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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

So it’s Thanksgiving!

When I was a child, this holiday meant coloring pictures of pilgrims and “Indians.”  It meant singing Over the River and Through the Woods* at the top of my lungs with 25 other children.  We heard stories of settlers, Native Americans, and a hard, cold winter.  We were taught that the First Thanksgiving was a celebration of survival in rough conditions, shared between aboriginal peoples and the first Euro-Americans.  We know now that this is a candy-coated fairy tale, and the true story is not as beautiful as the common table I envisioned when I was a little girl.  As the true history reveals itself, the arrival of Thanksgiving becomes a time to challenge the status quo.  For many, this day is a reminder of the cultural genocide that started with the arrival of that first group of European settlers.  For others, it is a time to put on blinders and pretend the lovely little fairy tale is an accurate description of history.  Between these extremes, Thanksgiving happens.

As time passed, Thanksgiving became a day to celebrate family and our closest friends.  For many, it’s a time to celebrate football and food.  For others, it’s a way to open the door on a new season.  This is what Thanksgiving has come to mean to me.  It is a time for family to gather, large or small, to break bread together and enjoy one another's company.  I enjoy waking up early, preparing the meal and watching the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.  When Santa passes on the screen, the secular “Christmas Season” is official for me.  I like to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, the original Miracle on 34th Street, or the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol.

Once into the season, I enjoy saturating myself with holiday music, watching the cartoon specials I grew up with or watched with my children as they grew.  One year, I introduced them to Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (which I watched from the time I was about 4), and we have watched it ever since.  These past few years, I have sometimes watched these shows alone.  I don’t mind.  The love that I feel and the energy that is released when I watch them makes the time worthwhile.  Thanksgiving is the beginning of a season that fills me – and thousands of others – with joy.

I support those who choose to make this day a time of remembrance for ancestors lost to cultural and real genocide; to blankets infused with smallpox, forced movement across the country, and being corralled into reservations.  I am not blind to the history of this day.  I do not ignore the truth, and will always acknowledge and educate whenever I have the opportunity.

On the other hand, I wish to declare this day as something new and separate from its history.  I wish to declare this day a day of thankfulness for our own good things and the good things we can find in our history and in our current times.  I do not wish to deny the happenings of our times; the racism, the sexism, the ageism, the hatred, the fear, and the frustrations that are so clearly evident in current events.  I do not insist that we forget the dead children of Ferguson, of Cleveland, of America.  I do not insist that we ignore the terrors of soldiers and civilians in the Middle-East, or of veterans shattered and lost in the system, or existing in the streets.  I do not ask that we turn our backs on those who need, who hunger, or who mourn.  I simply ask that in all the darkness, we look for the light; for there is light.

There is Light.  I look for it and find it in the relationships I have with my family and my friends.  When I find that Light I want to share it.  I cannot march, I cannot give money, I cannot pull individuals, cities, or societies out of their darkness.  What I can do is turn on my own light, and with that find the great Light that I can share with others.  I can share it in my writing, in my actions, in the way that I interact with others I touch along my path.  Yet I cannot share it if I do not find it.  To find it, I need the nourishment of family, friends, and the coming season.  My body, my mind, my heart, and my soul are fed by the rituals of my life.

Thanksgiving is one of these rituals.  Allow me this, and I will have the strength to shine the Light and to share the burdens of darkness with those who carry it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

*For an excellent history of this song, actually a poem called "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day" and its impressive author, Lydia Maria Child, just click on her name!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christmas Cozy

It’s that time of year again.  It’s a cozy time for many of us – a time when memories of childhood Christmases filled with love and the warm scent of pine fill our senses.  Storefront displays, bright colored lights, and the sounds of the season, both secular and religious, fill us with nostalgia and a sense of being wrapped in loving, protective arms.

It’s also the time we begin to hear and read the cacophonous arguments about what to call this time of year, how “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and the horrible commercialism of this special holiday.  It is most definitely an overly commercialized time of year.  It’s been so for a very long time, and as long as shoppers continue to line up to purchase products at the department stores on Thanksgiving, a day once meant for celebrating with family and friends, it will remain so.  As long as people insist on purchasing more than they can afford to buy and pile more gifts under the tree than any one family needs, Christmas will continue to be a “commercial” holiday.

