Wednesday, August 29, 2007

funk and a flock of birds

I got a case of the last day's funk today. Sister Maria says good bye, she won't be at the final service tomorrow morning. The Gospel reading is about John's head being served on a platter, I am told it is the second year anniversary of Katrina and I think of how two years of misery have hit so many, and then at lunch my spirit buddy for the past 8 days, the hospice worker, who I dined with before silence, stops by my table to say she is leaving. Two good byes. I should be heading out myself at this rate, instead I am in a funk.

Playing in the pool, something I haven't done in years, is good but I still hit the sanctuary before dinner in a funk. A fear comes to mind so I chat with Sophia. I don't want to lose the gentleness she has provided. It has helped to bring my racing mind back into mindfulness. It has helped me go slowly into painful places.

She reminds me of what I read the other night at 2:00 am, "What the heart knows can not be forgotten."

There is a tree that is near death. I always look at this tree because it pulled me into deep gratitude a few years ago. I have been putting off spending time with it all week, but hey I am in a funk so why not head outside. I am standing on the driveway thinking sad thoughts but wanting to sit down. My older body says, "not on the road you don't." So I look about. There is one bench but it is occupied, but surely the woman will share the space.

She does and I find myself under a living Oak tree. It is thriving with insects that I can't see. Not leaving the bench I identify a black-capped chickadee, a tufted titmouse, a white-breasted nuthatch that so wants to be seen it makes me joyful, a downy woodpecker drums till I find it, a flicker comes over than shows off its white rump as it flies away, and even a ruby-throated hummingbird makes two trips into the Oak. I am trying to have sad thoughts but there are just way too many birds. Than the homily hits me. Yes, there are sad things happening like hurricanes, earthquakes, mine collapses, fires and deaths of trees and loved ones. I turn to my right and see the statue, which has come to represent things that need to die in me like blame, shame, and SHOULDS. I think of we do not react to those in need with the spirit of God. Two years and people still suffer on the Gulf Coast, but money and more money can be found for wars. And what have I done lately for the needy. Yes I am sitting between sad things and bad responses. But that's OK as Father Jack pointed out today for God's kingdom keeps emerging and if these birds are not giving me that message I will never get it. He said that the sin is to miss the emerging kingdom. At this moment I am doing OK.

Well, its the last night and more and more silence is being broken, which means I have had two very brief conversations. Tomorrow I will eat and talk at breakfast, than for the 8th straight day I will take the body and blood with this group which has prayed with and for me.

at some point I will have to pack.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

last and first

I end the last page of my journal today with these words:

"I finished off the doodle, cause an imperfection or two when I spray it. I lie down to listen to a few Keith Jarrett improvistations before I enter into prayer. I end this journal here. Ready to venture into some truths I have not wanted to face. I will let the Father guide me, Sophia comfort me, and Jesus heal me. if and only if, it their desires.

peace hope joy and love

The Man who blames it on his youth"

I turn to find the first entry. It is September/4/2006 I ended that day's examen with this:

"What has brought God's seed to my life?

seeing Margaret for the first time, and years later her saying she wanted to know me?

Touchberry.... "extreme unction" on Christmas Day four weeks after returning to church-- where I learned about letting things die in order to live.

music, doodling

Psalm 139--- Wernersville 2004--- tears and anger"

Sister Maria had the courage to ask me to go where I didn't want to go. But now I am grateful. It just may have led to less blame on my youth, my God, my wife; and more acceptance of who I am. My greatest sadness has changed. It is on the way to being accepted. Maybe that is the lesson of this retreat. Great sadnesses can be accepted. This one is who I am. It is a place to yearn for this acceptance of your nature. It is the spirit of Jarrett playing solo, playing 'Shenandoah' as if it was a jazz standard.

I already had thought it was the most beautiful jazz piano in the world, "The melody at Night, With You." The CD I turned to this morning when I was ranting and wondering why I had chosen to be here. I asked Sister Maria if there was an easier path to take. She said, "Sophia will be gentle. I turn to solo piano. The CD will point out that "I got it Bad and That Ain't Good", that I have "Someone to Watch Over me" that maybe I can stop "Blaming everything on my youth" That Margaret and God have said to me "Be My Love" that "Shenandoah" is the place we most yearn to be, and then he ends with a reminder of that icy Frigidaire and the attitude that I so want to avoid because if "I'm Through with Love" I might as well call it a life.

one full day of silence is left.

waking thoughts- time with family

I wake thinking of talking with Margaret last night. No, its not the big news I let her pass on to me. I told her the only news I had heard was to pray for the people of Greece and she fills in the picture. She had wondered if I had heard about Alberto G leaving his post for George W. I joke, "I guess he wanted to spend more time with family." The personal nature of the joke just hit me.

