Monday, December 31, 2007

It all begins with words

If we say the words, things may happen. Truly we don't have the power of a creative God who is said to have spoken the world into creation, however......

I sat in church yesterday thinking of how true this is and one student came to mind. Last year she shined in biology, this year she floundered in self-doubts in physics. I heard she was complaining about the class being too hard so I spoke WORDS to her. I reminded her of how I selected her as the science student of the year for her work in Biology. I told her she was bright and intelligent and that she could succeed in physics. Her work has improved. She smiles these days, but still finds reasons to complain about my class.... I did say she was bright.

After church our minister's wife told me that mosaic woman was the most beautiful woman she has seen. I said that I had chosen well. Last night I repeated those WORDS to Mosaic woman as I hugged her.

Putting copper foil on stained glass as Red Garland plays solo piano, I am interrupted by the good news that Mosaic woman has got through her first medical appointment with good news.

I am in love..... is it Red playing “The Nearness of You” and “You Are Too Beautiful”???

I go back to foiling and I think of how I chose her. Tutoring at a community college I see her walk by. Later that night I tell my best friend that I saw an amazing woman. Did I say the WORDS.... I want to spend my life with her. I had never said anything like that before in my life. Powerful enough to overcome shyness, the desire to know her got me to speak. Six months later we kissed beneath a full moon.... now our April anniversary.... 21 years of relating coming up this spring.

She has a desire to know me which has given me the courage to find out who exactly I am. It is one reason why we both put up with me going away for 8 days of silence each summer. In the stillness with God, I find myself. I come home and share.

Thank God someone told Red Garland he had a talent for piano and that he played love songs, solo, and that someone posted about it, and that I read the post, and that we got a gift card, and that Amazon had the CD, and that I listened.

Life unfolds.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

gifts and desires

fair trade dark chocolate from Peru (nearly vanished), a string of dragonflies made from natural fibers from Vietnam, a travel mug advertising fair trade tea and coffee, a jar of Marula jelly from Swaziland (have yet to try it), a silk bookmark with the word for hope in both English and Vietnamese, and a CD of a man playing his singing bowls of Tibet.....ahhhh to be loved and known by a good woman.... Mosaic woman did her Christmas shopping for me in record time at 10,000 villages . and I am well pleased.

Time off from work has thrown my routine out of whack and I found I was doing my daily examen flat on my back before I fell asleep, not with my journal. I got re-centered using the CD Margaret gave me. I even picked up the singing bowl she gave to me a few Christmases back and played along. see reenactment below...

while praying on Jesus being my friend, I looked up and saw Mosaic woman had replaced a photo. The new one was taken on strudelfest day . My elder sister's short hair being a reminder of her past year.

Thoughts blended with Mosaic's woman's upcoming week-- a doctor's appointment to keep an eye on something that had scared us a few years back, and one to get a closer look at what a recent test showed. No way to celebrate the New Year. A clear reminder of how we are human.. imperfect and mortal. I sat with fears of death and Jesus.

I picked up a book that had sat dormant for weeks and two pages in read about how Jesus freed us from our fears of death. I felt both a failure and a goof-ass (imperfect human nature). But I turned to this master of mine who is being considered a friend and went back to the question he asks early in John to the first two who followed him... "What do you want?"

I desire the peace that comes from believing that my relationship with Jesus is eternal in nature. I desire the hope that at the end of this week, I can hear Mosaic woman sigh from the relief of good news.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mice might have stirred

It was the night before Christmas and I was with Jesus and the evil presence that tempted him in the desert.

My first thought was that it was the wrong place to be.... shouldn't I be in Bethlehem? But spending the night with Jesus was the place to be and no matter where the spiritual exercises landed me on 12/24/07 ... it was the place I was directed to be.

I remember Jesus being guided to the desert by the spirit the entered him at the Jordan, but I don't recall the spirit directing him so that he could face temptation. Have I been guided to those places I did not choose Jesus? Other stories in the Bible would have that evil spirit guiding us to those places.

Could this dream be about choosing Jesus, or about trying to do too many things, or about my fear of administrators...

My dream... I was teaching and I showed up for work. The students and staff were current but location may have been more like where I grew up and/or a place I taught in Illinois. Instead of going into the middle school to help run the science fair I went into the high school to participate in a three day spiritual retreat. I had best intentions of also being at the science fair, but...

I left the retreat and ran into students and staff who listed important people who searched for me all day. The pleasant feeling I had at being at the retreat faded and I walked in dread towards where I would tell my supervisor what happened....

woke before I got there kind of like waking before you hit the ground.

any dream interpreters out there?

any stained glass design interpreters out there.... here is my latest finished earlier today

Thursday, December 27, 2007

random enjoyable reading

A student follows my command and tells me two numbers and a direction. I walk over to the book shelves in the library and using his numbers and direction it takes me to a hardcover book, which I hand to the student and say, "read this for 10 minutes."

He protested when told to read Gay-neck by Dhan Gopal Mukerji. He settles down and five minutes later is telling the rest of us that it is a book about a pigeon and that he has no interest in reading further. Class ends and we put it back on the shelf, but before I do I notice that in 1927 it won a Newbery prize. To some in my anatomy class, this will be what they remember for the year. Especially since I tell them a week later that I checked the book out of the library.

I read the book as part of my effort to do enjoyable reading and in its midst I found some spiritual wisdom passed on by Buddhists to the pigeon and the owner of the pigeon. Twice the pigeon is crippled by fear-- predatory birds and later delivering messages in WWI Europe. The first healing is what moved me to continue on with the book and thus I read....

the final paragraph...

"whatever we think and feel will colour what we say and do. He who fears, even unconsciously, or has his least little dream tainted with hate, will inevitably, sooner, or later translate these two qualities into his action. Therefore, my brothers, live courage, breathe courage and give courage. Think and feel love so that you will be able to pour out of yourself peace and serenity as naturally as a flower gives forth fragrance. Peace be onto all!"

as naturally as a flower.....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

do you see what I see? second answer to Jim

Today was lessons and carols at my church. We sang and went through the first two chapters of Luke plus a couple of psalms. I sat grateful that I spent weeks in what other wise would have been a moment on a Sunday. One of the hymns was Do you see what I see? I love how the lamb is the first to see and passes on the info to the shepherd.

I get a variety of responses to my doodles. Some like the designs. Some are dumbfounded and ask what the abstract design is. Some see something that I don't see. I often see bears, especially the classic shape of the native American totem bear. So the other day when I playing around and saw the bear, I decided it was time to bring it to my stained glass studio. Do you see what I see?

Interesting twist of my life---- prior to the service getting started our minister spoke of the divinity of Jesus, just where Jim and the spiritual exercises had taken me this morning before worship.

Matthew and Luke have the divinity begin at conception, Mark jumps in at the baptism, while John has the word being present at the very beginning, way back when God was getting around to creating the universe. Which is true?

Why not all three? Does one have to be truer than the rest? If I am moved by one does that make the others less true or the one I was moved by more true?

Do you see what I see? What do you see?

I once showed my biology class a DVD about the brain. Electrical impulses shot about. The more they travelled in a certain direction, the stronger that pathway gets. For 20 + years I had many thoughts about nothing being Divine. Those thoughts created some strong Pathways. Ten years ago I realized they had to be put to death if my venture back to the church would take hold and on Christmas morning a minister anointed me after asking all of us to think of something inside of us that needed to die. That was a miracle. New pathways are strengthening in my brain taking me to places I do not know.... that takes me back to what I am doing in this life----- unfolding.

Unfolding with Jesus

Reading Jim's thoughts over at brainwaves the other day led to this question.... "Quick! What linguistic term would you assign yourself on such subject?" to see what led to the question read the rest of his thoughts.

I answered "unfolding".

Now Jim asks if I see a spark of the divine in this young Jesus I have been blogging about.


Ignatius has called me to be a witness of Jesus's life to get to know him, to love him, and to follow him.

How can I imagine...

watching through a hole in the wall as the angel brings the news to Mary...
being there when the baby arrived and seeing the love in the eyes of Mary and Joseph...
befriending Joseph who shared the dreams sent by God to guide him...
witnessing those that saw the truth first.... wise folk, shepherds, Simeon, Anna.....
watching a family of friends flee to Egypt and witnessing brutality of those in power...
watching a young boy grow in wisdom...

and then say NO, I guess I could, however...

