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.