As the United States becomes a more pluralist nation, the greeting, “Merry Christmas” becomes less acceptable, and on the flip-side the more appropriate “Happy Holidays” comes under attack by certain factions of Christianity that seem to fear change.  These are the people that argue that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  Of course, He is not the reason for the season.  The reason for the season has to do with climate and the distance of the earth from the sun.  This is Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere.  This time of year has been celebrated since the beginning of human awareness, as have the Summer Solstice and the equinoxes.  It is the Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere; though Christmas is celebrated at the same time in both places, on December 25, for various reasons.  Jesus is the reason for Christmas and a reason for the giving of gifts and the singing of carols, but he is not the reason for this entire season.  In fact, as many have argued, Jesus was more likely to have been born at another time of year, and there are Christian denominations that choose not to celebrate Christmas at all.

Of course, we are heading into a time replete with Festivals of Light; Christmas is but one of them.  As a Christian, I have come back to my family tradition of calling it Christmas, yet as a Wiccan, I called it “Yule.”  When I speak to people I don’t know, I wish them “Happy Holidays.”  This is not just a “politically correct” way of speaking at this time of year, it is also the most respectful way to greet others and acknowledge this time of celebration.  On the other hand, if someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” or a “Blessed Yule,” or even a “Happy Hanukkah,” I simply thank them.  I am honored that they chose to wish me a good season.

This morning as I walked down the hall in the hospital, I was heading straight toward the gift shop.  The window was filled with the trappings of Christmas – decorated fir trees, sparkly lights, ribbons, and bows.  I felt that nostalgia for a time and place that I seem to remember out of childhood – or perhaps simply out of time.  I remembered the trip I took as a child with my mom and my grandma to Dayton’s Department Store in Minneapolis.  The store was decorated with all the trimmings.  We took the escalators upstairs, where they had an entire room dedicated to Christmas.  A train ran around the top of the walls, felt snow and snow-people stood about giant Christmas Trees.  Christmas music played above, and I got to see Santa Claus, assisted by his elves.  Remembering this, I was filled with a sense of joy, hope, and expectation.  I was reminded that there is more to this time of year than the rampant commercialism, more than the self-righteous religious rhetoric.  The symbols, sounds, colors, and smells of Christmas are more than representations of a religious tradition.  They have become traditions of western culture.  They are secular traditions that can bring people together, if only we could let go of the semantics of our religious differences.

This time of year is a special time for practitioners of almost all religious traditions.  Should it not be a time when we see the beautiful Light that is the Hub at the center of the wheel of all religions?  Should it not be a time when we who practice religions that claim to center on Love actually practice that Love?  For those who do not practice a religious or faith tradition, could it not be a time for respecting and loving one another, just because it’s the right thing to do?  Sure, it’s the right thing to do all year long, and we should practice Love each and every day.  However, being human, we simply don’t.  We need a time of year such as this, to remind us not of what we are, but what we could be.

Picture from

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This Thing I Wrote

This is a "Thing" I wrote for my CPE program.  It's really my statement of faith, I suppose; a statement of my theological understanding of the world.

God is Love is at the center of my spirituality.  I understand God as “that which created us, fills us, and connects us all.” God is All That Is.  As I seek to reconcile my Christian education with my “alternative” religious experiences, I have come to understand the concept of the Trinity as Creator (the Creator of all things), Christ(the most perfect reflection of God’s Being in human form, known to many as Jesus – yet I believe there have been others), and Holy Spirit* (The continuous flow of God’s Presence that is beyond the physical, yet can be experienced, felt, invoked, and directed.  It is known as the Christ, the Holy Spirit, Spirit, Energy, Chi, Power, and many other names).  Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  His actions and his parables reflect his expectation that his disciples would see all other human beings as our neighbors, no matter who they are or what they do.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, reinforced these teachings of Jesus.  While I am no longer a United Methodist, I find the Wesleyan approach to understanding how to apply the teachings of Jesus to life very helpful.  Wesley encouraged the study and reading of the wisdom of other faiths to understand who our neighbors are.  He held that scripture is the first place to look for answers, but that experience, tradition, and reason were also to be taken into consideration when making decisions about right actions.  Further, he wrote of the universality of God’s love as the core of ALL faith.  St. Francis and John Wesley both found God’s creatures to be worthy of honor and respect.  In fact, Wesley approached health and the environment in a holistic manner.