No, it is the sadness in Margaret's voice that I wake with in my heart. Without saying it, I know she is ready for me to come home. It is the second time I hear her sadness in six hours. The first time was expressed by Ella F.

So, I sit here and hit play to track 14...... "I had to call you on the phone because I feel so all alone, don't like this being on my own, can't you, won't you hurry home. I leave the door unlocked in case like me you find your out of place, I'd give the world to see your face, can't you won't you hurry home." Jazz is supposed to bring me closer to God, not remind me of being missed. What is the difference?

Two days left and the thoughts float up as they usually do..... am I out of place?

"You could have created an amazing stained glass"
"You could have read that book you have put off."
"You could have gotten the garden at home in great shape before going back to work."
"You could have made some wonderful meals with the extra time off."
"You could have gone on a mini-vacation with Margaret."
"You could have had lunch with that friend you haven't had time to see."
"You could have had your life if you were at home!!!!"
"You could leave early, what does the last two days matter?"

why not hurry home?

Because Ella sings on in track 15....

"I know how Columbus felt finding another world. Kiss me once then once
more, what a dunce I was before, what a break for heavens sake how long has
been going on? I could cry salty tears where have I been all
years. tell me dear how long has this been going on? what a
kick! what a
buzz! boy you click like no one does!"

Yes, that song about finding the joy of kissing is how I feel about finding God
here at Wernersville. Then there is the community here. Sure I
haven't been talking to them, well not much.

Last night I was walking about thinking of more things to tell my 5 year old self when the moon rose larger than life. I see the hospice chaplain/nurse, who I ate with that first meal before we entered the silence, sitting on the steps leading to the front door. God, wants her to see this moon, so I head over. But God beat me and before I say anything, she says, "It's so beautiful." I nod and keep walking.

I stay for the woman who asked us to pray for her friend whose husband left her after 30 years of marriage. For the woman God wanted to eat taomato salad who jsut has susch a great smile she continues to share with me and anyone else who dares to make eye contact with her, I stay for them and they stay for me. Other prayer concerns expressed this week come back to me now. The man who looks like someone I knew in Oregon has a friend in a chaos so deep there seems like there is no hope.

I stay for myself for the Cd plays on and I believe if I do, then as Ella sings so perfectly....

"There's an ache in my heart, I'll never be the same again...."

Monday, August 27, 2007

time travel with Sophia

12 hours before I time travel in an Adirondack chair, I am aware that I am awake. It is 2:00 a.m. and I am tossing and turning as I think about a poster I had examined earlier in the day. I pour myself some port and walk down the hallway, this is a shorter trip than the one I took the night before.

The poster has the names of several Jesuits and two others who were murdered in central america. I read a name, pray, take a sip of port, till I have paid my respects. The quote about how Christians need to respond to injustice is what I turn my attention too. I think of childhood pain.

The morning light wakes me and I have no need to rush. I head into the UCC cemetery and I am again amazed by the number of birds. I assume they are flocking to go south.

My soul seems to be at peace as I eat breakfast. Sister Maria hears my 24 hour tale and advises me to be gentle with myself. She claims Sophia is gentle. She asks about the pain. I tell her my childhood story. For my contemplations she recommends time with creation and she will photo copy another prayer by Joyce Rupp, this one on retrieving feelings. Two things occur near the end of my time with her. I feel selfish and admit to it. I want this journey with God to be easy. I want this childhood trauma to be dealt with completely. I am tired of the narrow path mentioned in yesterday's sermon. I want it quick and easy. I also tell myself that as I walk by Sister Maria I am going to pause today and truly feel her hand on my shoulder.

Creation goes well. I see but don't ID warblers, I see and hear a red-tailed hawk, then 100 plus crows emerge from a tree quite dissatisfied with life, then land on another tree. In a few moments I am standing under that tree. I am still, the crows are restless. I see a dead branch that was decaying before it fell and shattered when it hit the ground. I imagine myself Andy Goldsworthey (???) and start a tower. I end up working on it for an hour after I had used up the original branch. Temporary art.

What truly captures my eyes are the two rows of corn closest to me. I claim them RED MAIZE. Later in the afternoon I will draw them in the center of a circle and then fill in the circle with the earth tones I have associated with Sophia. It is my favorite large doodle of this retreat and it is fitting that I drew it for Sister Maria.

Mass is peaceful, lunch is mindful, I draw the doodle. Then I pick up the Joyce Rupp poem. It does not draw me back into the trauma of childhood. Is it because I am at peace with my past, because the image of a hugging mother is not working, or some unknown reason? I thank Sophia for taking me into the pain the day before and get up to finish the doodle. I go outside and sit down in an Adirondack chair and pull out the Joyce Rupp poem. I am walking back into the doctor's office. I ask Sophia to bathe me in blue light and to put her hand on my shoulder. I am also there as a five year old.

I tell him that he will forget his childhood; there will be no memories of elementary school.

