Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Passover is coming!

This is my favorite time of the year. I am Christian; my extended family is Jewish. I get to celebrate Easter, the arrival of spring and Passover all at the same time. And, theological implications aside, Passover is my favorite of all three. It is the fundament, the firmament and the joy all at once. It is the heartbeat in my spiritual year.

Let me describe what is the occasion of my annual joy -- for the past 25 years. Jack and Estelle are the patriarch and matriarch respectively of the annual Passover seder. Jack presides at a multi-hour, full-tilt-boogie, every-song-sung, every-verse-read (and many commented on) seder.

The matzoth are schmura, meaning they are hand made in special rabbinically supervised surroundings from wheat that has been tended and supervised through its life. They are round and delicious, not square and pasty like store-bought can be. The gefilte fish is home-made and incomparably fabulous. (Winter carp, people -- use winter carp!)

But it is more than the food, more than the adherence to tradition. It is the feeling of tribe, of family, of the same faces assembling, year after year to celebrate this Holy occasion. It is the only time in the year that I see most of these folks, and they enfold me into their midst as family. It is a place that I know I absolutely belong - without question or judgment. It has been a spiritual home for me when I had no other.

I have a threefold role that has happily evolved over the years.

1. I help Jack cook. Jack is the chef. I am the vegetable and fruit peeler. I will peel enough yams, potatoes, apples, onions, celery root, parsnips, carrots, beets for kugel, tzimmes, moror, chicken soup and whatever else Jack needs. There will be enough for two nights of 20 people each (even if he only has 1 night this year for 15.) I sit; I peel; Jack and I hold intellectual discourse; Estelle and I chat about life in general and in detail. It is a tradition. I love every second. This year we start on Thursday.

2. I arrive on seder evening with a series of odd facts about the liturgy. There will have been questions from last year. This year I will have researched the answers. I will also dig up side details that help us know more about the various people mentioned in the seder. I do this to delight and amaze Jack who seems to know everything there is to know about things Judaic. Finding a pearl about which he knows nothing is a challenge each year.

3. I am asked to read the same section of the Haggadah liturgy each year -- it is the closing prayer and it addresses G-d with wild abandon and thankfulness - it is a shower of prayerful joy, a flood of ecstatic praise. I will quote a tiny part of it here, but there is much more and at the end of it I feel both broken asunder and enlivened with praise. I read these words with millions of Jews around the world, and the world spins closer and closer to G-d, and He to us. :

To You alone we give thanks. Even if our mouths were filled with song as the sea, and our tongues with joyous singing like the multitudes of its waves, and our lips with praise like the expanse of the sky; and our eyes shining like the sun and the moon, and our hands spread out like the eagles of heaven, and our feet swift like deer we would still be unable to thank You L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, and to bless Your Name, for even one of the thousands of millions, and myriads of myriads, of favors, miracles and wonders which You have done for us and for our fathers before us. L-rd, our G-d.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This is one reason I love Amherst

There has been a lot of pressure on our Episcopalian brethren over the past few years especially regarding the issue of GLBT acceptance in the Anglican church. It is a long and torturous story with lots of history. But the latest blow came when, bowing to the pressure from 3rd world Anglican conservative primates, the US Episcopalian church, in a move to avoid being ejected from the worldwide Anglican communion, bowed to the wishes of others and agreed to a moratorium on GLBT marriages.

These are moments when I am so proud to be from Massachusetts, a state in which GLBT unions are legal. In the sleepy little college town Amherst, home of the University of Massachusetts (my alma mater), a few Episcopalian priests reacted like true priests, with grace and justice. Here is the Associated Press release.

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) - An Episcopal minister will stop performing all wedding ceremonies to protest the denomination's prohibition of same-sex unions.

"We are called to join the fast that our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ have had to observe all their lives," said the Rev. Robert Hirschfeld, rector of Grace Episcopal Church.

Several members of the congregation say they support Hirschfeld's move, which he announced in his Sunday sermon. Others said they were concerned that that the move might add to the polarization of an issue that has already divided Episcopals.

Erica Winter, of Northampton, said working for social justice often involves giving up something.

"I'm so proud to be a part of this," Nina Scott, a congregant from Amherst, said. "It's a step that needs to be taken."

Two priest associates at Grace Church, the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Rev. Burton Whiteside, also said they won't perform marriages.

"I am convinced that when gays and lesbians are baptized, they become full members of the body of Christ," said Bullitt-Jonas. "They are not partial members or conditional members or second-class members."

Amen, amen and amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A House-shaped-hole where Whole should be

I just got back from another weekend in Massachusetts not finding a home to buy. I looked at twelve of them. None were right, and I even checked with my realtor and my best childhood friend (who comes around and looks with me at houses). I asked them if I am being too picky, or if, in fact, the right house really wasn't there. Everyone agrees -- it isn't there yet.

I struggle to find some gratitude in any of this. I am working this Lent to be thankful each day. To look for the hidden blessings. On this one I had to pray a stupid prayer "Lord, I cannot see anything good in this weekend's house hunt, so I have to thank you for the good I am currently unable to see."

