Friday, January 30, 2009

January gardening

It is such a pleasure to be at my folk's home. I am in Snohomish, WA for my holiday. Dad and I were out in the garden yesterday harvesting leeks. Mom made potato and leek soup! Delicious. The cool damp air, clotting mud and awkward heavy winter work clothes: all a welcome change for me. I think it is a great blessing being in touch with these gentle rhythms of nature: a winter harvest and slow cooked food. Also having time with my parents. Not many people my age can return to the house where they were raised and spend lazy weeks with parents!

Rest and sabbath time are essential parts of the spiritual life. Many think they are luxuries; others long for it but cannot squeeze the time from work schedules. But whenever it is possible I encourage the brothers to keep their free/sabbath day sacred and not to fritter it away with things that can easily be scheduled for another day. We all need time to do the things we love to do, from sleeping in to digging leeks, walking along the river, reading a novel. It is not selfish. It is spiritual health: ask any artist, their most creative ideas come when they are messing around. The same is true with the spiritual life: our greatest connection with God often comes when we are most at ease with ourselves and feel connected to the earth and the people around us.

My vacation is a whopping three plus weeks of down time (except for a few speaking engagements: the local youth group, third order fellowship and a friendly group at St. Mark's Cathedral last week). But speaking engagements are no burden. I "forgot" to take a holiday last year, all the travel distracted me, and I can really feel it now.

Man Up!

I received a letter, forwarded to me yesterday, from a man who is incarcerated in the Collins Correctional Facility in New York. I’d asked him earlier about his feelings about the election of Mr. Obama. He replied: “Yes, great thing about Mr. Obama! The reaction here was nutz (good). We are using the slogan “change” and Man Up because WE can do it. I was thrilled!! I just pray God will help me change in every single way.”

From the jailhouses to statehouses Mr. Obama is bringing hope and inspiration to many, many people. The message of personal responsibility was not lost on my friend.

I too pray God will change me, remove from me all defects of character and make me an instrument of peace.

I am 90% recovered from laryngitis and a terrible sore throat that grabbed me on the flight up to Seattle from San Francisco on Friday. It was a subdued beginning to my holiday, yet the enforced quiet permitted me to spend some time reflecting on how grateful I am to have time to rest, the joy of being with my family (both parents still living in the house I grew up in).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!

I’ll never forget the day after Barack Obama’s election. I was driving to Tacoma, WA and running mantra-like through my brain was the refrain from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I’d not felt so exhilarated in a long, long time! Now, finally we are at the eve of Mr. Obama’s Inauguration. The balls and fetes and concerts are all happening way back in Washington DC. My friends from Codepink are there all done up in pink dresses singing and dancing about the Constitution (no kidding—they are amazing). My friend Bishop Gene Robinson gave a great prayer yesterday. I plan to get up and watch the Inauguration live early tomorrow morning.

It seems everything dear to my heart is coming together. Rick Warren notwithstanding, Bishop Robinson’s voice at this time sings out, signaling that times indeed have changed with this new Administration. Bishop Robinson was not a “safe” choice for a cautious politician, but a daring choice for a bold politician. After the election I read columnists saying the African American vote elected Barack Obama and defeated gay marriage. Maybe; but no bridges appear to have been burned yet. Dearest of all is the sense that not only has Dr. King’s dream come true, but as one Methodist bishop wrote, we’ve moved beyond it. We’ve not eradicated racism, but we have raised the expectations of every person who works for that goal. I’ll bet Dr. King is dancing for joy, and the entire heavenly chorus is singing “Glory, glory hallelujah!”

Now to take up the War on Poverty again.

In church yesterday a man prayed “for reasonable expectations” and there were some murmurs of assent (there was actually spontaneous verbal assent in an Episcopal Church service!). We have not elected a messiah, but a president. He is a politician and has to do the work of a politician, which means he can’t please all the people all the time. But I also pray that Mr. Obama will make a forthright and honest case for the decisions he makes, listening respectfully to the citizens of this country. No deceit, no glib assurances. What I really want is nuance in our political discourse; give me gray, not black and white. After reading “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope” I know Mr. Obama is an excellent writer, in touch with the ambiguity of life. His campaign showed that his sense of self-awareness and cool disposition will help him broaden the scope of our national and international debates.

The economy, the war, issues of health care and education: these are enormous challenges. Victory is not assured, but today I feel an optimism I have never felt about an American President ever before.

Happy Birthday Dr. King!

God bless us, each and every one.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Retreat—At Last!

I’ve been away on retreat. Just after New Years I went with some of my brothers to Santa Barbara where we stayed at St. Mary’s Retreat House run by the Sisters of the Holy Nativity. The monks of the Order of the Holy Cross have taken refuge there since the burning of their retreat house and monastery last month; we were supposed to be staying with them, so they played “host” during our stay. Sad to say, it had been a very long time since I’d gone on retreat. Being neither holiday nor “work” per se, this was a welcome experience.

During the past year, I’ve given plenty of retreats, and hung around friaries without too much to do, but that is not what being on a retreat is really about. For me, it is partly planning to go on retreat and claiming the time as retreat time: this way I can leave behind the computer, and pull away from any sense of obligation to be available. Sometimes I joined the corporate worship with the brothers, other times I said the offices privately. The other thing about being on retreat is that my focus is God, deepening my relationship with the Trinity. I did not allow myself to think too much about travel plans or upcoming programs, nor did I go window shopping or watch television or any other kind of distraction—and Santa Barbara is full of distractions, let me tell you! Rather I read, wrote (long hand, no less) and rested. Being a bit of a book worm I refused to read novels until after 9:00 p.m.—it is too easy to lose myself in another world and then wonder where all the time went. I chose one of the OHC brothers as a kind of guide or mentor, and we had a really good talk.

It was a week of very gentle disciplines. The upshot of the week is that I feel loved and cared for—by the monks and by God. I feel grateful for my life and ministry. I learned that perhaps I have a tendency to squander opportunities for creativity. During my travels I stare off into space or read fiction; these are not bad things, but time passes without a trace. More and more I am going to use these times for writing.

Famous last words! But who knows?

It was a terrific week. I highly recommend a retreat for anybody.