Saturday, November 28, 2009

Revelations and Reflections - Lukewarm

The ruins of Laodicea
(something I am trying to avoid)  

The "lukewarm" label has seized my attention more than a few times in the Book of Revelation.  John writes to the churches delivering a spiritual "report card," if you will.  His words resonate still and serve as a "gentle" reminder (ahem).

In my heart, I don't think I am so lukewarm.  Yet I realize if I truly responded to God's gentle and not-so-gentle upside slaps to my head, I would be much more disciplined and focused in my response.

I know my call.  At least part of it.  It's been coming at me in forty million different ways since about 1991.

It all started with a class on Lectio Divina at a former church.  (Actually, it started way before that, but that's another post).

Lectio Divina is a way of "praying" scripture.  You can find out more about it here: 

Learning to pray the scriptures in this ancient manner transformed the way I approached my faith and the role of prayer in my life.  When I set down to allow scripture to speak to me in this way, I felt like this:

Then will the lame leap like a deer,
       and the mute tongue shout for joy.
       Water will gush forth in the wilderness
       and streams in the desert. 

                    --Isaiah 35:6 

This was something that never occurred to me  as I was coming of age in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.  My guess is that it never occurred to the leaders of that sect as well.  (but, that' is a totally different story).....
At any rate, a charism was introduced to me that day.  It took root in my heart, became the means through which I could rest in God's presence.   This practice, this divine reading became a well spring to me, an  entry way into a more mature faith, and later the rock to which I clung during difficult days.  
I learned that I "fit" with other faithful men and women in the church's past and  present.  My way is the way of the mystic.
In the past twenty years, I have been drawn more deeply to Christ through prayer ... lectio divina, contemplative prayer, the Daily Office, praying with Icons, and (trying to follow) a Rule of Life.  

I was generously and gracefully reminded of this charism while I was in Africa.  Most importantly, I was reminded that I had been neglecting it, and therefore, neglecting God.  Mercifully, God reminded me of how much I need it.  

Well, God reminded me how much I need God.  How much I really need God...

I also realized that in addition to the need for me to turn up the "heat," I am expected to do something with this prayer life.  (That's the part I've been avoiding).

But, I've been too distracted.  

I'm reading Huston Smith's Religions of the World.  A section resonated with me regarding distractions which keep us from God.  In the chapter on Buddhism, he writes that "life as typically lived is unfulfilling and filled with insecurity." 

"Earth's sweetest joy is but disguised pain,' William Drummond wrote, while Shelley speaks of that 'unrest which men miscall delight.'  Beneath the neon dazzle is darkness; at the core--not of reality but of unregenerated human life-- is the "quiet desperation Thoreau saw in most peoples' lives." 

"That is why we seek distractions, for distractions divert us from what lies beneath the surface.     Some may be able to distract themselves for long periods, but the darkness is unrelieved."

Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life,
A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.

More later...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Post-Liberia Reflections and Revelations

God never ceases to amaze me.  I guess that's why God is God...and I am not.

I am still in the head-scratching phase of my mission trip to Liberia, trying to figure it all out. What was God's message for me in it all?

Let's start with what it wasn't.  I do not feel called to do more mission work in Africa; at least at this point.

I do not feel called to become an advocate for the Bromley School.

I do feel called to support the education efforts of the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia.  Probably from the good ole USA.

A friend who knows several of my mission colleagues remarked that each of us, when recounting our experience, came from a completely different perspective.  It's almost like we were telling different stories.  That shouldn't surprise me.  True to promise, God met us as we were.

I am surprised that my emerging sense of what was revealed to me has nothing to do with Africa or education.  It has to do with God's persistent and consistent call to me.  One which, if I am truly honest with myself, I have been at best misunderstanding - and at worst, ignoring. 

Maybe I've been "lukewarm" in my response to that call.

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Uh, yikes.

More to come..... 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Exposed On the Cliffs of the Heart

One of my favorite poets.  I'm putting this book on my Christmas list.

Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Look, how tiny down
look: the last village of words and, higher,
(but how tiny) still one last
farmhouse of feeling. Can you see it?
Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Stoneground
under your hands. Even here, though,
something can bloom; on a silent cliff-edge
an unknowing plant blooms, singing, into the air.
But the one who knows? Ah, he began to know
and is quiet now, exposed on the cliffs of the heart.
While, with their full awareness,
many sure-footed mountain animals pass
or linger. And the great sheltered birds flies, slowly
circling, around the peak's pure denial.- But
without a shelter, here on the cliffs of the heart...

From 'Ahead of All Parting:
The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke'
Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I find myself in the mood for a little Wisdom these days.  Above is an icon of the Spirit of Wisdom (Sophia).  Below a poem by Joyce Rupp...

Radiant and Unfading Wisdom,
your deep love calls to me.
I seek you with all my heart.
Hasten to make yourself known to me.

Sit at the gate of my heart.
Teach me your ways.
Meet me in my every thought.
Attune my mind to your perceptions.
Open all that is closed within me.
I desire your instruction.
I long to receive and to share your love.

Dance on the path of my life.
Free me from all that hinders.
Deepen all that attracts me to you.
As the mystery of my life unfolds
through the quickly passing years,
draw my love ever nearer to you.

I promise to be awake and vigilant,
attentive to your voice,
receptive to your guidance.
I will hide no secrets from you.
Come, reveal yourself to me.  
Joyce Rupp, Prayers to Sophia

...and here's a little Hildegard von Bingen on Sophia.....

I am Wisdom. Mine is the blast of the resounding Word through which all creation came to be, and I quickened all things with my breath so that not one of them is mortal in its kind; for I am Life. Indeed I am Life, whole and undivided -- not hewn from any stone, or budded from branches, or rooted in virile strength; but all that lives has its root in Me. For Wisdom is the root whose blossom is the resounding Word....
I flame above the beauty of the fields to signify the earth -- the matter from which humanity was made. I shine in the waters to indicate the soul, for, as water suffuses the whole earth, the soul pervades the whole body. I burn in the sun and the moon to denote Wisdom, and the stars are the innumerable words of Wisdom.

The Holy Spirit as Caritas (Grace/World Soul & Wisdom/Creatrix) 
St. Hildegard von Bingen 

...ahhhh.... I feel better now... 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Give Thanks

I approach this Thanksgiving holiday with a heavy heart.

A year ago, I witnessed a miracle with JSB in church on Christmas Eve.  I'm choosing to hold the miracle close to my heart, but am prepared to deal with the heart-wrenching reality that is the lot of a mother of a child with schizophrenia.

By the way, I speak it......and am not ashamed....

Last year, in August, we had JSB committed for psychiatric care, and for a brief and shining period, life was good.  He came to Christmas Eve service with us, covered his tattoos, cleaned himself up, and stayed with us in the standing-room-only-church.  If you know people who struggle with schizophrenia, you know that is difficult.  All of the stimulation is more than they can take, and JSB was itching to leave and smoke a cigarette.

But, he listened to the service and heard what the Priest was saying.  It was an inclusive, radical love message, and JSB appreciated that, and told me, "I like this church."  We were jammed in the back pew, and JSB had given his seat up to a woman.  I pulled a kneeler down and he sat on it, facing me.  The music was beautiful, and he looked up at me and said, "I love you, Mom."  I hugged him and told him that I loved him as well. 

That was the last moment of sanity that I witnessed in my child.

Today, his delusions have taken hold, and lead him to despise his family.  He especially despises me.  If his delusions were reality, he would have good reason. 

So, despite my best efforts, I can't force my child to treat his illness.  This year, he will likely spend Thanksgiving and Christmas without his family.  Without anyone.  That breaks my heart.

So, I'm trying to think of what I can do to make Thanksgiving and Christmas meaningful for my child whose illness causes him to seclude himself.

Any ideas?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reverend Father Part II

Note the dog in the last picture above.  Even the mutt wanted to be a part of the blessing.

It was this little girl's birthday and Father blessed her.  It's difficult to explain, but when he cradled her little head in his hands and blessed her, I was profoundly moved.  I remember musing, "Wow, this is a Priest." 

I loved the choir - it was powerful to hear popular Episcopal hymns sung with their wonderful Liberian accents and the African flavor of their voices.

