Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Christmastide to You!

Ah, the frenzy that is Christmas Eve is over, Christmas Day is past, and now we settle into Christmastide for a short while before the Epiphany.

For me, this is a relaxed time. We generally keep the decorations up until New Year's, and really, if we were to follow the Church calendar closely, we can keep them up until Jan. 6 (Epiphany). The house has been tidied up a bit, grandson S's new toys have been integrated into the household and we can just enjoy a little bit of free time before having to get back into the routine of daily life. Even though I work a few days next week, even that is a bit more relaxed. I wish I could say the same for my husband, who has been especially busy. I'm just glad that he has had a few days off recently.

This is a time for reflecting on the past year. Some of you veteran readers may be tired of my summer saga, but it bears mentioning because it was a significant turning point for me in 2009. As the year began, and through the summer, I had felt like I was losing so much -- a friend and a church -- but as the rest of the year played out, I have found that I have gained much. I'm closer to my family, my new church has been a haven for spiritual growth, and I'm becoming more aware of my own strength. Those who have been my friends at my old church continue to be my friends, just as others from previous congregations have been. In fact, I'm lunching tomorrow with a friend from my first Episcopal congregation. I feel a little like Job (though, thankfully, not experiencing losses to the great degree that he had). He lost a lot, but God blessed him greatly. He expressed his frustration to God, but still kept the faith. That's the amazing thing. Not by my strength alone, but with God's help, I weathered this storm in my life and was able to see and appreciate God's great blessings as I got through it.

Our family has become a tight little unit. We are still dealing with some legal issues concerning grandson S, but hope that 2010 will be the year of getting them resolved. Stepdaughter J is doing well in school -- a 4.0 average for her first semester. And I love and appreciate my husband R more and more with each passing day.

I have some goals for this year. I'm preparing to take the state exam for Special Education certification. That will take place in late January. You'll certainly will read a prayer request before then. I'll then apply for special ed as well as regular ed teaching positions for the coming school year. Spiritually, I hope to have a new spiritual director and get back on track with my prayer and worship life. I'd like to take better care of myself physically, and fit some intentional exercise into my daily routine. And I want to continue my vigilance over my mental and emotional health. That vigilance stood me in good stead in 2009.

When I reflect a little further back, say the past six years, I find that I've traveled a long road. From living an out-of-control, scared, not wanting to live existence, I have (again with God's help) built a life that has value to myself and others. I'm aware that God has always valued me, and now I have the opportunity to help others see God's value in themselves.

But of course it's not all smooth sailing from now on. I have no idea what the future holds, so it's not a time for complacency. But I can, if I allow myself to lean upon God's strength, be ready to meet the challenges. I can be confident that God will be there to help me. And by allowing God to help me, I don't have to worry so much, I can look to the needs of others rather than curving into myself. I can -- with His help -- love and serve Him. That's what it's all about, anyway.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday of Advent -- In the Desert, Finding Hope

Fr. Y's sermon today was just what I needed to hear. It's interesting how sermons can be like that. Clergy prepare sermons for the congregation as a whole, yet each member hears it in his own particular way.

In a nutshell, the sermon was about being in a spiritual desert. The characteristics of that desert are dryness, disconnectedness, feeling lost, and hopelessness. The way out of the desert is to turn our attention to God and His promises to us. I'll add more detail to this below.

We were given a bit of homework afterward. Three questions were posed, which I'll answer here on the blog.

1. Think about the last time you were wandering in a spiritual desert. In what ways were you challenged?

Readers of this blog are familiar with my last trip through the desert, which was this past summer. In fact, the desert was the birthplace of the blog. In hindsight, I was in an unhealthy relationship with my last priest. Not sensational like an affair, but destructive all the same. When the friendship fell apart, I lost my pastor, spiritual director and church community as well. It was a distressing and confusing time. There had been red flags and people who had warned me to step back, but I didn't heed the warnings. When there was finally a irreparable break and the need to go to a new church, I realized that while I didn't worship Fr. X, I did allow my friendship with him and its ups and downs (more and more "downs", in time) to interfere with my relationship with the worshiping community and with God.

2. How did God work through your spiritual desert time to bring you to a deeper understanding of Him? How were you changed?

I realized that God had to allow that friendship to end. There could be nothing that separated me from Him in my life. I had to allow God to lead me to an unknown place, a new church, and trust that He would help me and my family adjust. I found that I could focus more on my husband, family, friends, others in the congregation, and God Himself when I wasn't so worried about "What would Fr. X think?" God allowed me to experience the hardship, yet as St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, He was faithful and showed "with the testing he will also provide the way out," so that I was able to endure it. This experience showed me the danger of allowing any one person so much control over my spiritual life. Only God has the right to that much influence over my being.

3. Share with someone one thing you can do to participate in God's activity in your family, at work or in the community.

I will seek ways, as wife, mother and grandmother (and godparent) to nurture the faith journey of my family. I could list more things, but the assignment does say "one thing", and right now family is at the top of my list.

The sermon also included a list of Bible verses to read while one is traveling in the desert:
  • dryness: Isaiah 12:13
  • disconnectedness: Zephaniah3:17
  • feeling lost: Zephaniah3:20
  • hopelessness: Philippians 4:4
Advent is about expectation. We eagerly await to celebrate the birth of our Savior. As we do so, let's remember that God moves powerfully in this world. He restores. He revives. He resets. He renews.

But he works through us. So we are challenged. What will we do? What will I do?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Churches: Cooperation or Competition?

Last night I participated in a concert featuring singers from several Episcopal churches in my diocese. It was a very rewarding experience, both in terms of the music we performed, and the people I was able to reconnect with. Several friends from my old church were there, as participants and audience members. I met the priest who took Fr. X's place, Fr. J. I felt a genuine warmth from Fr. and Mrs. J as we met.

Some folks would take that as a reason to go back to my old church. After all, Fr. X and the problems I and others had with him are no longer a pressing issue. But I don't see it that way. My present church was and is more than merely a port in a storm. It was the place that provided comfort and solace, as well as the time and space I needed to look at my situation more objectively. It was there that I was able to serve again, and where J and S were able to worship without dealing with any fallout connected with my problems with Fr. X.

