Monday, June 30, 2008

where the old friends were and 34 cards of Peace

In silence I found not only God but many an old friend....The last three posts were written as I retreated with Jesuits in Wernersville, Pennsylvania.

It may have been some other old friends that resulted in my weight gain... banana cream pie, black raspberry ice cream, sticky buns, tiramisu ...

I do lots of art when retreating and though I tend to give a few things away, most always comes home and sits doing whatever a pile of art does that comes home from a retreat center. As I unpacked the prismacolor pencils from my suitcase I heard, "don't take any art work home with you." The voice didn't tell me what to do with the art work.

I made cards. On each I wrote four things:
  2. the date
  4. and a name from the list of retreaters.
I prayed that the cards would not distract me from my retreat or distract others from theirs. Some folk broke silence to say a quick thank you. A few wrote notes. Others were mystified by who Stratoz was. As I came back from shaving the last morning, a note sat at my door.

A seminary student from Pittsburgh was on his way out but wanted to thank me. He would add my wife and me to the prayer list at the seminary. He had remembered a prayer I had put out concerning Mosaic Woman on the day we entered the retreat house.

Now I was amazed for sure. I fell into silence and the connection came. I had been guided to reflect upon Jesus handing me a loaf of bread and sending me out to feed the five thousand. "You are a disciple of Christ after all," said the Jesuit, who was guiding me.

I took that bread and I went to family and friends. I imagined a young woman holding a flood damaged violin at the U of Iowa's music dept, I went to China to feed the mourning parents, then down to those we hold captive in Cuba, and I even gave myself a piece to chew on along the way. Could my art work be that bread?

At the final mass those of us who stayed the distance are given a chance to share a thought. I share mine, some of which I wrote above. A half hour later I am sitting, looking out at the nearly empty parking lot. Stories that came to me after the mass were filling my heart and mind about how my cards had entered the lives of those who had entered into silence. Did I do the right thing by handing out those cards? Will I ever do such a thing again?

All week I had watched a woman in mourning. Her pain was immense. I would close my eyes and ask God to be with her, to bring her comfort. As we shared during that final mass, she told us her story, and the room felt her grief. Out of character, I approached her after the mass had ended. She told me that the card had arrived on the one day she had not found any consolation. She hugged me. Then she amazed me. "I did not have the energy to say prayers for many at the retreat, but I did pray for you and your wife."

Normally I feel connected to those who enter silence with me on these 8 day retreats. This time something bigger happened. Somehow given pencils, color, and paper I had fed some people. I am grateful and in awe of what can happen.

and glad that Michelle Shocked singing HOLY SPIRIT by Victoria Williams just kept coming into my head as I walked in silence. Peace to all those good folk who prayed for me, and thank you for accepting my prayers, my bread, and my hope for peace.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Forgiving Jumping Jerry-- old friends that fly

Red-headed bird

The man had the nerve to put a big red X (it was monstrous) next to BOBOLINK.

Had I known more about rare sightings, I would have understood, but I was a young teen in his biology class who had seen bobolinks several days at the same exact spot... do you want directions?

How many times have I been birdwatching, seen a glimpse of motion, searched for a clear view, said "it's only a robin," and move on in hopes to see something rare... something beautiful? Too many.

I walk outside my house and I see the common. The folk who live on my street. Sometimes I stop. If I walked out and saw Marry Anne from Oregon, Chuck from Illinois, Aqilla from Philadelphia, Dougie from Massachusetts, or Gair from North Carolina... then I would stop whatever I was doing and make time for this rare sighting.

I ventured out to see birds today. No binoculars, no bird guide. Old friends came by to say hello and by their shape, habits, colors, sounds, and size... I could greet them by name. Even the much despised brown-headed cowbird got my attention, but in that moment a eastern kingbird flew over its head. The kingbird landed on a fence causing a bird to take flight. Yes, a robin perched a few sections down and said, "go ahead look at me, I am beautiful, even if I am a dime a dozen here in Pennsylvania."

Jumping Jerry in sharing his passion for birds and requiring all of us to make a list, placed a seed in my heart. 1983 began with me having hit rock bottom, a place where my heart had become icy and blue. Given another chance by parents, I followed my heart and it led me to birds. My heart learned how to care by loving these creatures. I am pleased from what has thus grown from that seed. You are forgiven for the red X, an imperfect man saved me.