My Wonderful Priest preached a sermon on how the acolytes vested her.  She noted that before the service, they surrounded her and vested her as though they were dressing a bride.  They made sure her cincture was properly tied, her cross was straight, and handed her her prayer book.  Father told her that is because they don't have a mirror and the acolytes serve as the mirror.  In her sermon, she made the point that depending on your outlook (scarcity or abundance) one might think the church needs a mirror; another might see the grace in having these young acolytes touch you, vest you, and show you abundant love. 
The acolytes were amazing during the liturgy.  Their precision in censing and genuflecting was astonishing.

 After the service, we chatted with the parishioners.

The vestry invited us to the Palava to have refreshments.

Liberian women are extremely beautiful.  The hospitality extended to us was most gracious.

They told us about the school they are building on the property.  They are providing free education to the children in the surrounding area.  They started with kindergarten-2nd grade (I believe) and hope to add grades as the years go on.  They started with 30 children on the first day and are up to 90 or more now.

The building is not yet finished.  We were able to donate $800 toward the school as an offering during the service.  It felt wonderful to be able to make a significant contribution to this little school.  I would like to find more ways to help St. Peter's School.

Beautiful student.

Beautiful flora.
I was so grateful for this day in  Caldwell with the priest and parishioners of St. Peter's.  It was a blessing beyond my imagination.  I didn't realize how in need I was of  the balm of good liturgy and powerful worship until I was in its midst.  It was a very healing day.

Of course, that wasn't the last we saw of this dear Priest.  He spent the entire day with us on our last day in Liberia.  And, of course, rode with us to the airport. 

So, dear friends, if you are in Liberia, be sure to look up the Reverend Father.  Actually, you won't have to look him up, he'll most likely know you are coming, meet you, watch over you, bless you, befriend you, and be a manifestation of the Christ within.  God continue to bless you Reverend Father. 

Oh, and one more thing.  Buy him a Guinness for me.

Reverend Father, Coincidence? Or Not. - Part 1

Sometimes a coincidence is simply a coincidence.   But sometimes the coincidences are so intense and compelling, you can't help but believe that None Other Than The Holy Spirit is at the helm.  Meeting the Reverend Father in Liberia was one of those experiences.

On the eve of my departure, a priestly friend suggested I look up her friend from seminary while I was in Liberia.  Okay, I thought, wouldn't that be nice.  But, what are the odds of running into this priest while I am in Liberia -- especially one whose ministry is to sea farers far from home in Liberia.  I was traveling by air, after all ;)

Well.  Let me tell you.

We arrived in Liberia late at night.  Travel weary and overburdened with two fifty-pound suitcases each, we made our way through the airport.  We were met by our driver and another gentleman and proceeded  toward the truck and van to load bags and make our way to the compound.  Somehow, we got separated, and found ourselves in the midst of several young men who were vying for our bags.  If they touch them, they want a tip.  I mean, they REALLY want a tip.   I remember trying to figure out what happened to our driver, when a gentle man with a calming presence told me that it was okay.  He pointed to the van and told me to get in.  I was most happy to oblige.

Well, this was the first of many encounters with my friend's friend (and-now-my-friend), The Reverend Father.  He had come to the airport to meet us and to safely escort us from the airport to the compound in which we were staying.  He then invited My Wonderful Priest to preach at his church on Sunday.

There's more.  One evening, a few of us were sitting around the compound enjoying a cold Liberian beer, when some visitors arrived.

Three "collars" including The Reverend Father came to call.  We learned that Reverend Father is in charge of Christian Education and Mission with the Episcopal Diocese of Liberia.  He brought with him the Priest of St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the principal of the Episcopal School at St. Thomas.  Coincidentally (ahem) we were planning a seminar for teachers the next day at The Bromley School

So, guess who came to our seminar on Saturday?  The Rev. Father, his friends, and a few of the teachers from the St. Thomas School.  I believe one  message for us was that there's more than one Episcopal School in Liberia in need of support.  It was a pleasure to be able to offer something to another school in addition to Bromley.  I had to laugh, those of you who are teachers know, staff development isn't always something we joyfully anticipate.  Yet these educators sought it out.  It was yet another reminder of the abundance in my life on so many levels - personal and professional.

