endings and beginnings

Last Wednesday I saw my spiritual director for the last time.

That’s not quite true, but it in some ways it felt like it. On Epiphany she is retiring from her position as rector of the parish she has served for many years. We had been meeting via FaceTime on our iPads since a year ago August when my company closed the campus where I had my cubicle. But last Wednesday I went to her office at Saint Where-she-has-been-serving Episcopal Church. It was of course the last time for us to meet there, and since she is taking January off I did not, as usual, check my calendar to schedule our next appointment at the end of our session.

The good news is that she is continuing her spiritual direction work. Though she doesn’t know what her February schedule will look like, she told me that she will contact me in January about meeting then. And she has affiliated herself with a nearby Presbyterian church which has a strong spiritual direction program, so we can meet in person when appropriate.

Rather than writing a check to the church with a notation for the rector’s discretionary fund, I’ll be writing a check to an individual. But I’ll still have a spiritual director.

I’m delighted about that.

getting there

3 Advent

I almost didn’t make it to church yesterday. I turned off the alarm at 6:59, one minute before it was to go off, and lay in bed for a few minutes before I got up to feed Tasha. When I came back upstairs, I looked at the bathtub and looked at the bed. The bed won. I set the alarm for 8:45 and figured that I could get up, take a soak in the tub, have breakfast, and take Tasha for her walk, since Terry had been recovering from a cold. Then I could pick up our New York Times and hit Trader Joe’s. It was cold, after all. Besides, at church we were still singing that somber Kyrie, which I think is fine for Lent, but to me doesn’t seem quite right for Advent. Yet at 7:29 I turned off the alarm and got out of bed. It was after all Gaudete Sunday, and I really didn’t want to miss that, did I? And besides when I miss Communion something is missing from my week. I made up for the lost time by taking a shower rather than enjoying my usual tub soak.

For the Third Sunday in Advent in Year A, congregations are given the option of saying part of Psalm 146 or the Magnificat from Luke 1. (“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…”)  As it turned out, we sang Psalm 146 in the spot for the Psalm, but our opening hymn was a beautiful appreciation of the Magnificat. Really beautiful. And the candle for 3 Advent was rose-colored. Well worth getting out of bed for.

And of course there is Communion. My week really is out of kilter when I miss Communion. So I made it there, and I am glad that I did.


Sacred Music Friday: Creator of the Stars of Night

Ely Cathedral Choir

Crossing the Bay of Bengal

BayBengalCrossing the Bay of Bengal
Sunil S. Amrith
Kindle Edition  $16.17, Amazon Hardcover  $26.78
368 pages
Harvard University Press

I enjoy books that cover the history of a certain geographical region. I’ve been reading them for quite a few years. I remember taking a book on the Black Sea with us when we took a Catalina and Ensenada cruise in the mid-1990’s.

I was intrigued, therefore, when I read a positive review of Crossing the Bay of Bengal in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Initially the book was not available in Kindle format, but a Kindle edition showed up recently. I was a tad disappointed.

The book was interesting, to be sure. It covers the interaction of people in India on one side of the bay and what is now Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia on the other. Amrith goes back to the earliest crossings of the Bay, through the colonial period, and on to the present day. Still, I felt that the content was thinner, if you will, than I would have liked.

The book was actually shorter than the page count would suggest, as there is a lot of back matter, including a glossary, notes, list of abbreviations, and index.

If this region is of particular interest to you, you’ll likely enjoy the book. If it presents only a passing interest, there are probably other books more worthy of your time.

on worry and getting past worry

I’ve always been a worrier. It drove my parents crazy. It has driven me crazy at times. In recent years I have done better, but it’s easy to lapse back into worry. Of course the things I worry about are generally things I can do nothing about. Like Congress trying to destroy the U.S. economy because the Republicans hate Obama and the Democrats hate the Republicans. Or the lack of rain in Northern California. Or being hit by the next wave of workforce reduction at my job. It’s helpful for me to remember the Zen proverb (which I frequently fail to do):

quote If the problem has a solution, worrying is pointless, in the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry, because it can’t be solved.

I came across this on Facebook from the good folks at Weavings Journal:

quote Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cared for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
—St. Francis de Sales

That helps too. And it reminds me of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by Matthew.

quote Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

We’ve seen these words so many times that it’s often easy not to really hear them.