I'm not interested in being a ping-pong ball when it comes to churches. I want a place where my family and I can settle down and be settled. Living the Gospel can be unsettling enough at times. I'd rather that we remain in the community we're in now, and not have to deal with starting over in another place. Besides, S is already in love with the "pay-boun" (playground) at our present church.

Which brings me to the title of this entry -- cooperation or competition? Wouldn't it be great if we explored more opportunities -- such as the concert I described -- for churches to cooperate with one another. Perhaps the parochial boundaries could be less rigid and more permeable. Instead of convincing members of one parish to transfer to another, like some sort of Episcopal shell game, we could work together to nurture each others' faith and reach those who do not know Christ. It's not that those things are not happening now, but we could and should do more. We need to share those gifts that God has given each of our communities.

Amen. Be Blessed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Superficial or Sacramental?

Wow! December already! Advent already! Christmas is just around the corner!

I've been thinking about what Fr. Y had said in his sermon, about not getting caught up in the distractions that are our usual pre-Christmas preparations. Advent is a time of holy waiting. It's a time of waiting for the Holy. But all too often, we are bombarded with messages, commercial and non-commercial that distract us from the holy. An obvious commercial distraction is the focus on buying gifts. I heard a news story recently that made it sound like people refusing to max out their credit cards was a bad thing. Huh?

Non-commercial distractions are focusing on decorating the house, getting the Christmas cards sent, or cooking the perfect meal. Not that these are bad things, but they need to be put into perspective. All those are way lower in priority than the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The definition of a "sacrament" is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." So, I'm looking at all these things I do to get ready for Christmas, the spiritual and temporal alike and wondering, how can I do them in such a way that they are an outward and visible sign of my inward and spiritual preparation for the observance of Christ's birth?

First, I intend to do only those things that are most meaningful to me in a spiritual sense. Decorating the house to a certain extent is important because I want S, my two-year-old grandson, to learn about Christmas. He can point to Baby Jesus in our Nativity Set, and will learn more as the days lead to Christmas. Cards, gifts and meals are important in that it shows my love and care for my brothers and sisters in Christ. The thing here is not to let the activities become the end. They are only indicators of my love for Christ.

Also, I intend to adopt some Advent disciplines. Disciplines are usually associated with Lent, but I want to use my Advent time wisely. I am going to incorporate more Scripture reading and intentional prayer into my daily life. I am considering reading a Bible chapter each day. I think I'll start with the Gospel of John. I don't quite know why, but it just feels right.

I wanted to get this out before I forgot too many things, but it's late now, so I am going to bed.

Good night and blessings to you!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Popping In

Well hello there! Just want to thank all of you who've left comments. I feel badly about not acknowledging each of you, but I hope this collective thanks will do for now.

It's been my practice for the last few years to compose a gratitude list on Thanksgiving. Here's one for this year, a couple of days late. I'm thankful for...

1. My family -- husband, stepdaughter, grandson
2. My family -- Parents, brothers, nieces and nephew
3. My friends
4. My old church
5. My present church
6. The ending of an unhealthy relationship
7. The growth of healthy relationships -- old and new
8. My pet chinchilla
9. Angel Food Ministries
10. Employment for my husband and me
11. Good health
12. Caring people who helped me transition to my present church
13. Food, shelter, transportation
14. Facebook and Facebook friends
15. And most of all, God's providence, comfort and guidance through all life's joys and trials

This is considerably shorter than past lists, but I think it covers the main things, and many of the little things I listed before are covered in the broader categories.

I am so grateful that my stepdaughter J and grandson S like to go to church with me. Occasionally my husband joins us, and I'm thankful for that, too. I pray that each of us will find our relationship with our Heavenly Father strengthened as we worship.

It was a tough summer. I didn't want to leave my old church, but with the deteriorated relationship with its priest, I felt I had to. But I also knew, deep down, that God would redeem this situation. This unhealthy relationship had to end, and perhaps the unpleasantness was the only way either of us would be motivated to end it. (I guess another option would have been to change it, but I don't think either of us was very motivated to change, at least not significantly.)

As cliched as it sounds, it did turn out for the best. J likes our present church, and S loves the nursery, where he hammers and the playground, where he climbs and slides. S once sprinted towards the Communion rail as soon as the Lord's Prayer was completed.
I am also growing in faith, as I am allowed to serve where God calls me. And I feel that guiding my family in faith is helping me grow spiritually.


I learned, with God's help, just how strong -- emotionally and spiritually -- I truly was. Other people confirmed that my impressions about what I had experienced with Fr. X at my old church were not misconceptions or skewed thinking. That was a relief, and though I still have thoughts about things that happened, they are becoming less and less -- especially since I decided to leave those events at the foot of the Cross.

There are other situations that are also challenging, but I can't blog -- even indirectly -- about them. Perhaps in the coming months, when they are resolved, I'll be able to share them with you. In these situations also, God is present, ready to give guidance, strength and comfort. I hope to be able to report a joyous outcome soon. And God will be present in that too.

I hope you all have had a most blessed Thanksgiving!






Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Some years ago, I learned that my birthday falls on a special day on the church calendar. We Episcopalians call it the "Commemoration of the Faithful Departed," or "All Souls Day." It's a good time to think about those who have gone ahead of us to the nearer presence of God. We remember how their lives had touched ours, and we have hope that we will see them again. I don't know a lot about the specific customs associated with "Dia De Los Muertos," or "Day of the Dead", but I do believe in setting aside time for remembrance, and not only on November 2.

Today I did something a little different on my birthday. Amidst the celebratory activities, I visited with Fr. Z and celebrated the Rite of Reconciliation, popularly known as Confession. Usually, this is something I do during Advent and Lent, but I felt a need to
closely examine and deal with some problems now.

The Catholics consider Reconciliation a sacrament, one of seven. Episcopalians don't see it as a sacrament (we recognize two -- Baptism and Eucharist), but rather a sacramental rite. To be honest, as a former Catholic, I'm more inclined to simply consider Reconciliation a sacrament, as I'm a bit fuzzy on the finer distinctions.