But I confess to be having a case of the blues. Where I live does not feel like home anymore. With the exception of a few dear friends who visit, life here seems pretty empty. It is overtime to move on. I need to move to start my new business venture, and every day that I do not, gets me anxious. I need to lose weight. My back is aching from arthritis. It is tax time, a season in which I become neurotically anxious beyond measure..and yadda yadda yada. It's a good thing I am spending time feeling thankful because I sure can come up with a "bitch list" at the drop of a hat.

OKOKOK...time to take my own medicine. Maybe if I let myself be more thankful, my life will have more room for a house in it. Maybe I should ask God to push me in the direction of the right house.

There are lots of wonderful things in my life, lots of wonderful people. And my life has been hard but laced with astounding good fortune. Thank you God for loving this stubborn woman who cannot yet seem to find her way home.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I just invented that word : Grat-i-glect : The neglect of gratitude. Not being thankful often enough. A sin of omission.

As pert of my Lenten devotionals, I have been spending some time trying to be conscious of things in my life for which I should give thanks.

The first problem I discovered is that I did have to build this into my day, or it was not happening. I was guilty of gratiglect. I was not thanking God for His many mercies and abundant grace on a regular basis. So my life ended up spinning toward difficult thoughts instead of having built in a balance, a background against which the tougher things in life could be considered and handled.

That made my life an odd drawing of stick figures and buildings with no ground to stand on and no sky to look up to. No wonder it felt off-kilter.

Gratitude is the foundation. It is the bedrock. The earth. It is Ground Zero. It is the "go-to" place when no other place is. "Help" is not the only prayer. "Thank You" is the first prayer.

When I feel horrible, gratitude seems foolish, trivial, Pollyanna-esque. When I am sad, angry, confused, depressed -- gratitude seems inconsequential, unimportant, namby-pamby.

But the point is, gratitude is essential. There is no perspective without it. Try it. Right now. Despite how foolish it may or may not feel to you. Here is what I suggest:

1. Sense how you are feeling for a few seconds. Don't judge it, just feel it.

2. Write down 10 things for which you are thankful. They can be large or small. But there MUST be 10. If it is hard, there still must be 10.

3. Write down 2 more.

4. Read your list and take a breath.

5. Check in again about how you feel -- any subtle changes? Pay attention through the day. Let yourself linger over the list in your mind once or twice. Let it change the edges of things.

I am finding that gratitude is enabling positive action for me -- action that was mired down without it. Talk to me, dear ones, about gratitude and how you build it in, or not...

My goal now is to have a thanks-to-God moment right before I sleep and as soon as I awake.

Even before coffee :-)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

oh Freedom !

It has been a lovely couple of days post the Epiphany mentioned in my last post. It is as though this great sludgy gob of emotional goo has left, and I feel suddenly lighter and life looks so much more possible.

It has made me wonder what sparks such change, what suddenly makes the soul hear the word of God in such a way that it honors freedom instead of self-imprisonment. What makes a teachable moment?

Does God decide somewhere up there in the ether that Now is the time when I should get it? Seems to me that once God decides, it could be anyone or anything that somehow embodies the message in a way that I can hear it.

But then, maybe not. The key part of the story of the South African child that touched me is that her father shot her mother. The ills had begun with her father. That is my path as well - no shootings, but the sad things began with actions of my father. Maybe that is what caused me to listen. Maybe that is why this little girl was selected to be my angel of the day?

Or maybe God has scattered inspiration all over the universe for all of us to see, and it is up to us to clean our spiritual lenses so that we are better able to see it.

I know that what I feel for the person who wronged me is not love, not affection. But neither is it anger anymore, or resentment. I may never be able to love her - to do what we are commanded to do - to "love my enemy". But at least now I can let go of her and let God love her. I have detached from her and no longer live in any part of the wound. It feels exactly as though I have shed chains.

This is so remarkable to me. For a little over a year I have been in a knot about this, hurting and feeling so frustrated about what to do, how to deal with it. And today, after an instant, I feel free.

I will never know why. But I do know I would be the worst kind of fool to not be thankful.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Epiphany during Lent?

I am excited. A 9 year old South African girl I never met may have taught me what I need to get out of this rut of feeling 'wronged'. I was watching Oprah - the special about the leadership academy for girls that she started in South Africa. Part of the show was a series of profiles of a few of the girls who had been selected to attend. One was a sweet child of about 9 whose parents were dead who was being raised by her grandmother in horrible poverty. Her father had shot her mother and then himself. Yet she slept with a picture of them both above her bed, and with her sister would go to the grave to pray for them lovingly, even her father. At one point in the show she was talking about her past and said that although her past was hard, and that her life was not easy that it was the life that God had given her, and it was hers to do the best with it that she could. To be thankful for what she did have.

Something in me snapped open. I felt light starting to pour in.

Finally an image that did take seriously the wrong that had happened, but an image that found a bridge over it.

Life changing bad things have happened to me. Some people have deliberately harmed me.

So what?

That doesn't make this day any less of a gift from God.

I have been dealt a rough hand of cards to play at many points in my life.

So what?

Join the planet Earth. Look around, plenty have it harder than I do. And every minute I spend focussed on what had been done wrongly to me is a minute of joy I give up. too. A minute of gratitude I give up, too.

Every minute I give up to resentments makes what I have to feel bad about that much bigger. At that point the only abuser is me.

I thank those of you who have read this and offered prayer.

Today is the day the Lord has made. I am rejoicing.
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