poetry in our large rec room Theology and literary criticism, Bible and more poetry in my own study.  As I put the books out I relive my intellectual life. I wonder about the people whose books I’ve bought and not yet read, about the projects ahead of me that some of the books may open up. The library is testimony to an ongoing life of learning.  There are books here that I will read or return to. “There you are!” I say to a book that I’ve loved and not seen since June, when I packed so much away to “stage” the old house for sale (Prospective buyers, apparently, would view too many books as “clutter”).  These are my friends.  It’s good to have them back.
            I have of course thrown out boxes and boxes of books, clothes, papers, and given away more.  So arranging our things in the new place is not a matter of grasping or attachment.  Rather, for me it has been a process of letting our things tell our story.  There is something sacramental about the act of placing them here, with intention, in this new place -- as if I were offering for blessing the history that has already formed us, and hoping to give it new space, new expression, in the years ahead.
            For this is the turning of a page, with a new chapter of life ahead.  There is space here for guests, for new family members should they arrive, for a new way of being together as a couple.  As I have sorted and stacked and boxed and unpacked the things that hold our story, our life as a family, I have done so sometimes with surface weariness and stress, but mostly with a deep-down sense of peace, as if God were working in my spirit in ways that I can’t access just now.  And the work with the stuff, on the surface has been a good distraction, keeping me out of God’s way.
            There are already hints of what this new chapter will bring:  2013 will be the year that I turn 60.  It is also the year that we will inherit more “things” -- as we help to close up and sort out both our mothers’ homes, and inherit more things laden with family history.  I already see times of both grieving and celebration in the year ahead.  So am sure that the process of moving has been a preparation for me, a loosening of control and opening to new things. I have emerged from the work of moving in January and stepped into a busy spring semester of teaching , a short Epiphany, and now the "growing season" of Lent.   I continue to be  deeply curious,   turning the page, to see what this new chapter of my life will bring.