I think Reconciliation/Confession has been given a bum rap over the years. Certainly there have been instances of insensitive or punitive priests, but mostly, my experience has been that of cleansing of the sin that has cluttered my spirit. Sin separates me from my fellows and from God. I find it healing to expose the sin and repent. Of course, God forgives, and has forgiven, even without the presence of a priest. For me, it is useful to confess to someone who is, presumably, a bit further along the spiritual path than I am. It is humbling, and a bit embarrassing, to confess one's shortcomings to someone else. I'd just as soon try to ignore those shortcomings or concentrate on the other person's faults -- especially if the sin involves a conflict with another. When I come to a priest, I realize that God is working through him (or her) during the Rite of Reconciliation.

There is, also, the sanctity of the confessional. I know that my confession will not be part of conversations amongst my fellow congregants. While I know that I can avoid that problem by confessing privately to God (I don't say "directly to God" because I believe that confessing in the Rite is directly to God.), I do believe that another person can provide perspective that I can't usually get by myself.

Penance is also another aspect of the Rite that I appreciate. Not all priests use that word, but in their counsel there will usually be some concrete act I can do to make things right, or at least get on the right road towards that end.

So, I found that celebrating, yes celebrating, the Rite of Reconciliation was a a good addition to my birthday celebration. After all, what better way to celebrate my birth than to be reminded of my new birth in Christ?

Be blessed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where Do We Invest Our Faith?

So today we had a visit from the Rt. Rev. James Folts, one of the local retired bishops. He is indeed gifted in oratory, though his voice does somewhat resemble Foghorn Leghorn's, the rooster of Looney Tunes fame. (Hope that's not offensive, since I like Foghorn.) My stepdaughter, J, dubbed him "funny", "awesome" and "cool", no small praise from a 20-something. And he and his wife were nice to the grandson, which earns more than a few points with me.

Anyway, the bishop knows how to preach. He delivers with enough zeal and energy that I would dare anyone to sleep through one of his sermons.


Bishop Folts' message was one I needed to hear today: The bishop stated that we all have -- every one of us -- all the faith we need. And that faith is as strong as it ever needs to get. So why do we feel lacking in our faith? It's because we haven't invested it in the right place. We can choose to invest our faith in either hope (trusting God) or fear (distrusting God). And when we choose to invest our faith in fear, we surrender to the Enemy who lies in wait, looking for any opportunity to alienate us from God.

Investing our faith in hope allows us to defeat the enemy. We are no longer enslaved to his schemes. We are no longer separated from God. God desires that we live in hope, that we know that He loves us more than we love our own families. That gave me pause, for I know how much I love my husband, stepdaughter and grandson. When we do things that God dislikes, even hates, He doesn't dislike or hate us. But it is our choice -- my choice, your choice -- to invest our faith in hope, and choose to be in relationship with God, our Father.

But even when we choose hope, we may feel fear. It's natural. Bishop Folts wasn't saying that we banish the emotion of fear. What I heard him say was that we do not allow fear to rule our lives. Instead, we gather our courage to "look fear in the eye" and refuse to be enslaved by it. We turn to God and allow our trust in him to give us the hope that allows us to take right action in spite of the fear we feel.

So where does that leave me? Well, I know there are some things I have been content to leave on the back burner because I have been afraid to take action. I make the choice now to invest my faith in hope and move forward. God is with me, and even if I fail in my tasks, I will never be a failure to Him.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Lovely Day

Spent a lovely day outside. Began first with picking up an Angel Food order (see www.angelfoodministries.com) and then continued with a workday at the church. The physical work was finished soon for me, as the supplies for the emergency kits got packed up quickly. Then a small group went on a prayer walk around the church campus and surrounding neighborhood.

I had never experienced a prayer walk before, and thought it would be a contemplative stroll. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but this was different, more active. We stopped at various points and prayed for the people and/or missions of each place. We even stopped by the youth group building and prayed over a young man who had hurt his ankle during a soccer game. We prayed as we passed businesses, thanking God for the people who owned them and asking God to bless their continued service to the community. It was a good way for me to get better acquainted with the church grounds and the surrounding neighborhood as well.

Then our group and those who were working on the church grounds stopped for lunch in the parish hall. I enjoyed listening to people's stories as we ate.

From lunch, our original prayer group and a few others went into the sanctuary and prayed again for our church and community. Most significant for me was when we laid our hands on Fr. Z and prayed specifically for him. Our rector, Fr. Y, has been ill and Fr. Z has been, with the help of the staff and vestry, holding things together very well. More accurately, we have been continuing to move forward, even as we eagerly anticipate Fr. Y's healing and return.

I had planned to go on a women's retreat this weekend. But the more I had heard about this workday, the more I felt called to participate in it. As it was, the workday was like a retreat for me, and even better, I got to return home that afternoon and spend some wonderful quality time in our backyard with my grandson, S.

God's blessings are abundant! Thanks be to God!

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Wisdom from Gump

My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Forrest Gump

Sorry I have not given you much to read. Life in the face-to-face world has been very demanding. Since the grandson's mommy decided to go back to school -- a very good thing -- my husband and I have been alternating babysitting duty during the week. I believe that since I give so much attention and care to the children at work, my grandson deserves my fullest attention at home. Actually, that would be the case even if I did not work with kids. So, anyway, I have little time for reading and responding to email and Facebook, let alone stringing together complete thoughts for a blog entry.

This is a rare quiet time in our household. Papa (my husband) is napping, stepdaughter J is reading, and grandson S has finally succumbed to a nap. That gives me -- Nana -- a chance to blog today.

So back to the quote -- life is such a mixed bag. Joy and sorrow tumbling together.

This Sunday is the anniversary of a most joyous day -- the birth of grandson S. He will be 2, and is learning to proudly say so when asked, "How old are you?" He is a delightful playmate, inviting me to see once again through childlike eyes the joys of playdough, coloring, and blocks. My husband has returned from a business trip safe and sound. J is doing very well in school.

