It Is Finished

Did I mention that the sermon was actually a response to a card that we added to our pew racks? Someone had asked for a sermon to be preached to answer the "How long?" question about grief. This is what I did -- twice.

It didn't go so well at the Chapel service. I was afraid of that. I was without my mauscript and I wondered around as I tried to get these frigid New Englanders to talk about their pain. You could see it in their eyes -- but no one talked. It's one of those rare moments where I wanted the safety and protection of the pulpit. Alas, it still preached and it resonated somewhere with someones. That's the Holy Spirit, isn't it? Even when it's not just right, the Spirit guides. Thank God.

At the 10 am service, I did it. I preached it. I didn't cry. I got choked up once -- as I clung to my manuscript. I was too emotional to memorize it. I wish I could have but you can't do it all, right? I was so nervous about the poor grandchild complex that this would cause. You know, where these church ladies suddenly feel the need to care for me. No one did. There were so many hugs in the receiving line after worship my arms got tired. It was met with tears and thanksgiving. Someone had finally told the truth. I got that comment a lot. I heard about people's pain that I never knew before. And God said, Amen.

To all that were praying for me this morning: I felt it and thank you. Thank you for listening and reading. Thank you for your wisdom and grace. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


A Rough Draft

I'm nervous about this. I cried while writing it. I'm terrified of preaching it. I'm not sure it works. I'm not sure that it's all I want to say. It's more than I had intended to say. And yet, it feels like gospel truth... But, I'm still have enough fear that I wonder if colleagues would cringe. So, do you?

What do you think of my sermon based on Psalm 137?

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. Elizabeth Kubler Ross chartered unfamiliar territory when she named these five stages of grief. And with these five words, Kubler Ross gave me a vocabulary for what I already knew. When I was seven years old, I hung up my harp. There were no words to sing. Like those that lament in this old song, I was displaced.

I was not exiled from my homeland. Those that first crooned these lyrics were forced out of their home in Jerusalem just after the temple was destroyed in 587 BCE. They had to recreate their lives in the foreign land of Babylon. My foreign land is not a place you can find on a map. I was not forced out of my geographical home. But like the exiled community in Babylon, my entire world was destroyed.

My mother died. For those of you that know grief, the past tense of this statement is irrelevant – just as it was to the exiled community singing this song. Our foreign land is in this non-place between what we knew and what we have created. This is the foreign place of grief where past, present and future converge in ways that don’t make logical sense. And in this place, it is so hard to sing. Nothing sounds like it did before. Somehow everything familiar has changed – like the world before and after September 11, 2001. Indeed, how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

We can’t sing the songs we always sang. It seems safer to hang our harps on the willows and just weep for things we can’t possibly understand. Their sorrow is overwhelming. Our pain is too great. And yet, this exiled community in Babylon doesn’t just assume the position on the ground like mourners. They name their sadness. They didn’t shy away from it. They sing about their loss. They lament their lost home.

It seems an easy enough thing to do at this time of year when others talk about family reunions during the holiday season. For me, Christmas was the last time she was healthy. My mother died only a month later. There are no lyrics for my lament – and I won’t offer words for your pain at this time of year.

No one can tell you what grief is until you have been there. Joan Didion discovered this after her husband suddenly died. “Grief,” she said, “turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death.” With her sudden loss, Joan Didion realizes what I already knew. No one can tell you how to feel or what to do. It is your place. It is your exile. It is your experience of loss.

I cannot tell you how to feel or what to do. I won’t tell you that it will all be over soon. Because Joan Didion is right. Grief is not like we imagine it. It hurts more and it lasts a lot longer. For me, it has been twenty years of trying to understand what I don’t know how to explain. I can’t tell you how much it hurts or when it will hurt. I can’t anticipate what will trigger my grief. I only know that it is part of my daily life. It is my exile. It is my experience of displacement.

And because of this, I don’t want to edit it. I don’t want to make it sound like shining ever-present hope because there are days where it hurts too much to bear. There are days where I want my mother back more than anything. And for those days, I need to know that I can express my rage before my God.

I know it sounds horrible and perhaps doesn’t make any theological sense. But, there are days where I need to be able to smash something. I would prefer that it wasn’t the head of baby – but this is the language that is passed down to us. For this exiled community wanting so badly to reclaim their home, the language of the conquerors creeps in. We could edit this part out. Or just ignore it. But would this really ignore this last insult upon a conquered city? When a city was overtaken, the conquerors took the most innocent and defenseless and dashed their heads against rocks. It’s gruesome and violent. It violates our understanding of justice. And yet, there are days when this is just how I feel about my mother’s death.