Jesus was part of creation and he unfolded with it just as I am unfolding. It takes all my faith to believe he was divine, but that is where my faith has taken me. And in that sense he was perfect.

What I don't buy is that Jesus was perfect. If he was fully human, than the man was imperfect. I may be wrong on this but that just proves my imperfection.

What is truth? Jesus was perfect and he was a goof like the rest of us. His human life unfolded. We are given the same opportunity, for in each moment we are renewed as is all of creation.

Thanks for the questions, Jim.

May all of your Holidays be filled with Joy, hope, peace, and love.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

stained glass and friends

The garden is sleeping away winter time and colleges are quiet also, so I have filled my life with friends and stained glass.

Last Saturday I posted my first suncatchers on mosaic woman's Etsy site and sold two of the four that day. Well, I am not ready to quit my day job for sales have slumped for me, but mosaic woman has sold a couple more. A crafty life is not just in our future it is here. I want to celebrate with her. Tonight I finished a project for a friend who wants to buy it for a mutual friend and I posted the last suncatcher I have to sell on Etsy. Monday I finished one for a dear friend whose name I joyfully pulled out of a hat for a gift exchange (pictured above).

This past weekend I found myself invited to four holiday events. One invitation came from a friend who is nearly completed with the spirituality program, which I am considering. Saying goodbye, wanting to know how the whole experience was for her, and expressing my doubts if I will commit myself to the process, I hear Mosaic woman say to me... "You really enjoyed those classes."

I also spent time with Jesus growing up in Nazareth. What struck me was the Bible's stress on how this time was spent gathering Wisdom and God's favor. Tonight Ignatius calls me to imagine the face of evil and how that entity spreads through society. Then I am imagining Jesus in the light. Emerging from the dark ravine where evil resided to a sunny field, I know the wisdom that Jesus sought. It is the wisdom we find in his call to his followers.... Resist evil, be grateful for what emerges in our life, and work for God's kingdom by seeking justice for all.

[edited July 9, 2015  I now have my own Etsy shop: Stratozpheres]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

open arms

I guess I want a full life. Contemplating the busyness of the last three months, I noticed I have yet decided on focusing my energy in one pursuit, unless that pursuit is a full life with God. I can't imagine not doing any of the things I had considered being my life's focus, but Temple Ambler greeted me with open arms and it may be a place to take courses to increase my wisdom.

Water freezes at 32 degrees and looking at the ice covered trees made me appreciate salt's influence on the freezing point as I drove from work to an open house for adults at Temple's Ambler campus.

I got some nice attention, being the only adult who showed up. My first words were my desire: I am a man with a BS and a MS who wants to take classes in horticulture and horticulture therapy without pressure to work towards a degree. "Welcome."

A half hour later I was signed up for a class on food crops and touching the ice on the branches I passed on the way to my car.

After visiting three other colleges in the last year where I would be pressed to fit their agenda into my life, it was so comforting to be greeted by a college that would let my life fit into their agenda.

photo note-- in August I mourned for a tree near death at Wernersville. This is all that was left when I went back last week.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

After the visitors-- part 2

I always jump for the earliest time. At Wernersville I like to meet with my director early, that meant this past Sunday I had three hours to fill between direction and mass. First a little flat on my back jazz meditation before I moved to the easy chair and Matthew.

Imagining myself being a friend of Joseph and hearing him tell me that he was moving the family to Egypt was something I could resonate with and brought up a guy named JD who left PA a little over a year ago. Still miss the guy. So, there I was pissed off at Joseph, best guy to have entered my life for 7 years and he was heading down the road to Egypt. Soon enough I was wishing I had helped Joseph move.

Herod's command for all the males under two to die (Egypt, death of male children... truly seems Matthew was connecting Jesus to Moses) was brutal to witness in my mind. All weekend I was good for an hour of contemplation, but after 30 minutes I was ready to move out of that easy chair, but it wasn't to happier places... a poster on the third floor.

Up the stairs I went and I stood reading the names of Jesuits murdered in Central America .

2000 years later and rulers are still willing to send out others to kill for them. Seeking justice for the oppressed is dangerous business. I look at the long history and see that those who have sought justice have changed the world, but the battle rages. Keeping this long view can get me past the sadness brought on by the news.

Last night I was with another dream which wakes Joseph and again he has to tell Mary they are moving. It is safe to return. It is safe to return. It is safe to return.

What have I fled? What have I returned to? In 1987 I was more than ready to leave Pennsylvania. I left the urologist of my youth. In 1990 we left Massachusetts and we arrived in Oregon. I left a bad habit on the east coast. Eventually I was ready to come back to Pennsylvania. And each time we moved I left friends behind to face the troubles that were to come to those places with one less friend. The school shooting in Springfield Oregon comes to mind. I student-taught in that school district when I got my Masters degree.

And the big question which Isabella brought up... why didn't God warn all the parents? I wish I had an answer. Were they not warned? Were they not open to a dream about warnings? Were that not responsive to dreams? Maybe others were warned and did flee? I don't know but I can only imagine a God who was saddened by the blood shed as he was in Central America, and as she was in that high school in Oregon.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

After the visitors-- part 1

Mary and Joseph received visitors in both Luke (shepherds) and Matthew (wisefolk) after the birth of their son, but what they did next is not something I want to tie together in a historically accurate timeline. In the silence of Wernersville, I sit with each separately and imagine the possibilities of each. Take the child to the Temple or flee to save his life.

LUKE 2:22-38 First time I went with them to the Temple I was amazed at the awareness of Simeon and Anna.

Before going into silence, we chat at dinner where a woman is talking about Zen and mindlessness. I think I see what she was trying to say, but I am baffled, and say that I see it as mindfulness. The call to be present. The will power to be aware of God's unfolding creation. And later reclining in my easy chair, I find two servants of God whose eyes glance upon a poor couple with child and see the savior. I have it so much easier. Four Gospels, thousands of years of tradition and established churches are all here and now to tell me Jesus is my savior. Can I see it as clearly as they did?

Ten hours later I am again traveling with the family to the temple. I hear Simeon's speech to Mary as if it is being directed to me. It ends with these words "... and a sword will pierce your soul too." How did those words sit with Mary? How much for one woman to take? Anna enters the scene and knows that finally her savior has arrived and announces it to all who are seeking the redemption of Israel.

My handout for the spiritual exercises this week reminds me that my goal is to get to Know Jesus, to Love Jesus, and to Follow Jesus. That means I am headed to the cross. Mary will have much more to endure. Mother to a savior is painful business. I know the story, but for her it is still unfolding. But that does not mean that following him 2000 years later is easy.

It takes me to Julian whose sound byte is "all things will be well" But God starts by telling her, "I may make all things well."

Exactly one year ago I flew to California where my sister was suffering. Two strokes, a few blood clots, and then surgery to remove cancer from her ovaries had left her wiped out. The chemo had not even started. Would I have guessed that she would visit us 12 months later? Coming by herself? Are all things well? I don't know. But I do know our God given human bodies can heal in mystifying ways and if there is a 5 year survival rate, than some survive. Sophia renews all things. Jesus reconciles all things. We are small in the midst of all things, but we are a part of it. I think of the strength in my sister's hug after I fed her strudel a few days ago.

My stoic self melts.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Mom Mom may have never used a table cloth with Korean print to make strudel while listening to Miles Davis..... but she was still with me.

It came late this year, then delayed a few days. Strudelfest usually happens in October, then it was to happen on Sunday, but a desire to help Mosaic woman at the craft fair and a possible ice storm caused a delay. So I got up at 6am on Wednesday and made dough.

For the first time since Mom Mom taught me how to do this (amazingly less than a year before she had a stroke), I went solo. Usually my mom shows up and helps with the veggie/fruit prep while my dad does a tiny bit and makes comments (son of Mom Mom type). Mosaic woman likes to help roll, this time she took photos of me rolling...

Back up, before you can roll it, you have to stretch the dough, and you better make it thin enough to see through it.... This one was one of those doughs that feel like heaven when you pick it up, others say something like... "go ahead and try to stretch me."

Anyway, Mosaic woman heated up some black bean soup for lunch during which I forced myself to pick up a piece or two of potato strudel.....

at 2:20 I jumped in the shower but got downstairs to add a pan of grape strudel to the potato, cabbage, and apple already on our table.

all that was left was getting it into our car and driving up to my parents where my sister, who was visiting from California (reason for the delay from October), and 10 other local relatives were waiting to feast.