I tell him that he will turn to drugs to numb the pain.

I tell him he will have no hope, but God will give some to his mom and it will grow and at some point be passed back into his body.

I tell he will cry, but not for many many years.

I tell him he will consider himself a freak.

I tell him about meeting Margaret and her love which is so great it pushed through his stoic wall.

I tell him about returning to God.

I tell him about how birds and music will bring him peace.

I tell him sad and joyful things. Occasionally I stop and bathe in the blue light, feel that hand on my shoulder.

I am crying in an Adirondack chair.

I tell him that he will take the narrow path, and he will heal his wounds. it will be painful but he will be gentle with himself for wise people will guide him. I tell him that as he heals he will become a healer also. His message to the other people in his life will come closer and closer to the message he will hear from God. He will try to bring comfort to others who have had an unjust childhood. I stand with him 39 years ago, hoping with my faith in God for things yet unseen.

and yes, music soothed... Ella Fitzgerald sang sweetly to me today.

two days left.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The image of the Father joins the dance

Thunder wakes me at 3:00 am and I find myself out in the hallway looking at 4 prints in a memorial to Joe Whelan, SJ. Two were at his desk for years. They are a crucified Christ and an enlargement of Jesus's face. It's like hitting a zoom button looking from one to another. I don't know much about the man but I read about how he faced cancer. That brought a print of the resurrected Christ to his office. Then to the right is a Mark Rothko print that brought him into connection with Jesus. But I am thinking about the Father.

Sister Maria has asked me to read scripture and it has thrown me for a loop. I don't want this loop, and I will resist. It is Hebrews 12: 5-7 & 11-13. The book I will be reading from has that whole section. I copy it to practice. I see the handout for worship says only 5-7. Yesterday Father Lucien said there are time to listen to God and not do what you are being told to do. I need to read 11-13. I need to finish with, "Heals." Basically it is describing God as a father who disciplines us. It is clear that it is out of love, but my mind races to those who had abusive fathers and how that relationship destroys this image of God. I want my mind to stay there, that is enough, but my medical trauma comes racing back for all of those trips to a urologist basically created a soul that was abused as a child. How can I read this? I need wisdom.

I ask Sophia for wisdom, God for love, and Jesus for forgiveness. I beg. I say, I can't read this without your help. I leave Father Whelan, say a prayer, and go back to sleep.

I wake two hours later than normal. Adrenaline shocks me and there will be no need for coffee or tea this morning. I do eat and shave, but there is little time to reflect before I am sitting with Sister Maria. I say, "Do you know what that passage contained?" What do I sense a conspiracy involving her and all the spirits?

She says, No. And I think, God is strange. I tell her it is about the Father and add this story: Saturday afternoon in the heat I catch a ride on an elevator with an elderly Jesuit and two African-American women (no this is no joke). The Jesuit says, "What floor Father?"

I am 44 and this is a first. I have never been called a father before. I head to the OED and definition 4 is my only hope.

The Father has joined the dance.

I spend the rest of the morning doodling. It is large so it takes up a lot of time. I draw Sophia one side of a circle, I am on the other. We are in a biological cell and we are sending out spindle fibers to grab the dark DNA which is evil. Not sure if the analogy works, not sure if I love the outcome of the doodle, but it kept me distracted, while listening to Marian McPartland's In My Life. The tune 'What's New' speaks to me and I wished there were vocals.

I am sitting waiting for mass to start. My hands are shaking. The psalm is read and I get up to read. I silently ask for calm. I ask to provide hope to those who were abused and cleansing for the abusers. I read with spirit. I feel blessed.

I take the bread and wine. I have settled a bit. Then we get up to sing the closing hymn... Sing a New World into Being. It is filled with wonderful imagery and is placed to a favorite melody. I cry.

The afternoon is restless. I try to distract myself with math puzzles and Count Basie's Atomic Basie. Who brings a CD with a mushroom cloud to a silent retreat? I spend and hour reflecting on Wisdom 7: 22-30. It starts with 21 adjectives and then has some amazing imagery. One of Sophia being the image of God in a mirror. I want to flee and drink beer and eat Mexican food, but instead I go to the sanctuary. I will sit here and pray until the masses have moved through the line getting food.

"Be Still" Who is that in my head? "Know that I am God." Is it Sophia, The Father, Jesus? It doesn't matter, but my evening has moved in a new direction.

I eat more mindful than I have all week, well I did take a bigger piece of cake than I planned, but what can one do when one finds banana cake. My mom's present to me all those years as a child. The woman who I told to eat to tomato salad walks by with a piece of cake, I give her a silent thumbs up. She smiles with me. I am not in this alone.

I move to my room and start my third reflection of the day. Yesterday I wrote a letter from Sophia, today I write her back. My hand tires and I want to take this stillness outside where I see what may be warblers and hear what surely is a red-bellied woodpecker. God the Creator is here too. I walk by some fresh cement and the punk in me wants to spell out, "IGGY WAS HERE."

