Saturday, January 30, 2010

Making Space

No, I haven't given up on the blog. After the dazzling plunge into Long Island Sound, nothing else seemed quite so remarkable. Day to day life has been the domestic round, and nitty gritty administrative work. And I forced myself to take naps, cueing off Kitty who seemed to know how to survive the bitter days of January.

The month that followed that freezing dip was nearly as quick as my time in Long Island Sound, or at least it seemed to be just two big leaps and I was out, back on a plane from JFK to San Francisco. A clear sign to me I was very happy.

Those two metaphorical leaps bear mentioning though; they were pretty splashy!

I baptized the children of some wonderful friends: Grace Freas and Brian Licitra. The chapel was jam packed with their families and friends. People kept arriving right up to the sermon time and the brothers carried in more chairs (we practically manhandled folks into the front row seats!). Everyone was eager and happy to witness this big event in the life of the families involved. It gave me a chance to think about the meaning of Baptism. Obviously it is a very attractive thing, and the first job for those of us in the Church is to make room for everybody who comes. Baptism is about welcoming people, expanding the circle, putting aside anxieties about liturgical "appropriateness" to deal plainly and generously with people; these can be hard lessons for us Episcopalians!

I've read somewhere that the word "salvation" is etymologically related to the the idea of "making space." By making space for each other in the tiny chapel we were experiencing a parable of salvation. As the church welcomes new members it needs to make space for them and embrace the gifts they bring with them. Brian laughed and cried during the liturgy, the music of new life among us.

The next leap was into some really energizing conversations with the brothers at Little Portion about how we eat, and changing the way we live to more environmentally sensitive priorities. The Guardian, Br. Tom, got the conversation going by announcing that after January 1 he would be a vegetarian, only eating grass-fed beef (!) That was putting the cat among the pigeons as we struggled to understand his comment...he's a poet and has a knack of saying really important things in sometimes inscrutable ways. Something I really love about him.

But he got us to think hard and talk to each other. We watched the film "Food, Inc." and had several meetings about our reactions to it. Fresh from Copenhagen, I was in what one writer in the New York Times described as the "high priestly" phase of ecological justice and living sustainably. I was in favor of planting a garden, grinding our own wheat, drying homegrown fruit, building windmills. We finally agreed some smaller intermediate steps were needed, like reading food labels, trying to eat food in season and locally grown if possible. Some brothers volunteered to do market research. We agreed to keep talking about it. Concerned people who heard distorted messages asked us about our "vegetarian agenda" and we learned our first lesson about how we share the story. Sound bytes don't work too well. It is equally important to make space for all the voices in the friary to be heard. We recognized that well meant enthusiasm can silence the legitimate concerns and questions of others. If we don't make space for each other it becomes an exercise in polemics and you get caught up in different "agendas." And it stops being good news.

So then I was on the plane, off to Berkeley. Walking up Shattuck Avenue I came to Chez Panisse, the iconic restaurant run by the organic food actist Alice Waters: a reminder that we are surrounded by people who are eager to engage these same issues. And a pledge we can flourish! Actually seeing the restaurant reminded me that all we really need to do is start asking for help and ideas, and we will learn new ways of growing, shopping and eating food. If we change the way we do things people might say we are faddists, but I think we should do it anyway. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a great prayer reported taped to the wall of her room, which I read at the Baptismal service. In effect it says if you are nice people will take advantage of you, but be nice anyway. If you build, people may tear it down, but build anyway...because it isn't between you and them, but between you and God. How we live and relate is a contract between us and God.

If we make space for others, people might complain it is getting too crowded, but make space anyway.

If we change the way we eat, people may accuse us of following a fad. But change the way we eat anyway.

Because it isn't between us and our detractors, but between us and God.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pazzo! Pazzo! Pazzo!

Happy New Year!

We have had a stupendous celebration here at Little Portion. Continuing a tradition I started 10 years ago (I didn't start it as a tradition, but a Millennium Celebration has morphed into a tradition, praised be!) the brothers put on a big meal and chapel celebration to observe the change of years. We have found a willing crowd of folks looking for a sober party in a cozy environment, with a happy spiritual emphasis. 55 people came for vegetarian lasagna, ham (something for everybody), salad and cream puffs with chocolate sauce. We drank liters of Martinelli's sparkling cider til the sugar rush had some of us ready to dance.

Our friend Jack Lictra of Jack's Waterfall was waiting for the mood to come together, and about he 9:30 he and Br. Tom got us into the chapel, singing, dancing, drumming, telling stories. At midnight I got to play Father Time and rang the chapel bell. But nobody noticed, the cacophony in the chapel was deafening. We couldn't hear the bell at all. I hope the neighbors enjoyed it. I cannot think of a better way to say goodbye to a year than to be together with friends, share delicious food and make music together.

Yes, it was a bit wacky. One guy asked where Dionysus was; that's pretty remarkable for an alcohol free evening. But opening our hearts and bodies in rhythm and music, listening to stories sung and spoken can unleash a sense of joy in the human spirit that I am sure warms God's heart. Dancing around the fully lit Advent wreath I thought of King David dancing before the Ark of God. I treasure an idea of Francis as God's Troubadour. He sang beautifully and touched people's hearts. Jack sang like an angel. Actually he called all the angels and exhorted us to widen the circle of our love and understanding. Tom sang of the mystery of love and asked us to open ourselves up. Ken Corsbie gave some classic calypso storytelling, and I shared a humbler campfire-type tale of my family's vicissitudes with a goat for sale. Br. Ambrose reminded us of mythical continents and held up the vision of joy and adventure. And then we drummed. And hummed. And gave God glory and thanks. Then Max sang an exquisite blessing and we welcomed 2010.

Here's me and Jack, wearing our Kangas. Cool dudes.

This morning we kept another reckless act that has become a tradition. Five years ago I decided instead of reading about people swimming on New Year's Day, I'd do it myself. Taking a brother along with me with a camera (who would believe I did it otherwise?) I broke through the icy edge of Long Island Sound and dove in and out in about a nano second. It was an extraordinary baptismal experience. It coalesced for me my efforts to live New Year's Day the way I wanted to spend the rest of the year.

So it came to pass: let go of the old ideas about what might be fun, the constriction or reluctance to be uncomfortable, take a risk and do something off the wall. The benefits are immediate. I've never felt so alive (or glad to be alive) after an icy dip. I bragged about it to some friends, and the next year there was a hardy gang of about 10. This morning I think 40 people were on Cedar Beach with cameras, and about 24 of us ran across the snow-crusted pebbles and dove into the water (all ages, men and women). In and out! No dilly dallying!! I find it helpful to shout and chant in order not to think, trying to whip myself into a state of whoopee. Driving back to the friary for hot chocolate a friend looked at his watch in astonishment. We'd only been at the beach 6 minutes! "It felt like an hour!" he said. That's living in the moment, full of derring-do. Sipping hot chocolate, the swimmers were high spirited. Nobody could believe they'd done it. We were all really glad we had.

I pray I can stay in the moment this year, seek out chances to be with friends, take a risk on living outside conventionality, and to remember to sing and laugh when I am tempted to hide out and avoid whatever life has got to offer.