Wholly

I’m reluctant to write about it, not because I believe in things being jinxed or anything like that. Because it feels personal on a deeper level than words can travel. I’m not sure I can convey well what it is.

I was at work on Saturday. I’ve just started working as the spiritual care person at an elder and long-term care community in Saratoga, which is where I grew up. I had ridden my bike to work, even though it was really hot (and also technically it was Sierra’s bike, not mine). Last week I walked to work, through town, a stop for coffee, down Broadway, up alleyways. Saratoga is full of alleyways, magical spaces in-between everything else. The last time I walked to work in Saratoga I was about nineteen years old, heading to my waitressing job from the apartment I was sharing with friends for the summer.

So I can walk and bike to work now, when I’m in Saratoga. It makes me so happy, this simple thing.

I was at work and it was kind of quiet. I was busy cleaning out my chapel/office space and folks kept stopping in to say hello. One woman wanted to be sure “this place is going to stay open.” I assured her it would be as open and welcoming as ever. She told me about her life, her family, how she walks each day and stops at the chapel to sit in the quiet. Her name was one of the names I associate with a beloved Great Aunt; it made me feel a sense of home.

It is a funny, warm and satisfying feeling, to have gone home, to where I grew up, to be with people there I have known for most of my life, and to find a place within that place that feels like home, too. To be a chaplain in an elder and long-term care community is … brace yourself … a dream for me. To walk the halls; to become part of a place where humans of all shapes, sizes and abilities are honored is deeply, wholly satisfying. I am disarmed with every encounter, by the kindness, the joy, the integrity and the depth of commitment I’ve encountered there, in the staff and the residents. “We are so glad you’re here” is a phrase I have heard many times as I’ve gotten to know the lay of the land these past few weeks. A couple of days a week I get to put my spiritual care superpowers to work outside of a church and … there is no other way to say this … I love it. I love everything about it.

Something nearly foreign has happened to me this summer: I am at peace. I have lived for a long time with upheaval and uncertainty, with chaos and commotion. I have traveled hither and yon, made myself available to everyone in all places thinking that was what I had to do. I exhausted myself mentally, physically, spiritually and financially. I paid a high price for trying to make a lot of things work that were never going to work anyway.

This summer I have sat with a lot of unease, mined these past years for clues to places I need to mature, prayed, learned the subtle art of the release, forced myself to choose quiet and solitude over activity for the sake of activity. I have come to understand the treasure in loyalty over novelty. I have let go of the mindset that a magical day in the future awaits when everything will finally be good and right. I have let go of pretending I’m OK with always not knowing what the hell is going to come next and displaced it with clarity, intention, plans. Oddly, magically, the universe seems to like my ideas for my days to come and has fallen in line, post haste. Weird. Also, awesome. Thank you, who or whatever you are out there fiddling with the control panels of my life.

I have developed a keen eye for recognizing my people in the ways in which they cheerlead me on, want for my gifts to manifest in the world in the same ways I do, stick around when the chips are down, show up when I need a hand. They are the people who will sit with me all afternoon talking about everything and nothing, hug in ways that say this is love, smile a lot, say thank you a lot and get it when I need another cheeseburger. And a milkshake. Always a milkshake.

I have learned there is a terrific side-effect that comes with consistently choosing gratitude for the treasure placed daily at my feet: peace.

In short, I have become aware that this is happiness. This moment, right now, this summer, this is happiness. My reluctance to write about it stems not from a fear that it is so fleeting and delicate that it will disappear soon after the words hit the screen but rather from the reality that words are poor purveyors of this sense I am having that the bones inside my skin are finally, wholly, completely, deeply mine.

Backyard, Thursday evening.

Backyard, Thursday evening.


Summer

It has been, is being a beautiful summer. A swarm of bees arrived and the bee wrangler gave them a home. Babies all around us. Much time spent on the simple pleasures of swimming and outdoor conversation, lawn mowing, book reading.

teddy.jpg
bees.JPG

The other day, after an entire afternoon of doing absolutely nothing with Lauren and Joanna, someone mentioned a book … Three Women. And it seemed that we had to read it! So Joanna ran to the bookstore and bought the last three copies and brought them back to us, with two malted milkshakes from Stewart’s. Then Auntie Jan arrived for a few days. Blisstown.

When we talk about time we talk about it in the same way we talk about money: spending, spend, spent. That’s because it’s one of our most, perhaps our very most precious commodity.