Something is welling up as I sit watching the sun set, I need to go back to Sophia. I tell her about the urologist and now I am crying about this wound from my childhood. Three years ago I spent an 8 day retreat slowly bringing Mary and Jesus, and then my dad nd later even the doctor showed up in his own office with tears running down his face. We cried all week. How many images of God do I need to bring here? Is there room for Sophia and The Father?

I pull out A Man isn't supposed to cry by Joe Williams. It is the last track on the CD. I randomly choose track 4 and one of my favorite standards floats into my head.... I'm Through With Love. I love the line about placing one's heart in an "icy Frigidaire."

I have three more full days of silence left. Where am I going to place my heart? Every image of God I can imagine is blocking my path to the refrigerator.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Dancing with Don Byron and Sophia

A Sophia Spiral
at Wernersville
Jesuit Center

Sister Maria is still directing me even though I admitted to her this morning some of my negative thoughts on those who dump the other images of God and only keep the feminine. But she asked for me to read a letter I wrote to Sophia and I didn't edit it as I read aloud, though I worried I would offend. She just get like a good Jesuit and says that's "great, you have to be willing to share your desolations." She even asks if I would read scripture tomorrow and I say, "Yes."

Here, the building sweats with us. At mass today they say, it is going to be 97 degrees and the humidity is 99%. Then to point out more of what I wished I had not noticed, they say, "The floors are slippery." There are sections of this building where the condensation is impressive; small puddles have formed. So I doodle early to try to beat the heat in my third floor room and for the third straight day, I feel I have drawn an inspired doodle.

Today's shows light creeping though a mass of darkness. The darkness is the gate that protects my heart from helpful things like God. Today I imagine it is Sophia, then a thought comes to mind and when you are being silent many of those happen... Maybe it is Sophia looking through and I am the light. who knows.

I had chosen a Don Byron CD to listen to while doodling and lie down to finish it off. Some of his jazz sounds like klezzmer music, but this doesn't and for a moment I am wondering if I am hearing a tuba. I take out the liner notes and see he is playing a bass clarinet in what is a duet with jazz pianist Uri Caine. They are playing "Reach Out I'll Be There" which sounds like a 70's pop tune, but the title is what I have been hearing from God. I read more of the line notes. Byron does everything from Roy Orbison and Stevie Wonder to Schumann, from Ornette Coleman to Mancini, Sondheim, and ends with Chopin. I realize that this jazz album states it all for me these silent days. Byron is open to many. I want to be open to many. I quake and tears fall. It is rare for me but every so often God finds a wound opens it up and in the pain and joy tears fall.

Sophia is Wisdom is God. Sophia as described in Chapter of the Book of Wisdom says begins with a sincere desire for instruction. She is what drives us to want to know more about our faith. Anytime we need wisdom to to do what is right, to know what to say, to love more fully, she is there for us. What does your heart desire to know?

At lunch I am finding God in a cherry tomato salad. These tasty gems have to be local. There is a woman sitting a few feet from me. She has tomatoes on her sandwich and in her green salad, but none of the salad. I resist for a bit, but finally when I get up to clear my plates, I lean over and shattering the silence, I whisper, "God desires you to have some of the cherry tomato salad."

The woman looks up and says, "Does SHE really." The smile that shines on her face is as great as the salad.

Being a prophet of a God with many names, I say, "Yes she does," and walk away back into the silence, where many more thoughts awaited me.

Friday, August 24, 2007


tower on the Jesuit Center
Wernersville, PA

OK, so I am going to resist the world especially a desire to know what other think of Sophia and how the Phillies are doing, but use the blessing of the computer at the Jesuit Center to keep up with my Blog.

two days of silence and I have not been given a Bible scripture to reflect upon; I should have had 6 bu now. Sister Maria seems to be knowing what she is doing as she directs me to Sophia, and though I don't know much of anything about Sophia, I have at least figured out that it is a feminine image of God. Well, that's the name of the retreat I signed up for with a strange heart. Sister Maria is trying to have me open it.

On the night I got here she gave me a prayer by Joyce Rupp (and yes, she is the reason I walk these halls with a beautiful mug made by a friend). That night as we sat in silence, that would be my fellow retreatants and myself the lone male, I change the pronouns to include all.

On the first full day Sister Maria had me bring Sophia into three aspects of my life which I have brought into silence. The administrators at my school who are supporting my desire to get a degree in spiritual direction, my relationship with my students, and missing Margaret. It goes well. I realize the students are at times like the wedding guest who is not dressed properly and gets thrown out (that day's Gospel), but I then take it further to the importance of the reentering of the kingdom or of my classroom. Can I greet the students like the father greets the prodigal son? The importance of missing Margaret strikes more after I call her, in a moment of clarity that could have come a lot sooner, I realize I need to call her as much for my own sake as for hers and if I look at it that way, I may have a better attitude while doing it.