There are sorrows too. I heard about friends who have lost someone close to them. I heard about a friend who is dealing with depression and alcoholism. People, myself included, are still dealing with the uncertainties of the economy. I still carry the scars from a pastoral relationship/friendship gone sour.

Since it's Mental Health Awareness month, I'll share a little about my own experience with mental illness. I've dealt with depression for as long as I could remember. There was a time, several years ago, when I thought that living was quite overrated. My thinking was beyond clouded and I said and did things that hurt those I cared about. I spoke with the priest who was my pastor at the time, expressing my sorrow and regret over those hurtful deeds.

His response was not the warm, fuzzy response I expected. He said: "True repentance is doing everything in your power to get well."

These words have been my guide in recovery ever since (Thank you, Father D!). It wasn't enough to be sorrowful. I needed to change course, to do the things my treatment professionals recommended, to get rid of things and attitudes that kept me ill. I needed to be patient, as some changes took time.

Recovery is an ongoing process, and I am constantly on the lookout for signs that I'm drifting into depression. Recently, I experienced a depressive episode caused by a painkiller I was prescribed. Because I was vigilant, I was able to stop that episode before it became more serious.

When you hit bottom, there's nothing else to do but reach up to God. During my most severe depression, I began to pray more regularly. Today I pray each morning as I drive to work. For me, it works because at home there are so many distractions. Ideally, I'd like to go to church and pray. That only works now when I'm able to go to choir practice early and sit in the quiet of the empty church. When I was a Catholic, I'd go to Eucharistic Adoration in the chapel and sit quietly in the presence of Christ in the form of the Eucharist. I need to find/create a quiet space, besides my car, to pray. Any thoughts?

For all those dealing with mental illness, whether personally or as friends or family members, I offer this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

May God the Father bless you, God the Son heal you, God the Holy Spirit give you strength. May God the holy and undivided Trinity guard your body, save your soul, and bring you safely to his heavenly country; where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.



Monday, September 14, 2009

"And I had that house of your father's bulldozed to the ground." Forrest Gump

So I might be the only one who is actually glad to see the old church site being transformed into something completely different. Not to minimize what others are feeling, but I'm not particularly sad that the buildings are being taken away and the land is being cleared. You see, my old church was seen as a kind of natural oasis of trees and wildlife in the midst of a rapidly developing area of town. I will miss that, of course. It was a lovely site for my wedding, and my step-daughter and grandson were both baptized there. It was a peaceful area for journaling and praying.

However, events of the more recent past were very painful. And if that church remained in that place, it would stand as a symbol of a friendship, a spiritual mentorship, that went horribly wrong. I'm guessing that if the other party were to read this, it would be interpreted as something insulting, but it is what it is.

My husband said my description reminded him of what Forrest Gump did for his wife Jenny after her death. Jenny's childhood home was the site of abuses at the hands of her father. Forrest bought the house and had it bulldozed. Speaking at Jenny's grave, he reports to her: "And I had that house of your father's bulldozed to the ground."

That's how I feel about the old church site being razed. The site of abuse is being changed and transformed into something new and helpful to others in a different way (student apartments will be built there).

So, I have no tears for the old church site. Besides, as my husband reminded me, the church is not being destroyed because the church is the people. The land is just a place.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Not Just for Lent Anymore

This is a reprint of a reflection piece I wrote for a series of Lenten meditations at my old church. Psalm 19 is the Psalm appointed for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Meditation for the 8th day of Lent by Erlinda R. Blevins
Please read Psalms 19 and 46

One of my favorite composers is Marty Haugen, a composer whose music helped shape my spirituality. As a young woman discovering my faith and connection to God, I sang his music as we celebrated the Mass. Haugen’s “Canticle of the Sun” is an uplifting, joyful rendering of Psalm 19:

Refrain: “The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy.
Come dance in the forest,
come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.”

I sometimes come to our church grounds to marvel at God’s creation. From the trees to the deer and even the occasional skunk that crosses my path, God’s creation is wonderful. All things “sing” to God’s glory.

But, there is also a challenge posed by these psalms: “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46) and “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and redeemer,” (Psalm 19).

Anyone who knows me knows that being still is a formidable challenge to me. I want to move, to fix, to change, to make something – anything – happen. I have trouble waiting for God to work in His time. God is telling me to let go, let Him handle things, and know He is more powerful than any problem I face.

However, the greater challenge to me is posed by Psalm 19. The meditations of my heart, the words of my mouth – are they acceptable to the Lord? Do I trust Him to be my rock and my redeemer? I must admit I have fallen short, and hurt people I love as a result. The good news is if I do the second part – trust God to be my rock and redeemer – He will help me conform my meditations and words to His will. How do I show that trust? By praying, studying, and worshiping – doing those things that strengthen my relationship with Him.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Sovereign Ruler of all Creation, help us grow in trust, allowing you to guide us and conform our thoughts, words and deeds to Your will. Give us the strength not to rush to solutions, but to wait for You to work in Your time. We ask this through Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Here's a little meditative background music (there's no video):

Friday, September 4, 2009

Welcome, New Readers!

A big shout out goes to Peter Pollock, whose blog, "Rediscovering the Church" is linked on the sidebar to this one. Thank you, Peter, for inviting readers to come here. As part of a contest he's running, Peter has invited readers to come to other blogs, like this one. For details, click on the link to his blog.

I'm dashing this note while my grandson is napping. Between work, church, and my stepdaughter's return to school, free time to blog is very precious. I hope to write a more substantive post later tonight.

Feel free to make yourself at home here. I hope you'll see this as a conversation between friends over a coke or a cup of coffee. So, kick off those shoes, and happy reading!

Blessings,
E

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Finishing out the month

Change. Endings. Life goes on.

Later this morning, my old church will have its last service at its present location. It coincides with Fr. X's last service with this congregation.

Hmmm...

Such a tumultuous time in the preceding months. Now things are changing, ending. This is real.

I don't feel called to go back, and yet there is a sad wistfulness -- a wish that things could have ended on a better note. But maybe this was the only way things could end. The situation was just too highly charged for anyone involved. Perhaps God just had to bring things to a screeching halt.

