Category Archives: spirituality

I want to float, not dive

7239cf715db990fa2babb5c00ec962e1.b2c7dcabcd02d6b1a207e0dffe7b5242.jpgNot quite ready for the day.

I have my tea and mouse is keeping me company.  I kinda want to be all on top of it and hit the ground running, but today I just want to ease into it.  Like when you are going swimming in the early morning and you slip slowly into the still waters, trying not to make a ripple.  You are one temperature and the water another and the change from one state to another can be a welcome shock, but not first thing in the morning.  Late in the afternoon, in the heat of the summer, you welcome it, along with the other swimmers. But early in the morning, you move slowly into the depths.

And today I have patients to see and meetings to attend and driving to do between one place and another,  all within certain times, all seemingly crowded together. There are notes too. Notes to say what I did and how I met the goals already written.  “Patient will transition through the end of life process with peace and serenity.”  ” Patient received pastoral presence and silent prayer.”  Today is like most days, but today I want to slip into it slowly and purposefully, not reactively. I want to slip into the sacred and let it support me as I go,  I want to float, not dive.

 

Jonah and The Divine Deep Knowing

Penned by Tori Jamison

Many call to ministry stories begin with a deep knowing or a dramatic moment of realization, followed in quick succession with the knower running fleeing church life to pursue careers in business or as far from the church as possible, diving into family or art or literally anything else, until they can’t anymore – and then they show up at seminary. My story isn’t that at all.  I heard the voice, I felt the deep knowing and my community acknowledged that they also knew I had the knowing and so off I went, confident. I graduated seminary by the skin of my teeth and running as fast as I could get from the institutional church.

images.jpgAnd I’ve been thinking about a lot about Jonah, of “gets swallowed by a whale and is still a punk while sitting in digestive juices for three days and gets his own book in the Hebrew bible” fame. See, Jonah gets this call from God to do a thing (go preach repentance to Nineveh) and he runs. Lots of commentators make a big deal out of him running the opposite direction from where he was told to go, but what I find interesting about Jonah is his confident swagger. He runs but gets on a ship and when the sea gets rough, they draw lots and blame Jonah, who asserts with no nuance who he is and the name of his god, and that they are welcome to solve the problem by throwing him into the sea. The sailors oblige, and into the sea goes Jonah… only to get swallowed by a fish. He skulks and mutters for a while, covered in digestive juices in the dark, and then the text says that he petitions his god with a prayer that amounts to “God has to save me because I have work to do that God gave me to do so get on with it, God!”

I also ran with reasons aplenty from the institutional church but not ministry. I’ve taken all kinds of jobs and calls since graduating, and have met some incredible people, been a witness to the miraculous and the mundane. I’ve seen a baby born and held hands with the dying and everything in between, and yet, l

Like Jonah, I thought that shouting my call while going my own ways was enough.

It isn’t, and I’m worn down by running- the moving every few months to this or that pulls me farther and farther away from the divine deep knowing. What I’ve been doing is in the name of the good work and justice (mental health first responder! Care for the youngest! Communities of belonging and safety for everyone! Farm and feed the world!) but I am increasingly more disconnected from a call to contextualize sacred service in a community.

I haven’t been running from everything in life and I’ve certainly grown and learned.  I came out as queer last year as undramatically as I could conjure simply by putting on Facebook that I was in a relationship with a same gender partner.

Spoiler alert -if an ancient book can be spoiled –

Jonah gets out of the fish but his swagger continues. He preaches to Nineveh and then informs God that God should make good on God’s promise to smite them. God does not, and gives a shade tree to Jonah. When the tree dies, the last words of Jonah in his book are informing God that the tree ought to still be alive, and that Jonah himself is right to be angry, even to death.

I too had my very good reasons for running, but now that I am a distance away by time, geography and circumstance, perhaps now I can reconsider a retooled return. Like Jonah, I have never doubted the deep knowing, but unlike Jonah, I do not wish to end up under a tree angry that it is not enough.

Exhaling into death

images.jpg

It occurred to me yesterday morning that I have been fearful of the role of full-time hospice chaplaincy for two main reasons.