This morning I tell Sister Maria I resisted the urge to go to the library to research who exactly this Sophia I am praying to is. She encourages that behavior. Provides no scripture to help me and says to keep listening for Sophia. I listen to Madeleiene Peyroux sing "I am going to sit write down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you, going to write words oh so sweet, they are going to knock me off my feet...." wow, I say that's what Sister Maria wants me to do, so I take the poem by Joyce Rupp and rewrite it as if it is written to me, and yes the words are sweet and full of love.

Later during my evening prayer, I read the letter and respond to it line by line. It's all about mindfulness and opening one's heart and about God's desire, Sophia's desire to be with me. And after two days my attitude is bared to Sophia. I came here because OTHER folk believe in this stuff, and it will help me in working with them. Once again I am afraid of what will happen to ME if I believe in a feminine image of God. Will, I become new age and move to Santa Fe, or possibly will I be a man with a more complete image of God who hangs out with Episcopalians in Lansdale. who knows anything, but there are five full days of silence yet to go and I may yet get a Bible passage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

packing for silence

late gift-- chocolate
two of my favorite mugs,  I take the one in the background to Wernersville

M looks at the dining room table and says, "It looks like you are going away for a week."

I am and I will be silent for most of it. There are many tough parts of an eight day silent retreat and saying good bye is close to the top.

Wondering why you paid money to do such a thing at the beginning, and leaving the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA when it is over are two other difficult things.

The dining room table is loaded. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. There are six items that did not make it on my first 8 day retreat in 2004, but I made note of it and have taken them ever since. And there is one new item I hope to be able to find.

The six:
Jazz to inspire me while doing art
My own mug for water and tea
clothing to exercise
an autobiography, this time by Dorothy Day
a bottle of port, to sip while doing my examen
envelopes to write M a few letters

the one:
my pool stick if I can find it.

My hope is that I can be mindful. That I can slow down, feel what is in my heart, present it to God, and then listen to what happens next.

My anxiety about the gardens being dry has been destroyed by three days of rain. I probably won't even do my normal drive to the school halfway through the retreat.

The silence will be broken three time a day. Meeting with my spiritual director for an hour, singing and praying at mass, and calling M at night to say good night. This makes my absence easier, especially for her. The first time I did not call her, but I kept connected by writing an epic letter which I gave her on my return home.

This is my hope. This is what I can imagine happening. I am answering the call to be still in order to know God. I come home knowing myself better and introduce M to what I have learned. I love her for understanding and respecting my need to do this. It all starts with saying good bye and one last day of teaching.

Monday, August 20, 2007

teaching today amongst the rage

Cucumber plants looking great
Cucumber plants under protective cover

I had two students run from my classroom today and this time I had nothing to do with it. #1 fled when sprayed in the face by a water bottle, which I am guessing was accidental fire but I can't say with 100% certainty. It was her way of dealing with rage... stay and attack or run outside. #2 fled when the student he had fought with earlier in the day showed up for class. "I can't be in the same room." Again it was a coping strategy for rage. At this point I said, "I don't care how wet it is outside, the rain has stopped for a moment. Lets get cucumbers."

Earlier in the day, rage had led to a fight between a couple, one of whom had fled from my room a couple weeks ago when she felt that I had ignored her. She had refused to come back for a couple of days. I got a call from her therapist saying that this student had asked if she could spend more time than normal in my class today because I had a calming classroom.

Later in the day the student I blogged about on Saturday showed up in my class. I said, "cool shirt." Not because my ego is huge and I say it every time I see someone wearing the shirt I had designed for a school fund raiser. No, it was because I saw it as a sign of forgiveness. Surely a student angered at me would burn the shirt not wear it.

This is my life these days. Watching fires erupt and watching them burn out, while hoping to see life come out of the ashes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My garden in 2007, one of my best efforts

These are the same places, different vantage points of my backyard. M took the first from her studio.

The second photo is the best I have done this year at trying to capture a wide view of the garden.

Tonight I got to this line in 1 Samuel 16: 7--
"Take no notice of his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him; God does not see as humans see; they look at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart."

When I take the view from our second floor I see the places I have yet to fill. We have been here three years and each year we buy some more plants and the garden evolves. These empty places bring me angst. Am I looking like a human when I focus on the imperfections?

two brief conversations come to mind.

At church today our back from vacation rector jokingly asked if I had given them hell in my previous week's sermon. I said, "No, I gave them hope."

He said, "That's good. There is enough hell to go around." I agree, sermons don't have to make us feel guilty. I hope I didn't do that. The garden doesn't need my damnation either.

A few years ago, walking from the garden back to my classroom, a student says, "Mr. Stratz, I am either annoying you or I am making your day."

