Saturday, December 3, 2016

What I do....

Today I visited a woman who will most likely--almost surely--be dead before a week has passed. She was very alert and we talked....We talked....I anointed her and prayed with her and I drove home.

So, I found this poem, one I've shared before, about what (as a priest) I do....


I drive home through pain, through suffering,
through death itself.

I drive home through Cat-scans and blood tests
and X-rays and Pet-scans (whatever they are)
and through consultations of surgeons and oncologists
and even more exotic flora with medical degrees.

I drive home through hospitals and houses
and the wondrous work of hospice nurses
and the confusion of dozens more educated than me.

Dressed in green scrubs and Transfiguration white coats,
they discuss the life or death of people I love.

And they hate, more than anything, to lose the hand
to the greatest Poker Player ever, the one with all the chips.
And, here’s the joke, they always lose in the end—
the River Card turns it all bad and Death wins.

So, while they consult and add artificial poison
to the Poison of Death—shots and pills and IV’s
of poison—I drive home and stop in vacant rooms
and wondrous houses full of memories
and dispense my meager, medieval medicine
of bread and wine and oil.

Sometimes I think…sometimes I think…
I should not drive home at all
since I stop in hospitals and houses to bring my pitiful offering
to those one step, one banana peel beneath their foot,
from meeting the Lover of Souls.

I do not hate Death. I hate dying, but not Death.
But it is often too much for me, stopping on the way home
to press the wafer into their quaking hands;
to lift the tiny, pewter cup of bad port wine to their trembling lips;
and to smear their foreheads with fragrant oil
while mumbling much rehearsed words and wishing them
whole and well and eternal.

I believe in God only around the edges.
But when I drive home, visiting the dying,
I’m the best they’ll get of all that.

And when they hold my hand with tears in their eyes
and thank me so profoundly, so solemnly, with such sweet terror
in their voices, then I know.

Driving home and stopping there is what I’m meant to do.
A little bread, a little wine and some sweet smelling oil
may be—if not enough—just what was missing.

I’m driving home, driving home, stopping to touch the hand of Death.
Perhaps that is all I can do.
I tell myself that, driving home, blinded by pain and tears,
having been with Holy Ones.

8/2007 jgb

Friday, December 2, 2016

Blue Christmas

I was part of "A Service of Remembrance and Support" as St. James in Higganum tonight.

Churches in the Cluster where I serve have been having these for several years. It is a chance, an opportunity, a stand for the fact that the holidays are painful and full of loss/suffering/mourning for many people. And all that pain takes place most vividly in a time when the culture tells us to 'be merry and gay!" OR ELSE!!!!

People come forward at the end and light a candle while the names of those they are remembering on this oh, so, dark night are read aloud.

It is a very moving service. And it meets a huge need. Many of the people there aren't members of St. James. They just know about the service and need it.

I was the one reading the names and one of them was of a wondrous woman who died this year, much too soon. She was a regular at education events and a deep thinker as well as a lovely, dear person. I almost couldn't say her name. But I did, because it needed to be said aloud and her husband and son needed to hear her name spoken.

Advent calls us to introspection and stillness and silence and remembrance and hope and leaning into the dim light of December.

This service does all that.

Call St. James to get a copy of it for your church next year.

Christmas brings the brightest and most shadowed parts of our hearts and minds to the surface.

We need to acknowledge the latter as much as the former parts....

Thursday, December 1, 2016

uh...uh...what's it called?

OK, one of the things about getting older is you often can't remember the right word.

I was about to tell someone yesterday how inept I am at all things media and how I really don't care that I'm not adept when I couldn't remember the word I needed.

"Well, uh," I mumbled, "I'm a what's it called....?"

At least my friend, about my age, by the way, didn't immediately shout out the word I was looking for though I know he knows it. Growing older, like I said.

I spent most of the morning trying to remember the term and the best I could come up with was "troglodyte"--which is a cave man.

So, I googled "British anti-industrial movement" (I'm not to inept to 'google'!) and found "Luddite"!

Luddite, Luddite, Luddite....There, it should be mine again.....

(At least until the next time I need it....)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Too much darkness

I just read a story online about Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the US. The sun went down in Barrow on November 18 and won't rise again until January 22.

Over two months of darkness. I don't think I could endure that. That's too much darkness.

