Friday, July 29, 2005

Mary and Martha

Today is the feast day of Mary and Martha of Bethany. I used to think of Martha as just a busybody, fussy woman of some sort ... after all, Mary did have "the better part" ... and I was certainly a dreamy Mary sort of girl ... but in the last couple of years, as I have been more exposed to the actual Scriptures, as opposed to what I remember from Sunday school, I've definitely been rethinking Martha.

Hospitality is still a sacred obligation in much of the Middle East and, let's face it, women still do a lot of the work. And it was way before deli counters. A friend of mine who is a devotee of St. Martha (and gave me a Martha medal when I was confirmed ... I try to remember to wear it when I'm being Ms. Practical around the church, or feel the need to charm some dragons) has argued that Martha was in a lot of ways trying to keep her sister out of trouble by asking that Mary come help her in the kitchen. Mary was in on the teaching, which involved a lot of give and take. The idea of a woman being involved with that would be quite shocking at the time and might attract unwanted attention from the religious establishment, or at least nasty gossip in the neighborhood.

Of course, I still think that Martha needed some help. I can sure relate to the distractedness thing.

Martha's realism extended to the spiritual plane. In the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) she tells Jesus that she believes He is the Christ, no shilly-shallying about it.

In a lot of ways I think that I've made a shift from entirely contemplative in my practice to much more active. I was definitely a Big Thinker as a girl, and not much practical good; now I spend a lot of time at the church setting out plates and washing cups. Feeding the multitudes, whichever context I'm doing it in, is important and useful work. People are hungry, physically and spiritually, and someone has to concern themselves with the details.

Martha as the patron of cooks and housekeepers has quite a following among the Latino community; I got a vela (candle) from my local Mexican grocery, and a stamped-tin Mexican-style icon of Martha the compassionate caregiver in Santa Fe.

I can see how Martha's stock may be a little low to those who were shunted into that sort of practical make-it-happen role without much choice in the matter, but I am a product of a supportive family and second-wave feminism so I didn't "have to". I also get a lot of thanks for the practical ""women's"" (men do it at my church too) work I do, which hasn't always been the case in the Church (rolls eyes). Just following the raising of Lazarus story in John, the account picks up again and starts steaming into the Passion story when Jesus has dinner again at Bethany. John says that Martha served while Mary anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair. Martha made Mary's extravagant gesture possible.

The sisters are celebrated together, which I think is a good thing; I'm working on the balance between "Mary" and "Martha" in my own life.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Finding My Voice

Yesterday felt a lot more like How Things Usually Are around St. Spike's (I have decided to refer to my parish home by the alias I give it on the Ship). I almost didn't make it in time (esp. bad since a friend was there visiting!) but settled into enjoyment of the fine day. Our substitute organist du jour played in a way that made it very easy for me to get my note (must send him thank you mail), so I was in fine musical form and going with the flow. When we got to the Sanctus, the beautiful and enthusiastic sound of us all singing it made all my hair stand up on end. I closed my eyes and put my hands up. It felt like a pure act of worship.

I got to socialize at coffee hour and stayed around for the adult seminar on the poetry of George Herbert. I haven't read Herbert since I was an undergrad and I don't think we talked much about him even then. I was quite impressed by the free-flowing wit, not just Herbert's.

An item in the bulletin caught my eye and has been making me go "hmmmmm" ever since. Interest is being gauged for starting off an Education for Ministry class in the fall. I've heard great things about it, but it was like, "*sqwaaaak* Four years! I can't committ to four years once a week!". I had also heard things like "It's really, really expensive", but I did some checking on that and it's very moderate by my standards.

What makes me think I need to explore the possibility of making a four-year committment to education is this:

When I was in New Mexico my hostess told me that she very much believed in the varying gifts of the Holy Spirit - tongues, prophecy, etc. - and that every believer had a gift from the Holy Spirit. She said that she had spoken in tongues but that she thought a gift she really possessed was being able to tell other people what their gifts were. She told me that she thought my gift was communication. I pointed out that I even get tongue-tied when asked to say grace in public, as she had just seen. She said "That's because you think you're going to sound stupid, so you don't say anything."


That was the sound of the penny dropping, right there over the spinach enchiladas.

Well, part of it is my deep embarrassment at the stupid excesses of my fundy youth, but she basically nailed it.

I ran the checks on this revelation, and it comes up clean, so I'm taking it as a Gen-Yoo-Wine Message from God. Of course, once I made that decision, I went into a characteristic High Anxiety Attack about it, trying to figure out What I Had To Do To Fix My Problem OMG!!1!YESTERDAY!!1! and getting all verklempt because it wasn't happening.