The new/ancient practices of Neo-Paganism & Wicca draw on similar interpretations of the place of humans in the world.  After so many years of practicing as a Wiccan Priestess and wrestling with my upbringing in Christianity and my study of other cultural expressions of the Divine, I come to the conclusion that at the core of it all is the ineffable Something we cannot describe.  I do not wish to describe that ineffability through the Via Negativa approach (by describing what It is NOT); therefore, all I can say is that It IS Love, though of course this is not sufficient.

I honestly feel the connection between myself and all other creatures, particularly my human brothers and sisters.  This sense of connection, along with my experiences in life, is the foundation for who I am becoming as a pastor and as a chaplain.  Using Wesley’s approach to decision making, I reason that my reading and understanding of scripture (which includes, but is not limited to, the collection of books we call “The Bible”), my experiences in life that have led me to understand pain, fear, isolation, anger, etc.; my personal mystical experiences which allow me to see beyond boundaries of denomination, religious and cultural context, etc., and my inherited tradition of Protestant Christianity and adopted tradition of Eclectic Wicca all come together to make me a potentially excellent chaplain.

In fact, it is as if I have been called toward this position all along.  I am able to speak to most “versions” of Christianity, including Catholicism, and speak with, pray with, or just sit with patients and family members who practice any of these traditions.  I am able to openly discuss spiritual concerns of practitioners of Neo-Pagan traditions, and have done so in the hospital.  I am not uncomfortable being present with those who claim no religion, and feel no compunction to talk them into adopting a faith.  My interpretation of what some Christians call “The Great Commission” is not to proselytize but to actually be a disciple myself and an example of the kind of life that Jesus lived.  In seeking to do this, I become a better person and a better pastor/chaplain.

*Changed from Walker (a generic term for the human who lived among us, shining the Christ Light upon us)
*Changed from Spirit, originally assuming the "Holy," but desirous of being fully understood, that I believe the Holy Spirit is a Christian term for that Spirit that goes by so many names, culturally and experientially identified.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Deepest Place

I’ve found it.  That place.  You know, that place Frederick Buechner calls “the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”  My place.  It’s been there all along, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to find it.

A few weeks ago I started my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  CPE is a combination of classroom learning and discussion and hands-on experience as a Chaplain Intern in a hospital setting.  On one of my early regular shifts, I knew.  I only had a couple of hours to work, so I went to one of my assigned floors to introduce myself and see a couple of patients.  Mine are the baby floors.  Labor and Delivery, Ante-Partum, and Couplet Care, where the mommies and babies go before they leave the hospital.  Of course, when I’m On Call, I am all over the hospital.  This day, though, with as little time as I had, I was on my own floors.

That night, I found myself praying for a baby, born too soon, and her mourning parents.  I had hardly left the room when I was paged by the On Call Chaplain to provide a viewing of someone who had passed away for a loved one.  One would think a night like that would send a newcomer reeling, but instead I found myself rejuvenated, knowing I had been given the chance to be with someone in their deepest hour of need.

Since that night, I’ve rejoiced with birth parents and adoptive parents, prayed with adult children who have lost their parents, and sat with people recovering from surgery, others preparing for surgery, and yet others who would be out of the emergency room before the night was through.

No matter what kind of day or night I have at the hospital, I know that I will bring peace to at least one person.  I give something, yet I take away so much more.

The day I walked down the hall in the hospital, holding on to my bright pink folder, and realized that I had come to the crux of my spirituality, the trajectory of my life changed.  The trajectory of my ministry became clear.  The clarity of this vision brings a change to the mission of St. Brigid in the Desert.

I will be spending some time in prayer as I discern where St. Brigid will be heading.  Certainly, I will continue to offer Spiritual Direction and Life Celebration services.  How I will approach this from the standpoint of the church will reveal itself in time.

I’d like to share with you a poem I wrote from my experiences in chaplaincy so far.  It is as yet untitled.

I’ve seen the pallid

Face of death

Eyes mere shadowed

Memories of dreams;

Once imagined thought

Of what might have been

I’ve heard the screams

Of midlife child

Unprepared for loss

Of reconciliation, door

Closed for half a life

Will never open now

I’ve held the hand

Of childless mother

Once-filled womb now empty,

And arms aching to hold, and

Tears shed for the

Life that might have been

I, who lend my ear, my hand

My heart, pray

Spirit brings peace

When even I cannot

Feel Her Presence

In other rooms, beyond

Newborns cry

And mothers shed

Tears of joy and fear

For the fragile life

Placed in their hands

New Hope

In the midst of sorrow

© 18 September 2014

Blessings to all of you as we enter into a new season.