It’s not enough to hang up my harp. It’s not enough to lament. I want justice. And in the words of this ancient song, I can find words to voice my outrage. These words release that anger so that no harm can be done to myself or others. Maybe this psalm teaches us to say things that we would never actually do but invites us to release our fury.

Perhaps that’s a stretch for you. Perhaps your foreign place has no space for that kind of violence. But again, I can’t tell you how to feel. I can only tell you about my exile in my foreign land – where I need to be able to release the rage that I felt for the receptionist at Breast Care Center only a few weeks ago. I was informed by this woman that because I was only 28, I was not eligible for a mammogram. It may as well have been baby heads smashing into the phone as I told her that my mother died of this disease at 33 and I did not intend to meet the same fate. She offered a polite excuse. And I slammed the phone into the cradle. Hot tears rushed down my face as I picked up the phone to make an impossible call to my mother. This is my exile.

I may not be crouched on the ground weeping by the river every day – but there are still days that I need to hang up my harp. In my exile, I still look back and wonder what life would have been like if she had lived. I still yearn for her wisdom and miss her when the rest of family has gathered. But, like the exiled community in Babylon, I have created a new home in this foreign place. I have tried to make sense of what I can’t possibly understand and I have relied on the embrace of God through it all. And in this embrace, I can find the hope to sing.

I like that about this time of year. When our holy calendar ends, we begin again to tell the old, old story. In the darkest month of the year, we call upon the wisdom of the prophets to imagine the impossibility of realizing all of our hopes. This is a song I can sing.

In tune with the prophets, I can sing about my longing. And yet, just as I know that grief is not what we expect, I know that the incarnation of God is not what was expected. The prophets expected a warrior or a king – just as I thought I would be healed of my loss. Just as the exiled community in Babylon longed for restoration of their home. It is not what we expected – and yet, God comes. And God is with us in this too. When we want to hang up our harps and when we can’t find the words to sing, God is with us. God is with us.


Entertaining a Fantasy

I'm writing the easiest sermon I have ever written. I hesitate. I edit. I rewrite. All of these writing acrobatics allude to the fact that this is sermon feels like the sermon of my life. For the first time in my pastoral experience, I feel like I'm writing something that I really truly know. I feel like I can impart wisdom. I feel like I can really, truly tell the truth (and still wonder if I am telling too much or too little).

I'm loving it. It's hard. Don't get me wrong. But, I am loving every single second of the writing process. Amy has spent this month working on a novel in honor of National Novel Writing Month. Last week, I overheard a mother and her son talking about their novels while I was trying to read at a local coffee shop. I was distracted by the fact that this particular son was dashing -- and then I tripped over his bag on the way out. Awesome. Did I mention that this might be one of the reasons I'm single? Anyhow, this has got me thinking about one of my grandest fantasies. I want to write a novel. The idea of writing 50,000 words in a month is thrilling and exhausting. But, what would I write?

Since we started the ezine, I have dreamed of a complete book celebrating all of the exploits of Lexi in The Gospel According to Rev. Lexi D. Vina. I still wonder if Lexi should be found at your local independent bookstore -- after several months of her saga unfold. And yet, I admit. I want to see my name on the cover of that book. I have been thinking about writing about the adventure of the search and call process. I have been thinking it would be so great for there to be a book out there about a young clergy woman -- but what's my angle? So, I'm entertaining a fantasy. And I'm telling this to all of the women that I already know love to write...


Parking Garages & Boobs

On my way to protest for peace, I pulled into a parking garage -- as I have every Wednesday for a month. It was the second time this week that I had ventured into a parking gargage. I had been forced to park in one the night before because I was late. As I pulled into the garage this second time, I breathed deeply. Parking garages have become scary places for me. I have forced myself to imagine the things that transpired with my brother a few weeks ago. It was in a parking garage -- a deserted parking garage -- where he affixed a hose into the interior of his car. It was here that we was found suffocating himself of carbon monoxide. Each week, as I have parked in this garage, I have thought of my brother. I have gazed at the view from the top floor of this garage and wondered what my brother saw. I wonder what music he was listening to and what he was thinking about.

Perhaps it is morbid to have these thoughts. Perhaps I should be concentrating on his safety and the fact that he is home rebuilding his life. Perhaps I should rejoice -- and yet, I'm struck by the fact that I'm called to understand how anyone could feel at a given moment. I'm called to listen (even when I'm not able). I'm called to be attentive to those things that others might not want to hear. And in listening, I believe my call is to celebrate both the highs and lows of the human experience. So, my mind wanders in the parking garage. And I try not to cry.

