Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Unrefined poetry: "With Sighs Too Deep for Words"

No, I do not pray as I ought.
I pray in hopes and wishes,
in wild imaginings of futures,
with Oh! that it migh, be another time and place!

To this the Spirit replies:
Oh?

I think I do not hear,
and so I ask You? or You? or You?,
but when all is No and Next Time
and I am dared to truly wish,
what might have been is now.

What I wished for is not another place and time
but a wholly different feeling,
a total new communion,
something else than what I live in now.

I receive it by grace, but not graciously,
and fighting it, am asked:
Is this not what you wanted?
I say:  I was afraid to say I did.

Then, holy laughter.
O child, she says,
you never have to ask
for me to know.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"You didn't mention God"

(For every Friday at CPE, we bring a "journal entry" about a theological issue we're currently wrestling with.  This is mine for the week, with some links that will help with references...)


"You didn't mention God."
     - a comment on my first chapel talk

For a year I've not written the word,
baptizing a Jewish G-d in the name of
doubting what I have proclaimed.

We speak too casually of
Who is so deep and wide.
We speak too cruelly of
Who is the source of Love.
So I would not speak anymore in His name.

Who is this God of whom I dared
not speak or write?

slaughterer of Egypt's children,
raining fire on Gomorrah?

Guider of the invisible hand
leaving well-crafted watches in woods?

Distant clockmaker, great Physicist,
puller of atomic strings?

Omnipotent, omniscient, eternal,
He beyond all knowing?

Never did the gods
of white and western men
find permanent thrones
in my heart's gold chapel.

For years I supplicated
Son and Spirit alone,
denying space to the Father of the fathers,
to a Mighty Hand in the face of mighty evil,
to Exclusivity in the face of experience,
to Judgment in the face of injustice.

For years I have called upon
the Son who suffered
and the Spirit who soars,
more sure of pain and prayer
than of power.

I wonder now if
in my resistance to war and whitewash
I have been praying
to God all along.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

To the girl who loved herself too little

I swear an oath to you today
to sit with you one night,
not now, but soon.
I will grow arms large and long,
wrap them around you like gold.
I will love all in you that you never loved,
which is to say,
everything.
I will love all in you that is good
for what it is, not what can be made of it.
I will love all in you not yet fulfilled
for what you can become.
I will love all in you that is broken
for what it was,
for what broke it,
for how someday, not now but soon,
you will take the crisp shards
and build a heart much stronger,
build beauty from the brokenness.
I will look into the darkness with you
and be unafraid,
for I have sat in the dark night of my soul
and seen the dawn.
I have walked through the flames
and come out, singed but whole.
So I will sit with you and bear you.
I swear an oath today to love you,
not for any deed or work or thought
but for all the beauty and brokenness
that simply is,
as you are.
I love you, for you
are me and
you are mine.
And you never loved yourself enough,
which is to say,
at all -
but I love you now,
for you are me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The moment I accepted my call

I went to Saint Olaf planning to become a choir teacher.  I declared my major in Music Education well before I bought extra-long twin bed sheets.  I took the requisite exams, signed up for the correct first semester classes - keyboarding for three hours a week, theory for the same, individual piano and voice lessons.  I slaved over theory homework, once spending three hours diagramming chords before going next door and having Sarah look over it only to say:  "You did this all wrong."

But I was also taking other classes, including the first section of "The Great Conversation," a two-year humanities concentration.  The first section is "The Greeks and the Hebrews."  I did not slave over this homework -- I devoured the texts on ancient life, particularly the study of the Hebrew scriptures.

Six weeks into the semester, I knew that I was not ever going to be a choir teacher.  I was a good singer, and an OK pianist, but I lacked any natural skill at theory, and I was bad enough at it that I was beginning to hate music in general.  But I plunged forward, ashamed to admit defeat.  I simply added Religion as a second major, because I am not a quitter and I can totally handle this ... right?

