“The barn needs paint”
If you wonder why this photo goes with this post, it’s because I was thinking these thoughts while I biking on a road where I passed this barn.

I invite you, my friends, to join me as dialogue partners in considering this question: What do we need to live a good life? And what I mean by “goodness” here isn’t being morally righteous, but thriving, flourishing, living out the fullness of one’s humanity

  • I think of these as some of the ingredients:
  • Enough to eat. A place to live.
  • Opportunities to love and be loved in the fullest sense, which is so much more than the passion of romantic love or fondness for family and friends; “Justice is what love looks like in action,” as Cornel West once said, and there’s still more to the word than that.
  • Meaningful work.
  • A degree of autonomy, but also a place in community.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might come to mind for any of you who have taken those classes, but I think I mean both more and less than the spectrum he laid out, and I’d prefer to converse in plain English, not the jargon of psychology.

What I’m putting on my list are ingredients, but I won’t try to write out a complete recipe. Perhaps in some cases a little more of this can make up for a little less than that; I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking about these things as I struggle to balance my own feelings of gratitude and loss in this time of pandemic. This is not the life I’d hoped to be living in retirement, either personally or vocationally. I can’t be with most of my family or my friends as I’d like. The pilgrimage to Assisi I’d so been looking forward to was canceled, with no other opportunities for travel anywhere in sight. I’d intended to continue to live my ordination even in retirement from parish ministry, but the possibilities for that have vanished. In a kind of symbolic moment, I had a supply gig I was eagerly looking forward to the first Sunday that all the churches shut down, and there that went.

Anyway, those losses really hurt. And yet there have been other opportunities: to go deeper in my photography, to work on writing poetry, to read, to ride my bike 5-6 miles every day, to cook, to spend a special kind of time with my family and especially my two little granddaughters.

This is definitely not the life I’d intended to be living right now. And yet.So what about you: are you thriving these days, and if not, what is it that you still need?

While I was sitting and thinking of nothing in particular this morning, I thought to share this photo from my files. It’s a work titled “When I Was Hungry and Thirsty,” by Timothy Schmalz, at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. I was fascinated by the urge some passersby felt to leave a few coins on his plate. Seriously, what were they thinking?It brought to mind a dream I had a week or so ago, in which I was listening to a sermon in which some colleagues and I were being exhorted to remember and live into our first ordination. The background you need, if you don’t know it already, is that we priests in the Episcopal Church are ordained twice, the first time as deacons, the second time as priests. That bothers some deacons, who see it as disrespecting their call, and I understand that, although I’ll say for myself that I’ve always understood my diaconal ordination as formative for understanding my own call.

But again I wonder, seriously, what would it mean for me now in retirement (and under quarantine) to live into that first ordination?

We’re grieving

It seems to me that many if not most of us are grieving these days. 

We mourn our dead, of course. Some of us have lost friends or family members to the virus. Others grieve the deaths of loved ones who can’t be honored at a proper memorial service because of restrictions on large gatherings. Without knowing their names, we mourn the 150,000 Americans who have died of covid-related causes.

But there’s more to it than that. We’ve all lost so much more: vacations we were looking forward to, family gatherings and celebrations that can’t happen, jobs. The virus has put limitations on the way we work and serve our communities; it’s restricted the freedom to go where we want to go and do what we want to do in ways most of us have never experienced before. We’re irritable and can’t concentrate and we don’t know why, not immediately recognizing what’s happening as grief.

I’ve been working my way through the book “Winter of the Heart” by Paul D’Arcy and finding it tremendously helpful. It’s oriented toward grieving the loss of people who were important to us, but most of the points it makes about grief are easily adaptable to these other losses.

The work of grief, D’Arcy says, is to gratefully let go of what is no more and reorient ourselves to the possibilities that lie hidden in what is, a transformation that requires letting love open our hearts to create “an open space through which the river of sorrow can flow.” Paraphrasing the late poet and priest  John O’Donohue, she says that there’s an invitation to be found in every moment of our lives, “even in the deepest heartache.”

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I do believe that all social transformation has to begin with the conversion of our own hearts. Sometimes it’s called metanoia, turning away from one way of living–turning away from what is killing our souls–and turning toward what is lifegiving. And racism is killing us. It hurts all of us, though I want to be very clear that it doesn’ t hurt all in the same way or to the same degree.

A week or so ago I was on a Zoom gathering with a group of white people who were sharing recollections of their earliest awareness of race. Some were taught that race is something polite people don’t mention. Others were brought up in blatantly racist environments. I remember my own grandmother as an outspoken racist, but my parents taught me that the words she used and the attitudes she expressed were wrong.

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I think of these river reflections as occupying a kind of liminal space somewhere between reality and imagination. Though not exact replicas, the shifting images reflected in the river often reveal a special beauty of their own and help us to appreciate the original all the more. So then what does it mean to say that we are created in the image and likeness of God, a different kind of reflection?