We eat strudel, it is a full meal, though there have been times that we eat Mom Mom's chocolate cake for dessert!

Ask me if I believe in family Ghosts any other day of the year and I will likely say no, but strudelfest is different... why not have some faith and imagination and believe that Mom Mom's spirit is flowing through my hands while stretching dough.

so after a week of craft fairs, some teaching, strudel, my sister, and finishing my paper..... I am taking another day off and later will be driving to spend some quiet time with Jesuits this weekend.

Peace and family traditional foods be with you all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

under appreciated

The spiritual exercises have now gotten to the birth. When I imagine myself in that scene, I feel love. At one point I think.... there had to be angst between Mary and Joseph, but it floats by and I return to the love for this baby who God has given to them.

In Luke the angels are singing for the shepherds before they go off to heaven. Christmas music flowed into my brain and I kept it there trying to imagine a choir singing glorrrrria. In the sermon on Sunday, our minister says... don't know if I buy this choir stuff, but wish I had been there to hear it. Ignatius says.... imagine being there.

And there I watch the shepherds telling their story and there sits Mary just being filled with joy. nine months earlier it was dread, but then a decision to be God's servant has led to so much. A child who is proclaimed a savior to those shepherds.

Poor Joseph. I have been reflecting on the man for days and then I forget about him at work. My friend says, "I think Joseph is the most unappreciated man in the Bible." And who do I think of none other than another Joseph.... the man with the dreams who annoyed his brothers enough to be sold into slavery. Yes, the man who was the daddy to Jesus was forgotten, so how could I not agree with my friend.

what do we not appreciate fully.... amazing gifts from God's desire to create new life, in music that is inspired, in stories friends tell us that gladden our heart, in those who cared for us when we were little...... What more shall we praise God for?

strudel.... that's tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Friday night the man next to me said, "this is slow." I think he was referring to the pace of money flowing into his hands from those who were walking around the craft fair. I responded with, "Yes."

But I sat there with hope which lasted through the moment when it became clear that I would not make my first ever sale. Margaret sold two small items.

My hope was in my friends and the customers at the next sale. My friends came through for us. Many know of M's work, but some were first time viewers. In all 7 came in two days, six before the winter weather arrived. Many brought a friend or a spouse and let me tell you that after a night of not selling it was just nice seeing so many friends. Some bought my stained glass, all but one bought a mosaic or two or three from Margaret. I even sold stained glass to strangers. M sold many to strangers. It is a shame that it got icy for today, maybe I would have seen even more friends. My set up was good but needs improvement because what I knew was obvious...... I need more light, but it is a start.

This morning I imagined myself in a cave with Mary and Joseph waiting for their first child to arrive. The spiritual exercises hit Advent well, though I will reflect on the birth well before the 25th. What I sensed the strongest in my imagination was a deep love between Mary and Joseph and a deep amazement for what was transpiring in their lives. M and I shared many hours this weekend as a team.... emerging from the shadows to be a craftsmen. What is transpiring in your life and whose love is part of it?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

leaping again

This coming weekend I will be leaping into life. This leap has been a long time coming. Mosaic woman needs the credit. To get into a recent craft fair she had to get a state tax ID or some such thing, so with that bit of legal nonsense completed she decided it was time to create a business. I grabbed her shirt said I am going with you, and as her spouse it is relatively easy to free fall with her.

Friday we will be driving north to a craft fair at the Palisades Middle School for a show that goes from 3-7pm if you trust the info they sent us and 4-8pm if you trust their website (I guess we need to check on that). Then we will drive a bit farther north to see my sister who is flying in from California this week.

Saturday and Sunday we will be at the Oak Lane Day School for a craft fair being run by the acppa . Well, I won't be there on Sunday, that is strudelfest 2007.

That is usually an event that happens in October, but it was put off so my sister who has been quite ill could participate this year. I will get some assistance from the family. Mosaic woman's role of helping me roll the strudels will be given to someone else as she will be at the craft fair. I make apple, potato, grape and cabbage strudel as my Mom Mom taught me over ten years ago since she died I have taken on the role as strudel maker. It takes hours and we end up with enough strudel to feed us for a few days and I will take a bunch to work.

I have been making and giving way art for eons. This weekend I dive into the waters of selling. I made this dive once before, nearly 20 years ago. I failed and never tried again. Thanks to Mosaic woman I am giving myself a second chance.

Oh, so I decided to make some stained glass.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Enjoyable reading came home one day with M. She brought A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Now I have seen three movies based on his writing but have not touched one of his books, so I went for it. The premise is this--- that on New Year's Eve four people head to a favorite spot in England for suicidal leapers. They unexpectedly meet each other on the roof top and leave the roof together. Hope that they will survive to the end of the book comes from the fact that all four take turns narrating the story.

I used to have a fantasy and once wrote a short story about getting a fatal disease and just hiking into wilderness to die. Times have changed and the internal angst that led to such thoughts have faded. I am glad that I was not a leaper out of life.

But am I a leaper into life? into faith?

I go slowly and how I entered a swimming pool for the first time in years this past summer is a good example. It took some hot days before I got there. Then I showed up not prepared to swim, but did immerse my feet. Eventually steps were used to enter the pool, but by the last day at the retreat center I did leap into the deep end with the desire to touch bottom.

This week when talking about following Christ with my spiritual director, I said how if I chose to stay back something inside of me would die. Imagining this I sense a void of hope and faith that would leave me empty. But I also said that if I followed Christ something inside of me would die. Writing that now I think of what I just wrote above. A desire to be dead has died.

I want to know why things come together like this when I am blogging.

I see choosing a life with Christ as a leap into a mystery. Like I said, I am not good at leaping. Even so, in the past ten years I have gotten wet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

10, 20, 30, & 40

I have read some amazing reflections lately on what has happened in the lives of bloggers 10, 20 and 30 years ago. I am stretching it to 40...

10 years ago... I settled down and returned to church, and I just thought a job search had ended and that we were moving to Lansdale. After 30+ interviews I was hired at one. I am still there. After renting an apartment, then a house, and now buying a house we have been in this town ten years. Previous ten years had us living in PA, then MA, then OR, then IL, then back to PA. ten years later I am still at the school, but now I teach horticulture.

20 years ago.... under the full moon of April, I kissed my future and current wife for the first time. 5 months later I followed her to Massachusetts where I first became a special education teacher.

30 years ago... My parents and I went on a vacation by automobile... we saw the Badlands, Yellowstone, the Rockies, the Tetons, Devil's Tower, Canyonlands... my love of nature was sealed.

40 years ago... my urinary tract got infected again, and a urologist, using best practices of the day, told my parents what must be done. By the time I was ten I was an old pro having been through the treatment 20 times. My brain did what a brain does when traumatized, it erases memory. I can not tell you a single event from elementary school. I only know what I have written here because I read my medical history.

what huge events.... life keeps unfolding.

1o secs ago.... I find a package on our porch sent from Canada. M's best friend from her years growing up there,who we have not heard from but mentioned last night, has remembered Margaret.

100 secs ago... walking home, friends from church drive by honking waving and smiling.

1000 secs ago I was eating Chinese dumplings

10,000 secs ago ... I was buying locally grown veggies for which we will be thankful tomorrow.

I couldn't say this for most of my life, but I am grateful for the urologist who desired for me to be alive when I hit 44. Gratitude is far from what I have thought of for the past 40 years.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

end of sin and a journey into Colossians

The first week of the spiritual exercises have come to an end, no more sin. Well, not really, but wouldn't that be nice. Before it ended I spent some time reflecting on my own death. The first attempt was not a highlight in sharp focused thinking. I did not focus. The second attempt went better. I imagined myself fully grey and near death and wondered what I wish had gone differently.

Becoming a spiritual director came to mind. Chestnut Hill College, where I am fully not matriculated, has redesigned their program and with it has lessened the time given to earn the degree. Do I want the degree bad enough that I would take two classes a term? Is this suffering? Is it possible? One class keeps me busy, but maybe if I didn't want to spend time gardening and making stained glass and blogging and praying and teaching and being a husband and being a friend and being an active member of my church and watching movies and reading books. "Maybe I have too many interests," I tell my spiritual director. Yet again he is pleased that I am thinking about things.