Next Sunday, I will be preaching on Psalm 137. This familiar Psalm that reminds me of the aftermath of 9/11 has an ending that the Lectionary and my own mind omit. This lamentation for the little ones heads to be dashed among the rocks. Not a pretty picture. Not Christian, one commentator says -- but I wonder if it's part of the human experience. This is a text that laments grief. It's a song of displacement and longing. And anyone that has lost someone they love knows that grief is an experience of displacement. It hurts. You feel like an alien in a strange land -- where there are emotions you are supposed to have but somehow can't claim. You want to hang up your harp. You can't find a song. You just want to weep by the river.

This is where I wonder about those little ones. Couldn't this also be an expression of grief? Perhaps not the healthiest of emotions to express -- but isn't it true that it happens? Could dashing the little ones heads against the rocks be like my brother's plight on the top floor of a parking garage? Could it be the same pain that I felt only a few weeks ago as I took the steps toward getting a mammogram? I wonder if this pain is part of the human experience. Excuse me. I know it is. I know that this is part of the story too. And yet, I wonder if I can share my part of the story. Do I dare preach about my own fears of cancer and what this means for my grief? I wonder.


Thinking Aloud

For those of you that asked about Mr. Clinton, I will only tell you that my hometown is where he currently lives. It's too hard to try to explain this event with imitating his inquiry toward me. It's an entertaining story -- but not so good that you are really missing a good story. Nonetheless, I arrived at my college reunion to discover that this is what everyone knew about me (not that I was almost ordained). I found this ironic somehow.

This story is obviously far from my mind right now. There are other things that I'm worried about -- like the funeral I in a few hours and the conversation I had with my brother yesterday. He has been released and I'm still uncertain what to do and think about these events. I suppose one can never really know. I tried to disctract myself with literature this afternoon. After all, ppb had suggested bibliotherapy. I started reading Mary Gordon's new book Circling My Mother recently. So I induldged in my favorite luxury -- sipping coffee while people watching in a local coffee shop and reading a good book. I people watch perhaps more than I read. I was distracted by the very cute young man on his laptop who plopped himself right in front of me. And yet, I absorbed one line from my book:

I am miserable, but I learn something very important, that it will be one of the important jobs of my life to honor mourning. To acknowledge that the work of mourning is an honorable job, to insist that its wages be paid, that it be given its due.

The author is referring to her father's death when she was 12 years old -- but this line is true for me. It is my life work. Perhaps it is even my call. It is also my brother's work. Today he told me that he is finally ready to make this his work. He knows now that he must confront the grief of my mother's death when he was only 5 years old. It's painful and it's hard -- but this is the work that we must do.

I'm beginning to really posit the idea that this might be my call. I will preach a sermon about this just after Thanksgiving. This is actually why I picked up this book originally. The topic of grief has been the focus of most of my theological studies. It is what I'm working hardest to figure out. And now, I'm wondering how I share this with those that I serve. I have not told anyone in the church that this is happening in my life. I don't want to bleed all over them. I don't want them to feel that they need to take care of me. And yet, I feel that there is something that moves me toward offering my experience as a witness to these tragic things that we don't understand. In an ideal world, I could model how one handles these tragedies.

I won't tell the whole congregation -- not in my sermon, not in the prayers, not in any moment in worship. That doesn't feel right -- but there does seem to be an opportunity to share with a few. The natural assumption would be the Pastor Parish Relations people. This is an unsafe committee to me. They were established before I arrived and serve both the SP and me. They are in the midst of creating a review process for us -- and I just don't trust them. A colleague suggested that perhaps I form my own support group in the life of the church. Not a separate PPR, but a group of people that I can process with. A group that I can talk about my grief and my pain. A group that I handpick to be church for me. Will this alienate the SP? Is it wise to even ask the question to him that I am thinking about this? Would this create too much friction? Or would this be the first step toward actually caring for myself as a pastor (and having the church care for me)?


10 Things About Me

I've been tagged by the woman resting on sabbatical to do this random 10 things thingy. While Ladyburg rests, I've been a little distracted. I had one of those days where I didn't have much focus -- but lots and lots of anger. I went to the gym. I worked some of it out. But, that's not what this post is about. This is a post about 10 random things -- not the 10 things that made me angry today. So here it goes:

1. I sold my first painting when I was 12 years old. It was my grandmother's friend's rose bush. I got $12 for my afternoon of painting in her rose garden.
2. Until recently, I could only paint when I was in a good mood.
3. I am really, really snobby about food. Just ask the guy that I went on a date with last week (which you cannot because I will not see him again). Slathered anything in tomato sauce and mozerella does not make it Italian!
4. I have an addiction to coffee. I get headaches. No, I don't think that's a problem.
5. Bill Clinton hit on me. I kid you not.
6. When my sister was little, I taught her astronomy as we talked about how much we love each other. To this day, we still tell each other that we love each other to Pluto and back. We don't care that it's not a planet anymore.
7. I did not actually minor in religion in college. I refused to take Philosophy of Religion. Thus, I was one class short.
8. My first job out of college was dogsitting in London. It was rough.
9. As a child, I could not be excused from the table until I thanked the chef in Norwegian. This was the only Norwegian I ever learned -- despite the fact that it is my heritage.
10. I am too scared to hike at this time of year in Maine -- especially after the 5th email arrived in my inbox advising me to wear orange if and when I hiked so I wouldn't get shot.
11. (AN EXTRA) The very idea of hunting baffles my mind. I'm a pacifist. I don't get it.

