Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hurtful things we do to keep from hurting

14 July Thursday proper 10

1 Samuel 20:24-42
Madness and jealousy drive king Saul to try to kill David, while his son Jonathan conspires to keep him safe.

On the way to the empty nest there is a lot of acting out over separation issues. It is not always clear that is what is behind erratic behavior while it is happening, but in retrospect, it all makes sense.

The year before my daughter left for college we bickered frequently. Two strong willed, type A personalities -- we had always had our 'moments.' But it was beginning to feel like All the time was a moment!

Then I realized what was going on. If we fought it made life together unpleasant. The more unpleasant it became to be together, the easier it would be to go our separate ways when it was time for college. Not that there was a conscious decision to fight, but at some level, it made sense, to make the separation easier.

Once I became aware of this I stepped back from the quarrels more readily. I was going to miss her, and that was that. Not all separations have to be like Saul and David's.

God, sometimes people who love each other have strange ways of showing it. Help me to find appropriate ways of acting out my feelings. Amen.

Let the wild rumpus begin*

13 July Wednesday Proper10
Jesus said: "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?"

For Spring break this year, my son and I went on a trip to Ireland. As a single parent, about to start paying for a second college tuition -- prudence would say I should not be going on such an extravagant vacation. But it was our last big trip together before he goes to college, and he had dreamed of biking around the Aran Islands since he read about Saint Columba in third grade.

There will be time for fasting soon enough. For now, a little feasting while my child is still with me is fitting.

God, sometimes we take ourselves too seriously and forget that you made this world for us to rejoice in it.
Help us, like Jesus, to celebrate and enjoy one another while we can. Amen.

* title taken from Where the Wild Things Are

Friday, 15 July 2011

The nest and the tree

12 July Tuesday proper 10

Acts 12:1-3
King Herod had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.

My church is named for St James. So I'm quite used to pointing people toward this passage. It explains why a sword is one of the symbols used to identify St James in art.

After I had been here about five years, a two hundred year old oak on the front lawn of the church died. I hired a carver to turn the remains of the tree into a statue of St James. Of course we have no idea what he looked like, but we know his symbols -- the scallop shell of the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela and the sword of his martyrdom. The statue, carved with a chainsaw, is fourteen feet high, and has come to be a kind of landmark for the church.

Writing this reminds me how young the children were when we moved here. They were 2 and 3 then, now they are 18 and 19 years old. They have really grown up in St James. They have been the priest's kids (PK's) who have been a fixture of the parish for almost their whole lives. Or, to look at it from the other direction, they have been here for the parish for nearly sixteen years -- longer than half of the congregation's active members.

I wonder if there's a bit of an empty nest thing happening for the parish too? No more dependable back-ups for acolytes, youth group, set-up for events, and the multitude of behind-the-scenes other ways they have helped me and St James' over the years. It will be different coming to church alone...

God, you weave us together in so many ways. Help us support one another through times of challenge and change, even as our connections make us rejoice in our shared blessings.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

With or Without Me*

Mark 1:29-45
Crowds follow Jesus everywhere for healing and hearing his teaching. He takes time out to go away by himself for prayer. They find him and bring him back to more work.

Somehow, between my daughter’s travels & my son’s trying to get work and my own initiatives the Summer is half over and I don’t have a real vacation scheduled. I have one short trip coming up, and the drive to Minnesota – but no good solid block of days to rest and revitalize.

I keep a fairly solid daily prayer routine, with time apart most mornings – but that’s not the same as really getting away. Once Labor Day is over the calendar is packed solid for the fall; to have the energy to do my best I know I need time apart for re-creation.

This is just one of those facts of life whether or not the nest is empty! It is not wasted time, any more than time for meals or sleep are a waste. Jesus did it; so should we!

Lord Jesus, remind me that You keep the world going, with or without me, and I need to follow your example and take time apart to have the energy and inspiration to walk in your ways.

* play on a U2 song -- 'getting away' to their concert in a few days!
11 July Monday proper 10

Different loves

1 Samuel 18:1-4
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.

Was it platonic or romantic love?
Much more has been written about the exact nature of the relationship these two men had: I don't think I can solve that in this blog.

I can only say a love that causes one to be open and vulnerable, to strip away all defenses -- is a wonderful and rare gift for Any two people.

To get caught up on the platonic versus romantic issue may just spoil the whole wonderful thing. I speak from painful experience. I deeply regret getting caught up on that issue and ruining a relationship that brought me more joy than I had known for a very long time. If I had only known to be thankful for what I had, instead of wanting something different that could not be... How ever you read the story of Jonathan and David, you have to be happy on behalf of kindred souls that find one another. Happy, and envious, if you don't have such a relationship yourself.