I hope that someday there will be a way to rewrite the ending to this tale, to make this a more peaceful ending.

But life does go on. And I see opportunities for growth at my present church that weren't available at my old one. More opportunities to serve God and other people. And at least for now, a kind of sheltering from church drama that I really need right now.

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on. Be blessed!



And a little bonus track...

Monday, August 17, 2009

And This Is Why I Need to Take Notes During the Sermon

First, I need to introduce a new "character" in the blog: "Father Z", assistant rector of my church. Yeah, I know these are really cheesy pseudonyms, but I'm too lazy to think of "real" fake names.

Anyway, I left church Sunday thinking, "Wow! That was a really great sermon!" And, sorry to say this, Fr. Z, but while I still remember some key points, the particulars of why I thought it was really great have faded away. Some people have a memory like a steel trap. Mine is more like a steel sieve.

I do remember the link between the Old Testament prohibition against consuming blood and the New Testament story of Christ saying that one must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life within. We have sanitized this story so much that it's reduced to symbols. When Jesus said it, however, it wasn't a symbol that He was talking about. That's what made it so scandalous to the people who had heard Him.

Anyway...I'll take notes next Sunday. Then I'll have something a bit more concrete than a feeling that I had heard Something Important.

Blessings,
E

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Great Western Heresy

Many people have criticized that phrase from Katherine Jefferts-Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

What she was referring to was the idea that salvation is God's gift to us as individuals, independent of anyone else. Here's a quote from her address to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church:
"...The overarching connection in all these crises has to do with the great Western Heresy - that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It's caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention."
I have mixed feelings about that. I believe that salvation is both an individual and communal event. As individuals, we are each given free will and the responsibility to choose a right relationship with God. But we do not experience the fullness of this gift except in community with other believers.

As I promised, I'll quote more from Bishop Frey's book, The Dance of Hope:
"Any authentic recovery of hope will take place in community with other people...the New Testament word for community is koinonia. It means 'a deep sharing of life marked by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit'."
Our churches are supposed to be the places where we find this deep sharing of life. Unfortunately, we often fall short of this ideal in our actual experience. "However," Bp. Frey continues, "a deeper awareness of just what the church is designed to be (emphasis mine) is the prerequisite for enabling it to become what it really is."

What would the ideal faith community look like? You might think about it. I'm going to.

Blessings,
E


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cheering for God

Just something cute from the grandson, S, who is nearly two.

At church today, he would cheer "Yay!" after each song, and cheered again after the final blessing.

Quite appropriate, I think.

After all, isn't "Alleluia" just another way of saying "Yay God!"?

Yay!

Getting Out of the "Holy Huddle"

I liked Fr. Y's sermon this morning. Using a football metaphor, he challenged us to get out of the "holy huddle" and do something with our faith. Pretty much what James said in his letter:
James 2:18 "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.'"
The medieval notion of sin, curvatos en se, is a dangerous condition I find myself leaning toward, being a reflective person by nature. I could easily spin my wheels in endless circles, pondering ponderous thoughts, and doing nothing to serve Christ -- indeed, to be Christ to someone who would have not experienced His love otherwise. We are to go out and make disciples, not in order to isolate ourselves in comfortable "holy huddles," but to go out and execute the play.

Executing the play is both exciting and uncomfortable, because when we go out to do what we need to do, there is the possibility that something may go wrong, that things may not always go our way. But we can't -- I can't -- let that stop us from stepping out in faith.

There are people out there, in our midst, who need to truly know Christ. Don't let getting stuck in the "holy huddle" keep them -- and us -- from doing so.

Amen.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Best $12.99 + Tax I Ever Spent

A few years ago, I bought the book, The Dance of Hope, by William C. Frey, currently the Assisting Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. Here's a link for more information about him: Bp. Frey

I've re-read the book, and found so much that I want to reflect on, that I thought I'd share it here on the blog with you.

I'll start with a brief one, since I'm typing this in the wee hours.

From the chapter entitled "Unnatural Acts":
"I always tell people that if they really want to commit an unnatural sexual act, they should get married and remain faithful to their spouse ''til death do us part.'"
Something to think about...more to come.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Addendum

I'd like to add that while I speak of "my" church, it is actually "our" church, as both my husband R and I are members. However, since this is a blog of my journey, I will most often refer to our church as "my" church.

Just wanted to clear that up.

Turning the Corner

Gentle Readers,
Wow. When we let God heal, it's amazing how quickly we can experience it. Since letting go of so much that I thought I couldn't, God has filled the void with so many blessings -- new opportunities, new friends, deeper relationships with old friends, and deeper relationships with my husband and family.

My new church is gradually becoming simply MY church. That is, I have allowed myself to be accepted into this community and now feel that I am truly part of it. Today some friends and my husband visited my church. I wanted to be a good host and hoped that they had as good an experience as I did. It was as if I was hosting a visit to my house, my home. It felt good to hear them say good things about my church, because I so wanted them to be welcomed into it.

I've had to humble myself and accept that I'm not a big fish in a small pond. I'm in a bigger pond, and I'm a much smaller fish in it. That's OK. There's still a lot to learn, and I certainly don't need to experience another meteoric rise and fall. I'll do what I've been called to do -- tend to the altar, sing, read, assist in Communion -- and be a good host to those who visit.

I'd like to revise something I told Fr. Y and my friends. I had said that I wouldn't let anyone get in the way of what God's called me to do. That's not correct. Here's what I should have said: God won't let anyone or anything get in the way of what He's called me to do.

As with everything else: if it is of God, it will be a success. If not, then it won't.

I hope that the time will come when true reconciliation will happen with some members of my old church. But I also have to accept that it might not happen until we meet in the presence of God in Heaven. My decision is to forgive -- them and myself. Feelings come and go -- but this decision is here to stay.

Be blessed,
E

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Child

Something that seems fitting for this season of my spiritual life -- I wrote it four years ago after another church move, but it seems even more appropriate now.