Staying in the present moment is so important, but not always easy to do. Sometimes, though, I can get there. The Matthew passage reminds me this:

Yes, I know I’ve posted this more than once before, but I like it a lot and it helps put things in perspective for me.

Here’s to letting go of worry.

NPR’s Book Concierge

NPR released a cool new tool for book readers last week. They call it their NPR’s Book Concierge. Books are grouped into 26 categories, which is nice in and of itself, but the cool thing is that each book is tagged in multiple categories so you can mix and match. For example, you can find books that are both Seriously Great Writing and Biography & Memoir. Or you could select Science & Society combined with NPR Staff Picks. The list of categories is quite broad.

NPR Staff Picks Biography & Memoir Book Club Ideas
Comics & Graphic Novels Cookbooks & Food Eye-Opening Reads
Family Matters For Art Lovers For History Lovers
Funny Stuff Historical Fiction It’s All Geek To Me
Kids’ Books Let’s Talk About Sex Love Stories
Mysteries & Thrillers Poetry & Short Stories Rather Long
Rather Short Realistic Fiction Science & Society
Science Fiction & Fantasy Seriously Great Writing Tales From Around The World
The Dark Side Young Adult

One word of caution. The tool works great on my PC, but not so much so on my iPad. It would be great if they released iOS and Android apps for this. The book folks at NPR said that they were getting burned out doing “best of” lists at the end of the year, so they came up with this. I’m glad they did.

It’s not like I don’t have plenty of samples on my iPad Kindle app, but this is a different way of categorizing the books NPR discussed in 2013, and it’s really kind of fun.

Check it out. I think you’ll like it.

on Advent

2 Advent

I love Advent. Especially in years like this one when the Season after Pentecost is especially long.

But Advent is not Christmas. The lectionary readings for the first couple of Sundays of Advent can be kind of rough. This is Year A, the year of Matthew. I’ve always thought Matthew was the harshest of the four gospels, and nothing in the readings for the first two Sundays of Advent does anything to alter that opinion. Last week we heard Matthew 24: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Yesterday It was John the Baptist in Matthew 3: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Tough stuff, indeed.

I don’t follow the daily lectionary, but Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Day by Day wrote the December reflections this year and commented:

quote I picked Advent … before I remembered what’s in the daily office lections for the month. Zoinks. It’s not all fun and games. Woe to those who say Advent isn’t penitential!

I spent ten  years in exile from the Episcopal Church off in the Lutheran Church where the color for Advent is Blue, to indicate expectation. The color in the Episcopal Church is still purple. My spiritual director, Linda, an Episcopal parish priest, tells me the color can be seen as royal purple. And I did see on Facebook a picture of an Episcopal clergy person in a beautiful blue vestment.

At St. John the Divine, the approach is more penitential. No altar flowers in Advent (as in Lent), and we sing the Kyrie, which we only sing in those two seasons.

At Good Shepherd Lutheran, Pastor Koch was adamant that we did not sing Christmas songs during Advent. I internalized that, and became a bit of a snob. Linda reminded me once that I am not the Advent police. And indeed, I loosened up a bit last year because in times of stress and frustration Christmas music can be soothing and healing.

Linda spoke to her congregation on Advent 1 about the Advent police. She says, “For some reason, the Advent police seem to take greater pleasure in seeking out infractions than seeking out the Christ Child.” An easy trap to fall in to.

Linda goes on to say:

quote I’ve noticed that there’s not much any of us can do to control Advent and Christmas. Just like babies, Advent and Christmas seem to arrive in their own time, not ours. Despite our tight-gripped control of our calendars, they are not as predictable as we would like to believe. There have been years in my life when neither Advent nor Christmas became a reality for me. There have been years when my Advent extended almost to Easter and other years when I’ve been struck by Christmas in the middle of summer or on a day filled with falling leaves. You may have had similar times when your own experience doesn’t quite coincide with the season or with what seems to be going on with those around you. The thing is—God shows up when God shows up, and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Now there is a liberating thought.

Maybe we need to get away from all those rules about Advent and focus of waiting and expectation. Maybe the lectionary does not have the correct approach in its focus on penitence.