And yes, I have seen a bobolink again. Once in 30 years, and it happened on my birthday as I walked by a field of very tall grass. A glimpse of motion caught my eye. An extraordinary blessing, as was this morning's visit from old friends.

And while forgiveness is being spoken of, I ask for yours Jerry. I can't remember where that nickname came from but I don't think is was meant to flatter. 30 years later and I can only hope that I do the same for a student even as they call me an old man as my hair turns gray.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

singing an old friend

It is through hymns that I often have the most emotional response to God, it happened the other day.

I know the hymn from the New Century Hymnal, which was used at the UCC church where I first returned to such places 11 years ago. Isaiah says that God sees us as precious and that mountains cry for joy when we return from far away. It is healing that happens along the way and I am in the mood to celebrate where my life has come to at this point in time. And if I was to celebrate the healing that destroys what keeps us from experiencing joy, peace, hope, and love.... I would want this hymn to be part of it.

The music is old. Beach Spring is a tune that comes from the Sacred Harp tradition, but the words by Ruth Duck are newer...

1. Healing river of the Spirit, bathe the wounds that living brings. Plunge our pain, our sin, our sadness deep beneath your sacred springs. Weary from the restless searching that has lured us from your side, we discover in your presence peace the world cannot provide.
2. Wellspring of the healing Spirit, stream that flows to bring release, as we gain our selves, our senses, may our lives reflect your peace. Grateful for the flood that heals us, may your church enact your grace. As we meet both friend and stranger, may we see our Savior's face.
3. Living stream that heals the nations, make us channels of your pow'r. All the world is torn by conflict; wars are raging at this hour. Saving Spirit, move among us, guide our winding human course. till we find our way together, flowing homeward to our Source.

I love this hymn and the healing power that inspired it.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

an old friend

I revisited Psalm 139 today and it seems like an old friend.

The first section reminded me of how God is everywhere and made me wish for a life where I walked in awareness. Can I keep my senses alive and my mind open to this reality? It is my hope.

The second section reminded me of being part of creation. If God did knit me together, then God missed a stitch here or there and didn't go back to make me perfect. Oh well. I just finished nine months of teaching anatomy and I have decided that my body is as understandable as God is, both can be experienced but not fully understood.

The third part is that part of a friend we may choose to forget about... until we experience it again. The Psalmist speaks of enemies and vengeance and asking for God's assistance in the dirty work. It made me think. Do I have enemies? Should I have enemies?

It made me think of two men standing in line behind Mosaic Woman and myself at the jazz festival. They were being negative about the musicians, the venues, the sound systems... The doors opened late and I stood there wanting to say... "Why are you here? Do you enjoy life at all?"

Then I thought of people I work with who are negative and who I wonder why they work at a place that causes them so much angst?

Are they my enemies? Or are they folk who I can spread joy to if I am aware and stay connected to God?

Friday, June 20, 2008

invitation to all

invitation to all
Originally uploaded by stratoz
I would cross out especially and replace it with "even"

We are back from Rochester, NY where the Jazz continues for all. These words were at the bottom of a sign outside of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, one of the 10 venues where we ended up seeing jazz.

The sign was an invitation for folk to show up for a Jazz Vespers service. I would be there, but I am no longer in New York.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


on the last day of school, do you clean up a cluttered classroom, or cover the garden with floating row covers to protect plants from critters... large and small?

The half eaten potato plant makes that one easy.

When a storm rips though your area the night before a vacation you wonder how those row covers are doing. Did that sweat go for nothing? Sunday morning as you clean the cooler to fill with water bottles you imagine coming back to a garden that has filled a heard of deer. Do you go to the school?

As you drive into the school it appears that the row covers are intact, do you swear and speed out of the school or take a closer look?

You tack the row covers that have partially blown off back down and reinforce the others.

I once read that what makes a garden is perseverance, and I do believe that. Give up and nature reclaims the space soon enough. But why persevere?

I see it the same as a spiritual journey. It is the sticking with it when faced with daily doubts that leads to fruit.

Than there are other choices...

that is where I will be for a few nights as Mosaic Woman and I celebrate our 16th, possibly choosing the wrong concert, but if I persevere this may just be an amazing experience.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

emerging from the heat wave

It was 20 degrees above normal for 4 days starting on Saturday.

Mosaic Woman grew up in Edmonton where the average high in July is 72 degrees and humidity is no big deal. I grew up north of here on a tree covered hilltop, not quite Edmonton, but cooler.

