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.

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.