Marcus Borg writes about Advent:

quote Seeing Advent as a penitential season strikes me as unfortunate. It is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity: namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness….That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent. Christianity and Advent are about so much more. The central themes of the stories of Jesus’s birth … are hardly at all about sin and our need for forgiveness.

These themes include, Borg says:

  • Liberation from bondage
  • Return from exile
  • Light in the darkness
  • Yearning and fulfillment

He expands on these themes in his initial Advent post, and promises more on them throughout Advent.

Useful reflections as we wait for the coming of the Light.

I leave the final word to my spiritual director Linda:

quote One again, we begin the journey to Christmas. Jesus is coming. There’s no telling what will happen. Sing a little carol! Stay awake!

Sacred Music Friday: Prayer of the Children

Kurt Bestor’s Prayer of the Children, The Concordia Choir, Dr. René Clausen, Conductor, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.

another kitchen topic

Here’s why I was rearranging things in the cabinet and actually “saw” those FoodSaver canisters that I hadn’t used in ages.

Terry and I independently and within a few days of each other both got aggravated by our wire whisks getting caught in a drawer that was too shallow to properly store them. We decided that they belonged in the utensil canister, but that was way oversubscribed already. Meanwhile I had ordered our second Tovolo spoon, plus a Rachael Ray spoon and ladle set that Terry had caught on her show, each having a cool slot in the handle meaning they can be parked on the side of the pan.


We made a trip to the Outlets. Now we had lost our two kitchen stores there, which made us quite unhappy, but another one had opened up in a different part of the complex, and we had not yet taken the time to visit it. We went in, and, wow! Quite the candy store for the kitchenophile! But, using all of our willpower, we stayed on mission. We found a stainless steel canister larger than our current one, which rang up at a dollar less than the sticker price. Not bad. We made our getaway before we did any serious damage.

utensilsWe decided to use both canisters, and I decided that the trivet that the old canister was sitting on should go into the cabinet. Hence the rearranging.

But we now have two canisters for our utensils, so they can all play together nicely. We have two Tovolo spoons, and the Rachael Ray park-on-the-pan set. Nice additions to our kitchen.

two kitchen topics

Kitchen Topic 1

I wrote a while back about how much we liked our Oneida kitchen utensils and about how I was not able to find that style any longer. I ordered what looked to me to be the next best thing from Amazon, a mixing spoon made by Tovolo. Terry and I both really ended up liking it, even though it’s not really like the Oneida at all. We used it constantly and it seemed like it was often in the dishwasher when we wanted to use it. I recently another one from Amazon.

Both will get a lot of use.


Kitchen Topic 2

I am sure you have this same experience. Things around the house have been sitting there for a long time. You look at all the time and eventually you don’t see them anymore. Our FoodSaver canisters sitting in a cabinet constituted such a case for me.

foodsaverWe use our FoodSaver all the time. We use the plastic rolls that we make into bags to vacuum seal leftovers or the boneless chicken breasts we stock up on at Rocca’s. Everything goes into the freezer. The FoodSaver also has a vacuum tube, however, and it came with a number of canisters to which you connect the tube and create a vacuum in order to store food in the fridge. These can’t be frozen. When I first got the FoodSaver I bought a few additional canisters as well because I thought I would be using them a lot. It turns out I haven’t been.

I was doing some rearranging the other day and I actually “saw” those canisters. I was hit by a feeling of guiltcanisters for not using them. The fact is that the way we’re doing things works for us, though I do have a tinge of guilt as well about the use of all that plastic. In any case, it’s not like I can give those canisters to Hope Services, our Goodwill-like charity. They’re pretty much useless without the FoodSaver, and I’m certainly not giving up my FoodSaver.

It turns out that there is an upside to all this. We had a bunch of things that Terry brought home from her grandmother’s place in rural Northeastern Oklahoma when she died in December 2001. They were in storage, but we closed out the storage unit some months back and brought everything home. There were three wonderful old cast iron frying pans that Terry brought into the kitchen. The only space available was above the refrigerator, so that’s where we put them. So I put the FoodSaver canisters in the cabinet above the fridge and brought the cast iron skillets down where they are easily accessible to Terry. I’m expecting they will now get some use.

Not so bad.