On Sunday, we trekked quite a distance to worship at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Caldwell. It was a long trip through crowded, pot-hole-filled streets, and we weren't sure if the driver knew where he was going.  We arrived just minutes before the service was to begin.  It was such a relief to see this sweet little Episcopal Church waiting for us.

I was about to experience the most profound Holy Encounter of my Liberian experience. 

Much of my energy - emotional and spiritual - was spent simply processing the multi-sensory over stimulation and sense of being off-kilter that I was experiencing in Liberia.  This was the first moment that felt familiar to me.  Anglo-Catholic liturgy. Incense and altar bells.  I knew exactly what to do.   I didn't expect to have such a profound encounter with the divine.  But, now that I know the Reverend Father, I should not have been surprised.

When communion ended, the children entered and were blessed by My Wonderful Priest.  There were more children than adults, and it was a beautiful sight to see. 

More beautiful children.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kindergarten in Liberia

During my visit to The Bromley School in Liberia, I paid a visit to the kindergarten class.  Quite a difference from our kindergarten classes in LoCo, to be sure.  The room is small -- about 10'x20' (?)  There is no electricity or running water.  No brightly colored displays of student work, no manipulatives for hands-on learning, no books.....  Just sweet, smiling children and their teachers.

They practiced their letters on the ancient chalkboard in the room...... kindergartners do everywhere.....

...they also practiced forming letters in composition notebooks with their teacher working with them.....


They taught me some of their favorite songs and games.......

Many of the games were similar to Duck, Duck, Goose; the hokie pokey; and London Bridge.......

And then, I taught a little math lesson on collecting and analyzing data.  In case you can't tell by my artistic representations, we are determining favorite fruit: mango (called plum in Liberia), pineapple and banana......

We also did some story problems on the chalk board.  I wanted to engage them in conversation about their thinking process as they approached a math problem.  This was new for them.  Much of the instruction is more teacher directed with less "wait time" than what we are used to in the States.  The teachers were very gracious and anxious to see what I would do with their students.....

As I worked in this classroom, I noted that these children were born after the wars in Liberia had ended.  They have not experienced the war witnessed by their older peers.  We were told that some families were able to keep their children pretty sheltered from the war by keeping them hidden at home. For others, that was not the case.

At any rate.... the joyful smiles of the children were a very, very good thing.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Strangers on Other Paths

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.

                                                     Blessing For The Traveler 

Preparing to travel to Liberia was a bit like preparing to become a mother for the first time.

Let me explain.  When you prepare to travel to a place that is like nowhere you have been, you research, speak to others who have been there, and try to find out as much as you can about this exotic land and its people.  While you cannot go there with the experience of it, you can go into it as well prepared as one can be.  In hindsight, I do believe I left the United States for Africa as well prepared as I could possibly be.

My prayerful reflection of this trip takes me back 22 years ago.  I was preparing for the birth of our first child.  I read every book about "What to expect" that I could get my hands on.  We took classes for expectant parents together, listened to the experiences of our friends who had small children, and "practiced" by taking care of other people's infants.

It is in my nature to be as well prepared as I can be.

It is easy to prepare my intellect.  I find it much more difficult to prepare my heart for the unknown.

So, to continue this Africa/Parent analogy, in both circumstances, I found myself preparing for the joy of it.  Excitedly anticipating all of this joy.  Not being able to wait for it.  It was going to be absolutely wonderful!

And it is.

And it isn't.  

The "is" is wonderful.  The "isn't" is a little more of a shock to the system.

I remember the first time I held my son in my arms.  The image of us gazing into each others' eyes for the first time will never, ever, leave me.  "So, it's you."  Like O'Donohue's blessing, I startled a little at his entry.  It wasn't until I held this child of ours that I realized my capacity for love.  The expansiveness of it, the fierceness of it, the joy of it, and the shock of it.

Mixed in with this joy, is a sharp dose of reality.  The  pain of recovering from a difficult delivery, the sleep deprivation of new motherhood, the realization of the irrevocable responsibility of it.  Joy.  Fear.  All rolled into one. 