I love Connecticut's seasons. I embrace the darkness these days--we're at about 15 hours of darkness and 9 hours of sunlight right now. It will get a little more dark for 3 weeks, each day, then the Solstice and the light returns until that division is reversed in June.

But in Barrow we're talking 1536 hours of darkness.

Lord, that would make me move to the Equator somewhere!

I love the image of  'darkness' theologically and in literature. But 64 days?

Who lives in Barrow? If you do, contact me to let me know how it's going for you....

By the way, I'll only be visiting up there in the late Spring.

My life....

"I've discovered I have a beyond wonderful life," I told Bern a while ago.

She looked at me waiting.

"I went to Physical Therapy with a book and when I opened it I knew I'd read it before," I told her. "And that is the worst thing that's happened in my life for weeks. So I realized how wonderful my life is."

Bern just smiled. "Pretty good life," she finally said.

With Thanksgiving just past and the gift of the Christ Child coming, I need to be constantly aware of how wonderful my life is.

The only danger is 'survivor's guilt'--like someone who walks away from a plane crash and can't figure out why they lived and others didn't.

I wonder, for time to time, if I should feel guilty about being so blessed when others suffer.

Since I don't for a moment believe "I deserve it", my blessings actually give me more compassion than I'd have otherwise.

So, I'll just take it and give abundant thanks and work and pray for those whose lives have more pain and confusion than mine.

I need to 'pay forward' more....for such a life, I have a lot to pay....

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Another November 29

I decided it would be a toot to look back over my posts (over 1700 so far) to find the first one I ever wrote on a November 29th. It was six years ago and about...what else...Advent.

Apparently I wrote it after having written something and messed up trying to publish it. That explains the italics inside the parentheses.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent (one more time...)

{OK, I'm going to try to recreate my earlier blog that I destroyed somehow. You'd think I'd know how to do this, given I've been doing it for several years. But I hit the wrong key sometimes and send stuff into 'the cloud', never to be heard from again. I also hit 'return' instead of 'tab' from time to time which posts blogs with only the title. Forgive....And, by the way, the time of posting on my blog has me in some time zone off the coast of California. I'm beginning this at 9:39 p.m. EST, so ignore what it says about when I wrote it.
Also, I decided to try to do this tonight instead of tomorrow since my short term memory has an expiration of about 15 hours. Ask me what I preached about on Sunday evening and I can reproduce it almost verbatim. But ask me on Monday and I'll say, "Uh, what were the lessons?"}

One thing I love about Advent is that it is about seeking the light in the gathering and deepening darkness. Days are getting shorter and shorter when Advent begins and we are called by the Prophets and the liturgy to 'look for the light'. That seems to me to be a lot like life--always looking for light in the darkness. Advent is quintessentially optimistic, just as I am. So, in loving it, I am affirming my own world view and philosophy.

I don't know how it works in the Southern Hemisphere since all the Church Year seasons would be reversed. Imagine Easter, not in Spring when all is coming to life, but in Autumn as things die. And Advent and Christmas would be in Spring moving toward summer in the Global South. The metaphors don't work south of the equator. Maybe that's one reason that Global South Anglicans and Anglicans in the Northern Hemisphere are always at odds. That's just a thought to ponder. Metaphor is important. Symbols matter. I can't conceive of Advent when it is getting lighter and lighter and warmer and warmer.

Christmas falls, in the Gregorian calendar, three or four days after the Winter Solstice. So, in fact, days are getting shorter and nights longer right up to the week of Christmas. But here's something to ponder: in the Julian Calendar--the one Julius Caesar commanded be observed--the solstice fell always on December 25. So the night of Christmas Eve was the longest night of the year and Christmas began the coming of the light.

It wasn't until Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar of the western world in 1582 that the Solstice was backed up 3 or 4 days to correspond to the actual tilt of the earth. So, for 1581 of the 2010 years of the Common Era, Christians celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus on the solstice. Talk about metaphor and symbol and the lengthening of the Light!

Back where I come from, in a place more rural and mountainous than most people can imagine, railroad tracks were like kudzu, they were omnipresent, every where. Wherever there was a coal mine, their were railroad tracks for the coal trains to take it to Pittsburgh for steel or to Roanoke and Cincinnati for Electricity. And it is hard for even me to remember how narrow and twisted the valleys were between the mountains.