I said, "You are right. And I guess it is all up to me to decide which one it is."

Student: "Yes it is."

So, the garden can make my day or ruin my day. I will have to decide.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A job title does not make a saint

At his site Brainwaves, Jim draws a fine picture of the time consuming aspects of being a special education teacher. As someone who hates paper work I sure made a mistake, but it was more stumbling into a job than a thought out life plan.

I could easily have an ego problem from the list of positive attributes that folk assume I have when I tell them I am a teacher of those with special needs. On more than one occasion I have been called saintly. My wife has a thing or two to say if she is in the room, as do I.

Thursday night was a rough examen of the day. Not acknowledging the anger of finding out that parents night is on the "wrong" date this fall, anxious to get away for a luncheon, overwhelmed by the largest class I have all week, and embarrassed by a phone call telling me one of my students had been using a photocopier in a building where special needs students shall not stray; all led to a less than perfect conversation. Fifteen minutes later I was sitting in the room the student had fled to and now I was listening. This time I was more mindful. I asked some right questions and then I heard the word trust in my head. I did not stop to rationalize that this student had no reason to trust me at that moment, but I went for it anyway. I asked him to trust that I did not want to see him so upset. I asked him to trust that my anger had subsided and that I would not bring the incident up again in the future. I told him that I trusted him to use the photocopier across the hall in the future. I asked him to trust me.

On Friday I saw him and called him over because this story was not over and I wanted him to make lavender fudge. Yes, one of the beginnings of this story was me handing out samples of lavender fudge made by my cooking club and his request to photocopy the recipe.

I said, "Stop by later because if you want to use that recipe you will need some dried lavender."

When he got back from his field trip, he did. Thursday night I was full of self-condemnation for being less than perfect, but still recognizing something had happened that was positive. Friday, I was just happy that the young man trusted me enough to get some lavender.

If being a saint means being perfect, then I have failed yet again and all those Catholic parents hoping for a Saint Wayne to name their children after, will have to look elsewhere. For me this is a reminder of the trust we can have in a loving God, even when things are not perfect in our world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

between a red wagon and the stratosphere

Wayne Stratz at Rhoads Gardens on 202
On Saturday my neighbor asks, "Do you have room for 20 perennials?"

On this I can answer with certainty. "Yes and many more."

But what about the time to plant them. Well it is Wednesday now and I just got done planting numbers 12 through 16.

Three cheers for Rhoads Gardens in North Wales. Last year we discovered their red wagon sale. Its how they dump off perennials at the end of the season on people such as I. I got twenty for fifty dollars. I have also been trying to give my garden a good soaking. It hasn't been too dry this summer so I think it has been limping along and when I have watered; it has not been deeply. I know better and I should have heard the garden speaking to me. It did finally get my attention.

On the way into Rhoads, M caught the name of the perennial by my left arm. Stratospheres was the variety of this Gaura . Well that takes me way back and into the present. Most of my nicknames have centered around my last name, for there is not much one can do with Wayne. At my first college, I was nicknamed Stratospheres because of Springsteen's line about taking month long vacations there, then Stratos. I guess my friend saw me as "a cosmic kid in full costume dress." Not exactly the proudest moments of my life and when the college asked me to leave, I had no choice and left Stratos behind me in Grove City. So now I deem myself Stratoz with a z, for I always liked the nickname, but not my behaviors at the time. The z is important reminder of how one can change radically.

So who knows where we are all headed. 25 years ago I was lost in the stratosphere, 10 years ago I didn't go to church, 8 years ago I didn't even own a house plant, and now my heart leaps for joy when the red wagon is full.

looking down at the red wagon

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

closure by Julian

photo by Leo Reynolds

Ok, so one benefit of living half of a block from your church is that with 12 minutes to go before service, I can say, "I need a mystic, and Julian of Norwich will guide me."

I trust Julian because I recently wrote a paper in which I reflected on Jesus meeting up with the Samaritan woman at the well. I chose Julian from the four mystics we studied in the class and every time I needed some insight Julian was there for me. I found her writings and started looking. Ok, yes this wasn't fair to the woman growing anxious at the church wondering if I was going to show up to sermonize, but by the time the service was over she was thanking me for preaching.

At one point my hands were shaking a bit, and I needed two hands to steady my notes, but the practice at home in the kitchen paid off. It flowed and I truly felt appreciated by my friends at Holy Trinity.

so how did it end? This is what Julian suggested and I went with it:

"And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well."
and so with hope we can take on our doubts because they may be made well with faith in a God who can make the invisible become visible.

And, yes, my conditional friend showed up and tonight she stopped by for tomatoes, basil, and chives. I made no conditions but accepted the offer to try the tomato pie she plans to make with our bounty. When I went outside to garden, I could not have imagined watching her young children running laps on M's stepping stones as I cut fresh herbs. Life is good for I feel blessed.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

comings- final sermonizing

Coreopsis Bloom
Jesus, self-described as a thief in the night, will come a second time. This weeks gospel (Luke 12:32-40) tells me so. The message is clear. Be awake. Be in the present moment. Be aware. Be mindful. Be in relationship with God.

