Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What a difference a day makes....

24 hours from now, I will no longer be the Rector of St. John's--something that has defined me in many ways for 21 years almost.

Well, they are paying me until the end of July, so I guess in some fuzzy way I am still the Rector...but I gave back my credit card, stopped signing checks and will hand in my key--which says 'rector' on it tomorrow. And then it will be finished...done....

Hard for me to believe but it is finally going to be true. I will be 'retired'.

I'm still not ready to say much about the whole thing except this...

*my going away 'last dance' on Sunday was everything I dreamed and prayed it would be and more and so many people made that happen just the way I wanted it and in ways I didn't know I wanted it but did that I have no way to express my profound and endless joy and thanks

*I threw away my calling cards today and peeled my name off my mail slot and got everything ready to bring home. I am stunned at how calmly I did all that (plus take my letterhead...I used the last Rector's letter head for a year or so.....)

*People have drifted by all week, saying goodbye, being wondrous....

*I can't find my Prayerbook that lots of people signed when I came back from a sabbatical or something years ago. If they find it, I'd like to have it....

*The Iman of the mosque that began at St. John's came by with a beautiful copy of the Koran and the Koran on discs--the whole thing....lots to listen to....

*the soup kitchen clients gave me a poster sized card that lots signed, a cake Pauline dropped and 4 bottles of wine...I could have made four life-long friends handing out those bottles but decided to keep them....

*My last Eucharist was today--the Wednesday healing service....lots of people, including 3 priest friends who I was in a group with for years. I asked everyone to annoint forehead still is sweet and damp with oil. A perfect ending.

*I am not afraid. In fact I am getting close to being outrageously joyful because the pain of leaving is almost over. One more day. And it will all end, as is should, with a dinner with the staff who have supported/loved/made me look good for so many years. I'll be weepy and clingy, but that is as it should be. I love those guys more than they know--more than they could know....

And then, there is what comes next.....And that I welcome and celebrate and look forward to with great joy.

I told someone today, "I've given St. John's 'some of the best years of my life' and St. John's has given me 'some of the best years of my life'." And that is simply true. Not a bad exchange rate, I'd say.

Like that. Simply like that....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Holy Ground

That's what I'm walking on these last few days as Rector of St. John's--Holy Ground.

People come by to say good-bye and I just wander around the building, not aimlessly--with great intention--drinking in the holy space, wondering at the light, astonished still by the silence and the beauty and the deep down meaning of it all.

I am so blessed.

Would that all God's people would be so blessed as I am.

Would that that were true....

Perfect, just perfect...

Yesterday was my last dance at St. John's. I won't work after Friday and in 3 months I'll be really retired--the first check from the Church Pension Fund and from SS will arrive on August 1 in our checking account. Amazing.

I'm not ready yet to write about it--it is still too foamy and bubbly and wondrous. But it was, truly, one of the best days of my life. I wouldn't change a thing.

Deep breath....Liturgy is very, very important to me and I think what we did in the liturgy was perfect, just everything else.

I have been so profoundly blessed to have spent 21 of the best years of my life deep in the Old Man's Puzzle with the folks at St. John's.

How lucky can one person be???

Someday soon I'll be able to write about it...but not now....

I'm in love with Lucy Malpafatantial

Not even sure if that's how to spell her name. Have no idea what her ethnicity is. Never met her, never will. I spelled it phonetically from her time on CT public radio. Love her voice. Mostly love her name, however it is spelled, it sounds like this to me when she says it: Mal-paf-tantial.


My wife's grandfather came from Bari, Italy with the last name Lachettegnola (again phonetics) but it got changed to PEAS and then Pisano.

I love names like that. I love Lucy's voice and the way she says her name. Kind of crazy, I know. And I look forward to hearing her each day....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The back of my throat

There is a taste in the back of my throat. It's been there a day or two--not just post nasal drip--something wondrous and so sweet.

You know how they say we taste different tastes in different parts of our mouths? Know about that? Somewhere for salt, somewhere else for sweet, another place for sour....Lips and the tip of your tongue for.....let that go.....

Anyway, back there in my throat there has been a taste for a day or two.

I finally figured it out. It is the taste of happiness....

It took me so long because I'm not used to that taste. I am a consummately "joyful" person. But I don't think of myself as 'happy'--too ironic and reflective for that. Oh, I know how happiness tastes--holding a grandchild, watching the night sky, listening to music I love, eating ice cream...sure, I know that. But I'm not attached to it.

"Happiness", it seems to me, is a Bobbe Prize--a 'feeling', not something chosen, like "joy", a passing fancy, here today, gone in a heart-beat, like that.