And now, I get to tag my fellow bloggers. So, I tag: Besomami, Little Mary, Audrey, apbs and Teri.


Hitting Send

Recently Besomami and Little Mary asked interesting questions about blogging ettiquette. Little Mary is a little more direct. She calls it a pet peeve. I'm not sure where my gripe is exactly. It might be ettiquette. It might be a pet peeve. It might be a rant. (I know. Imagine!)

My lament is not in the blogosphere -- but a question about email. It is my personal feeling that people misuse email in horrible and abusive ways. For those of you that know me, you know that I hate the phone. I do email lots. I admit it. I email in my ministry more than I would like to admit. This is something that I agonize over daily. Do I take this as a teaching moment about good communication or respond to the passive aggressive email in the way that this person is contacting me? More often than not, I hit reply. It makes me cringe. I'm embarassed to admit it.

However, this email was not a church-related email. This was an email that arrived this afternoon from a member of my family to addressed to my parents and cc'ed to every relative in the family. It was an attack on my parents. It was one of those awful emails that makes you pause and wonder if this person should have counted to 10 before hitting send. This relative is angry. Very angry. Isn't it charming that not only do we express anger but pull up all past wrongs in the midst of disaster? This is what my relative did.

I did not reply.

Instead, I thought of Jesus drawing a line in the sand. I thought of how he turned the crowd and asked who among them was not also angry or guilty or sinful. A woman stands in the midst of the crowd. She is the source of their anger. They are ready to throw things. They are ready to hit send and draw deeper lines in the sand. This is why I did not reply. I don't want deeper lines in the sand.

My family is complicated enough. I have three families beyond my immediate family. It seems that there are always lines in the sand that I'm trying to traverse. There are always lines that I have smooth out. And there are lines that require me to ask everyone to resist the temptation to throw things. I don't want to do this anymore. When the only person who understands what it was like for me to grow up ends up in a Psych Ward, I'm refusing to play on these lines anymore.

Instead of precariously playing on these lines, I'm blogging. I hope this doesn't fall into anyone's pet peeves because it is a release for me. Even though she's cat blogging (one of my pet peeves), ppb encouraged me to do bibliotherapy. I haven't read anything since she gave this wonderful advice of reading to offer myself some therapy. I read some poetry on Thursday but I abandoned my books over the weekend. I can't seem to find the attention span to read. My mind wanders too quickly -- but blogging offers a connection that reminds me that others are praying. Others are listening. Whether you know me or not, you have been a blessing to me as I try so hard not to dance across the lines that my family draws. Your comments have supported me tremendously when I can't (or won't) share what is happening with my church family.


The Magic of Christmas

I know. It's only November -- but if you are a pastor like me, you have probably spent the past week or two beginning preparations for the season. It's not that far away at all. It's only a few Sundays until Advent arrives. In fact, before Advent arrives, The Magic of Christmas will start. This our local version of Christmas nonsense. You know the type. It's a little Broadway. A little orchestra. A little choral music and a random ballerina. I saw it last year with a church member. It gave me a headache not only because I'm a New Yorker and snotty about such things -- but because it displayed the things that I loathe most about Christmas.

OK, that's not entirely true. Two weeks ago, when I was shopping in Target, I squealed when I saw the Christmas display. Literally. I sent a text message to express my glee because there was no one to share it with. I realize it wasn't Halloween yet. I did not care. My best friend since first grade teases me about this -- as she is one of the few that has seen this obsession manifest itself year after year since we were both wee. She knows that I start listening to Christmas carols really, really soon. Too early by most standards. And if you are going to scoff at me, you can stop reading because the Christmas fun started yesterday.

While I was waiting for my friend to arrive from NJ, I painted to the TransSiberian Orchestra. Oh yes, I did. I needed a little cheer. You know, like when Auntie Mame sings that we need a little Christmas, I need it right now. So I painted my emotional bleh and and along to Christmas carols. It was the perfect release. I needed that magic -- the kind of magic that is released from the end of a paintbrush in brilliant colors. I needed the magic that is promised with the incarnation. I needed the magic of century old lyrics that sing this magical hope. I neeed a little magical Christmas -- right here.