With the nest emptying, I find myself examining all the other relationships in my life. Obviously, the relationships with my children shift now, not just in proximity and in frequency of interaction. When they leave home there is clearly a change in the amount of time spent on practical day to day parenting. But it has always been my experience that when I have time to fill things appear to fill it, so I'm not really concerned about that.

But what about the emotional space created by their absence?
Who or what will fill that gap?
Perhaps this is the heart of the empty nest challenge.

Gracious God, the source of all love, help me fully appreciate the many kinds of love you bring to our lives.
Forgive me for the loves I have not appreciated for what they were.
Heal me from the hurts of love lost or misused.
Keep me from being lonely when I am no longer in daily contact with the special love you have filled my life with in the joyful gift of my children.

10 July Sunday proper 10

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Role Reversal; rocks versus tanks

1 Samuel 17:31-49
The young Israelite David kills the giant Goliath the Philistine

This week once more we see the smaller and weaker march up and confront the stronger, in the form of the non-violent actions of the coalitions trying to break the blockade of Gaza and of the Wall surrounding the occupied Territories. Yes, the story has come full circle, and David is now the Giant, and the philistines are the oppressed.
And this week,the Philistines / Palestinians continue to suffer under occupation.

It is a long story how I came to be an activist defender of the oppressed and realized that it is Israel, and the might of the US, that is the greater oppressor, though neither side is without fault -- as is almost always the case in any conflict. But that conviction led me to take my two teens to live in Beit Sehour, the Shepherd's Fields of Bethlehem, with a Palestinian Christian family, the Summer of 2008.

As I look back on my parenting, that experience is one of the best things I ever did. There is much written of it in another blog, so I won't repeat it here. But with respect to "emptying the nest" it has had a tremendous impact on my daughter, inspiring her to spend last Summer in Jordan and she is currently studying at Birzeit University in Occupied Palestine. Her choices, commitment and thoughtful action over these Summers far exceed what any mother could hope for; I am so proud of her, and she gives me confidence that, at least in the big things that matter most, she can hold her own, outside the nest.

When I think of David and Goliath my heart goes out to both Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray, pray for the peace of Jerusalem and ALL her inhabitants.

Jesus, as you wept for Jerusalem so long ago, tears still pour today. Implant in us the Way of your peace, which cannot be real until there is justice. Begin by helping me be a person of peace, and then my children, and then all whose lives we touch and then...

9 July Saturday proper 9

Friday, 8 July 2011

"40 days and 40 nights"

Mark 1:1-13
After his baptism Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness.

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness after the life changing event of his baptism, before he began to take action in the world in his new ministry.

It strikes me now that the time of this Summer between my son's graduation and when I take him to college is My 40 days to prepare for life to be different.

I mean, it's not that I have some great plans to go call disciples and leave home or anything that radical -- but I certainly do know that my life will be different in September!

Already it is different. For example, I don't have to wake up at 5:30 every morning to prepare for my son's 6:15 school bus. And I am noticing more how many habits and activities involve my parenting.

In the Bible the number forty does not necessarily mean the precise number. As I understand it, when it says "40" it means "a long time, which added up to the right number of days to accomplish what needed to be accomplished."

Lord Jesus guide me through my "40 days" that when the nest is emptied I will be prepared to transform the hours which I have been filling with my mom-ministry into hours well spent in other things you call me to do and be.

8 July Friday proper 9

"Now sings my soul"

1 Samuel 16:14-17:11
An evil spirit tormented Saul and he was calmed by David's music.

My special graduation gift for my son was a record player.
I researched and spent a considerable amount of time picking it out, so I'm quite pleased that he likes it.

I went into the room full of stuff I haven't thrown out because I'm sure I'll need it some day, and pulled out my old collection of vinyls. And he has begun to comb yard sales and flea markets for unknown treasures.
I'm introducing him to sounds of my youth, and for the most part we find we share similar taste. I think this isn't usually the case for parents and their teens: that makes me feel blessed.

Playing some of those old records takes me straight back to my freshman dorm in college (The Boss, blasting through the hallways, and Aztec Two-Step, to mellow out with.)
Now, in 2011, he will head off to his freshman dorm with the same music that set the tone for me in 1975.

I certainly hope one would not say I am as tormented as Saul, but I do know that listening to this music played by my son is calming, and bringing a special peace at this transitional time for us both.

God, thank you for the gift of music.
Be with my son as he sings a new song in a foreign land.
And even as my heart is warmed by songs from the past, fill it with the right rhythm for the future.

7 July Thursday proper 9

"Holy Cow!"

Acts 10:1-16
Peter is given a vision that he should eat food which he would normally refuse because of Biblical injunctions.