The first is that I thought I might get burnt out ministering mostly to folks who are actively dying and their families, that the nature of unavoidable death without the affirmation of life might not be there. That without the balance, I would eventually tip over and absorb too much of the grief and not enough of the life.

If you are on my hospice list then you are most likely dying.  Some folks get better with hospice care and no longer qualify for it, but mostly, folks die.

Here is the other point. Frankly I didn’t have confidence that my spunky little self was cut out for the solemnness of the gig.  I met a ton of ministers and others who felt called to hospice while I was in seminary and CPE, and they tended to be very peaceful, calming, and reverent.  I am mostly irreverent and have a quirky sense of humor.  I am also naturally charismatic and sometimes find it difficult to tamper that gift down. I don’t mean to say that I am all that and a bag of chips, but I have that funny personality that is highly interested in others, connects easily to strangers and for the most part, is authentic.  What you see is what you get.

I didn’t think that my calling was to hospice.  I figured it was to helping people with addictions, and homelessness, and hospital type stuff.  I love hospital chaplaincy and did well in training with the cases where it was messy.  Messy with bells and whistles going off.  Messy with theological issues.  Messy with emotional responses.

This is what I discovered.

In the hospital, death is there and is often sudden.  Unexpected.  As chaplain you need to have your spiritual tanks filled because you respond to some deep stuff. People are plugged into machines, the heart is monitored, beeps and alarms go off. People rush in and rush out trying to save the patient. The main purpose of the medical team is curative,  everybody jumps in at the code to save the life and the chaplain holds the sacred space.

A 17-year-old wraps their car around a tree and the family comes to the bedside, faced with issues of taking him off life support or organ donation.  The baby’s heart isn’t working and he has to be medevaced to Children’s hospital.  You are called to take someone to see their loved one in the morgue after death from an overdose and you lead them to a cold room, generally far away from the rest of the hospital, and generally underground.   Shock is the response to sudden and unexpected death.  It is surreal at times.

Death comes unexpectedly and on the emotional intensity scale of 1-10, 10 being full on, you give spiritual care and support, holding the sacred space for the family and the patients.  It is a fast inhale, like when you are being startled and you quickly hold your breath for dear life, hoping death will not take it.   And sometimes you go from emergency to emergency and you have to be there, one patient emergency after another.  All of you, present and with The Divine because you are the symbol of the sacred in the moment.  It is exhausting, but I was good it.  I can hold my breath for a very long time.

In hospice, it is like a long and cleaning exhale.  Death is not unexpected, it is unavoidable, for the most part.  There are folks who struggle with accepting death, their own or the death their loved one.  Hospice is provided only if there is a medical indication that curative medicine will no longer help.  To be on hospice you have to have a terminal diagnosis with death imminent, generally less than 6 months.   Hospice is when death has knocked the door has opened.

And with the exhale, it seems that the tension of intensity , the holding your breath against sudden illness and unexpected death,  is released. The emotions are still there, but not as tense.  The grieving process has begun.  The emotion has moved from the shock of not accepting that death has come,  to sometimes welcoming the relief from suffering that death sometimes brings.

In this place, with patients and their families, my true self can be present without filtering.  Not to say that I was fake in my other work.  I was authentic, but I feared that I could not be authentic in hospice full-time.

Well I seem to be wrong. This calling fits like a glove.

I can hold the space sometimes  and relieve the tension by bringing life back into the room of the dying.  “Tell me a little bit about your loved one” I say.   I can get the story telling started because I am genuinely interested in the life of the patient.  Family members get that. They can feel it  and respond by sharing the life that their loved one lived.  Granted I am still new at this type of gig. But if I can be my true self right from the get go, then I am pretty optimistic about it.  All things will sugar out with time. I am hopeful this calling will get sweeter.