Being at St. John's all these years has been remarkably, profoundly, always 'joyful' for me. But I see so much pain and loss and longing that I'm seldom 'happy' about it all. But, 'leaving St. John's' is so excruciating and exhausting that I realize now that the 'leaving' is almost over and in the back of my throat I taste happiness. Not to 'be gone', but that the horror of 'leaving' is almost done. It's like when I stood by my each of my parents' graves. Life was finally still and done for them, I could take a deep breath and move on. Like that.

Today I talked to a 24 year old woman from New Hampshire who wanted me to give her $700 to fix her car so she could go home to appear in court in Manchester tomorrow. I had no such amount of money, but I offered her a bus ticket home. That I could do. She left to consider it and never came back. Why she was here, why she was stranded, why she didn't take the bus, why she needed to appear in court...none of that do I know and did not ask. I know what not to ask, have learned that well....But she was lovely in many ways, very articulate (which English majors like me appreciate) and I can't for the life of me imagine what such a lovely, articulate young, young woman needs to be in court for.....

Then I talked to a man twice my size--quite a man that is!--about his father's funeral. His father is not yet dead but will be and we were discussing the whole thing. And this huge, massive man sat and sobbed for half-an-hour for his father who is not yet dead. Deep breaths is what I need. I need to focus and taste the taste in the back of my throat.

We are all--you, me, everyone--like the wings of the little parakeets I can hear yelling downstairs as I type. So fragile, so delicate, so intricately created, almost painfully perfect...that's what we are, you and I and everyone. Stranded far from home, innocent but due in court. Huge, strong, invincible but so pained.

That's what hooked me on this whole thing--this life, this work, this ministry--just the fragility of life itself and how seldom, in the back of our throats, happiness comes.....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A perfect early evening....

This is about yesterday though it might have been about today since the two days were rather seamlessly put together by nature. But it's about yesterday because I got home earlier yesterday and got to notice it all more.

Walking the dog, still bright, not yet seven p.m., I noticed the light. Cornwall is an East/West street--sunrise from Rt. 10, Sunset down the hill toward Prospect. Great light much of the time. Yesterday, stunning.

I sat on our back deck for a long time. It is canopied by hemlock and firs and red oak. You have to look almost straight up to see the sky. And the sky yesterday was the blue of that girl's eyes back in eighth grade. You never kissed her but wished you had for decades. And if you had you would have been lost forever. That blue.

We have a side yard of ferns that are coming up nicely--all ferns and rocks and old tree limbs. The wind moved the ferns feathers slightly. Our deck is assailed on two sides by Rhododendron--state flower of West Virginia, by the way--and the green of the leaves is almost blinding, shiny and deep.

There were birds in the trees and a distant woodpecker who comes every spring and I've never been able to find and see.

Even the aged Horse Chestnut tree I keep thinking is dead is in full leaf. The air felt, tasted, smelled so alive, so sweet--like something called 'forever'.

How many perfect early evenings can we expect in a year or a lifetime? Better grab one when it comes and wrench all the beauty out....

The flowers in our yards and neighbors' yards are all primary colors--reds, oranges, yellows, blue, fluffy cloud white. Not a pastel in sight last evening.

One of the hemlocks has a perfect 'Green Man' on it--I may paint him when I retire so I can see him better and show him to people. He has a long nose and deep eye sockets and a chin that trails away from his mouth.

I had a glass of white wine and smoked a forbidden cigarette and thought things no deeper than something like this: "the light...the light...the light..." for an hour our so.

Our dog slumbered on the deck, his nose under the gate to the front yard. He wasn't even thinking something as weighty as "the light...", he was 'one' with the evening.

It was 53 degrees, I noticed. My favorite temperature yesterday.

Alas--we should all have evenings like that one often....

A perfect early evening....

Living too long....

I was driving home after a great day at church listening to an NPR report on how most teens text some 50-75 times a day. "Mostly useless stuff," one of them admitted and all of them should, it seems to me.

I've recieved some text messages in my day on my phone and tried once or twice to return them (unsuccessfully).

Here's what I promise: I will not run away to Boreno, I will not drink Yak milk, I will become a Republican or a Baptist, I won't tug on Superman's cape or raise chickens (though I've dreamed a couple of times recently about having chickens--long story....) and I will never send you a text message on your phone. OK? You can go to the bank on that....

So I stop to get a bottle of Starbuck's cold coffee--Mocha, a weakness of mine. The total was $3.01. I had four quarters so I gave the kid 4 quarters, a $10 bill and a penny. He probably texts his friends 50 times a day.

He looked at me and said, "What do I do with this?"

I told him, "Enter $11.01 on your cash register and give me my change...."

Skeptically, he did. "Wow," he said, handing me a 5 and 3 ones, "Cool."

