Unexpected Teachers

This post was featured in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego’s weekly “Salt & Light”

A friend of mine who’s offered writing workshops in a prison for years, tells me her ministry has been more about her own transformation than that of the men she works with. She says these people, seen as throwaways by the rest of the world, are actually some of the most real, most open, most generous human beings she has spent time with. I understood that intellectually.

Up until about year ago, our meal program at St. Andrew’s, Encinitas was on Fridays, but because Fridays are my Sabbath, I was seldom able to attend. Since moving the program to Saturdays, I’ve not only witnessed the wonderful energy boost in our base of ecumenical volunteers, as they see how happy people are to receive clothes, a shower, a haircut AND a hot breakfast, all in one place, I’ve befriended many of our guests.

At first, I think I had an unconscious expectation that I’d feel gratified by being of service. Instead, these guys (there are a few women, but the guests are predominately male) teach me about generosity. One would think that with no job, few possessions, and little money, they’d have nothing to give. What they have, however, and what they give so freely of, are their hearts and spirits.

On Thanksgiving Day, for example, as we were preparing to serve dinner at St. Andrew’s, our friends were making their way to us on foot—despite the torrential downpours outside. Once inside, we invited them to relax in our “Cozy Corner”. Sitting on sofas and bean bags, they were enjoying the warmth of a small space heater.

I offered to add a movie to the mix, but, between maneuvering through the Smart TV menu, and locating my Netflix password, at least 15 minutes passed. Looking back from the screen to those gathered, I apologized for taking so long. But the only thing I saw on their faces were looks of contentment. In fact, one of them said, “Oh, that’s alright. We’re inside; we’re warm; and it’s entertaining just watching you.” Wow! Imagine what life would be like if we all were as generous in spirit!

During this season of Christmas, many things will distract us from what really matters. If we let them, these things will take up the space in which hope, generosity and joy should reside. Here’s a quote to help keep you grounded. It’s from Richard Rohr’s Preparing for Christmas: “The ‘joy that the world cannot give’ (John 14:27) always comes as a gift to those who wait for it, expect it and make room for it inside themselves.”

May you have a blessed Christmastide!

BREATHING DEEPLY IN FRANCE & ITALY

Apologies for those who were checking this space for updates on my epic European Adventure. A week into my sabbatical, I realized that worrying about what to post here would be the antithesis to the rejuvenation to be found in a sabbatical. Additionally, wi-fi coverage was spotty throughout my trip, so posting was more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. Instead, I dove fully into the experience. Here are a few poems I wrote during that time. Now that I’m stateside again I’m hoping to say more about my travels soon. In the meantime, blessings on your journey…wherever it is currently taking you!

Sabbatical Haiku
I am learning to
do nothing and in return
not a thing happens

Italian Landscapes
Poppy heads blowing
Italian Stone Pines stand tall
clouds and skies roll by

St. Clare’s Influence
Having sat longer
my mind is moving slowly
aware of so much

The Sabbatical Begins

Day one: I’m giddy, nervous and really touched by the love I’m feeling from the parish as we say goodbye for the next 12 weeks.

Day two: I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, feeling guilty and wondering if I really want to be away from my home for the entire month of May. What’s going on? Well, for over a year now, a small group of parishioners at St. Andrew’s and I have been planning my sabbatical. And now it’s here!

When we began applying for the grant that would fund our Congregational and Clergy Renewal Program, about all we knew for sure is that I would be rejuvenated by train rides, spending time in beautiful places, laughing with friends, and writing, while my faith would be nourished by visiting sacred sites and learning about the saints, so we came up with a title that would leave room for the details to evolve: “The Redemptive Stories God is Writing Through our Lives: Personal Paths to Everyday Sainthood”.

The phrase about redemptive stories came to me through an unexpected conversation with the ATF guy (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) assigned to our case after we had two fires on our campus in 2016. As I shared my sadness that Tyler, the young man charged with three felony counts of arson, would spend all of his 20s in prison, Matt replied, “well, we have no way of knowing what redemptive story God is writing through his life.”

“Wow!”, I thought, “I’m the priest, but it’s the federal investigator speaking hope into the situation!” And that phrase has been rolling around in my mind and heart ever since.

Each year the Lilly Endowment awards 125 renewal grants in an effort to enhance and sustain congregations across denominations. The program is described as: “an opportunity for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily parish life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for drinking again from God’s life-giving waters, for regaining enthusiasm and creativity for ministry.”

So, during my time away, I will drink the life-giving water through: a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saints Clare & Francis in Assisi, Italy, visiting sites related to other saints in Italy and France, a memoir-writing retreat a few hours west of Toulouse, France, and reconnecting with family and friends in Seattle, Portland and Montana (including the annual Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede, of course!!). During the weeks when I’m not travelling, I’ll also be facilitating a six-session writing workshop with the women of Alabaster Jar Project (a program that supports women who have survived Human Trafficking) helping them discover the redemptive stories in their lives.

I fly to Rome on Friday and plan to post a few times a week over the course of my sabbatical, so I hope you’ll join me on my journey. If you want to read along with me, two of the books in my European travel bag will be: Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Rohr, Richard and The St. Clare Prayer Book: Listening for God’s Leading by Jon M. Sweeney.

SABBATH MOMENTS

Several years ago, I was intrigued by the idea of being “5-minute artists”, which I believe I read in one of Angeles Arrien’s books.  The premise was that, while we might not have time to work on an art project all day long, that we could experiment with carving out snippets of time in our lives to do that which feeds our soul.  I recently discovered a similar idea in Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath

Describing Sabbath as “a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of Spirit and eternity,” Muller suggests that we find “Sabbath moments”.  This morning I took the first of what I hope will be regular morning beach walks to demonstrate my commitment to find ways of feeding my soul.  What might your “Sabbath Moment” include?