When I set foot in Africa, I experienced excitement and joy of being in a new and faraway place.  Joy.  Africa!  It wasn't long though, that joy turned  to something else.  Several young entrepreneurs wished to help us with our bags.  In fact, they insisted.  Then demanded tips.  Extreme fatigue and lack of experience on my part did not help in this situation.  Much like new parenthood.  It worked out and all was well, but it certainly tempered my joy into something a bit more viceral -- a desire to remain safe.

There were joyful moments throughout the trip.  But, if I am honest and real, there were troubling moments as well.  Not just because I was in Africa, but because we were ten jet-lagged Americans together in Africa for several days.  Living together was both pleasant and difficult.  We were aware of this and worked hard to communicate our needs to one another.  We parted on a positive note, but were all looking forward to resuming our lives with our loved ones in our own homes.

The reality of life in a third world country comes as somewhat of an assault to the senses as well.  Abject poverty is all around you.  Many of the homes are not much more than huts, the roads are filled with potholes like nothing I have ever seen, and there is electricity only when the generators are running - if you have a generator.  There is no running water in most places. The water will make you sick.

Our compound was luxurious by the standards of the country.  We had running water and electricity from early evening until morning.  The food was authentic Liberian and very delicioius.  The cold Liberian beer was most refreshing.  Our hosts were gracious, fun, and made us feel most comfortable and welcome.  Yet, we knew we weren't experiencing Liberia as those who live there do. 

The high fence and razor wire surrounding us reminded me that the focus on our security and safety was  intentional and necessarily so.  Never did I feel that I was in danger, but I was aware that the potential was there. 

There were wonderful moments with our Liberian friends.  Our differences were eclipsed by the profound similarities we share.  Slowly over the week, trust developed, conversations about our shared passion for education occurred, and beautiful worship was experienced.  Not necessarily mountain top experiences, but pleasant and welcome.

I didn't go to Africa expecting a mountain top experience and I didn't experience it as such.  I went expecting an experience and a challenge, and that's what I received.  I would be lying if I wasn't hoping just a wee bit for a mountain top moment.  But, go back to the Parent/Africa analogy.  Parenting doesn't occur up on the mountain.  Sure, there are moments of joy sprinkled throughout.  But, it's hard.  Really hard. 

Visiting a third world country isn't all mountain top.  It's difficult, taxing, trying, and wonderful.

The challenge Liberia faces to restore its country to its pre-civil war state isn't going to be spent mostly on the mountain top.  It's going to be hard.  Really hard.  We met so many incredible Liberians who are doing everything they can to bring a future to the children of Liberia in extremely daunting and difficult circumstances.  I will always pray for their success.

So, here's the good news.  The God of the Mountain Top loves us so much that He comes down into our valleys to love us and transform us as we make our way as travelers together on this journey called life.  He is at work in Africa as He is here. I am grateful that God chooses to work in our valleys.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

I am home.  Thanks be to God.
This blog is going in a different direction than I anticipated.  I thought that I would come home from Liberia and post starting from Day One.  But, God continues to surprise, and I find the need to process this trip backwards and simply surrender to the process.

So, here I am, a Westerner from a developed country returning from a Third World African country.  There is much to sort through and much reflection necessary to fully realize the impact this experience has had on me.  I am unprepared to consider that just now.  What overwhelms me and seeks articulation is a profound sense of gratitude.

I am grateful.

For my husband, for his friendship, love, support, and fidelity.
For God, who meets us where we are, be it on geographic, emotional, spiritual, or physical terms.
For the Body of Christ.
For the Episcopal Church.
For liturgy.
For thuribles.

For friendship.
For joy.

For hot water.
For electricity.
For sanitation.

For safety.

For smooth roads that rise up to meet me. 
For those who will speak the truth in love.

For passionate educators on all continents.
For struggle and conflict.
For harmony and love.
For hospitality.
For peace.
For education.
For those who inspire us to reach for the stars.
For those who reach for the stars.

For grace amazing.
For lessons learned.
For a perspective adjusted.
For priests.
For rest and comfort.
For deprivation and distress.
For refreshment.
For the grace of our God who will not leave us or forsake us, ever.
For the grace of our God who transforms us again and again.
For the places where I belong.
For the places where I am a stranger.

For the places where I am loved.
For the places where I am not.

For the journeys.
For the homecomings.
For it all.

Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.

Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be thy praise.

                         --George Herbert

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