She finds herself in a new home.
The tormenting blows are gone,
and yet,
she cannot rest.

She likes it here
with her new family.
They embrace her as their own.
But she longs for those she left behind:
her playmates,
her dog,
her room,
the parent who crushed her trusting heart.

She likes it here
with her new family.
She basks in their warm affection.
She quietly bears her hidden wounds
as they slowly, painfully heal.

She likes it here
with her new family.
And yes –

She will love again.

(2005)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yes, I'm Powerless.

Just thinking about how things went haywire at my old church -- really not so much with the whole church, but with just a couple of people, but that was enough, given their positions.

Stepping off the mea culpa express -- no more guilt trips for me. I am responsible for my part in the bad situation. Others are responsible for their parts. And I am powerless to change what has already happened or what they chose to do or what they choose to do. I can only, with God's help, change what I choose to do now and in the future.

Found the Serenity Prayer in my email this morning. Twelve step groups use the first four lines as part of their meetings, here it is in its entirety:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Amen and amen! Be blessed!
E

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Well. Isn't It Ironic

From Alanis Morissette:



I'm getting settled in my new church home, and then hear that changes, including the transfer of Fr. X, are taking place at my old church.

I'm no church-hopper. Besides, I think the stability of our present church will be good for our family.

Hm. Isn't it ironic, don'tcha think.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Micro and Macro

Reading about the ongoing problems within the Episcopal Church and my conversation with Father Y made me think about this: What goes on in our personal lives is often reflective of what is going on in the world around us, and vice versa.

Based on that thesis, I have these questions:
Can people of goodwill disagree on important issues without straining the bonds of affection for one another?

Should people who wish to live their faith in community set aside "rightness" in order to pursue a greater good?

If we agree that in general, divorce is to be avoided, can there rightly be a time when a person must end a relationship with a community in order to thrive spiritually?
There is also another aspect to this "micro" and "macro" idea. That is, an individual church can be seen as kind of a microcosm of the Church, and moving from one church to another is like simply moving from one "room" to another in the larger Christian Church. This is a comforting idea, because it reminds me that we are all one as Christians, no matter what church (or part of the Church) we join or leave.

John 14:2
"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." (KJV)

So many incomplete thoughts...I'll just stop here for now.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...

A little counting of blessings here...

I was my friend P's guest at her family reunion today. Had a very nice time listening to family stories, looking at old photos and eating lots of BBQ. We were even treated to a nice rain shower, which was much appreciated, since Texas has been like a desert these past several months. Missed the hailstorm that my family experienced at home.


It was good to be welcomed so warmly. I guess even with the dysfunctional parts (which all families have!), I can see that my friend P comes from good folks.

Makes me so glad to have her and her husband T as friends.

Thanks be to God!

I guess I've turned a corner here

I mentioned to my husband last night that, being at my present church, this will be the first time I have ever had a pastor younger than me (even though it's only by a few months).

Hmmm...

Luke 15:25-32 – The Parable of the Loving Father (July 2004, edited Nov. 2005)

Gentle Readers,
This blog entry is an attempt at a sermon I wrote a few years ago. Yes, I do things like this "for fun". It seems to fit in with the rest of the blog, so I'm including it here. Feedback is always welcome.

Blessings,
E



In the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Remember that story Jesus told about the “prodigal son,” the young man who gets his inheritance early and blows it on loose women and fast living? Remember how he decides to come crawling back to dear old dad when his funds run out and finds the pigs’ slop better than his own food? And what did dear old dad do? Say “I told you so”? Lay a guilt trip? No! The old man not only welcomes his son back, but also throws a big party in his honor.

I have heard this parable discussed many times in the context of the father’s great forgiveness of his younger son. This understanding has been and continues to be a source of great comfort. After all, I have often strayed from the right road and I’ve been grateful to those who have forgiven me. I have read this story and placed myself in the shoes of the younger son, being willfully self-absorbed, seemingly bent on self-destruction and then, when that path proved fruitless, being grateful to the Father who always forgives.

But lately, I’ve wondered about the elder son. After all, he was the one who obediently stayed home and helped his father keep the family farm running smoothly. Could he really be compared to the legalist Pharisees, as one study Bible asserts? Was he simply a jealous, ungrateful son? And why did I start to feel like I identified more with him?

Let’s take a look at the situation. The elder son is angry. And why not? His father was overjoyed about the return of his brother and yet, seemed to care so little about him. I could see him standing outside, feeling neglected, ignored, unloved – invisible. Why didn’t his father appreciate all that he had done – the years of being obedient, working hard? Didn’t that count for anything?

Mark Muesse, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, re-titles the story as “The Parable of the Slighted Son.” In his article he describes the elder son as “the one who stays on the farm with his father, tending the cows and threshing wheat while his no-good brother is off whoring god-knows-where. The elder brother has always done what he was supposed to do.”

Muesse continues, “He has played by the rules, obeyed his father, and worked himself to the bone. No wonder he raises hell when the reprobate shows up one day seeking to get back into the father’s good graces… It’s just not fair. What’s the point of always doing what you’re supposed to do if it doesn’t earn you a few advantages?”

The father’s response is telling – he doesn’t try to make his other son feel better by putting his brother down. He doesn’t try to placate him with flattery. He offers no excuses or apologies for his actions. In fact, he seems to believe that his elder son is missing the point – he has never left him; he has never stopped loving him. The elder son has always had access to his father and to his father’s love. The father actually seems a bit taken aback that his elder son has any doubts at all about that.

The younger son receives all the attention at the moment because he hasn’t had the same access, even though he brought it upon himself by leaving the family home and leading a dissolute life. Now the father wants to show his younger son how much he loves him. This celebration is not only a show of joy over his son’s return, but also a tangible sign of his continuing love.

Why didn’t the elder son (as he complained) get a young goat so he could party with his friends? Maybe the father thought that his elder son didn’t need such a tangible sign. Maybe if the elder son were more observant, he would have noticed all the ways – great and small – his father already showed his love. Maybe he simply didn’t ask, “Dad, can I have a goat?”