So we melted. and I did not blog.

Monday and Tuesday we were told to keep the students inside... I may have grumbled about the weather, but then a mighty wind blew, our power went out, neighbors and candles filled porches, winds shifted to being from the north, and temps fell 10 degrees. I was gifted with two days to garden.

As I climbed the hill away from the garden with a student who helped weed and mulch a bed of leeks this afternoon, I stopped and turned around. "We did well." A wet cool May put us behind but beds of zucchini, sweet peppers, golden beets, purple carrots, leeks, red onions sweet onions, garlic, new zealand spinach, patty pan squash, basil, dill, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatillos, green beans (2 types in two beds).... await our return in July as do the flowers we planted. Tomorrow is graduation.

Tuesday night I awoke wondering what time it was... then the power came back on a bit after midnight. Thoughts consumed my head so I came down to the computer and wrote my speech which I would read to honor a horticulture student at an awards assembly. My practice of examen came to mind.

My speech started joking about how the student points out my gray hair, and ended something like this...

"As I sat writing this speech my mind drifted to the last thing I do each night. I sit and do an examen of my day. Part of that is remembering things to be grateful for in my life. I can truly say that I am grateful that ........ is in my horticulture class."

Sadly the speech was directed to one student as the rest sat in the audience. That night as I did my examen, I regretted disappointing some in the midst of honoring one.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

after the deluge

First period came today with a student asking for some fresh air and to see nature. I hand the remote to a student, tell all including my assistant that they will now learn about birds, and grab my camera...

... which I had not taken to the school for a while. at home I discover the flies (click it to see them) on the iris and choose 13 in all to highlight at flickr.

two hours later I climb the hill from the garden and find a student missing. anger builds.

But... the last two nights while doing my examen I have written about the sadness around this student. I ask him to stay as the rest leave for lunch. He moans about his birthday blues. I agree that it is sad.

Then I tell him I too am sad. I am sad that after years of being my best worker he has sunk way down the list. I am sad that he will likely not be back in horticulture and that we are ending with me being angry. I say you wanted out, you stayed, but only half-hearted. I tell him that my desire is to not let these last few months ruin how I feel about him.

He thanks me for the talk.

tonight as I examen my day, I am glad for these two students. And glad for the blessing of controlling my anger which can be terse, oh so very terse.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

before and after the jazz

I leap into the conversation..."Do you know the traditional place to plant hollyhocks?"

Left work on Friday and headed to our state capital where the Central PA Friends of Jazz were having their annual festival. They chose good folk and there were plenty of moments where I just sat back, closed my eyes and let the music flow through my brain. It was at those moments that I missed Mosaic Woman, who did not go with me.

Friday before the big show, I headed down to eat some tapas at Suba above Mangia Qui. It was early and I had the place to myself. Twice I left my quiet introverted self behind. Once to ask if the neighborhood was still threatened to be demolished for a new courthouse. It seems another is now threatened.

The two waitresses had a moment of free time and started talking about gardening. My ears perked up and then they began talking hollyhocks.

They don't know the answer to my question so I say, "Next to outhouses." So what are the odds the one waitress has an old outhouse on her property. She has just bought a hoop house and has dreams to start a community supported organic farm. I tell her my job, and in the quiet restaurant we all have a chat about our love of plants as I finish my wine.

Sunday morning, the jazz over, but too little sleep and more coffee and alcohol than normal has me wanting to linger in bed. I need to push myself out the door of my hotel room and walk towards the river. The Holy Eucharist is to be had a few blocks away. The early service at St. Stevens features no music, but I want to head towards home, so I walk in to where I will be greeted warmly. The sermon focuses on education Sunday and addresses the adults. "What have you done in the last year to strengthen your foundation?"

He loses me as I try to think thoughts requiring memory. OK, those who have been with me for this blog... I did eventually remember what I said I missed so much in my last post. The spiritual exercises of Ignatius have strengthened my foundation. I knew this, but it took a moment in a strange church to pause and be grateful. I look up and smile as the man who asked the question makes eye contact.

After the Eucharist I raise my hand to show the world that I am a visitor and announce that jazz has brought me to town. Next thing I know a bag is handed to me with info and cookies.

as for the jazz, I did buy one CD from a very tall German who played harmonica and vibes and is in love with the samba music from Brazil...