My son decided to join me in being a pseudo-vegetarian seven years ago.
At one of my Cornell reunions he made friends with a fistulated cow.
He has always been a gentle soul, so it was not surprising that this caused him to decide he would not continue to eat four-legged animals.
This was his choice, his principle, not determined by an edict from me -- although I must admit it pleased me, and made cooking decisions easier. (If his sister, who did not share this conviction, had a carnivorous desire, she ate at a friend's or just made sure to order meat when we ate out.)

Well, a few weeks ago he sheepishly told me he had something to confess.
Of course the heart of a parent beats fast when a teen says he has something to confess!
So I was quite relieved to hear him just say that recently when dining at a friend's house, he had joined the family in eating hamburger... Not only once but on several occasions.
I can't say I'm not a bit disappointed, not because of the cows as much as because of the idea of giving up a principle that had been important to him.

Now I am realizing that in just a few weeks I will have No idea what he eats or when or with whom. It's just another aspect of leaving the nest, of course.

God, I thank you for the abundance of food you have blessed my family with.
I thank you that we are so blessed that we can choose what we want to eat -- a blessing the majority of people do not have.
I pray that our choices, in eating and in other every-day habits, will reflect our connection with your creation.
I pray that I can let go of my desire to control my children's choices.
And I pray you will remind me not to take myself or the importance of my decisions too seriously.

6 July Wednesday proper 9

"She is not here"

Luke 23:56b-24:11
The women enter Jesus’ tomb and see two men in dazzling clothes who ask “Why do you look for the living among the dead.”

When my daughter left for college, I found myself walking into her room for no particular purpose. I would just stand there -- in her space. Of course it would be better termed 'the remnant of her space.' She had chosen to take what was most important with her to school. I was there with the left-overs.

Of course this was not exactly the same as the women in the tomb!
But still, the question of the angels might have been asked.
Why are you looking here?
She has gone to a new and greater life.
She will never be the same.
I, and my relationship with her, will never be the same.

It took some getting used to. It still, nearly two years later, takes getting used to.

She and I have a new relationship. In some ways we get along more now than we did then! And I am continually impressed with her, and the accomplished young woman she is.

Now I am getting ready for my son to also leave.
It won't be just his room that will be left empty of children -- it will be the whole house.
The cats and I will have a lot more to get used to, no doubt about that!

Lord God, I give thanks for the new rooms my children are going to.
Help me to see the empty rooms as a sign of joyful new life. Guide me, and them, as we come to know one another in a different, but still good way,as they no longer live in my home.

5 July Tuesday in week of Proper 9

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Danger, Will Robinson!* Explosive bleeding heart liberal controversy in this entry

(* from '60s tv show, “Lost in Space” meaning I’m likely to be in trouble for what I write here)

1 Samuel 15:1-3, 7-23 (NRSV)
The Israelites hear God tell them to kill the inhabitants of the land – all of them! “...kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
When Saul spares some of them, Samuel declares “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Ouch. This is one of those parts of the Bible I can’t accept.
I mean, I can accept the part that teaches we should do what God truly wants us to do, even when it appears foolish in our judgment, as slaughtering every thing did to Saul.

What I can’t accept is that God actually wanted them to kill all those innocents in the first place. I believe it is human mis-understanding of what God wants that is the problem here. In this little blog I am not going to solve this whole dilemma today! After all, it is 4th of July and we should be off celebrating.

Actually, confronting this passage is particularly appropriate on the 4th.
God has blessed America, indeed. But in the process of declaring liberty and justice for our male, white ancestors, our nation was created out of actions not unlike the slaughter of the Amalekites, invading the land and killing the natives to take it for ourselves.

Our nation, like Biblical Israel, has indeed stood for many wonderful and virtuous principles, not least of which is trying to hear and heed God’s guidance in being a sign of God’s blessing to the world. But we do ourselves and our faith a dis-service if we fail to acknowledge that we have not always succeeded in being true to the nature of our loving God.

As a parent, I really do love both my children, and would never intentionally choose to elevate one at the expense of the other. Jesus says God is our Daddy, and we are to know God is the perfect parent. So I cannot believe God loves the people born in any country more than another. Not the USA, not Israel, not any of God’s children anywhere. God loves ALL the children, everywhere.

And while I’m in controversial territory here, I'll also explain that I do not pledge allegiance to the flag of any nation. I pledge allegiance to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for me and for the people of Every land, and whose way it is to reconcile us all to one another not through violence but through love.

I hope that my example, our family practice of prayer and worship, and the sacrifices I made to send my children to Quaker schools, helps them to live out principles of love and service in the name of Jesus.

Lord God, help me to hear and obey what you truly want.
Help me to shut my ears to the voices of expedience, chauvinism and self-aggrandizement.
Help me to know and understand you, even as I question the understanding of you written down by fallible men, in the Bible.
And Lord, help those who disagree with me to be at peace with me, and I with them. Amen.