The elder son has the same misconception about love that many of us have – love is finite. But the fact is love isn’t a pie in which giving someone a large slice means less for everyone else. Showing a great display of love for one doesn’t mean that others are less loved. Love does not exclude – in fact, as it is given, it grows to embrace more. The elder son was not left out of the celebration. He was invited – even begged – to join in. Jesus continues the story … “His father came out and began to plead with him (15:28).”

No doubt the father had been through something like this before. I imagine he didn’t let his younger son go without a struggle. I’m sure he pleaded with the young man to reconsider his decision to take the money and run. Now the situation is similar. But this time it is the elder son who chooses to alienate himself from the family and the father again humbly asks his son to come back.

You see, in this story, both sons got it wrong. Both disrespected their father. Both would have been deserving of punishment. Yet their loving father embraces them both.

We know what happened to the younger son. He showed humility and true repentance by leaving the immoral lifestyle he had been living and returning home. He asked his father to forgive him, knowing full well, he didn’t deserve it. He depended on his father’s love to restore his place within the family. And his father welcomed him back and celebrated his safe return.

We don’t know what happened to the older brother. Jesus leaves the ending open, like one of those 1970s school films where the action stops at a critical decision point. If this were one of those films, we’d probably see a close-up of the older brother’s face as he ponders what to do, then a fade to black.

So what does he do? What do we do?

While we are pondering, let’s consider another title for this story – “The Parable of the Loving Father, the One Who Forgives.” And let’s remember the words of the father – the words of our Father – “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

Amen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mending Wall -- Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulder in the sun,
And make gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there,
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

For some reason, I thought about this poem today. Frost is one of my favorite poets.

So, do good fences make good neighbors? And why would we continually go through the exercise of building walls, only to see them broken time and again?

One interpretation has to do with the necessity of having and maintaining personal boundaries. Indeed, it's a good thing to have healthy boundaries, and sometimes things break them down and they need repairing. But in relationships, healthy ones anyway, the repairing is a communal process.

But the neat thing about poetry is that there is rarely only one reasonable interpretation. Frost himself never gave interpretations of his poetry, preferring that readers come to their own conclusions.

It is interesting that the narrator questions the act of wall-building even as he is actively involved in it. His neighbor, on the other hand, does what has always been done, without thought. "He moves in darkness..." he has no need for the light (of thought, of reflection) because the task is so well-known that he can do it in the dark.

Might there be a parallel with our faith, that when we question it, we force ourselves to look deeper into why we believe what we do? I think when we don't question, we lose the opportunity to look deeper into ourselves and our faith. We lose the opportunity to deepen our relationship with our Lord.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:4

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Well, it's been a much happier day than I have experienced in a long time. I am guessing that God is working, even as I grieve my departure from my old parish, to show me that I can indeed rejoice in all things, that things are working together for good. I've contacted the appropriate people to serve my new parish in ways that match my gifts, and I pray that I will serve God in a fitting manner through these ministries.

Already I am slated to sing as part of a duet for our offertory anthem next Sunday! Well, I guess we'll see how things go during practice and see if the duet actually happens. I think it will be fine, but I'll reserve judgment until Tuesday's practice. I'll read during Mass sometime in August, which is just fine, because I can spend some time observing how things are done at this church.

After seeing some friends from my old parish (who are also at my new one), I am starting to make some sense out of the whole sad experience regarding my former parish. For the record, I did not share any details of my experience, but rather listened to theirs. And not everything was negative, sometimes things are just a better fit someplace else. (I add this for the benefit of my readers who still attend my former church, and whom I love.) As for my experience, it's a shame, because things started out so well. I am a bit afraid that a similar experience might happen at my present parish, though I must remind myself that these are different people, different situations. I'll talk with Father Y next week about this.

Just as a side note...Facebook has played a significant role in connecting with my new parish. I had "met" several people there, including Father Y, even before considering a transfer. And FB still plays a role in maintaining connections from high school and my former congregations.

It just shows again that all things, including social networking, work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Amen! Alleluia!



Friday, July 10, 2009

Update and Clarification

Gentle Readers,
Some things have changed recently and I have transferred to a new parish. Still sorting out what that means to me, so it will be a while before any thoughts on that reach the blog.

However, I noticed that I have some posts where I mention things said by "my priest". Of course, beginning now, "my priest" will be a different person. I may go back and edit some posts, referring to the priest at my old church as "Father X". Then any new posts will refer to the one at my present church as "Father Y".

Probably not important to anyone but me, but I like to keep the "cast of characters" straight.

Blessings,
E


Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Personal Satan?

I am sure someone with more theological knowledge will correct me if I am blatantly wrong.

My commute to and from work is about a good 30 minutes one way. So the drive gives me a lot of time to think and pray.

This morning an interesting thought came to mind: What if there is a such thing as a personal Satan?

Mind you, this is NOT something I want.

What I mean by "Personal Satan" is all those things that keep me away from God -- my areas of weakness, my Achilles's heel.

I thought about it for a while and concluded that the thing that keeps me furthest from God is very close to the thing that brings me closest to God -- my relationships with other people. Sometimes it's a person that helps me see what God has in store for me, what His will for me is. Many times finding God's gifts and discerning God's will is achieved in community. But other times, it's worrying about what people think, what they will do (which is beyond my control), how do they feel about me, that lures me away from God. A Personal Satan.

Maybe I'll come back to this and expand on it. But that's all I have for now.

Blessings,
E


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Forgive Us Our Debts

The King James version of the Lord's Prayer goes like this:
After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our
debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13)

I found this meaningful quote on forgiveness in Blake Coffee's Blog "The Church Whisperer" http://churchwhisperer.com:
Forgiveness is more about wiping away a debt. It is saying to a person, “You owe me nothing more…no money, no apology, no hugs, no sympathy cards, nothing…I really am no longer looking for any of that from you…you are released from any moral or ethical or legal obligations to me for this pain…as much as is possible, we are going to move forward now and I will not be holding this over you any longer, waiting to hit you on the head with it if you mess up again…I will not be keeping score because where I am concerned your slate is now wiped clean…I wish the very best for you and God’s blessings on you.” Forgiveness isn’t something we wait to feel, it is something we communicate to the person who hurt us irrespective of how we feel.