One wonders why. Surely one would not miss this event. Prophesies of this great event have the dead being raised, last judgments being passed out, new ages beginning, and a new Jerusalem with come down out of heaven.

Maybe Jesus doesn't want us to be shocked. If we are ready, then it will be smooth sailing?

And whether or not it will happen while I am alive is a huge uncertainty in my mind. Odds seem to say it would not be a safe bet.

Maybe Jesus was a trickster and knowing the benefits of being mindful and being in relationship with God he came up with this thief in the night story. If it was a trick, it does great things even if it is hard work. The thoughts, that come into my mind, guide me into more intimate relationships or onto healing paths. The other night I turned back to my basic teaching desire: create a place of joy for my students. It came while doing what Saint Ignatius called a daily examen. I faced an interaction I regretted with a student and asked for the strength to move into better relationship with all of my students. The next day, when a student said, "You are in a great mood today." I felt blessed.

This morning I had a thought... get away from the computer and visit your garden. I took my pruner and camera with me. While dead heading our coreopsis a flower spoke to me. Well it caught my attention and as M just said it made for "one funky picture."

These are the comings that arrive when we are mindful of our faith. Our hope is to be ready to catch them like a thief in the night.

conditional visits with my friend

anaheim chiles which I grew and then arranged
A friend called twice the other night. First time I answered and got the condition. You can come for dinner if you bring refried beans.

Later the phone rang and M answered and heard the condition. This time my friend was checking on a rumor she heard that I was giving my first ever sermon this Sunday. If true she was changing plans and coming to church. I guess I'll see her there since I plan to meet her condition, again.

Hope and faith have been firing spiritual neurons in my brain this week. God creates from the invisible I am told. I love this.

Things I can't see or even imagine are possible. So lets stick with what I can imagine for now.
When I flip through seed catalogs with my students, we are filled with hope. I hand them a seed and say there is an embryo in there waiting to come forth. Faith. We plant out the annuals and veggies and hope that the garden we imagined in December will become a reality. God desires it. It may come forth to fruition.

I grow Anaheim or New Mexican green chilies every year. And every year I have hope that I will be roasting them in August. Those posted above these words made it into my friend's refried beans. My conditional friend from Texas has faith in my ability to make refried beans and she smiled upon me on Friday. Have faith and hope and blessings may occur. Or maybe they won't, but one can hope again.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

new boss the same as the old boss

"I'm not an angry young man anymore," I say to my students when they ask why we don't listen to rock and roll in my classroom. But that doesn't mean the lyrics have left my brain and late last night as I read this Sunday's scriptures, The Who came back and possibly into my sermon. Before I sat down to sermonize I decided I needed some comforting music, nothing agitating for the soul tonight, no Mingus Big Band.

My thoughts are inspired by Isaiah chapter 1. Isaiah is passing on a message from God to wash yourself clean, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.
"Come let us talk this over," God says. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow."

"Yes", I say, "meet the new boss he is the same as the old boss." I don't believe those who say to me that the Old Testament God is mean and the New Testament God is nice. What, God had therapy and became loving 2000 years ago? I don't buy it. My take is that throughout history there has been a fair share of those who choose to view God as an extremely judgmental parent, president, judge, teacher, or friend. Then there are those who see God as loving and forgiving. Isaiah, Jesus, Buechner and Stratoz. After 2000 years of the NT we still have a loud proportion of christians who vote for angry. Fear motivates, but so does love.

Then lately, this thought came to me: if God can love, then why couldn't God get good and angry too. If God has these feelings at all, why be one sided. Isn't life more interesting when we feel a broad range of emotions? Maybe God did go through therapy and has a good handle on the wide range of emotions that is felt while witnessing creation. But just like a good therapist, God is ready to talk things over with us. My hope is that we can handle the emotions that this brings forth.

Yes, I am now an angry, happy, sad, and joyful middle-aged man who is listening to the Modern Jazz

Quartet's take on Bach...


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

sermonizing with Stefon

"Hope has left town, years ago," she says to me. It's all about low morale at work, monthly meetings to improve it, and being a building rep. So I send out e-mails asking for concerns, suggestions, and whatnots, which I sign peace, hope and joy. She e-mails back, mocks peace and joy, but forgets hope. I see her in the hallway, and say, "what about hope?" That is when I find out hope has left town.

"Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen." (Hebrews 11:1) Hmm, guarantee, I connect that to theologians who speak of Christian hope as a hope for eternal life. I see hope as larger than that, but don't see guarantees. I live in the realms of uncertainty. Back to my friend.