The music has been so good this summer and there is more to come. And the kid, a teenager now, working some, chomping at the bit to drive. She’s in that … argh! I just want to get on with it stage. And of course I look at her and think … no, no, slow it all down! She wants to skateboard and surf, the cells of her being yearning for more in every direction.

band.jpg
car1.jpg

If you will please send up a prayer for Tom O’Brien, who has spinal surgery at Dartmouth today. I ask for prayers for the wisdom of his medical caretakers, the healing of his body and the fortitude of my mom, his beloved nurse. We hope to get this guy back on the slopes this winter.

momdad.jpg.jpg

Church

Something funny happened when I became a pastor. People started apologizing to me for not going to church. I would run into someone in the post office or grocery store and they would tell me reasons why they don’t go or haven’t gone in a while. As if I’m some sort of record keeper or, worse, gate keeper, whose intention it is to let God know I haven’t seen them sitting in the pews on Sunday and then … I don’t know. I’m not sure why folks seem to be worried about their church attendance records.

When I first arrived at the Pawlet Church some people asked me what I intended to do to get more people to come to church. As if I’m a wrangler, planning to round up all the people too busy or too tired or too alienated to show up on Sunday mornings.

I kind of laughed at all of that. When people apologize to me about not going to church I assure them that God lives everywhere, not just in one building, and that the ways they find to be in relationship with God are just fine. Church offers a community of folks who will show up when the chips are down, and that’s totally awesome, but you most certainly don’t have to go to church to love or speak to or pray to or be in covenant with God. Church is a nice place to find a sense of belonging, and that hour on Sunday morning is a good time to get outside your own sometimes-suffocating narrative for a brief moment, but God knows where to find you. Sitting in an uncomfortable pew isn’t a condition for drawing God’s loving gaze.

After a while people started showing up on Sunday mornings, not because I offered vouchers for a free meal at The Barn or we were making lattes or had a rock band. People started showing up because they were on a path of seeking and they came once or twice and found what they were looking for and then came back again. That’s all.

I totally get the fear and disgust a lot of people associate with the church experience. I’m not the world’s #1 fan of organized religion. In fact, sometimes I think I was drawn to infiltrate churchy life in order to stir things up from within. In order to prove that you can show up at church as your worst tattered self and still be loved and accepted. No one will hit you over the head with a Bible or force you to fall you to your knees to pray, and so far the sanctuary hasn’t burned to the ground, as some predicted it would if they ever stepped foot in that place.

Meetinghouse.jpg

Believe me people, if churches burned when people who have made lousy choices stepped inside them, The Pawlet Community Church would have incinerated that spring day I returned, five years ago. Rapidment!

Somewhere along the long and treacherous path of religious history some clergy decided that in order to have job security they needed to convince people that they held special powers that gave humans an access point, through them, to God. They don’t.

Somewhere along the scary and confusing line of religious history churches managed to convince your average citizen that if they didn’t come to church every Sunday they will burn in hell. Not true either.

I have no more or less power than the next gal when it comes to accessing a benevolent, loving and omnipresent God. I don’t have the answers, the key, greater depth of understanding or the secret passcode to God. Going to church isn’t like joining a sorority or fraternity, where you have to be vetted then chosen then tested then you get a little pin or a secret handshake that alerts your brothers and sisters that you’re in.

Everyone is in when it comes to God. Everyone. Always, Everywhere. Yes, even those awful people at the border who are keeping kids in cages and laughing while they drink from toilets. They might not be as aware of the presence of God, but God isn’t turning away from them just because they’re acting like monsters. In fact, God is probably working overtime on those folks right now and that’s why your prayers for winning the lottery aren’t being answered. Some of us, at certain times in our lives, need more love and attention from a God who doesn’t turn and walk away when the going gets rough.

There were so many moments to treasure from last Sunday morning’s service in Landgrove at the Meeting House. There was Shay and Andrew, Old Sky, playing and singing their hearts out, the sound of all of our voices singing Holy, holy, holy, filling that old and acoustically perfect room. Sublime. There was sweet Jane walking toward me with her huge pitcher of summer flowers, which she placed on the rock out front for all of us to appreciate. There was Andrew standing up during Joys and Concerns to tell us about his dearest friend who died in a river seven years ago. You could see and feel how much he misses that guy and in that moment Andrew gave all of us the opportunity to think about someone we miss with that kind of tenacity.

There was Mark telling us, during my story about Vermont being the 14th state to join the Union 14 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, that … and Vermont has 14 counties! And then when the man who came forward to get the basket for the collection leaned in and whispered to me … I’ve got another 14 for you … the governor races cars and his has a number 14 on the side. Amazing.

Those kinds of things happen in church. Funny things, interesting things. We find, in our stories, in our worries, in our joy, commonality that feeds us and shores us up for another week in a difficult world in our hard lives.