He wished me a nice day though he had almost ruined it....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hey, I can't leave you there...

sitting out on my back porch...just sitting, not thinking or pondering or anything else, mostly feeling the cool air on my face and staring at the trees and looking at the sky between their branches, not doing much of anything....I thought about my last blog.

My dad lived a decade and a half or more after that--saw his grandchildren (which my mother never did) lived with us for a few months before going to a nursing home in Hamden for a year or two before he died. Lots happened. Maybe I'll blog about that some time. But my relationship with my father improved--still improves....I love him and appreciate him more each day. Hey, I was 25 and an asshole, not the wise old bird I am don't bum out on that.

And there is this: I can sit on my back porch on my 63rd birthday...just sit...just feel and see and hear whatever is there to feel and see and hear.

That ability may be the beginning of JOY.

I don't think of myself as a happy person, though I am happier than 95% of the people I know or meet. So, maybe I am happy--but I'm too pondering to call it that.

But I am a Joyful person. I tend to almost always notice every moment of my life with an intensity and a thankfulness and a pondering that gives me great joy. Great Joy.

Even when I'm 'unhappy' or 'depressed' or 'anxious' or 'distracted'--even then I am joyful.

I truly love, love, adore, honor, am humbled by and grateful for simply being alive.

I like being alive a lot. And I hope I'm not wasting more of it than I'm enjoying. I'm about to go wash out my sinuses with 8 ounces of salt water--not pleasant, but I'm sick and need to. And it will be a feeling I will acknowledge and honor--but not like....

So, being 63 is a lot better than not being! A lot better.

I am joyful.

And I encounter my father in dreams often these days and it is usually wondrous. Maybe he's forgiven me for being an asshole.

And maybe I'm becoming a wise old bird sooner than I expected.

So, in spite of that last blog, fret not. I am joyful to be alive.

Happy birthday to me.....

humungous overshare

Today--4/17/10--I turned 63. When I turned 25 4/17/72, my mother was dying and I was by her bedside. She was 63. On the morning of my birthday, after I'd spent the night by my mother's bed, my Aunt Elsie came in and said, "It's your birthday". I had forgotten.

My mother was 38 when I was born and 63 when I was 25. That was 38 years ago come Monday. I'm now the age she was when she died. She had just retired from 40 years of teaching elementary school when she had stroke after stroke and slipped into a coma for a week or so and I sat by her bed, feeding her ice cream with one of those wooden spoons most of the night. Half comatose, she still loved--as she always did--vanilla ice cream.

I'm not superstitious at all. I pay people to let black cats run in front of me. I walk under every ladder I encounter, I spill salt and don't throw it over my shoulder, I don't even whistle through graveyards. But the math intrigues me....She was 38 when I was born and 63 when she died. I'm 63 now and it was 38 years ago she died. A little too ironic. And we were both retiring....ok, I am a little superstitious. Plus, I have all these wierd blood tests and stuff to deal with in the next few weeks. If I make it past Monday, I'll feel better....

My birthday is always a little sad since I remember how close my mother died to when I turned 25. Two days. 4/19/72. And this one is a tad wierd, given the 38/63 stuff....

I'll be fine.

I was with my mother when she died. The doctor had warned my father and I (who were not getting on too well at the time) that she might seem to regain consciousness but it was merely a reaction and she was already quite brain dead...stokes and kidney failure and a comotose state.

My father and I were with her and she did exactly what the doctor told us she might do--she sat up and seemed to look around and then fell back on her pillow, dead.

My father, in spite of all the advanced warnings, thought she could see us, hear us, communicate with us and started calling out her name: "Cleo! Cleo! Cleo!" he called. Then she died.

We stood silently for a few minutes.

"She heard me, didn't she, Jimmy?" My father asked.

And in the worst thing I've done--and I've done horrible things in my life--I said, "No, she didn't."

I'd give anything to have that moment back and say, "Oh, Dad, she heard you, she knew you loved her, she died with your voice in her heart...."

And I can't go back and do that.

Instead I said, "No" and he wept and offered me 40 dollars to buy some shoes that would be fit for the funeral and I told him that wasn't enough because I was insulted that he didn't find my shoes worthy and was thinking of my shoes instead of his dead wife and I was so angry that my mother had died instead of him.

So, this time of my natal joy is muted by a memory like that....

Like I warned you, an overshare.....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Last things

Almost everything I do around St. John's these days is 'the last time' I'll do them--last holy week, last Easter, last baptisms, last nursing home communions, last meeting of this kind or another--and even my last Vestry meeting.