It came time to register for second semester.  The next Great Con class was at a specific time, and when I got to registration, all the Keyboarding II classes were filled except one that was right after Great Con.

It wasn't unusual for keyboarding classes to go over the "Open Seats" limit; all of them had by two or three students in first semester.  They planned for this kind of thing.  It would not be a big deal for me to join a "Full" class so that I would not have to sprint across campus in order to make it on time.  I wasn't even the last section to register - there would be plenty of Keyboarding II students after me who would have to ask for the department chair's signature to allow them to join the class after it had exceeded its limits.

So I had no apprehension about asking him to allow me to join a Keyboarding class that did not require a backpack-laden 600m dash three times a week.

He gave me a disdainful and disinterested look and said:

"This is what happens when you double major.  You have to make choices."

Now, it is true that I was a double major, but the conflicting class was not a religion course - it was part of the Great Conversation and it fulfilled severalgeneral education requirements.

So that annoyed me.

I believe he may also have called me Emily when he said it.

That annoyed me too.

But what really annoyed me was that I was trying to make this work - trying to keep up the facade that I could be a music major - and I had come to a point where I had to accept that I couldn't.

I wasn't cut out for it.

I was cut out for something very different.

I knew that when I was twelve and wanted to be confirmed - wanted to accept the vows made for me by my parents at baptism and become an adult in the church.

I knew it at fourteen when my priest sat on my parents' floral green couch and explained how he would send people who wanted to become priests around the mall in a collar - so that they could experience people's reactions, see and hear and sense the feeling of being set apart.  I remember the mixture of terror and excitement that arose in me at that moment.

I knew it at sixteen when I started attending an AoG youth group, searching for something deeper.

I knew it at seventeen when I read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell:
He did not flinch from the knife.  He cut the thread cleanly, a priest in perpetuity.  God had been generous with him.  He could not stint in return.
And at eighteen, standing there with my unfulfilling registration card in my hand, I finally accepted what my mother had known since I was three:


I was called to be a pastor.

I could pretend all I wanted that I was going to be something else - an author, a librarian, a computer technician, an English teacher, a music teacher, a stage manager - but I'd known for years what my call was.  Trying to do anything else was just too exhausting, because I knew what was going to truly fulfill me, what was going to be me at my most me, and it wasn't music theory and it wasn't C++ and it wasn't the stage and it wasn't the classroom.


I was called to be a pastor.

I went to the library then and looked up all the available religion classes in second semester.  I went to the registrar the next day and dropped Keyboarding II and Theory and my piano lessons.  I added Religion 202:  "Classics and Moderns."  One of my Great Con professors was teaching it, so I thought it would be a good place to start.

On the syllabus for Classics and Moderns was a text I'd never heard of:
Martin Luther, Three Treatises, "On The Freedom of a Christian"
And I would open that red-covered book and read:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
A good place to start, indeed.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When my mother knew

Her story is that I was three.
She was driving me home from a birthday party.  I was sitting in the backseat, strapped into whatever contraption was used for toddlers in 1988.  I’d received a balloon animal at the party - some sort of blob with wings - and was playing with it.
Mom was struggling; she’d been raised Catholic but had left the church in ‘69, and we didn’t worship anywhere at the time.  I’d been baptized (Roman Catholic, by my uncle Father Maynard) and she was trying to figure out how to raise me with a sense of Christian faith without a lot of dogma and doctrine.
Somehow the topic of G-d came up; she doesn’t remember how.  
I responded and referred to G-d as He.
Mom looked in the rearview mirror and said:
“Emmy, do you think [G-d] is a boy?”
I looked at her and replied:
“Mom, [G-d] is like my balloon animal.  If you look at it this way, it’s a butterfly.  But if you turn it this way, it’s a bee.”
Mom apparently pulled over, looked at me, then looked up at the sky and wondered Who is this child and where did she come from?
She decided she was going to have to read a lot more books.
And that, according to my mother, is when she knew that I was going to end up in the service of G-d.