I wander back to my death bed and try to see my response to not having a degree and not having the experience of helping others develop their relationship with God. The second would clearly cause me more angst. So what would the degree do for me, what has taken me to enroll in two classes. Is it the desire to be 'legitimate?" a desire to be more spiritual myself? a desire to learn the skills and knowledge that will help me to help others? I don't need the degree. I desire the degree.

Luckily some of Sophia's wisdom flowed into my head before I could scrap the idea of getting a masters. I sent off an e-mail to the woman who started the program and very briefly stated my concerns and my desire to talk. Her response gives me hope, and she too has a desire to talk. That will happen on the 29th.

since I am still a student, I guess it is time to start my next paper-- Colossians 1: 15-20-- and by coincidence it is where the exercises have turned to for this week. Christ the King. Having spent time with sin, I am now spending time with the ultimate invitation. Can I reject Jesus calling me into his Kingdom? Why Colossians? It is seen as a connection between wisdom and Christ. I am curious. Did Paul write it? I could flip a coin or randomly pick one scholar.

as for the work incident that I struggled with..... I spoke to the student, asked if he wanted to come back. He said, "yes." He has really gotten into drawing anatomy, strangely I discovered his passion for drawing when he drew a hateful drawing of me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

more on the price of hand made crafts

I stopped myself while writing the last post which was about having fun, but I did start and delete some of what follows. The last two craft fairs which I attended were high-end. Nothing that we could afford. We are close to poor and we are close to rich. We are at the median income for our county, which also means we are far from the poorest and far from the wealthiest. It was that latter group who were buying this weekend. If my mental math was correct, then the average take of a booth last year was $17,000 dollars. That's a good pay for 4 days. But please add in the time and cost spent designing the craft, developing the craft, buying supplies for the craft, creating the craft, advertising, commuting , display cases, packaging.......

M and I know this phenomena.

When she makes mosaics and I make stained glass.

Do we want to take this passion seriously and be able to leave our day jobs? Do we want to one day be elite and only have the wealthiest folk buying our stuff? How do we compete with mass produced pieces made by low wage workers? How do we value our time and what is a fair price?

we see people selling mosaics and stained glass for so cheap that you wonder if they value their time at all... OK this is from the man who tends to give all his art away... next blog post....

As in all things there is a middle ground, the land between expensive and cheap. That is where I want to land.

-- tonight at my church I led a discussion on the two creation stories. one in the room had done exegeses on the first, others had not read them in years, some didn't know there were two. "How does this relate to me in my everyday life,"one asked near the end. Remember it is good. remember you were created in God's image, remember that your marriage is a mystical thing inspired by the human need to be in communion with others. Remember it is good, and you are part of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Paired Down II, crafting elite, and strange trio

M and I have had few dates over the last two months, we strung three together, starting Friday night when we drove to Easton.

First we got bogged down in traffic trying to get to a Vietnamese restaurant in Telford , but the service was fast and food amazing as ever.... well there was the time I stretched my taste buds into the realms of preserved lime beverages, but that was amazingly salty.

Easton was our destination to see the second in what I will be calling the paired down concerts at Lafayette College . Mulgrew Miller (piano) and Roy Hargrove (trumpet), didn't talk much but gave us nearly two hours of duets. Each took a break, for the other to play a solo... Mr. Miller played A Child is Born by Thad Jones.

Saturday started by getting on the train to Philly at 8:48 am and the short-lived mystery as to why it was so full.... Temple did not beat Goliath, but that was fine for most folk on the train were Penn State fans. We met a friend and headed off to the convention center.

I think I scared M a bit when I announced the sighting of a student of mine. But I told her this one was safe, as are 99.9% of them 99.999% of the time. He came across the street and I made the introductions. This young man will not fail because of a lack of social skills, and I hope they can carry him through his life.

We then spent the day looking at crafts which we could not afford. But we went in knowing that that would be the case and saw it more as going to a museum then to a store; and this event is one that brings talented folk from across this country and Canada. Midway through we took a break for some Burmese food in Chinatown, where we were greeted by a collage of what is happening there and a written plea to help. For one who gets his news by radio, photos are eye opening.

As we walked back to the convention center, I said that I needed a longer break from the crafts so I sat and had a beer and then caught up to M and our friend.

M told me about a benefit concert at a local Friends meeting house as we came back on the train, so after a brief rest we headed out for Japanese food (yes, an Asian food explosion did occur this weekend). The jazz trio at the local Friends Meeting House was led by Brad Litwin, a local guy who plays guitar and is passionate about the early days of jazz and blues. The trio consisted of guitar, violin, and tuba. Don't know if I will ever experience that combination again.

Was this all a flee from my troubles of this past week, well kind of, but the Easton concert was planned months ago, the craft show tickets were bought in advance a few weeks ago. This was a leap into things we love and have not found time to do as of late. It came at a time we needed a break from what has been keeping us busy. We needed to have fun. The 28 hour date was a blessing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Nearly two years ago I joined the local YMCA to gain weight. So I started eating yogurt, bagels, and more nuts, while at the same time doing aerobic exercise at the gym and doing free weights at home. It worked.

Last night I got myself out of the house and to the gym. I like the exercise equipment, while M gets bored and walks laps. Lately she has started to run and walk the laps. I was a copycat and have been doing some running.

I do this exercise for many reasons, but I think what prompted me the most was how slowly my body was bouncing back after winter. The garden at school would call out and I would leap into it and my body would lag behind. The last two springs have been much better.

Last night I ran to exhaust myself. This sin stuff has led to a bit too much guilt over what happened nearly a week ago. I have played the situation in my head and I did not make any monstrous mistakes, and I have made those in my teaching career. Nobody has questioned my actions, even the teacher whose class was most affected.

So I ran and I walked and I ran..... It is fun. It was exhausting. Then as I cooled down, wisdom flowed into me. I am imperfect. Sometimes my imperfections will pass by with little consequence and some times it will lead to chaos in the world. I stopped on the track and confessed to God because no matter what chaos did occur and it started in my class.

Yesterday a student asked if I had "worked things out" with the student, his friend. I hadn't because the student has not been on campus. Today he was back, but not to my class. He was being escorted around campus near the end of the school day and stopped by my classroom. He was in a good place. He showed me some work he had done and was proud of completing. It was good work. He turned to go. After a few steps he stopped, turned around and apologized. He said he was sorry. I told him that I was sorry that he had had such a rough time.

Later I was told it is my choice if he ever returns to my class. Maybe I should flip a coin for I am truly uncertain what to do.

Monday, November 5, 2007

passing peace

"Peace be with you." I love saying those words. Yesterday I had a craving to hear those words as folk, who walk the church, came by offering their hands and peace. I am still during this time of worship. I shake hands with those close by, then stand and wait for those who move about the sanctuary. I had risen Sunday morning to thoughts of what happened on Thursday, had an intense time with the spiritual exercises, and an honest conversation with M.

So there I was in church with folk saying, "Peace be with you." How glad I am that I was in the present moment and realizing what a great gift I was receiving. I love these words, but repetition week after week has made it into more of a Hello, than a deep desire for the other to experience the peace of the Lord. I came home typed up some thoughts about the issue at work, shared them with Margaret, and felt that peace. Things need to be done at work, but I felt confident that I would act. I did little ruminating for the rest of the day.

So may not only peace be with you, but also joy, hope, and love.

I wrote these words Monday morning, what I did not mention is that Friday afternoon I saw another student in emotional crisis. As I walked up the hill from the parking lot this morning I heard trouble had come in threes. Our afternoon staff meeting's agenda was scrapped and we talked about what went wrong over the last several days. Truth be told I love my students and have lots of fun with them. Today we ripped out annuals, hung rosemary, sage and parsley to dry, took stem cuttings of thyme, potted up some rosemary which had spent the summer outside.... and in the morning my anatomy class pondered what life would be if we had a skeleton made out of putty or steel. All this was done with laughter and joy, and nearly without incident. There is peace in this troubled world.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I would like to think that what happened Thursday morning will be the roughest hour I experience for a long time. I now have some time this weekend to consider my safety, the safety of my students, and the needs of one student. In many ways the week at school was great, but my mind has not been turning to how we planted garlic, took cuttings of lavender and rosemary, got more leaves raked and dragged to the garden...... Instead it is what happened in one class that draws my energy.