Where Bern, my wife, grew up, for example, this is what it looked like:

Try to picture that--two rows of houses, a pitifully narrow two lane road, two alleys and a stream pinched between two mountains. From one mountain to the other in Gary #9 (Filbert was the post office) was about 50 yards. Imagine living in a valley that narrow and deep.

So, because the valleys also curved around to accommodate the mountains, the railroad tracks crossed the road over and over. At every railroad crossing there was a sign in the shape of an X. On the four arms was written

               ST0P     LOOK
             AND        LISTEN

That was because the trains were going rather fast (to get the coal somewhere else asap) and the roads were so twisty and the mountains so intrusive that you really needed to stop, look as far as you could, and listen to hear the train whistle that was blown each time the tracks crossed a road.

You'd be amazed, I think, at how many cars got hit by trains, even with those warning signs.

Advent is like that X shaped sign for us.

STOP in the busiest time of the year to seek the Light.

LOOK for God in the hustle and bustle of the holiday time around you.

LISTEN for the Angel wings and Angel songs over the chaos and chatter and babble of the malls and the TV and the radio.

Advent is meant to 'slow us down' just when the culture is hurrying us up.

Advent is meant to have us more attentive just when the culture is most distracting.

Advent is meant to attune our senses to the presence of God in places unexpected, surprising, thought impossible.

That's what I like about Advent--it is so terribly counter-cultural. It's like standing on tip-toe, anticipating light in the deepest darkness of all.

Monday, November 28, 2016

5th Open Letter to my Granddaughters

Dear Morgan, Emma, Tegan and Ellie,

I just spent Thanksgiving weekend with you, Ellie (though, at 3 months, 2 weeks of age, I don't expect you  to remember it--though you are VERY, VERY all my granddaughters!) and Christmas, less than a month away, I'll be with you all and your parents and Lara dog. What a joy that will be. And less than 30 sleeps away....

(Less than 30 sleeps away...that's how your Grandma and I told our children to wait for things. "Your birthday is 5 sleeps away," we'd say. Or, "two sleeps and we'll go on vacation". Stuff like that. Your Grandma and I still say things like that to each other...("28 sleeps and our granddaughters will all be here....")

So true. So, what could be wrong in the world?

Plus, my loves, Grandpa walked without a brace today! It was at PT (which means 'physical therapy', something I pray you don't have to know about for years and years...) and I rode a bike with the seat way back because I can only bend my right knee 110 degrees--but it was only 88 degrees just a week ago!) The brace from my ankle to my thigh (another thing I hope you never experience) has been on since September 28 and it's only been 10 days or so I could walk without crutches and drive my car. It'll be on for another 20 sleeps or so, but at PT I take it off and do things I long to do with my leg.

So, if after two months of being braced I can, twice a week, walk without it, what could be wrong in the world?

Well, dear hearts, I'm still in mourning about Donald Trump being our President-Elect. I would have rather it been Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders but I would have been delighted for it to be Hillary Clinton. And it isn't. It's Trump and I'm a mess some of the time.

Donald tweets. I'm sure the three older girls have heard the word--but DON'T DO IT, PLEASE! And I hope it is made illegal by the United Nations before Ellie possibly could. Your Grandpa doesn't tweet and never will. Ever. Not ever.

Donald tweets terrible things at ridiculous hours.

The latest is this: since there is going to be a recount of the votes in Wisconsin because Jill Stein, the Green Party Candidate is paying for it, Donald tweeted that he would have won the popular vote if three million illegal votes had not been cast for Hillary.

OK, by dears, 'voter fraud' simply doesn't exist in any appreciable way in the US. Just doesn't. And more than two million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for the Donald. That makes Democrats winning 6 of the last 7 Presidential Elections in the 'popular vote' but losing two of those in the Electoral College. (I won't explain what "the Electoral College" is since I hope it is not in existence when any of you can vote). Twice in the last 7 Presidential Elections, more Americans have voted for the Democrat than the Republican and the Republican has won.

Go figure!!!

That's what's wrong in the world where elections are held.

And now, get this my precious girls, the man who won is questioning the vote in the election he won....

Give me a break. I need a vineyard for the next four years....

Love you girls, you almost make Donald bearable....


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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.