Then I started listening to God again and calmed down. The Big Plan became to keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities, WHICH I was sure that the Holy Spirit would alert me towards, and if neither of 1) something that seemed like a good idea for a safe practice space or 2) a tongue of fire descending on my head and handing me The Gift of Christian Gab on a plate happened in a couple of months, I would make an appointment with the Deacon during her Saturday office hours and ask for her advice.

Improving my knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, which is the first two years of the four, would Not Be A Bad Thing in general (I seem to have gotten over my Bible study aversion quite nicely), but I'm wondering if the small group setting might push me to speak up. My normal style, at least since I've become sure enough of myself to not have to show off/monopolize the conversation, when dealing with a group of highly intelligent people (such as we have at St. Spike's, and I am realizing that this environment fulfills a need I have to associate with at least one group of people who make me look stupid by comparison) is to Shut The Fuck Up and Pay Attention. Or make the appropriate noises to encourage them to keep talking ;).

But in a lot of ways the issue is that this needs to change to a certain extent in at least one area of my life, an area I have rarely been able to articulate even a lot of the basics in. I was looking up a usenet post from about five years ago (for another reason) and saw myself saying "This was a good exercise, I articulated a lot of things I had never put in words before". In our Herbert mini-seminar, the poem "Prayer", which starts out with some very high-falutin' language:

Prayer the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,

and ends with the hand-waving of:

something understood.

The remark (I didn't make it, but I wish I'd thought of it) was made that it was like the end of the Paradiso, where Dante's descriptive powers finally fail. And that's the good side of my usual silence, and the one I need to move into and then out of to get beyond the fear.

I think it's probably a good idea for me to talk to the Deacon anyway, but at least the appearance of EFM on the horizon will help focus the short-term questioning.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Going to the Office, Part 2

Ever since I re-read Things Seen and Unseen, I had been thinking, "I wish there were something around here like the Episcopal monastery that Nora goes to all the time in Santa Barbara". (Actually, I'd heard of that place long before, as an excellent place to make a retreat or just unwind for a couple of days.) I was certainly planning to have some Santa Barbara downtime on my entirely theoretical western pilgrimage, inspired both by my recent roadtrip and Mike's current one.

Well, once again one of my online contacts has alerted me to the presence of something that was right under my nose. This time it was a thread about something related, but different, on the Ship of Fools forums. A list of Anglican monastic orders mentioned the Order of the Holy Cross with houses in New York, Santa Barbara, and ... Berkeley!

Now as it happens I had known about this house, having noticed its sign when I was driving past All Souls, and I'd occasionally seen a brother at my church, but the penny didn't drop till I looked up the website thanks to the Ship thread.

And, guess what, their Daily Office services, four times daily, are open to the public. I think I might try to make EP when I need to rearrange my work schedule in August to cover for a co-worker's vacation. Otherwise the only service I could probably regularly make on work days is Compline, and 7:30 pm is a bit early for me ... 'cause I have this notion that Compline should be the last thing I do before pulling up the covers over my recumbent head.

I hate it when someone from far away points this kind of thing out to me, but I'm getting over that pretty rapidly in light of what I plan to get out of it.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Windows into Heaven

In honor of the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, and in continuing solidarity with the brave people of London, I'd like to share a photo of the beginning of the ikon wall above my desk:

The Proclaimers

(The ikon on the right is of John Donne, priestly poet and the Dean of St. Paul's.)

Both of these ikons have a very special meaning for me. The large-scale originals (by modern ikonographer Robert Lentz) are in a side gallery at my former place of worship, Grace Cathedral, and I was present when the Mary Magdalene ikon was dedicated. (Bishop Barbara Harris was there, and it was pretty exciting stuff.) I would go off during communion or after service and light candles in front of them as prayers. Now that I don't go to Grace very often, I have a little bit of it home with me. (I've been lighting a lot of candles by Donne for the last two weeks.)

I have come a long way from my Methodist childhood, where such things would have been regarded as idolatry. Mary Magdalene and John Donne, who proclaimed Christ Risen with such eloquence, are above my desk encouraging me to open up my lips to the Glory of God; Dante Alighieri stands with his book on the mantel next to the desk; St. Francis watches over the earthly remains of my cat Maya; Santa Marta and San Pascual (patrons of cooks and cleaners), welcome finds on my recent trip to New Mexico, are on the kitchen windowsill; and Guadalupe shimmers in her starry mantle throughout the house. I have quite a number of ikons these days, and while I don't go the full Orthodox monty and kiss/venerate them, I do regard them as both "windows into heaven" and, in a lot of way, wise companions on the journey.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Showing Up, Part Deux

The Summer-And-Rector's-On-Vacation Glitches at the parish continued yesterday, with the celebrant not showing (and not calling, either). Somewhat fortunately for us, he wasn't the one preaching, and the priest who was preaching ended up taking on the other role as well. It was one of those things where only those who actually read the bulletin would have known differently but it felt like a very close call.