And I continue to pray on my sins these days. Thinking about a certain school bus driver brings me shame. Thinking about her going home at night after putting up with my friends and I, makes me feel how wretched I can be. I know what a bad interaction with a student can do to a person. Thinking about how God's creation was beautiful when I was separated from God, helps me to remember and be grateful for this very creation which taught me to care when I was in a dark place. I think of the chickadee that came by garden on Thursday after the incident, as the students were mulching the garlic beds. What happened in my classroom on Thursday brings up thoughts of times I have been angry. I think about a God who did not strike me dead or refuse to reconnect with me no matter how I far I strayed.

Thursday afternoon a friend suggested that I turn to my spirituality. 90 minutes later I was walking a labyrinth. It helped me to pray for the young man in crisis. I wish I knew with certainty what is best for him, my other students, and myself. I take it to God and hope for the wisdom to face this.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

time for the cherubs

well I could have been polishing my paper (due tomorrow), prepping for teaching, finishing a stained glass project, exercising at the Y, but I didn't. not tonight.

I live on one of the most popular trick or treat streets in Lansdale and I just handed out over 300 pieces of candy. Most took one, some took two, a rare few took many and except for one who was a bit rude about his greed, they got what they took.

A friend from church shows up with her three children. They each take one and leave. She stays and chats. They come back ready to move on, I give them all another piece. They leave again. She chats some more as M comes out on the porch for a piece of this action. they come back again, and again I hold out my soup pot filled with candy. they are exuberant. this is fun.

I leave Margaret in charge of the porch and walk half a block to see how things are going at the church. fellowship with this group is fun, I grab a snickers and head back home.

soon a couple I chatted with at the church walk by on the way to another friends porch. She has a tiny jack-o-lantern and I run inside for a tiny candle. I squeeze it into the pumpkin and light it. She is exuberant for she had doubted it would be put to use this festive evening.

With six pieces left, a group of three show up on the porch. I say, "perfect," and throw two pieces in each of there bags, then as I pack up, I have to say sorry to the next cherub.

three and a half hours with a multitude of personalities. I am glad I live on this street with front porches and many people willing to support the mayhem. We all go outside and stay out for the duration.

now this introvert desires some individual quality time with M, and then with God before this night is over.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Coincidences are moments to stop and wonder, even if they are just coincidences. Last week in venturing into the spiritual exercises on sin, I was to contemplate two types of angels spoken of by Saint Thomas. He believed that once an angel chooses for or against God, they are stuck on that path. The coincidence is not that I saw an angel, but that in being influenced by my friend to read for pleasure, I was reading a book with the two types of angels. In Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle, the two time travelers end up being with Noah and his family. The family has some tension going on as it can be with families, and some of it centered on those in the family who say the angels that have rejected God are OK. The time travelers are helped by the other angels to survive their initial sun exposure and then through out the book.

I was supposed to contemplate whether or not God can create intelligent beings that have no bodies. Who am I to say no to what God can create? My spiritual director points out that Jesus spoke of angels. Who am I to argue with what Jesus saw? In Many Waters the angels spend some of their time in the bodies of a large variety of animals. Each with their own type of animal.

And how blessed are we who can chose against God and then change our minds and return to a life with God. Even today I will at some point be away from God. What if my choice was permanent? My director and I ponder if one can make so many choices, go so far way, that God can not get us back. I think of the lost coin and hope God never stops searching.

Eventually during the week I took myself to my late teens and early 20's when I was separated from God. I am glad I am no angel. I could come back.

But then do they exist? Are they like the unicorns in Many Waters that only exist when believed in? Can I open my heart and mind to believe and then be blessed with angels who transform from the birds who enchant me? This summer I opened my mind to a feminine image of God. Who knows what is possible. Surely not I.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

finally, my profile is complete

So, those who have been with me since I started this blog may be wondering if my life is really filled with stained glass and bandages. well, my house has many windows where my glass hangs, even if I did not do anything more than look at my completed projects for the last several months. But now my house is missing four, for as of today and until at least the 5th of November they will be hanging in the storefront of the Ambler Flower Shop. Stores in downtown Ambler, PA have opened their shops up for local artists. M's mosaics are in a shop called Mojave Moon. M is just off a successful craft fair event and is on her way to setting up a business. I joke all afternoon about being a hobbyist.

This is my first attempt at selling my work. I have been drawing doodles and designs for my entire life, possibly there were some done in the womb. I have only been designing stained glass for a couple years. Plenty have been given away to friends and family.

The man in the shop says if they don't sell during Ambler's festival, that he thinks he can sell them and we can set up some kind of consignment deal. Am I on my way to be a craftsmen?

Tonight I go into my studio. I cut half the pieces for a suncatcher and grind them into shape. No blood, so no bandages.

Yes, my life is filled with stained glass. Now what about that quilt project?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

purpose, parodox, companions, sin

As we ended the final minutes of the weekend training at the school, negative predictions enter my mind. So I share some hopes....., "I am hoping that I can rid my mind of negative predictions that have been loud and clear. 'This coming week will be have to be awful because I will be tired and behind in life.' (when we are called to be present, is there such a thing as being behind in life?) I also hope that this training helps me to be a better teacher."

I am told that I am a good teacher by supervisors, peers, and students. I am told that students love my classes. But I am imperfect. I am not like the one at the training who said "we do this everyday at this school." I see teachers nod their heads in agreement. I wonder why I don't see myself in this light.

Tonight I lead a group of three at my church in our hope to become more spiritual. Paradoxes we face as humans. I talk about how I know what it takes to be a better teacher, but I lack the passion. My friend with the open porch policy races across the room to give me a high five. She is where I am and so needed to hear me speak of my struggles, my desires. The non-teacher speaks about her declining passion for engineering.

We turn to Romans chapter 7. Paul knows the law is from God and still goes against it. We talk about our struggles. I tell them about my examination of sin which I have started. I ask for their thoughts. I need to talk to people about this journey. At work today, I asked a friend to be a companion. Well, I told her she was a part of it.

We turn to Psalm 8. The engineer who knows the Bible says again that I have taken her to a text she had thought of when I talked about paradoxes. Who are humans to even be considered by God? Yet, are we not created in God's image? The psalmist stares at the the night sky and ponders. I think of the night I returned from clearing out my dorm room after three semesters of failing. A cold winter evening. Standing on my front porch. Staring at a street lamp. Knowing something in my life needed to change for I was destroying myself.

What if I had died? Would I have accepted a God who I now believe searches for me in life and death? I am reflecting on my sins.

Friday, October 19, 2007

the realm of bitterness- dark places 2

I hear teachers make lousy students, and it amuses me how most don't see they hate being told to do what they tell students to do all year long.

My school has required several of us to go through five days of training and bitterness runs amok. morale can be low and this doesn't help. We had the first two days the two days before the students showed up in September. Today was day three, while four and five are this weekend.

I miss out going on my favorite non-silent retreat of the year. A friend misses an Eagles game, but this year that could be a good thing. She also misses her daughter's softball tournament and her husband has to miss work this weekend. We all have good reason to moan, but does that mean it has to be a dark place.

In the midst of the bitterness are several people I have become friends with over the past 10 years. I refuse to be so bitter that I don't also have some fun this weekend. that would be a sin.

In the midst of the bitterness, I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to be refreshed on good teaching. To make connections between the information and my students. that would be a sin.

Do I want to be at the school the next two days? Not really, but to not see blessings in the midst of God's creation is what one Jesuit told me was a sin last August. I am back on that bench at Wernersville. The birds amazing me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

dark places

I don't like feeling overwhelmed, so the mouse chose a bad week to enter our kitchen Tuesday night. Please don't tell me the mouse didn't choose, I am thinking just as when I tell my students a plant is happy or sad. Who knows besides God how a plant feels or what a mouse chooses to do? Giving the kitchen a thorough cleaning was not a mid-week chore on my schedule, but that is what I did on Wednesday night. It set me behind in my mind and there it was... an overwhelmed funk. Prayer, exercising, talks with M helped bring me out of it, but there I was all the same.

Preparation is over, I am entering the spiritual exercises. This last week was fruitful. A running joke with some people is.. "even Wayne ...." It started when a friend said, "even Wayne wears a wedding ring," to her husband. This week, I heard myself say.. "Even Wayne can put his trust in God." Last night at my class we ended with a prayer. I chose Jeremiah 29:11-14, from his letter to the exiles. Jeremiah speaks of the different responses we get from God depending upon the level of energy we put into the relationship. I thought of these spiritual exercises. 42 days of preparation. I am the man who leaps into things. Read the manual before turning on the machine. That is not my style. 42 days.