(4 July, Monday, Proper 9)

"Better Angels of our nature" *

(* a term used by Lincoln, referring to that which helps us choose reconciliation over stubborn pride, I think)

I Samuel 14:36-45
King Saul’s son Jonathan disobeyed an edict he had declared. The penalty was death. But Jonathan had not even been aware of the edict when he disobeyed it. And as it happened, Saul’s edict was actually harmful for the people. The people pleaded Jonathan’s case, and he was not killed for his disobedience.

What a loaded story! How many times over the years have I laid down the law – and was really out of line?
I try to make decisions after careful analysis of the situation and prayer, but sometimes I get it wrong.
It’s hard to admit we are wrong, especially when, by virtue of our role as leader or parent, we are the ones who are supposed to know better.

As much as it hurt my pride, I’m thankful for the people who’ve had the courage to challenge me to change my mind. Those people appeared like angels, messengers, just in time to stop me from following through on a decision that really wasn’t the best for all concerned.

As my children leave the nest I find myself reviewing the times I got it wrong with them. Yet, through the grace of God, and better angels of our nature, they seem to have turned out fine in spite of my erroneous edicts.

God, help me to pray more and listen more for your wisdom before I act.
When I do make wrong choices, help me to admit my mistakes.
And thank you, God, for courageous and forgiving friends. Bless them, as they have been a blessing to me.

(proper 9, Sunday, 3 July)

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

"We all get caught up in what we think, and believe it's the truth."

(more of that song by Ellis

Acts 9:10-19a
Saul, who had been fiercely persecuting Christians, had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, followed by blindness. A vision then led Christian Ananias to overcome his fear of Paul and go and miraculously restore his sight. Something like scales fell from Paul's eyes, and he could see.

Of course he could now see both literally and spiritually. Where before he was an enemy of Christ and his followers, now he became the greatest advocate for Jesus. He saw him an entirely different way.

The scripture does not say what it felt like for those scales to fall from Paul's eyes.
Was it easy, a relief, an unburdening?
Or was it like having a part of himself ripped away?

Usually when we are forced to see someone in a radically different way-- whether better or worse -- it is painful.
We have to give up what we thought; acknowledge we were wrong! And we begin to live with a new truth.

If the person is better than we thought, we grieve the time lost on our misconceptions. Or worse, like Paul, we know we actually harmed someone we should have helped.

If our eyes are opened to see the wrong in someone that we had not been aware of before... Well, I remember what Jesus said about taking the plank out of my own eyes -- so maybe I won't go there today.

Jesus, help me to see others through your eyes.
And I pray that I have raised my children to go out into the world ready to do the same.

2 July Saturday

"It is patience, sitting right beside the doubt"

(the title is a line from a song by Ellis, which my children say I play too often)

1 Samuel 13:5-18
Samuel told Saul to wait until he got there to make the burnt offering to God in preparation for battle.But Saul became impatient and made the offering before Samuel arrived.
Because of this, the kingdom was taken from him.

Any parent knows the importance of patience.
So often it would be so much easier to just take the situation in hand ourselves and do what needs to be done.

But we really need to let our children, our friends, our parishioners -- whoever is ultimately responsible for the outcome -- we need to wait patiently and let them do what needs to be done, or decide what needs to be decided.

And we need to patiently wait and watch even if they fail, letting them learn and live with the results of their choices.
Of course, this means we can also more fully rejoice with them when they succeed on their own!

Gracious God, I pray that over the years I have in fact stepped back enough, waiting patiently, so that my children leave the nest prepared to choose and act with self-confidence and a healthy dose of patience of their own.

And God, thanks for the patience you have with me, too.

(from 1 July Friday in week of Proper 8)

What is this blog?

I have succumbed to the self-indulgence of a blog prompted by the number of people asking me:
"Sunny, you're about to be an Empty Nester. How do you feel about that? What are you going to do with yourself?"

As if being a full-time rector of a dynamic Episcopal church, and being actively involved in several groups working on peace and justice issues, and being president of the Episcopal Clergy Association of Pennsylvania, and trying to stay physically, emotionally and spiritually fit are not enough to keep me busy!

But it is true, in a few months, my role as single parent of two amazing children will change radically. One little bird has already flown the coop, changed her name, and is taking her junior year Summer and Fall away from Colgate University, studying in occupied Palestine. The other one heads off to St Olaf in September -- too far away for me to continue providing snacks and loud cheering for his cross country and track teams and other endeavors.

So for the time being I am adding to my prayer time the exercise of writing here my reflections on what comes to mind as I move toward the Empty Nest, looking for signs of God's guidance in the next stage of my life and faith journey. Something always seems to stay with me in the texts for Morning Prayer - sometimes just a one or two sentence something, sometimes a lot more.

I pray that the thoughts given to me may be worth passing on to you!