We don't use this version very often in our churches, but the use of the word
debt really struck me today. When I forgive someone, I'm charged to wipe the slate clean, to let go of any expectation of "payment," so to speak. No further explanation, apology, or expression of regret is required, because the debt is forgiven. Yes, I might feel that I'm "owed" one or more of these things, but now I'm making the decision to forgive the debt, to allow the debtor to start fresh.

It's a very concrete way of looking at forgiveness. Like if I had a problem with a credit card debt and the company allows me to pay part or none and forgives the debt. Afterward, I can start fresh, without late fees or other penalties hanging over my head. I respond best to concrete examples, things that I can wrap my head around.

Oftentimes, I have had trouble forgiving because I felt that I had been "paid" part or none of what I was "owed" for my suffering. The quote marks are intentional, because these words are indicative of my feelings, whether or not they are based on fact. When I forgive my debtor, I let go of keeping track of whatever I feel is owed me. We have the opportunity to start fresh, to restore and repair without old debts hanging over our heads.

I am looking forward to using this definition of forgiveness in the situations I encounter in my life. I think it's very do-able. Hard, but do-able. By using the concept of forgiving a debt, I'm able to separate my feelings from my forgiveness, and maybe I can give my feelings a fighting chance of catching up.

Amen.


I'm Not Who I Was -- Brandon Heath

"...Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."



To paraphrase Father X, we are changing, every second, every fraction of a second. We can choose to let God be the change agent in us.

I'm not who I was! Thanks be to God!

Amen!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What's Love Got to Do with It? Part 2


I'm going to attempt to describe several attributes of love in this post. First, let me list a few things that Love is Not:
  • Unconditional Approval of what a person does or thinks
  • Being inseparable from the other to the point of losing one's self
  • Mushy, gushy sentiment (OK, mush is good sometimes, but not without substance along with it.)
  • Appreciation of what another does for you (It's loving to do so, but it's not Love.)
  • Trying to mold another, or the relationship with another, into something you want.
I can probably go further, but I think you get the picture.

So...what IS Love?

Love IS...
Unconditional Acceptance of a person as beloved of God. When we look at others as God's beloved children, we look beyond anything that they do or believe and love that which belongs to God. Do we approve, like or ignore that which is wrong or evil in some persons? No. It would not be loving to do so. I'll expand on that a little later.

The lesson in this for me is to accept people as they are. To accept what they are able to give at a given time. To accept changes in people as neither good nor bad, in most cases. I will see even the annoying and hurtful people in my life as beloved of God, and accept that they are doing the best they can in a given circumstance. This is so, so hard sometimes, especially when there are people who hurt not only me, but members of my family.

Now to expand that previous point about not allowing wrong or evil to go unnoticed. Love means sometimes allowing people to experience the consequences of their actions, for good or ill. For example, if someone breaks the law, it would be unloving to allow that person to get a free pass and continue breaking the law. To deal with the consequences sooner rather than later, allows the law-breaker the opportunity to repent and lead a more Godly, productive life. It reduces the number of people victimized by that particular person's actions. Pursuing justice (not revenge) is a loving act.

Love sometimes is telling the beloved something he or she would rather not hear. I call it getting a "reality check". Some reality checks confirm what I think, some challenge those thoughts. I trust certain people in my life to tell me the truth as they see it, because sometimes clarity is achieved by seeing something from another angle. I believe that telling the truth -- gently, and with great care -- is one of the most loving things a person can do.

Love is -- sometimes -- the mushy, romantic stuff. Depends on the relationship, of course, but I treasure those times when my husband surprises me with remembering our first date, or says he loves me with all his heart. When I express my love for him in words and actions, spiritually, physically -- this too, is Love.

Love is reaching out to meet the needs of the beloved, and placing my own needs lower on the list. That's kind of countercultural nowdays, as conventional wisdom urges us all to fight, argue, and stand up for our own needs first and foremost.

Love is what St. Paul described to the Corinthians in the popular Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Be aware that Paul was writing to a church in discord. Members were arguing about practices, whom to follow, and these conflicts were threatening to tear the church apart. I see this around me not only in some of my personal relationships, but within my beloved Episcopal Church. It pains me to see such division in the Church, with each side believing it is in the right. But I when I read what I wrote above about love, how can I fault either side when each claims to be working in the name of justice and God's will? I see troubling beliefs and practices on both sides, and I wish both would somehow merge what is good and right and allow the rest to fall away. Good Lord, deliver us.

Love is forgiving the beloved when they hurt you. I found a wonderful blog comment that describes what I believe:
"But simply because you might get angry or annoyed with someone, even if you don't like them for a time, that does not mean that you do not love them. Love and like are two different animals...If you want proof of God, or more particularly, of the Holy Spirit, here it is, because that is something that we could never do on our own all by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit, not us, that allows us to do that. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to do the impossible, to love even those we do not particularly like, to forgive those who have injured us to the core, to be patient with those who annoy us to no end. Such things are impossible for something that is merely the accidental product of evolution, but because there is God, the impossible is made possible."
"Bender" Blog Comment, "Conversion Diary"
There's also this from the Book of Common Prayer, the Rite of Reconciliation, p. 451:
Priest: "Do you forgive those who have sinned against you?" Penitent: "I forgive them."

Love also includes myself. Jesus said, “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:37-39). My take on this is in the form of a poem I wrote in my college days:

Can I love you
As I love myself?

Would you want a love
Based on conditions,
Requirements,
And impossible demands?
Would you want to feel
The guilt of always falling short?

Then I’m afraid I can’t love you
As I love myself.
I must change the love I have
So that it becomes a fitting gift to you.

Because I must first love myself
As I want to love you
Before I love you.

1985, revised 2008

I know greater minds than mine have written about this, but hey, what's a blog if you don't write what you think? It's far, far, from complete, but I hope I've given you, Gentle Reader, a little food for thought.

My continuing challenge -- to live as I profess to believe. God help me.

Love,
E