We talked about sin (Romans 7:14-25), the law, trust (Hebrews 2: 5-13), choosing a life with God as opposed to a life without (Dueteronomy 30: 15-20). Then I was told we would enter into the first week of the exercises. This would take a week if I was at a retreat center so, it could take me another 40 to 50 days to get through this "week" during which we will explore sin.

I say, "Didn't we just cover that?"

The discussion had been spurred by Paul struggling with fully knowing that the law comes from God, knowing what is right, and yet at times going against God and the law. Jesus didn't abolish the law and at some points made it even stronger. I am not about to follow the book of Leviticus, but something is stirring. Over the years liturgy has gotten kinder and kinder when we speak of sin. Are we wretched as Paul describes himself? I know how I should treat others and at times fall way short. What causes that to happen? Paul believed in a force or spirit of sin inside himself. This is a dark place, but it is filled with light, for Paul says our hope and salvation is in God and Jesus.

A mouse died this week in my kitchen because of a choice I made.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kairos spelled out

Each Thursday morning I am handed at least one new sheet of paper, after the sixth week, I see it for what it is, Kairos-- God's time. This week's says Preparation Days/6. Thinking I was on a set prescription, I ask, "How many weeks does this take?" Shouldn't this be clear. Can't my spiritual director look at a human made calendar and say, we will be done on Thursday, month, date, hour, minute, second? Or even in a less specific way, can't the man say how many sheets of paper he plans to give me (I think I need a binder.)

He acts as if there is no set number of weeks. I know this already, because as my director he is free to repeat or skip exercises depending on where he, with God's help, senses I need to go. So he tells me with a lack of certainty that we will end most likely late next spring. This man has earned many points along the way. Early on it is was his story of how he stumbled into being an Episcopalian while attending a Presbyterian college, which happened to be a college that kindly asked me to pack my bags and get out after three semesters.

This week it was his knowledge of the Bible, which helped with some passages I had struggled with during day 5, which for now matches up with week 5. For example, Ephesians 2:1-10. Yes, I can see myself as spiritually dead when I was failing out of my first college, but I can't feel it in the same black and white way as the passage describes. My director points out what seems obvious now. I was baptised, raised in a community, then wondered away, then came back and felt a re-birth. But was I correct in doubting if I had been completely dead. I probably wasn't. Am I fully alive now in a time where we speak of spiritual journeys? Probably not. But for the Ephesians who received that letter, they were not adults who had wandered off, they were folk newly baptised into a new life.

As I write this, it makes me think of how I see being born again differently than others who are alive today. I see it as a process that can occur at any moment, God's time of creating us new. Each moment is a chance to shed something that keeps me from living fully with myself, others, and God -- the three things we are called to love. Others see it as the moment they entered into communion with Christ. I always thought that "they" must have it wrong, but now I sense how powerful that must have been to be truly born again as an adult into a relationship with God. Not understanding others is an example of what needs to die in myself. It is as if I am deadheading so more flower buds can form.

I think of those raised to parents who have had a life changing event in accepting Christ. I hear that that the pressure can be great to feel the same joy. But how can one feel that joy of being born again, if they have not experienced the lack of it?

If it happened to me as an adult in a big way, I am nearly at my tenth anniversary. We had just moved to Lansdale and M said she wanted to find a church. I said, "Why not?" Now, I am glad I didn't have an answer to that question. Those two words came from someplace new inside of me and shocked her. I would say that a celebration is in order. My anniversary of stepping into a church--- the first Sunday of Advent.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

thou shall not...


OK, there I am being mostly innocent at the school's intramural soccer game on Tuesday when I begin chatting with a friend. Rain clouds are forming. Having just checked the radar I say with lots of wisdom, "the rain is far off, but things can pop up."

She says,"I hope it doesn't rain till 8pm when I get home from dinner." I query where she is going and ask what they make there worth eating. She loves the crab cakes. I say, "if you have leftovers bring me some."

Twenty minutes later it is a deluge outside and my classroom phone rings. "You promised it wouldn't rain till 8pm." She is ranting, but in a fun and friendly way. I can hear her office cohort, laughing in the background. These two friends are my stress relief when I finally get to my 7th period prep when I use the excuse to check my mail box as a reason to say hello. I am told I won't see a crab cake.

I try to remind her about saying things might pop up, but she is having too much fun harassing me to care about what I see as the truth. A minute later I am sending her an e-mail with a link to the local radar loop which in beautiful shades of greens, yellows and oranges shows a thunderstorm popping up in our county.

My day also starts with seeing these two for their office is where I sign in everyday. the next morning I arrive and I hear this... "I hope you packed a lunch." I tell her I had no faith in her from the beginning. She sighs and tells me the story that later my wife will find impossible to believe.

She tells me of getting up that morning to find the crab cake she had in her fridge missing. She calls her husband and asks him if he saw it. he says, "yes, I took it with me. I thought it was for me."

She says, "It was for Wayne"

He says, "Who is Wayne?"

This is when I know it is too late. Coveting crab cakes have gotten me in trouble.

I am blessed to have these good folk in my life, the two at work, not the husband who ate "my" crab cake.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

adult education

Friday nights on my friends' porch is one place I learn. When I hit the sidewalk, if I turn right I get to my church, if I turn left and left again I end up at a porch of some good folk who I met at my church. So with a beer or two, I unwind with friends while listening to their stories and telling a few of my own. The invitation goes out when the weather warms and ends about now and it is received by more of us than could ever fit on the porch, but we crowd on if needed. And nobody worries about perfect attendance.

I thought of this porch when I read this quote by Carl Jung- - ----

"We need colleges for 40 year olds to prepare them for their coming life. Our religions were always such schools in the past, but how many people regard them as such today."

This was quoted by Paul Robb, S.J. in his book Passage through Mid-Life: A Spiritual Journey to Wholeness. I have been reading a page or two each night following my examen.

So anyway, two weeks ago I showed up at the porch, after a crowd had formed, and three friends seemingly at once asked me when "my" adult class was to begin. Well, I ignored them the best I could, sat down by one and explained how busy my life was ---- how could I possibly find time to teach an adult class. clearly impossible. Ten days later, I am just home from teaching one.

The thought that entered and changed my mind was this ---- if getting a degree in spirituality is going to make me too busy to meet with my own community, to touch base on where God is surfacing or not surfacing in our lives, then something is wrong. Wisdom strikes again. So I took Sophia with me tonight and after a discussion on the images of God, I read a passage from The Book of Wisdom. It was given to me at Wernersville, and tonight I passed it on here in Lansdale.

This past Friday on the porch, books came up, and I was asked what I was reading for pleasure. And there I was again saying I was too busy with reading for my college class and prepping for teaching. My friend's wisdom carried with me, and now every night I am reading a few pages from Many Waters: A Companion to Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It is a pleasure to read her writing.

I am glad that though some call me "teach" at church, it is my church that teaches me as I make my passage through mid-life.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pierce got it right in my book

The other day Margaret reported a sighting of this bumper sticker: God Does Not Believe In Atheists. I guess we all have to decide what to believe and to contemplate what God believes. Before I shifted full throttle into jazz, we listened to those labeled singer-songwriters. Lately we have been listening to some of our favorites.

Margaret requested some Pierce Pettis and I brought down the CD, Everything Matters. In his song God Believes in You we heard what Pierce might have to say to the owner of that bumper sticker....

When you start to doubt if you exist
God believes in you
Confounded by the evidence
God believes in you
When your chances seem so slim
When your light burns so dim
And you swear you don't believe in him
God believes in you

When you rise up just to fall again
God believes in you
Deserted by your closest friends
God believes in you
When you're betrayed with a kiss
Turn your cheek to another fist
It doesn't have to end like this
God believes in you

Everything matters if anything matters at all
Everything matters
No matter how big
No matter how small

When you're so ashamed that you could die
God believes in you
And you can't do right even though you try
God believes in you
Blessed are the ones who grieve
The ones who mourn, the ones who bleed
In sorrow you sow
But in joy, you'll reap
God believes in you

Oh, God believes in you

--Pierce Pettis

Tonight I reflected on God having a purpose for each of us. I hope God doesn't give up on us when we make wrong decisions that lead us away from the purpose.

waves of energy

Central Moravian Church
Originally uploaded by toddheft
sounds like I am going to teach physics, but instead this is about baseball and Easter. I grew up a big sports fan with my dad taking me to see all the major teams in Philadelphia. I rarely watch sports anymore, and did not make it to a game this year, but I follow the Phillies and so I too felt the communal boost of joy when the Phillies emerged at the top of their division. The joy and hope have taken a big hit after two playoff losses, but before that happened thoughts of Easter came into my head.

