Forever pilgrims

Last week our parish celebrated the Conversion of St. Paul. Paul was a pilgrim of sorts: anyone whose life is about pressing on toward a goal, and forgetting what lies behind, is someone on the move. Paul’s life and witness tells me that he knew that God, too, is always on the move. Here’s a bit of what I had to say last Sunday:

For most of us, conversion is slow and subtle. This is as much true for whole communities as for individuals. Maybe more so. One of my favorite ways of talking about conversion in our Anglican tradition is the distinction between pickles and pop tarts.[1] More than a blinding flash of heat, light, or sweetness, we are converted and formed by swimming in holy brine, if you will, by showing up and engaging in weekly mass, daily office, and life shared in community over a long period of time. It is in this context that we might have glimpses of the reign of God, and discern our own calling as individual disciples and as a community.

(Paul’s furrowed brow is my favorite.)

Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that Paul’s philosophy can be summed up in the words “I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.” This reminds me of Norman Lear, who said that the two words most important to his life and work were “over” and “next.”

One way to be faithful is to keep moving.

For years, the instruction to Paul to “Go into the city and there you will be told what to do” was on St. Paul’s parish letterhead, as an affirmation of our identity as an urban parish. It is good to remember, though, that once Paul got to the city, he sat there, blind, for days, with no idea what awaited him. Paul’s conversion includes waiting around for the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s next. It didn’t happen the moment he fell off his horse.

Anyone who has been on a pilgrimage knows that it is this combination of forward movement and waiting, clarity about God’s call and confusion about what to do and where to go next, that is part of the journey. May we all find eager and gracious companions along the way.

[1] This metaphor came from Ellen Charry at a 2003 Affirming Catholicism conference.

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Time takes time

I’ve been inspired, the past few days, by the generous continuum of ways people think about, express, and adopt resolutions for the New Year. Or not. One friend posted: “This isn’t Lent, folks!” Which reminds me of a conversation in early Lent about giving up and taking on for Lent. Someone in that group said: “that sounds more like a bunch of New Year’s resolutions than penitence and renewal.” They’re both right, of course.

resolutionsI tend to either pass up the opportunity provided by the turning of the calendar, to make change, or I come up with a long list doomed to fail. Historically, I’ve an an all or nothing gal. Like most people, many of my resolutions tend to be around health and fitness. I’m not alone here, I know. I think two years ago I wanted bench press my body weight, learn to do handstand push-ups, and train for a Tough Mudder event. Like a lot of people, my New Year’s resolutions historically have a touch of wanting to turn myself into someone else; a younger, more serene version of myself, perhaps.

There’s no such thing as a clean slate. We bring all of who we are into each year and each endeavor. Sure, I have too many unfinished knitting projects I should bind off in 2016. I’d like to pack healthy snacks more often. I chronically want to lose five pounds. But I am who I am and I’m kind of done with failure.

This week, I was chatting with a wise person about my fitness goals for the coming year and he gave me some profound advice. (“Profound” may just be another way of saying he said exactly what I needed to hear.) He said: “Think about what you want to be really good at ten years from now, and work toward that.” I immediately knew what that longterm goal was. Not that I’ll never tell; I don’t want to jinx it.

timeAnd the point is not so much the goal as the long view, the nudge to remember that time takes time. Transformation takes forever. Whether it’s moving to a new city, embedding oneself in a new community, making new friends, doing a better job of loving one’s neighbor or sharing wealth or staying healthy and injury-free over a long period of time…all of these things take time. Sometimes, forever. And that’s good news.

Accepted wisdom is that most people have broken their resolutions by the third Monday in January. But imagine that it’s not about breaking or keeping, but being faithful to a larger vision. Bring it on.

 

Postcards from Edinburgh

In which Sara does a lot of urban hiking, reports on her writing, learns that Presbyterians have cathedrals, too, and makes new friends.

From the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

From the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

I’ve been in Edinburgh for a week and having a wonderful time. (Would anyone have expected any different?) The week–Week One of Two, but this may be the only blog post–has been a great balance of writing, walking, and just the right amount of sight-seeing. I’m staying at Emmaus House, a Benedictine-inspired guest house conveniently situated close to just about everything, without being too much in the thick of the heavy tourist trade that characterizes much of this city. Most days I walk to the gym after breakfast: about 25 minutes along the Royal Mile, the most touristed part of town, but fun to walk along before all the tourists get there. I’ve explored a few of the abundant (and free) museums and art galleries, and done most of the obligatory churchgoing one

From the Lady Chapel at Old St. Paul's

From the Lady Chapel at Old St. Paul’s

would expect: Evensong at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Sunday Eucharist at Old St. Paul’s, and a self-guided tour of St. Giles which is, as everyone assured me it would be, an amazing place, massive and rich in history as the mother church of Presbyterianism in Scotland should be. A few more places remain on my list to see (and feel free to comment with the houses of worship on your must-see list, if you haven’t already).

St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral

St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral

I have been making progress in my writing life which, being as it’s me, has been very slow and fraught with procrastination, distraction, agonizing, self-doubt, and criticism. However, thanks to help from mentors and friends along the way (who are secretly travelling with me even if they don’t even know it), I’ve been able to put a lot of that on the back burner and actually get some work done. Today, for the very first time since beginning this project three years ago, I suddenly realized that it was turning into a book. That I was thinking of it not just as “my writing” or “my &$%# memoir,” but “my book.” Of course, that only works if I pronounce it the way the Scots do: my boook.

IMG_1856If I was asked to identify just one highlight of Edinburgh thus far, it would have to be the discovery of Emmaus House. The small community here offers a degree of hospitality that I find incredibly nourishing, inspiring, and non-intrusive. In a short amount of time I have become attached to everyone in the house, and hope to come back over and over again in the years to come, joining the community in prayer between visits. 

The hike up to Arthur's Seat (not named for King Arthur at all...look it up!)

The hike up to Arthur’s Seat (not named for King Arthur at all…look it up!)

A brief interlude: small-e epiphany poetry

Do you have an epiphany poem or story? A small-e-epiphany poem? Or a story about an illuminating discovery? What the heck is an epiphany? you might ask. I like what Merriam-Webster has to say:

  1. a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
  2. an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
  3. an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
  4. a revealing scene or moment

With some friends I’m hosting a twelfth night party and we want to share non-scriptural stories and poems about epiphany. If you’ld leave yours as a comment here, I’d be most grateful.  

The best strawberry shortcake ever

 When my son was little and in that maddeningly wonderful phase of never tiring of hearing the same book read over and over and over and over and over again, one of our favorites was “Cook-a-doodle-doo,” by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel, about the baking adventures of Big Brown Rooster, the great-grandson of the Little Red Hen. The story is filled with colorful characters all living and life lessons about community and cooperation, failure and redemption. These characters remind me of some of my friends and relations. There are also cooking lessons along the way, for the inquiring three- or four- or five-year-old mind. But the strawberry shortcake itself….to die for. The best ever.

I made that shortcake tonight, using the recipe from the back of the book. Simply delicious. I took it to our friends’ house, and she and I cleaned about 5 cups of strawberries to go on top, strawberries fresh from their weekend farm, real Oregon berries with bits of straw, still clinging on. They tasted like the sun and the mountains.

Even more delicious was the time with dear friends sharing good food and our own stories of the colorful characters in our lives.