I actually, unlike most priests I know, have enjoyed some 85% of all the Vestry meetings I've ever attended. It is the remarkable commitment of people willing to serve on a Vestry that makes the time together magic--that and the occasional breakthrough to consensus and the great good humor I insist on and often get and stuff like the time two vestry members were about to take their disagreement to the parking lot for some bare knuckles...stuff like that....

At the vestry meeting--with cake and champagne--one of the vestry members said something to me that makes me think perhaps my 20 years here were positive and good.

"You were the reason I came back the second time," she told me, 'but you're not the reason I stayed--I stayed because I love this place...."

Perfect. I get anxious when someone says something like "I don't know what we'll do without you", as flattering as that is in a ego satisfying way. I am humbled and honored to be the reason some people started coming--but the parish is what matters now, not me--no matter how much you love me...and I know you do...and I you.

Last things are strange and a bit emotionally challenging. And, as they come and go "next things" are what matter--for me and for the parish....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

who I be

I think I lost this post by some dumb thing I did by typing too fast.

So, if you get the same thing twice--or sort of the same thing--sorry.

today, when I was preaching about how in John's gospel everyone was more interested in what Jesus could 'do' than who he 'was', I realized what has been making my leaving St. John's so very, very hard. I have become, in my letting go, so tied up in what I 'do' as the Rector I have lost sight of who I 'be' as the Rector.

I won't be 'doing' those things anymore after a short time, but I will still 'be' who I have been while doing them.

Where I come from, people who meet for the first time usually ask, "where are you from?"

Where you're from--which town, which holler, which part of the area--tell volumes about who you 'are'. The Millers from Jenkinjones are not at all like the Millers from Spencer Curve. The Blankinships from Pineville aren't the same folk as the Blankinships from Leckie. 'Where you are from' tells people who you 'be'.

When I came to New England I noticed the first questioned people asked a new acquaintance was "What do you DO?" Knowing what you 'do' doesn't tell me who you 'are'. Doing and being are distinctions.

I even lead a workshop a few times a year that is based on making the distinction between 'doing' and 'being'. And I lead the workshop quite well, thank you. But only when I listened to my sermon did I realize that who I 'be' is who I will continue to 'be' after I leave St. John's....What I 'do' will be vastly altered.

This realization (I often say I alway 'preach' to myself and others can listen--today that really proved true!) enables me to create a new future for myself and allow St. John's to create their future. My 'being' will continue though I will mourn the loss of what I've been 'doing' with my 'being' for these 21 years.

It is still painful to imagine leaving--but now I know I can...I can 'leave', 'stop DOING' what I've done so long and still 'be' who I am.

That is a gift--a profound gift to me. I should listen more closely to my sermons....

Friday, April 9, 2010

the vat of choristers

I was a bit harsh in my last post. I was simply disappointed that Maria and the Choristers don't get more folks for their Evensongs. People at St. John's certainly support them financially and love them on Sunday mornings when they sing. But it is the Evensongs where you really get to hear them shine.

Maria has done a great great job over the last 5-6 years (whichever) and it truly shows in the kids who take full advantage of the program. She works with a fragile group who have issues that keep them away from time to time. But the Value Added Training ('vat', get it?) is remarkable. with a few exceptions, the choristers are kids who don't have a lot of sports or after school oppotunities and don't have parents who are able to get them to rehersals regularily. And they certainly don't have music training in the public schools. So, what they get with the Choristers in invaluable training in music, commitment and discipline.

Continue to support them...please....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

something to ponder for St. John's....

I have no idea how many members of St. John's read this--but I have something to say to them and the Search Committee....

Every Episcopal Church, in their top 5 commitments, puts Youth and Adult Education along with whatever the other 3 are.

Tonight I heard a marvelous evensong by our Choristers and there were 10 people there to hear it with me.

And we have had, for 20 years, adult education opportunities that have been attended by 10 or less for 90% of the programs.

So, don't put those two things among your commitments. Just don't....

And shame on us for not supporting the Choristers by 'showing up' and not coming to Adult Education.

I don't often 'shame' folks.

This time I will.

so, it was church....

I just noticed I haven't written for this since March 31--I blame it on the Church! That was Holy Wednesday and between then and now came Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, all Easter for two days and a period of rest and recovery.

I am getting old. It is right that I retire. I used to end Easter more energized than when it was Palm Sunday. I got tired this year. Too much church--there is such a thing as 'too much church'....

I have had friends who got so deeply into meditation that they seemed a bit distracted all the time. They were offended greatly when I suggested they were meditating 'too much'.

There is 'too much' of everything. Really....

It was special and sweet and wondrous and a bit of a miracle...the whole Holy Week Easter trip. I am not at all 'formal' in worship, but I love liturgy and I think we made it work in weird and quirky ways....

So, recovered from the drama, I'm back writing. See you soon.....shalom, JIM

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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.