Margaret grew up Moravian. A few Easters back we decided to go to Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, which is not far from my parents. I grew up thinking that Moravians were a major denomination, but they are not. But Central is a large church and I would say they pack in over a 1000 folk with ease, which is is huge for keep in mind my Episcopal church is packed at just over 100 folk. So there we were standing to sing a hymn, and I can tell you, there is not much better in my life than being part of a congregation which is familiar with a hymn. I was singing Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, the joy and celebration of Easter.

So why does the Phillies making it into the playoffs bring up Easter. In 1980 I went with my dad to see the Phillies win the world series. I would love to tell you who knocked in the winning run, but I can't. I can tell you that I remember Tug McGraw flinging himself into the air and thus began the celebration.... the team, the 60,000 fans, and even the police on horses lining the field to keep the crowd controlled. My dad had started driving home from games by driving north on some road that ran parallel to Broad Street which took us through various neighborhoods. That night the city was different. People were everywhere. Celebrating.

I know that as an introvert, these mass celebrations of God and Phillies should have frightened me, but they didn't. All of this tells me that a celebratory event, that brings people together, provides hope that gets us through times of doubt and losing seasons.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

28 days of everyday life

If I had done it the quick way, then I would be nearly done, however, I have barely begun. Ignatius's spiritual exercises can be done at The Jesuit Center in Wernersville in just over 30 days. I lack the money, time, job, and understanding wife to go away for a month. Margaret graciously allows me 8 days to be in silence each summer, but 32 is pushing it.

Ignatius had annotations and the 19th states the possibility for people like myself to do the "exercises in everyday life." This means I pray for an hour 7 times a week and then meet with my spiritual director. That counts as one day. My director is not Jesuit nor Catholic, but like myself he is an anglo-catholic and he trained at Wernersville. When I met him this summer, he told me that he had no time in the evening or on weekends. So I fit him in on Thursday mornings before I go to work, after which I go to my class. It is a long day leaving the house at 6:30 and getting home around 9:30. 28 days in and I am beginning to sense what it means to be in retreat during everyday life.

Getting up early for prayer each day, exhausted me, so after two weeks I adjusted. An Hour on Thursday-- you've got to be kidding. Now, I am finding a rhythm to this retreat. I pray twice on either Saturday or Sunday. Mondays and Wednesdays there is time when I get home from work, after a short nap. Tuesday I pray when Margaret is off at choir practice. Last Friday I got up early, because we had a date planned in the evening. I am still off balance as I fit prayer around exercise, teaching, Margaret, friends, music, gardening.... you know everyday life. But a good friend said, I looked better today, and I believe her.

Yesterday I did a "consideration." It took me to a place where I could imagine loving a group of seven students where love was low. Today the class went smoothly and one student who had been convinced I was the devil (she did say that), apologized to me. The prayer the night before had placed me in a frame of mind to accept it. Well, the smile that came with the apology was amazing too. So I gave her and the other dreaded six students a freshly baked whole wheat roll which had had diced hot peppers mixed into the dough. It was a blessing. I reflected on it this afternoon as I prayed with a passage in Romans-- those who follow the spirit are adopted by God. As I prayed I thought that I needed to thank the staff member who intervened between the student and myself yesterday. That will fit into my everyday life tomorrow.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

classroom expectations and hopes

I expect the world from my students and myself each and everyday. I live with our failures to meet these expectations because my hopes remain. Last night at parents night, I tell those who enter my classroom about my hopes. Those parents, who don't venture in to what one student calls the Stratz Lair, have to be satisfied with the view from the sidewalk outside my window. Maybe they hear the jazz piano playing of Marian McPartland.

I see some linger looking at the aloes. Maybe they hear hope in my voice.

Early on I speak of hopes for a young man to fight off the OCD intensified fears which slows him down so much. My desire is for him to see that jumping into something, even if it turns out terribly, is a better life than being stuck in front of a blank physics assignment.

But most of the evening is spent with parents whose children attend one of my horticulture classes. I speak of the year they will experience, the career ed goals I will focus on, and I also answer a question expressed by one mother, "Is this the best place for my nearly-old-enough-to-graduate son to be?" I don't know for sure, so I say something like this.....

I would love for all of my students to develop the passion, skill, talent, strength, and luck to graduate into a job working with plants. But I would also be well pleased with them gardening at home, caring for an aloe in a sunny kitchen window, cooking with fresh peppers, or being stopped while walking by a patch of globe amaranths and say, 'how beautiful, I grew them once.' I hope that in experiencing horticulture they will learn that with compassion, life can flourish. By the end I have convinced myself and a parent or two that horticulture is far from a waste of time.

The parents leave. I turn off the jazz, say goodnight to some friends as we head to our cars, and head home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hermeneutics of Consent stir me up

Things have changed. I am now comfortable with taking the Bible into my heart, not just my mind. It was hard work because I now see my heart was guarded by very talented stoic soldiers and I had to ask these internal guards to leave my heart open to attack by emotions. They listened. It is still hard work, for the Bible challenges me.

I think of my time at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville. Spend a week in silence, allowing for at least three hours of reflections on the Bible each day, and something has to crack. I didn't know what I was headed for on my first long retreat, I thought it would be a break from the daily routine, relaxing, a vacation. In my room was a suggestion, "Read and reflect upon Psalm 139." It ripped into my heart possibly even killing a stoic guard along the way. What emerged at first was anger and sadness which had been there for over 30 years. Four days later, God's love began to fill in the space which had been emptied.

Things have changed. A few weeks ago while worshiping at Wernersville, the beginning of Psalm 139 was read, while we chanted on being wonderfully made. I can believe, even with our flaws, that God creates us wonderfully. Is it that what we deem not wonderful, is truly wonderful? I see this as true. I struggle.

But God is never finished. Last week, my spiritual director directs me to Psalm 139, and now I am to face that God has chosen to create me in this way, at this time, at this place, with these joys, and with these pains. Again my faith is challenged to believe in a God who chooses so much, but I surely didn't chose these things, so who did. Was it God or was it nothing?

There are extremes here and I know folk at both ends, but I don't want to be in either camp. I can't imagine God choosing every thing that happens, and I can't imagine God having no choice. I explain this to my spiritual director who says profound things like, "this is good, you are awake, the exercises are getting things stirred up inside of you."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

time for a friend

I am behind in grading my students work, I scramble to be prepared for teaching, my garden at home has been neglected, and I am falling further behind in my readings for the graduate class I am taking. However, I have found time to pray for an extra hour each day (by getting up early) because I have started Ignatius's spiritual exercises in everyday life. Prayer is a fine time to discern what needs to be done.

Three weeks ago I heard some sad news. Two weeks ago I walked a labyrinth and that news came into my prayer. A friend at work has gotten some rotten medical news and is at home hoping for a miracle. As I sat in the middle of the labyrinth God says, "Tell me you don't have the time to go visit the man. The man who has greeted you with kindness for ten years." What could I say to that?

His wife is an avid gardener and requested help dividing day lilies and irises which are taking over portions of her yard. She pointed out that the day lilies were a favorite of his. I e-mail her telling her I wanted to get some so that I could bring them to work and create a garden with my horticulture students.

I was well into getting myself sweaty and dirty when he came outside with his feeding tube. We sat in the middle of an amazing garden. While I drank water, we chatted. We spoke about spiritual retreats, the school we work at, the garden, his diagnosis, and Psalms. I have heard he is praying psalms every night. I tell him psalm 139 is important to me, and it turns out that we share favorite psalms. He tells me how he watches the Christmas Carol each year because of a recitation of psalm 139.

An hour or so later I was headed to the school to unload a car filled to the brim with lilies and irises. I am physically and emotionally drained. The day is near over and all of the things which I have fallen behind are still on my to do list. I do believe I discerned correctly on how I spent this day.

