Saturday, January 26, 2013

Back in Touch

I have been through a "spell" as my Texas ancestors would call this time, when I really have not written much.  Some of that comes from trying to stay balanced in two two ministries.  Yet, there have been other factors as well, including perhaps a need to learn to simply live in, and where I am today.  However, I have missed the stirrings, and I have missed all of your notes and comments.  Even your silences prove to be a deeper experience for me when I am writing.  It has been wonderful to be back in your gentle touch.     
This poem, entitled "Breathing Under Water,"  was written by Carol Bieleck, R.S.C.J.,  and has come to be via Richard Rohr in his book by the same name.  It is proving to be a persistent sign post that will not let me blithely continue on.  Therefore, I pass it on to you so we can go forth together.  I will try to keep the same formatting that is in the book.  I pray that even if I fail in that endeavor, may this mysterious poem remind you of the eternity that is within you, and bring you grace in any stress that may be holding you today.        
I built my house by the sea, 
Not on the sands, mind you; 
not on the shifting sand. 
And I built it of rock, 
A strong house 
by a strong sea. 
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I, 
Good neighbors. 
Not that we spoke much. 
We met in silences. 
Respectful, keeping our distance, 
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.
And then one day, 
- and I still don't know how it happened - 
the sea came. 
Without warning. 
Without welcome, even.  
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand 
like wine, 
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood. 
Slow, but coming. 
Slow, but flowing like an open wound. 
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning 
and I thought of death.  
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.
And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor death, 
nor drowning.  
That when the sea comes calling you stop being  
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance, neighbors 
And you give your house for a coral castle, 
And you learn to breathe under water.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

For Want of a Cookie

I have been thinking about cookies for the past few days.  Well, more than that, as you will see, but it has been cookies (well, more than that, you will also see) that have been guiding me.  Last Thursday, between stopping for a quick lunch and getting together with a friend for prayer, I found myself with a sweet tooth.  It got to the point where I tried giving myself a "good talking to" to convince myself that a piece of fruit or even some water would do just fine.  As I continued this lecture, my walk slowed, and I found myself in front of a bakery.  As I was already running late, I decided to at least show up late with cookies.  Florentines.  So thin and delicious.  Yes, we did enjoy them. 
When I got home, I was thinking I might bake a souffle with some of the leftover roasted butternut squash in our refrigerator.  However, I found myself distracted by the Penzey's spice catalogue that had just arrived.  As I thumbed through it, I ran across an article about a couple named Sharon and Larry Adams.  One of the side-bars contained this quote: "Cooking together, eating together, it lifts the whole community."  Standing in my kitchen, I learned of the efforts of these two to create the Walnut Way Community Center, housed in a former dilapidated  boarding house in Milwaukee.  Sharon's family owned but had not resided in the home for many years.  She returned to it, moved in, met Larry, and they set about rebuilding community.  Yes, much of the community is centered around the sharing of food. 
Included in the article was a recipe from from Sharon for Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies.  As I perused it, I thought, "Well, I don't have a baked sweet potato, but I do have roasted squash.  I don't have walnuts, but I do have pecans.  I don't have chocolate chips but I do have some baking chocolate.  I began  chopping the chocolate and the pecans which is just about the most satisfying endeavor I can imagine.  I sniffed my lemon extract and decided that while it was quite out of date, it smelled just fine.  I made cookies.  Three trays full. 
Some of those cookies Tyler and I ate warm from the oven.  However, most of you know that Tyler and I have no business eating three trays of cookies.  I took some to a meeting.  I shared a bag with an elderly neighbor. The last of the batch went with us to visit with friends who had invited us over to eat chili and watch the playoffs.  One of hosts  commented as he reached for his fourth cookie, "Well, you can't eat just three."   
So, I have been thinking about cookies.  What if instead of spending money on those Florentines, I would have stopped at a 7-11 and bought a snack pack of Oreos and ate them in my car on the way to prayer?   My life would not have been wrecked, but it would have been lacking the joy of discovering and sharing.  The past few days have been a wonderful reminder that much good can be found in using and sharing what we have - and who we are.       
Sharon and Larry Adams, I thank you.  
Friends, rather than a psalm, I leave you with a recipe.  Enjoy them, but mostly give them away.  Hmm...maybe this is a psalm after all.    

Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies  
3/4 cup mashed, cooked sweet potato (I used butternut squash)
1 cup butter, softened  (two sticks)
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 packed brown sugar 
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1/2 tsp lemon extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda 
1 tsp baking powder 
dash of salt 
1/4 tsp cinnamon 
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
1 cup walnuts, optional  
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream together the cooked sweet potato, butter, eggs, sugars and the extracts.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the sweet potato mixture and beat until blended. Fold in the chocolate chips and the nuts.  Drop by the teaspoonful onto ungreased (I used parchment paper) baking sheets and bake at 300 degrees for about 25 minutes, until firm in the middle (if you bake until there is some color on the top, the chocolate will be a little more gooey.  Some folks really like that).   
Yield:  4 dozen cookies    

Friday, January 4, 2013

Miles To Go

A few months ago, on one of my numerous trips across the San Mateo bridge, I spotted a Cal-Trans truck a few cars ahead of me.  On the back of the truck was a sign that read, "Thank you for driving."  How odd, I thought.  The few drivers who receive thanks are generally designated drivers and those who carpool.  The rest of us are pretty much considered a hindrance.   However, as I moved closer to the truck I realized that my earlier view had been partially blocked.  The last line read, "Safely."  Thank you for driving safely.  I responded with a quiet, "You are welcome."  
 In the past seven years, as I finished the last two years of seminary, and then embarked upon this great adventure known as ministry, I have driven just over 100,000 miles.  I guess you could say that my car is one of those cars that is  only driven to church on Sunday.  It is just that pretty much every day is Sunday for me, and my churches are rather spread out.   Last night as Tyler and I sat on the couch and talked, I laughed as I mentioned my milestone.  "100,000 miles finds me right back here."  That is the nature of many such journeys.  They bring us home.      
Ministry is not fast work.  At least not for me.  I have needed to make every one of those miles. As I moved through the skilled nursing community yesterday, I rejoiced that not only was Elizabeth up, she actually accepted the invitation to come worship with us.  "By jingle bells, I believe I will!"  And off she rolled.  Then she paused and asked, "By the way, where am I going?"  We both laughed and went into the activity room together.  Four years ago she would not even talk to me.  Now we greet one another with hugs. It has taken Roger five years to really begin to open up and share his sorrows and fears.  There are several men in this community that I just beginning to get to know.  If their physical appearances are any indication, their lives have not been easy.  Yet, most take communion with a humility that is profound.  They know the hunger and thirst all too well.   
On my run on New Year's Eve, I passed by a box marked "Free!".  A book lying on top of the discarded clothing caught my eye, and I picked it up.  My find was a devotional entitled, "A Year of Days with the Book of Common Prayer."  The entry for January 2 has stayed with me, and I shared it with the community yesterday.  Roger, who is really struggling not to believe that God has cursed him with poor health, found it encouraging.  I would like to share part of it with you as well.  May you, too, find encouragement for your own journey.  I pray that your journey is both deep and wide, and that you always find communion along the way.  May all know that not matter how far we go, we always travel in God, and to God.  Yes, it is a mystery - strange, unbelievable, incredibly beautiful, and worth the trip.        
When Jesus healed people, we are not told that he healed them and that thenceforth they never got sick again or never had any problems in their lives or never died...They were not restored to a magical life outside the realities of mortal existence. They were returned to their lives, their frustrating, exhausting lives, to lives studded with joys and sorrows - like our lives are. The hand of God that touched them did not yank them our of this reality and into another. They went on to live and die in the world of history in which we live and in which we will die.  The presence of sorrows and ambiguities in human life is not a sign of the absence of God. Life is hard. Life is terribly uncertain. But we know we are not alone. That our lives don't hang, unprotected, tossed to and fro by the anonymous winds of indifferent space. God contains our lives.     
Blessed be.