 

 

I am not a preacher

imageBlizzard

Well, not really. At least not yet, there is very little wind. Certainly not huge gusts that make the trees creak.  There is heavy wet snow  and walking home tonight was lovely in a surreal kind of way.    The ambient light created from street lights, and glow from the nearby highway, gives everything a pink and orange edge.  The sun set hours ago and I swear it is so light out I took the photo without a flash.  I miss the dark deep of a North Country snow.  The stillness I crave in the storm is dispersed with sounds of cars unaccustomed to driving on greasy roads.  Just say’n.

Yet my joints don’t know the difference. My hips hurt and I am a bit gimpy. Which I expect with a good-sized Nor’easter.  Yesterday was worse than today and no amount of hot tubs, gentle stretches or over the counter meds help.  I didn’t leave the house and spent most of the day up in my studio working on a pattern draft and playing with Mouse.

Today I mustered and got myself to Church and was treated to validation of my calling.

On Fridays and Saturdays many of my preaching buddies are working on sermons and programs.  Not me. I was grateful for that yesterday.  I love to write and I love the exegesis required for a good sermon, but I don’t like preaching.  I don’t like reading scripture in front of people. Here is another secret: I don’t really like participating in a service.  It is too much like organizing a play  in which you are both the director and the actor.   Plus you gotta know the script. Which given my dyslexic way of thinking and the way the words often tumble out in the wrong way, I get anxious.  So instead of  being in the moment and getting my worship on, being totally connected, I am uneasy.

Not so when I speak extemporaneously in a AA meeting, or in a one-on-one in a hospital setting.I can pray at the bedside of the dying and the injured without notes.  I can expound ad infinitum while being authentic and I won’t remember exactly what I said, or the way I said it.  I just know that when I connect with people in that way, the spirit shows up.  I can give a testimony, tear up and get an amen.  But be the pastor in a congregation every Sunday?  Nope. Not me and not my call.

Melanie, our Priest at St. Paul’s has the gift.   Today she did a baptism and when she was pouring from the silver (historic) pitcher to the font, she stopped abruptly and exclaimed “Wait! This isn’t water.  This is the wine!” Talk about being baptized into the blood of Jesus, which would have totally  ruined the beautiful baptismal dress of the candidate. She then got the correct silver pitcher, but the water was too hot.  Trying to make sure the water wasn’t too cold, which might have produced a cry of anger, someone had brought the water to a boil and it was still scalding hot.  Melanie then called for colder water and several folks scrambled to get some.  She was able to turn a potential disaster into an epic win for the preacher.

And I got to be present instead of being anxious and it didn’t matter that my hips were killing me and that I was chilled and kept my coat on during the service or that I had my clunky blizzard boots on.  I was reminded that I had a Sunday of friends and worship and that my gifts of ministry are just that; mine.  Different from what is sometimes expected, but valid all the same.

I was hoping to go into work tomorrow, yup was looking forward to it, but got an email that we will have a snow day.  Whoop Whoop.  Here’s hoping we actually get some decent snow.

 

 

Tell me why you fear him

160818142212-05-omran-daqneesh-aleppo-syria-super-169
His name is Omran

In 1986 I was a student in London and thought that it would be great fun to travel with a buddy I had met at school.  Susie Morgahni’s family was living in London after immigrating from Beirut.  The cause was war.   Her parents had applied for visas and were planning to immigrate to  Youngstown Ohio when the school year was over.  Susie talked about to heading to back to Lebanon to see her brothers and grandmother one last time.

IMG_0758.JPG

The Morganhi’s had opened their London flat to me and it was a home away from home while I was abroad, and so when I heard Susie talking about the plan to travel home to Lebanon I asked if I could go too.  There had been a cease fire, and hostilities had settled. It would be a non-tourist type trip. I would be in the homes of friends and I felt safe about it. I could see the Cedars of Lebanon.  They said I would be an honored guest.

So the plan was that we would fly to Cyprus and then take a ferry over to Lebanon.  I called the states and told my family, who were less enthusiastic and they put up some strong opposition.  But I was 21, so I didn’t listen. I wanted to see the world for myself. I hated the US at that time. I thought that Ronny Ray-gun was going to cause the third world war.

Susie went ahead of me but I was going to meet her at the airport, head to Limassol take the ferry over,  be met by her family and have a fantastic reunion.