Tonight my prayer takes me to the idea of God creating us out of nothing each moment. I sense this is how miracles can occur. In that instant of being recreated, maybe, just maybe healing can occur.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hermeneutics of Discernment.

At this stage the idea of the Bible being a sacred text became a possibility in my thinking. I began to trust it as a place to search for answers. And that brings to mind how the United Church of Christ here in southeast Pennsylvania has hired a woman to be a spiritual leader for the conference. A month ago, she bowed in front of me as we leave a Mexican restaurant and says, "Oh great spiritual master."

I say, "No, taking classes to get a masters in spirituality does not make me your spiritual master."

she bows again and like most times we get together we laugh and smile.

Things started when I began to Walk With God. The PA southeast UCC'ers have a yearly spiritual retreat at a place called Mensch Mill. I have been to most but not all of these annual events. Sadly I will not be there this October because I am expected to be at work that weekend for professional training. I wish I could call out spiritually ill. I do take spiritual health days, but this weekend I can't get out of without major frowns from bosses.

Time with the Bible has led to it sinking from my head to my heart. Lectio Divina has been introduced on my retreats. One Lent I spent Saturdays travelling to be in a group of UCC'ers who took a spiritual journey together reading Joyce Rupp's Cup of Life.

The Bible has many images and names of God and it was during this stage that I let that list grow. The hermeneutics of Antipathy had blacklisted names, now I could begin accepting God in different ways.

I remember reading the Bible one day and coming across Jesus as master. It jumped out at me because it was ready to be considered. Yes, healer was easy, but master for me was not. I had thought of master as one who commands because of a need to exploit and control, not as one who guides through love. To this day some of the commands are difficult, for example I have yet to sell all my possessions to follow Jesus. That is when God, the one who forgives us, comes to mind. The one who celebrates each year as more and more of our money is given to those who feed the hungry, house the poor, and care for the abused. Well, I hope there is celebration.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hermeneutics of Appreciative

When I returned to church ten years ago, I decided that if I would ever leave the church again, I wanted to know what I was leaving. So, I became a lay biblical scholar among other things.

I read the Bible from front to back and discovered a thing or two (thousand) along the way. Psalmists wanting enemy children bashed on rocks comes to mind. At that time , I had many doubts about God and so I think it was read with this lens of hermeneutics between me and the written word.

It carried forth into the time I began to lead adult classes at my church. I would go to commentaries and then talk about the meanings of Hebrew and Greek words. Talk about what was happening when the text was written. Talk about the story being told. If memory serves me as I reflect on this, it was this talk that was primary to my lessons. Reflecting on how the story touched my life was low on the priority. How scholars and authors across time had been touched by it was primary. I was in search of knowing what Christianity was about, not yet open to feeling an emotional response.

The above image of the mountain speaks to me as I think of one class which I taught. With concordance in hand I found fifteen passages from the Bible which mentioned a mountain. Each person in the adult class randomly chose a passage and then read it out loud. It was a whirlwind trip from here to there. Fascinating, but there was no time for reflection. They were read to tell the stories in the Bible, not to tell the stories in our hearts. I am looking at this image of a distant mountain seen through weathered rock. The mountain is framed. I am not seeing the full picture or fully experiencing the mountain.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hermeneutics of Antipathy

Pileated Woodpecker
Originally uploaded by ann j p
this is stage one of five during which I will travel with the help of some new big words provided from my professor at Chestnut Hill College. Ok, so I am blogging to get started on a paper due any day now.

When I was an undergrad in the early 80's I was given a paper to read in one of my environmental science classes that stated with some certainty that the mess we humans had created were all caused by Christians. It was all because God told us to subdue the world. At the time Ronald Reagan was president, James Watt was by his side, and I was an angry young man having just experienced a general lack of joy for three semesters at a conservative Presbyterian college. So it made sense to me. The Christians that made it into the media truly did seem to have a lack of concern for the ecology of the planet.

So, I became a humanist and saw more and more "deleterious consequences for human life" perpetuated by the Bible. Apparently this is what a hermeneutic of antipathy sees and looks for in the Bible. I still see it, but I see more.

So, why a photo of a Pileated woodpecker. The first one I ever saw made my heart leap for joy, something my stoic self tried to prevent. I was an undergrad. My love of nature had warmed my heart. My association with a group of like minded students had led me to the Smokey Mtns and there I saw this woodpecker the size of a crow. I have seen many in Pennsylvania since then, but that was my first sighting, and the joy leaped through my body. An early seed to break the antipathy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

creation today: it is still good

When I returned to church 10 years ago, I had plenty of doubts and some of them I was sure would stay with me forever. I did not want to touch the first chapter of Genesis, but I did.

It had to compete with my biology degree and interest in evolution. How could the two go together? Wasn't this whole subdue the Earth thing the main reason the planet had environmental issues?

The first break in the fence around my heart happened with the repetitive phrasing of God sensing that creation was good. Who could argue with that? Creation is amazing, if not always gentle and non-violent. The amazement I felt deep inside me that led to my studies in biology seemed to be shared with God. That was good.

Later a minister asked if I would help him with a project. He wanted to rewrite the creation story as if the Hebrews knew what we think we know today. So there we were with Big bangs, and interstellar dust, laws of physics and bacteria, evolution and hominids. But through it all, I wanted those words: and it was good. Pleasing to God.

Talking about cells today in my anatomy class a student said, "all cells come from cells." I agreed, but asked what the problem was with that statement, and soon enough I was asked where the first cell came from.

I said, "It is a mystery. A mystery that can not be explained. No scientist or theologian can tell us with certainty how or why that first cell came into being. But we can be happy that it did."

For it was good.

The images featured here were taken by Margaret. We are at my work place. She played with the camera at night and I watered the flower garden. The Lyng's sunflower I am stretching for once stood over nine feet tall before the weight of the flower bent it over. It took me 18 years to get to six feet, this plant only took 3 months to tower over me.

I am still filled with amazement at what has been created and what has evolved.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

paired down

Last night there were no drums, horns, piano, or vocals; but Dave Holland brought his bass and Steve Nelson showed up with his vibes. And part one of Lafayette College's jazz series, which are all duets, began.

Easton, PA is a bit of a drive, but it is familiar territory for this guy from the Lehigh Valley. What we experienced was beauty. Two masters who have known each other for years having fun; playing together.

I thought of collaboration and doubts arose that I would never experience what these two men were experiencing. I thought of my life with Margaret. I thought of how radically different this seemed from the music I heard on the Dave Holland Big Band CD, which I had once checked out of a library. I thought of how these instruments are usually drowned out in larger groups. I began to see it as two solos constantly intermingling. But as important and profound as these thoughts might be, what I wanted to focus on was the music and stopping my ever floating brain became the problem.

On the silent retreat I had wondered how a person could be aware of being with God and being mindful of the present moment. My brain concluded that it was impossible.

In the ten days which I have been home, I have discovered that an internal chant of "I am here" or "Be still," has led me to be able to focus on everything from hugging Margaret, to praying liturgy at church, to listening to jazz duets.

so much for conclusions of my ever so large brain.

special thanks for Justin Oakman who took his camera to a jazz concert and caught the two men alone in one image.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Childhood memories

seen at a quilt show, name of  quilter sadly forgotten
photo by Wayne Stratz

   I have few clear memories of my early years and two that I have, my mom told me never happened. It must have been in dreams that I fell down stairs and that I got off the school bus a stop or two early. My childhood is a bit fuzzy, so I may be wrong on this, but I don't think the Bible was read much in my home. I do remember a Bible, the cover was white. I don't know what the translation was. I do remember a picture book of Bible stories, but again the memory is fuzzy.

We went to St John's Evangelical Lutheran church in Bath, PA. This I know. We sat on the right hand side, a few pews from the front. My grandmother sat in the back row with lady friends. Pappy did not come to the church. I know I learned the classic Bible stories in Sunday School. Went through a confirmation class during the 1970's. The Bible was not a huge part of my life outside of Sunday mornings. But when I returned to it in my 30's. It was familiar.

I remember things now, maybe because of repetition. The end of the service was a hymn. When it was over we would stand in silence as the organist played the tune one more time. I would compose lyrics in my head. After church we would drive a short distance to my grandma's house where Pappy would finish meals with a slice of bread smothered with apple butter. After lunch Mamie would bring out the quilts she was working on that week. I can still see Pappy enjoying good food, and Mamie flinging her quilts out into the air for us to see.