She lives with despair and anguish, but seems comfortable there. She enjoys ranting. She thinks I am a tree hugging new-age guy. I say, "What?"

She says, "You know, you garden, listen to jazz, and go on retreats." I say, "Duke Ellington, smelling fresh peppers, and Jesuits do not make me new age." But I seem to be off the beaten path. Add this to it; I believe in hope.

I hope for those unseen realities, both here on earth and after death. I can imagine those unseen realities on earth with more ease, for that is the kingdom I am immersed in at the moment.

Can we hope for a world with a loving God that heals people from their diseases, traumas, chemical imbalances, childhoods, attitudes, hatreds, and demons? Set them free to play in this beautiful world. To experience joy, and then be grateful and hope for more.

"It is by faith that we understand that the ages were created by a word from God, so that from the invisible the visible word came to be." (Hebrews 11:3) See the reality of suffering, hope for healing, imagine that it is possible to become visible, have faith, be grateful for what transpires, feel joy.

Ok, Stefon has shown up. As I sermonize, African Tarentella plays on my stereo. I drove to Harrisburg to listen to Stefon Harris play vibes, for as you know I listen to jazz. Stefon said, "It is true what they say, we are playing up here. Thanks for coming to see us have fun."

Stefon, thanks for having fun.

Monday, August 6, 2007

why expect anything

This is a photo of five male goldfinches on my agastache or commonly called anise hyssop. Well that is what I expected when I grabbed our camera. But the goldfinches flew off into my neighbors Norway Maple and I stood there not so patiently. I decided to harvest a hot pepper for dinner and since I had camera in hand and the goldfinches were elsewhere, I decided to take a photo of the pepper. I placed it onto the fence that keeps three dogs out of my garden in order to get a photo of my neighbor's sunflowers, which by the way is where the goldfinches usually hang out. Well, it appears I have a fuzzy photo of those things and a clear photo of the fence that keeps the three dogs from going into another yard.

On Sunday I walked into church and saw a friend whose daughter goes to college in Buffalo, so I say, "Hey I was just in Buffalo." This in my expectation would lead to a discussion of gardens, architecture, and food. But in my friend's mind it became a reminder that she will be gone to Buffalo this coming Sunday, and that our rector is on vacation, and that all the lay preachers are busy, so she asks, "Can you give the sermon next week?" So, it's Monday night and I am off to read scripture to help me sermonize. I did not expect that either.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The eye of the zinnia

The eye of the zinnia stares at me and captures my attention. "Slow down," it shrieks at me; for it knows it is hard to get my attention as I rush to get the gardening tasks completed. The first zinnia bud spoke to me several years ago where I garden with my students. Now I anticipate seeing them every summer, however, what other buds have I missed?

I am still reading Here and Now by Henri Nouwen and this morning he spoke of being in a hurry:

"I am constantly puzzled by my eagerness to get something done, to see someone, to finish some job, while I am fully aware that within a month or even a week I will have completely forgotten what it was that seemed so urgent. It seems that I share this restlessness with many others."

When I am trying to get all the over-the hill blooms deadheaded, what do I miss in the process? My eyes are so focused on the dead and dying that I know I miss what is becoming. When I explain deadheading, I joke with my students that it is a good thing we don't treat old people the way I treat old flowers. "Get rid of them so we get more blooms." But if I spend all my time searching out the dead and dying, what use is getting more blooms? In the flower garden it is blooms that we want, but first come the buds.

Here are two more I discovered by slowing down with camera in hand:

This is leadwort. I have become a lover of plants that end in wort.

This is a vuurvogel which could sound even better than wort, but I don't know how to pronounce it. Maybe somewhere dahlias are known as a wort.

When one slows down one can experience the moment, the beauty of becoming.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

coming back

On the train to Chris's Jazz Cafe in Philly, I think of coming back to life. New Zealand spinach will do that to you. After clearing a spot in the garden for pac choi, and weeding for a few weeks, I noticed an explosion of plants, and yes, I saw that the NZ spinach had come back to life. I would have to guess from seeds, but I am not certain. Lets say it is a mystery.

Henri Nouwen and a jazzed up version of a gospel tune on my I-Pod come together with the thoughts on resurrected plants. I have a ticket to live a life of joy with God, but I leave the train. The last two days at work felt like that and last night I looked down and saw a new ticket in my hand. It was there all the time, but I had to search it out. I made a cry for help filled with a desire to bring joy into my students' lives. Was today a success? Yes, even if it was not perfect. We had more fun in the garden and the kitchen.

so what is NZ spinach. Tetragonia is its genus. It reminds me of a weed, but it can be removed from an area so it can't be too invasive. It is well adapted to heat and has become a favorite summer cooking green for my colleagues at work and myself at home. My seed catalog tells me that Captain Cook brought it to Europe in the 1770's. They also say to be patient, that they take a long time germinate- to come back to life.