Where God is

Quick bike ride before Zoom church. In addition to the doe, I pass walkers, bikers, a huge turtle basking in the sun on a branch fallen into the canal, a distant woodpecker and a rooster who crows as I ride by. Life is beautiful, life is fragile, life is tragic, life endures, life inspires. All life is one. Black lives matter. Lives lived to the end in nursing homes matter. The lives of health care workers and first responders matter. Lives lived on the streets matter. The lives of prophets calling for justice matter. Creation care matters. Lives at the border matter. All lives matter, of course, but some lives have been devalued when we suppose that God loves us better. All life is one. All life is created by God. This is where God is for me this morning.

Prayer written for a group that’s been reading Christine Valters Paintner’s book titled “The Soul’s Slow Ripening” together and discussing it on Zoom:

Good and gracious God, source of all love,
in whose image every one of us was created, 
you made us to love, and to be loved. 

Hold us now in the great circle of your love, 
as a mother embraces her children;
comfort and protect us as only you can. 

We fear now in this pandemic for our own safety, 
even as we witness the raw pain of others who never felt safe.
There is so much that is broken in our world and in our own hearts.

Give us courage and compassion to face that brokenness, and not turn away.
By your grace may we be healed; 
by your grace may we become healers in your name.

Circle us with your love,
and help us to appreciate 
just how large that circle is.

Help us to see that you are there 
in all those places where your children are suffering,
and if we want to follow you, we will have to go there, too. 

In the name of your Son who knew pain, grief, and injustice, 
and prevailed over them 
to show us the way.


The practice of right thinking

Spoiler alert: The picture is not what I’m going to talk about here. 

I took this photo over the weekend, but I didn’t post it then because it felt tone deaf to be to be lifting up Bucks County’s peaceful countryside while people in places not so far away were experiencing such turmoil. I’ve been doing the social isolation thing pretty seriously, so I didn’t rush off to join the protests, but I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading this past week. Curiously, I find that I have nothing much to say about the demonstrations and the reactions they’ve provoked.

I’ll tell you a story: Long ago, when I was young, earnest and impressionable, I had a friend who seemed to know the right way to think about everything. I was drawn to that person because I wanted to think right, too, and I listened very carefully. Later, I was a little embarrassed by my pose of acolyte to the wise one. Much later, I saw a bit of arrogance in their posture of knowing the right way to think about everything, but I didn’t really take the lesson to heart.

Very much later, I was ordained and set about living into all the joys and responsibilities of ordained life, one of which is proclaiming the Gospel in a specific place and time. Which very frankly can feel a little like knowing the right way to think about everything. It’s what’s expected of you, you’re supposed to pray first for wisdom to know what to preach, but to be very honest it can be habit-forming. It can start to feel pretty good to be the one who knows the right way to think about everything. I can be hard to stop.

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Teach your chosen one to govern your people rightly

In my experience (but what would I know) when you go to an Episcopal Church, stand up front, and hold up a Bible, people expect you to open it and read something to them. Since that didn’t happen in the news from Washington yesterday, I’m going to fill in by offering a portion of Psalm 72:

Oh God, give your anointed one your judgment–
and your justice.
Teach your chosen one to govern your people rightly
and bring justice to the oppressed.
The mountains will bring the people peace
and the hills justice!
Your anointed will defend the oppressed among the people,
save the children of the poor,
and crush the oppressor.

Your anointed will rescue the poor when they cry out,
and the oppressed when there is no one to help them.
Your chosen one
will take pity on the lowly and the poor,
and will save their lives.
Your chosen one will rescue them all from violence and oppression,
and will treat their blood as precious.

Blessing for a Pilgrimage in Place

On this day, feed your hunger for purpose
   with a hearty meal that begins 
   with a chopped onion, a little garlic.

Simmer until the fragrance of it
   reaches everyone in the house,
   summoning them to the feast. 

Let your earnest desire to heal the world 
   find fulfillment then 
   in a smile across the dinner table.

Satisfy your desire for presence 
   by patiently receiving that long story 
   whose conclusion you already know.

Just for now, let your longing to serve God and humanity 
   find fulfillment in cleaning the kitchen when the meal 
   is done; send the others out to watch the moon rise.

Love the ones who share the house with you.

Let go of fretting that you were made for something more, 
   for some beautiful future 
   you’ve been chasing after all your life. 

Bless these moments when your purpose is clear. 
   Know each one for what it is: 
   the beginning and end of time.

Accept the invitation to enter there into the heart of God, 
   realizing at last that this blessing of each minute 
   will fill your day with grace.

Understand that a life of meaning begins 
   not with climbing a mountain before breakfast, 
   but with stopping to make the bed.

Be content. Be blessed by your life as it is.