400px-Cyprus_districts_named.png

When I arrived in Nicosia I saw armed security guards and instantly felt alarmed.  In customs they took my passport.  It felt like everyone was looking at me. The customs official glared at me angrily, pointed to the chairs and gave me directions in a language I did not know.  He took my passport, pointed at me while talking to other officials then went into an office.  He came back out a few minutes later and started to question my intentions.

Why was I in Cyprus?  Why did I want to go to Lebanon? Did I have a contact number for the people I was going to visit?  What was the relationship I had to them?  Why had I come from London?  Was I really a student?  My name was Alexandra, maybe I was Greek?

I was terrified.  They pulled my passport and I was connected to the American Embassy. I could head back to England or stay.   What ever my choice, I wasn’t going to Lebanon.

The school was closed for the week, so I had nowhere to stay over break .  Being completely naive, I figured I would stay in Cyprus for the week and at lease see the country.

The country was beautiful. I headed to Limassol and found a place to stay.  I found some Canadian troopers who had been assigned by the UN as peacekeepers and they spoke English.  I ended up having a terrific time for the first couple of days.

Then there was news that the United Stated had bombed Libya.  There were protests in the streets, effigies of Reagan being hung and the American Flag being burned.  I had never been so scared to be an American and so thankful that I had associated with Canadians and the Embassy.

Turns out my family, concerned for me before I left London, had contacted the State Department and I had been flagged.  I returned humbled from the experience and I came to love the freedom of this country and the assumed safety I had always felt as a white, privileged citizen.    Susie made her trip to her homeland and returned to London as well.  When she made her trip to the states as an immigrant later that year, we picked her up from the airport and hosted her for a couple of days before she flew off to join her Mother in Youngstown.

I was so very lucky to meet people who  were from different backgrounds than me. I was so very lucky to live in a different country and lucky to be welcomed into homes as a stranger.  As such, I was treated with the utmost hospitality and felt honored.

I have strived to show the same here in this country.    I have made friends with  Jamaican domestic workers on H-2B visas  and have invited them into my home at the holidays to share a meal.  I have hosted Chinese immigrants, who have finagled their way here through a complex network of “marriage”and extended family.  I have celebrated with friends who passed the test and became citizens.  I encourage my daughter to travel in China when she was 16.

My own family is not from here. They finagled their entré as well.  My grandfather immigrated from England and made a couple of attempts, then married my grandmother to get citizenship.  My brother in law has a green card.  Other ancestors came over on boats. From Germany in the 1800’s and from England in the 1600’s.  Every one I am related to is from away.   They came becuase of the myth that here, in this counrty, we are all equal.

His name is Omran. Tell me why you fear him.

He is a refugee and has the rotten luck of being born in the wrong place.  I welcome him.  I welcome those who have gone through all of the visa vettings and green card ques, those that are being detained at our airports. I welcome them.  There are those that wish to do harm to those who have freedom.  But it is not Omran.

We have taken a dangerous turn this week.  Banning people and building walls will only make things worse.  We are to welcome the stranger. We are to give hospitality.  His name is Omran.  He is welcome in my home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Edges

neurobiology-writers-block-phd-students

I am at the dining room table with folders, cup of tea, scripture, a couple of pens and my music going. This seems to be a space where I can get the writing done.  The project this week is to gather the paperwork together for a Clinical Pastoral Education Equivalency.  To be certified by the Association of Professional Chaplain one needs to have a Master of Divinity degree, four units of CPE- that’s the clinical pastoral ed thing- and then 2000 hours as a paid chaplain.    I have completed the MDiv, have two accredited CPE units done with a third starting up at the end of May and one year of field study that should qualify for the equivalency unit.  You are allowed one of the four units to be an equivalency.  So there are the details.

The bigger picture is that I have been going over what I did in chaplaincy work my second year of seminary.   You have to do field work as part of the requirements for the degree and most seminarians do their year at a church because they are following a call to ordination as a minister within some sort of denomination.  I am called to be an interfaith chaplain which is a bit different and so I did a field study placement as a chaplain intern at Newton Wellesley Hospital through Harvard Divinity School.   Now I am looking back to see what my goals were then and how I attained them, or changed them or found out I needed some more work in certain areas.  We call that our “growing edges”.  God I hate that term.