We have a safety net but some of those people are getting frayed. I am concerned for the coffee hour coordinator, who does a lot normally and has been picking up the slack for people who don't show up and don't call. The deacon will also enjoy her day off this coming Sunday as she has been one of the other people keeping it together.

The organist was back from his trip to the Holy Land; P. and I got treated to his practice session when we were setting up on Saturday afternoon and the music was suitably ambitious, and exceedingly well-executed. We sang "Pangue lingua", which made up for some of the less fortunate choices.

Three of the returnees from the big trip to Wales were back, propping their eyelids open (they had gotten home late afternoon the day before). I am looking forward to being able to apply my full social talents this coming Sunday, provided I don't get a call on the Evil Call Phone.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Desert and the Flood

The Gospel yesterday was The Parable of the Sower. Now as it happens, I heard not one but two sermons on this passage (I went to 8 am at St. M's and then picked up a newly-arrived-in-the-bayarea friend for 11 am at Grace, and got some more insights from LutheranChik (it was good to hear a Real Gardener get at this passage), but that's not what really struck me.

At St. M's we used the entirety of Psalm 65, and as we were reading it, N. came into the chapel. One of the reasons that I was at 8 am, when I was planning to attend another service, was that it was N.'s last day with us before he moved back to Sri Lanka. He had been visiting his family over Christmas and they had seen the wall of water on the 26th; indeed, had they gone to church (as is their usual Sunday custom) that day they might have been swept away with the rest. So he's going back to help rebuild. I had to wonder what N. thought of the stilling of the "tumult of the sea" (or whatever the language is in our version). The other news of the day was All About Too Much Water as well, as a Cat 4 hurricane was headed for the Florida Panhandle.

I grew up in a dry country myself, and I understand all about drought cycles (esp. in the days before resevoirs and controlled releases) but I was hoping that people on the Gulf Coast were busy trying to get out of Dodge instead of at church hearing about the blessing of water. Or that their churches used the shortened (alternate) version which didn't have quite as much of it. Or that they were mercifully Not Paying Attention. 'Cause it definitely would have been one of those "you aren't from around here, are you?" type of moments.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Showing Up

I was somewhat dreading this Sunday at my church, as the rector, one of the assisting clergy (who is definitely one of the more engaging preachers of the assisting), a fair number of the people I know, and the organist are all on pilgrimage of one form or another (the organist in the Holy Land, the rest in Wales) and it's summer and a lot of other people are taking vacations.

I considered going to 8 am and having done with, thus not having to worry whether the music was going to *coff* not be up to our normal standards *coff* (Okay, really suck badly). But I signed myself up for some system work, so that was not an option.

I considered visiting another church, but thought that would be letting the side down somehow.

So I showed up, figuring if it was bad, it was as bad as things would get there. And it would probably be the summertime doldrums in other places too. If it sucked, it was going to suck where I knew people.

Attendance was indeed sparse (I'll have to check the register) but a fair number of people were around for a somewhat minimalist version of our regular service. The supply organist played passably, if not well, although I wasn't thrilled by a lot of the musical choices and the singing was quite anemic for us. I noted a number of glitches (which were confirmed by the deacon) and got practice in calming my monkey mind (it wasn't my problem). We were done in an hour (which is almost unheard of) and I had a pleasant time schmoozing at coffee hour, even if a lot of the people I didn't recognize (and had made a note of to introduce myself to) beetled themselves out without staying. I used to do that too, so it's one of those "if you come back and want to talk, we're here" things.

I can't remember a damn thing we did in the service proper except for the Gospel for the day ("my yoke is easy") and the fact that we sang "My Country, 'Tis of Thee". But I showed up and worked through my fears, which was the important thing.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dirt, True or Not

Via the Live Journal Dark Christian community:

"How to be a Pro-Choice Christian"

(originally distributed from

As an argument, it's got holes that a truck can be driven through. (Oooooh... Marxists!!) As I noted on the LJ post, I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but apparently the Christian Left has gotten noticeable enough for others to start bearing a lot of false witness about.

Reminds me of my usenet fun (a lot of which was with loudly professing Christians) with folks who just. made. stuff. up.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Ninety-Five New Theses

I don't agree with all of them, but Prof. Peter Ludlow has updated Martin Luther and come up with Ninety-Five Theses on the Religious Right.

Via Sunfell/LJ "Dark_Christian".