Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The attack of the Sugar Plum Fairy

The kids were both up by 5:30 this morning, on this second weekday of the Christmas holiday break. I got up with them but was still tired when David got up around 6:30, so I went back to bed for a short winter's nap.

I was awakened from my early morning nap by David's calm voice saying loudly, "Oh, you bad, bad baby!" In case you've never been awakened by that sentence, let me assure you that it is not a comforting sound for a mamma to hear. As I made my way blearily out of our room to investigate, I discovered my husband was in the kitchen vacuuming my son. When I inquired what was going on, I learned that Jack had been unsupervised for some period of time (?) and had decided to occupy himself by playing in the container of powdered sugar in our pantry. The result was a large amount of powdered on the floor and a powdered sugar-covered baby. David had received the crime-stopper tip by the concerned older sister, MM, who went to get him off the computer by saying, "Daddy, you have GOT to see what Jack's done!"

All in all, it was an interesting way to begin the day!

Advent 3C

The 3rd Sunday of Advent Year C
December 13, 2009
One day this past week, I was very, very grumpy. I was feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of the season, wondering when I was going to have time to do my Christmas shopping, address and mail our Christmas cards, bake, and find that missing box of Christmas ornaments that we’ve managed to lose in the move. I was sitting at my desk, making an angel tree for our outreach project, and I was getting more and more cross as green glitter from the tree got all over my desk and my hands and my face, my hands got sticky from the glue stick I was using, and it became increasingly more apparent that making an angel tree for the parish is not one of my gifts for ministry—Martha Stewart I am not! As I was gluing the gift requests on the back of the angel ornaments, I stopped to read one of the lists of request for Christmas presents. It was from a 7 year old girl whose favorite color is purple or pink (like my own daughter) and who had asked for either a bike or a scooter for Christmas and also for a gift certificate to a portrait studio for her family to get their picture made. Intrigued, I read another from a 17 year old boy: itunes gift card and black ankle socks; and another: a full sheet set, a floor lamp, and any classic movie on dvd; and another: a 2 sided crock pot, scrapbooks, and comfortable shoes for work; and another: slippers, a monthly bus pass, and black hair dye; and another: Sponge bob square pants shoes to fit a size 4T and anything Spiderman or Superman…12 of these little sheets of paper I read, each one representing a beloved child of God whose humble hopes and dreams were offered to us with the hope that we could help them be fulfilled. And here I was irritated by all the green glitter getting on my desk.
I could just hear John the Baptist’s scathing comment to me across the ages as he called me worse things than a brood of vipers.
Now, I do not offer this to you in order to make you feel guilty or to make you share in my guilt. Today is Gaudete Sunday, rejoice Sunday, when our Advent penitence is somewhat lightened; we light the pink candle, and we are invited to join the call of the prophet Zephaniah, the apostle Paul, and even fussy old John the Baptist. My struggle this week has been how to live into this call to rejoice when our hearts may feel burdened by the cares and the concerns, the pressures of the season? How do we rejoice when our hearts feel heavy or anxious, stressed or broken? And what does it mean to rejoice?
We can learn something about rejoicing from Paul and from John the Baptist this week. First, Paul. His words may seem like an empty echo when read out of context of the rest of his letter to the church in Phillipi. But then we remember that in this letter, he has identified three great threats to the community: opponents who have caused them suffering, so much so that Paul fears that the church might divide in the face of it; alternative teachers who Paul unflatteringly calls “dogs” who threaten the gospel that he has been proclaiming; and a conflict between two female leaders of the congregation called Euodia and Syntyche who are at odds over an interpersonal and congregational issue. On top of all this, Paul is writing his letter in chains from prison. So when the people of the church of Phillippi hear Paul’s letter saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…” they are listening with hearts that are weighed down from external and internal conflicts with anxiety about their future . He goes on to support his call to rejoicing by encouraging them to show forth their gentleness, to not worry and to pray, to turn their focus away from their fears and their conflicts and to focus outward on others in their community.
When the people come to John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading, even after his great tongue-lashing of them, they continue to ask him again and again…”What then should we do?” John’s great gift is that he is a person of vision who knows exactly who he is (not the Messiah but the one pointing to him) and that he has a very clear understanding of who his listeners are and who they could possibly be. He tells each one what they need to do in order to bear fruits worthy of repentance, and each prescription has to do with looking outside of themselves and their own issues and treating others with justice and mercy, gentleness and charity.
The poet Audre Lord wrote to her friend and fellow poet, Adrienne Rich: “Once you live any piece of your vision, it opens you to a constant onslaught of necessities, of horrors, but of wonders too, of possibilities.”
That is what John the Baptist offers his hearers: “possibilities”. It is the possibility of the good news—how we can be, how we will be changed for the better.
It is also at the heart of Paul’s hope and his call to rejoice—the possibility of transformation that he has experienced and continues to experience even in prison and the possibility of the church in Phillippi.
And so it is with us.
Our joy is not rooted in our own happiness, in our own prosperity, in our own stress and conflict-free circumstances. Our joy is rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the way that he transforms our hearts and our minds so that we are no longer orbiting around our own sufferings and hardships, but we can be focused on God and on others and on the joy that springs forth from those relationships.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” For with God, all things are possible.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

One More Marker

On Tuesday, I celebrated my 5th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I did not do anything special to mark it, other than what I did as a part of my work that day. I did remember it, and when I got home that night, I was nostalgic and a little mournful that I did not make time to say Mass in thanksgiving for God's call to me many years ago or even to read again the promises I made and the charge made to me in my ordination that was all made holy when the bishop laid his hands on my head five years ago.

However, this morning, I have realized that I have discovered another "marker" of my own pilgrim's way this week, my pilgrim's way that is the ordained priesthood. It has been in working on preparations for our Celebration of New Ministry this coming Sunday evening.

This week I have spent much time with the liturgy and its words have washed over me again and again: "Melanie Dickson Lemburg...Having committed yourself to this work, do not forget the trust of those who have chosen you. Care alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. By your words and actions, and in your life, proclaim the Gospel. Love and serve Christ's people. Nourish them, empower them for ministry, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. May the One who has given you the will to do these things, give you the grace and power to perform them."

Those words echo the words of charge at my ordination, and they also echo the work that I have been doing as a parish priest this week in multiple hospital visits, drop-in office visits, midweek Mass, the feast of St. Nicholas and Advent wreath making, and preparations for upcoming liturgies.

I give thanks for them and for the way that they serve as a marker that (at my best) I am doing exactly what I have been called to do. "It is meet and right so to do." And the anniversary of my ordination could have no better marker than that.

The Pilgrims' Markers

I have lived my life at a break-neck pace these last few days. I can't even remember the last moment of quiet contemplation I have fully rested in. I'm up early this morning to go visit someone in the hospital pre-surgery, and I am thankful to find the office quiet at this early hour and hope to have some time to be before all the activity begins again.

I'm sitting out in the church's garden, looking out over the Gulf. The tide is low, and there are markers out just off shore. I'm not sure what their purpose is (peraps to mark the shallow water from the deep for boaters?), but they remind me of the markers at the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (in the UK) which look like they are just sticks coming up out of the sea, but at low tide, these sticks mark the path for the pilgrims to make their way across the dry land to make their pilgrimage to Lindisfarne.

This morning, I believe that is the purpose of quiet contemplation and of prayer. At low tide, the slower easier season in our lives, the way to God may be clearly marked; at high tide, the business and chaos may seem to occlude the path like water swirling over the sand. That's why we need the markers of prayer and quiet and contemplation; That's why we need the season of Advent. These practices invite us to once again set our sights on the markers that line the way.