Margaret read a beautiful Native American opening blessing; I closed with a terrific poem by Cynthia Rylant about God climbing Mt. Everest. We sang and laughed. I talked about the treasure we have in Vermont, in both our self-sufficiency and our strength of community, how honored I am to live in a place where people truly care about their neighbors and carry an independent, can-do attitude about most everything. The sun shone bright, the tractors were cutting the hay in the field below, the dead rested in the cemetery across the street, as always the snacks were homemade and delicious and that beautiful soul, Sally Ogden was ever-present and tending to the flock of us who showed up just to be together for a little while on a nice summertime Sunday morning.

There was one thing, one little story, though, that I could easily have missed, that keeps replaying in my mind and stands out as the treasure of the morning.

Church is a word that means something different to everyone, and unfortunately most often it means something yucky, something sad, something scary. If I do anything in my time of congregational ministry, I’m determined to show people that it doesn’t have to be so, that we can come together as the flawed, worried, sad and confused humans we are and love each other and be loved and accepted inside a church. That we can have fun, make mistakes (I almost always do), be treated to beautiful music (Shay and Andrew played an original tune that turned out to fit perfectly with my sermon even though we had not discussed it ahead of time —those kinds of magical things happen all the time), and leave feeling revitalized, not defeated.

It’s my hope to create a version of church that is all that. In other words, I bring my ridiculous self to the situation and I try to show people that all of us are infinitely loved by an infinitely loving God. And that all our ridiculous selves are precisely what and where and who God wants us to be and that by showing up in church maybe what we’re saying is that we’re interested in learning a little more or growing a little more or, at the very least, being a part of something more important than ourselves, alone.

There was a family there last week: Mom, Dad, teenager. I met them briefly. Teenager was neither discernibly male nor female; I didn’t have the chance to speak with this person in order to learn more of their story. I sense that they had been brought to church, perhaps with some resistance. I watched this person leave fairly hastily when the service was over and I was bummed that I missed my opportunity to learn more about them.

The folks were the nephew and family of the woman who puts the whole show together, Sally, and in a moment that might otherwise have floated past me, Sally told me that “(said teenage person) said that that was the best church service they had ever been to.”

So maybe that person, that young person, who might be on a path of seeking, might be in a place of discerning, maybe they came to church yesterday morning and found something that made them think twice about the idea of church. Maybe they found a little slice of joy or peace. Maybe church turned out to be wholly different than they thought it would be. Maybe for once they felt uplifted and not oppressed. I don’t know, but to know that they found something there that touched something inside that allowed them to leave feeling good, well, my work is done. Or, at least, my work is working. Our work is working. What happened in Landgrove on Sunday was a beautiful collaborative effort involving song and stories, meditation and prayer, or as 14th century mystic Richard Rolle named it, “warmth and song and sweetness.” And it touched the heart of that young person, so Amen.

Richard Rohr says that a prophet is one who tries to keep God free for people and people free for God. I’m no prophet, but I plan to keep working on creating that space of freedom and tolerance and joy, a space where we can exhale and feel safe in our own skin and maybe find camaraderie and commonality in our stories and so, for a moment, be at peace in the world. That’s church; that’s a church that makes sense to me.

doorway.jpg

I have a great niece. Yes, yes, yes I am a Great Aunt! And it doesn’t make me feel old and crickety, even though I am that. It makes me feel lucky and hopeful and delirious with joy.

Her poppa is Italian, her momma is my brother’s daughter. It seems the Irish parts may have had the upper genetic hand. Amazing, amazing and a little surreal to see the next generation starting to form. Welcome to the world, BPB, to our family and into the deepest caverns of our hearts.

bp2.jpg

Meeting House

Each summer the beautiful Landgrove Meeting House in magical Landgrove,Vermont hosts Sunday morning gatherings in July and August. I am honored to be among the line-up of giants preaching there this year. This is where it all started for me, six summers ago, when sweet Sally Ogden invited me to join in even before I knew what the heck I was doing.

landgrove-vt-wedding-001.jpg

I can’t necessarily say I know what I’m doing any more now than I did then, but I sure love going back to this place each summer, remembering all the funny and amazing things that happened that first year. I saw a black bear on my drive through the Big Branch Wilderness area that morning. There was a torrential downpour, booming thunder, power outage, the whole bit. I think those were good omens.

Get in your car and drive over to Landgrove this Sunday; it’s tucked in a perfect little corner of our lovely little state. Meet us there at 9:30. We have incredibly talented musical guests Andrew Stearns, Shay Gestal and Will Mosheim joining us. Delicious snacks on the lawn afterwards, then we head to Hapgood’s for the best breakfast you’ve had all week.

Stick around the soVt area for the day then head to Earth Sky Time Farm in the evening for tasty food, great music and more kind-hearted community. If this doesn’t give ya goosebumps, nuthin’ will. On My Way Home … what a great song.

See you soon to pray, sing, hug, eat your way into steamy and hot July.

flag.jpg