Seems like every field; ministry, business, psychology, all comes with terminology.  And every association or grouping of folk have their rules and regulations that from the society for which they congregate.  I get that.  I get that we form groups with like-minded folks and have rules by which we play.  But sometimes the rules become its own game.  And I don’t like that either.  I want to get to the actual doing of stuff, working with people, rather than getting stuck in the details.

It is not that I don’t need more training.  I do and I hope to remain teachable and open to learning more about the art of chaplaincy and pastoral care.  But the whole paperwork thing drives me buggers.  To the point where I will do almost anything to get around what it is I should be doing.  I have been know to clean the bathroom instead of writing the paper.  I also just took up running again, not to get into shape, but most likey to avoid the paperwork.  If I run myself tired I won’t have so much angst about the paperwork.  And it is really not that bad.   Not like a theological systematics paper  for Prof. Heim or a Christology paper for Prof. Valentine.

And here is what I know about myself.  I get all caught up in the angst of getting the paperwork done, rather than just sitting down and answering the questions and writing the papers.  Nothing has changed much there.  I would rather blog, with the hope that by clearing my voice and opening up the flow of writing, that the writing I need to submit will come easier.   And that my friends, all comes down to being judged as being acceptable by how I write and what I say.   Old wounds from Jr. High School where I learned I am dyslexic and became fearful that what I wrote was wrong because I never understood what exactly people were asking me to do.

OK, so stepping back, I have a folder of work I did for a field study through Harvard.  They thought it was good enough to pass me through.  I guess my “growing edge” is to accept that perhaps what I did should count for something.

Inaugural launch of the River Rat Gang

As expected; I mustered, got up, got dressed, and walked out the door.  Down the street and to the church. The sermon started out with a congratulations that we had come to church on such a beautiful day.  A recognition that we could all be home reading the Sunday paper, getting ahead of the neighbors with yard work or taking the day to be outside, but we didn’t. We came to church. Which according to the priest, was the correct decision.  Why?  Because God graces us with the holy spirit when we worship Him.

Now theologically I am not so sure I stand on the same page, however the priest’s next few lines addressed that too.  Roughly paraphrasing he said, “Now people who are intellectual, well read, analytical have a difficult time with this.” He nailed it. ” People like me who need the grace will take it.”  Boom, shut it down.

I over think, almost everything, I am pretty sure.  Wait, let me think about that.  Yup, I think I over think. I am such an alcoholic.  My silly little dyslexic, addicted brain likes to go to the default of over thinking almost everything.  However I am learning how to let that all go.

Best thing to do on a hugely nice day is to kayak.  Get outside and out of my head. Phone rings and it is a peep from the program.  “What are you doing today?” they asked.

“Going kayaking” I say.

” I wanna go too” ……well now I am in a jam, I have two boats, two paddles and two life jackets.

“Ok, well have you ever kayaked? ”  Total stall.

“No, but I have canoed”   I am thinking, not the same thing.  This is the Charles river, dirty and spring level high, someone new in a boat could get into trouble.  Plus I am still grumpy and not wanting to give a lesson.

“Well the river is high and I haven’t checked it out yet” truth ” So not today but maybe later in the spring when the water warms up.

“OK… well, have a good time. ”

So I got one of the boats ready and not having roof racks that fit my leased car and not wanting to scratch the top of the car trying to get the boat on top, I decide to put the boat in the car and tie it down.  It almost fits the full way in, then I give it another slight push and crack the inside of the windshield.   It splinters out like a spiderweb the size of a dinner plate.

I call my peep back and offer to meet up and go over to the different spots on the river to see how it is flowing. We meet  up and drive along to where the put in sites are.  A few trees down, one by the Bridge Street bridge which would cause trouble if you don’t know how to read the river.  The current is fast and the tree is pushed up against the bridge right where one would paddle.  I am thinking I made a good decision on not  bringing a new-bee out on a first run.

Then around the bend comes a group of paddlers, all having a blast.  Another put in point and more paddlers.   And my peep really wants to go.   Starts pleading.  Says we can scratch up the top of their car to go.  Deep breath.  Ok, let’s do it.

30 minutes later both boats are strapped down and we roll to the put in point.  Quick lesson on dry land on getting in and out of the boat, and we shove off.  It is the inaugural  outing of the River Rat Gang. They get the hang of it and we travel for about an hour up-stream and then  back.  The water is dark and swift in some areas, but no white water to get nervous about.  They have a great time and it is a new world to them.  Service 101.

To get out of your head, do something nice for someone else.  Be a friend.  It took a busted windshield to get my head out of my ass and  do the next right thing.  God works like that.  I sometimes need a sermon launched in my general direction.  I need the confession and absolution and sometimes, when that doesn’t get me all the way, I need to be stopped in my tracks and redirected.

Thanks be to God.

 

Getting ready for church, maybe

3705163114_1f72f4d832

I should be getting ready to head to church.  But as I look at the clock next to my bed, I still can jump the shower and get dressed and get out…maybe a few more minutes musing. I have a love hate relationship with going to church. It is perfectly sunny and warm out today, something that we have been waiting for all winter.  And I have my kayak and paddle within reach.  The river is close by and high enough that I can do the loop.  I can very easily justify that I am having my worship time in the wilderness of the water with turtles and bank beavers as my fellow congregants. Why waste a morning inside sitting in a pew reciting creeds that are hundreds of years old.  I am not preaching, or teaching Sunday school, so today could be a good skip day.

This past year I was busy during the week visiting patients in the hospital as a chaplain intern.  To translate that, as an intern I was not paid rather I was enrolled in a Clinical Pastoral Education -CPE- unit that was extended over the course of the fall and winter.  I need 4 of these units, plus my M.Div to be board certified as a chaplain. There are a few other bells and whistles that I need as well, but the point of this ramble is that I was working as a chaplain in a hospital.   I had overnight on-calls and 24 hour shifts where I could be paged to respond to some horrific situation.   Death and dying, that is why a chaplain gets paged, for the most part.

So Sundays for me was the place that I refilled my cup so that I could then give to others in need.  That is the thing about our cup, it is more than half empty or half filled.  Cups are refillable.  I didn’t enjoy having to preach on Sundays when I was also being a chaplain.  I wanted to limit my pouring out and keep a balance for my own self care.   I agreed to teaching a unit of Sunday School for April and May because I am in between CPE units and there are several off weeks when I don’t have to teach.  I can handle 6 classes.  Kinda.

Now that I have the day off of teaching, I am wanting to ditch.   Or even go and visit the Mormons, I miss them a bit.  I miss the inclusiveness they practice when you show up to church*.  The protestants of New England could learn a lot about hospitality from them. I like being able to walk to church and I like that many of my neighbors attend the same church so there is a community feel.  What I am reluctant about is … well… I don’t exactly know.  I am just wanting to blow it off.  Perhaps once I get up, shower and dress, eat some breakfast, put one foot in front of the other, I will get there.   Put your body in the place and the mind then the heart will follow.  Perhaps my cup is so low I just don’t realize how much it needs to be filled.   Not sure.

I do know that this whole Easter tide of Christ coming out of the grave has not been felt. I actually skipped Easter service this year.  Was at the end of my unit and was moving back and forth between Boston and East Charlotte.  I  felt crappy and stayed home.  Perhaps I am still burnt out.

But this is what I know to be true.  Even chaplains and those in ministry sometimes what to ditch church.  And I know that this to will pass and most likely now that I have bitched about ditching I will pull myself together and get up, make the bed, get dressed and eat breakfast.  Most likely I will walk out the door and head down to church.  Most likely I will feel good about the decision.

 

 

*I am so very aware that the Latter Day Saints have some regressive stances of women in the priesthood and same-sex marriage/families/ children of same sex parents.   No church body is perfect.