When You Wish Upon a Star …

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I know. My photo is not  a great picture of the chapel, dedicated to the memory of our 60 parishioners who died with AIDS and to those who loved and cared for them. Our prayers and response to the AIDS crisis tested and deepened our faith community  and formed me as a priest.  At the top of the chapel window is a little star named Philip. And this is the star’s story told mainly by his sister Ann and a little bit by me.

This is my last Around this Block post and it is about a far-flung All Saints’ family.  As a matter of fact, one brother lives on as a star!  The sibling closest at hand is All Saints’ Connie Curry, a longtime civil rights activist, lawyer, writer and great public servant for the city of Atlanta.

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Connie with Mississippi’s Winson Hudson, the “grandmother of the Mississippi movement.”  Connie has given voice to so many civil rights heroines. Her books focused on the  previously ignored stories of the  women.

Here is an article that gives you a sense of Connie’s journey.  We have quite a legacy, dear Saints, in the Civil Rights Movement.   Connie can’t get to church much but she lives in midtown and loves to hear from her friends.

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Silver Rights was Connie’s  breakout book.

When you are lucky, one relationship leads you into a new world, and getting to know Connie led me to her brother Philip and a family that loved him strong and well.  Here is Sister Ann’s memory of that time.

When I traveled from my home in Savannah to Atlanta earlier this summer, I wasn’t thinking of All Saints Church or my brother Philip Holloway, who had been a member there. My mind was on my sister Connie Curry, who had recently been in and out of the hospital multiple times. Though she is as headstrong, funny and irreverent as ever, Connie needed help .

Then I learned that Martha Sterne is the church’s interim rector. Martha had come to see Connie at Emory Hospital and had a chance to see our sons, Walker and Coran. I hadn’t seen Martha in years and years.

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Ann Curry and I just hit if off during Philip’s illness so many years ago. One of the great joys of this year is reconnecting with people with whom I had shared the deepest human experiences—baptisms, renewals of vows after you’ve lived into them a while,  terrifying illnesses and operations, wondrous healings and yes, heartbreaking but also healing funerals.

Ann again:  After such a warm reunion with Martha, I attended early church, listened to her homily, took communion, and studied the tiny star in the chapel window our family had dedicated in memory of Philip.

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Here is Philip’s star, top of window closest to the chapel altar on the cemetery side.  God bless Lisa Bell-Davis who climbed way way up on a ladder to get this pic. Hello Philip! I think his sisters and his mother got NASA or somebody to really name a star after him!

Philip’s darling sister Ann, again:  In July 1995, Philip was living and dying at Haven House, a hospice house for people with HIV/AIDS. No one thought he would make it to the Fourth of July, so I came to Atlanta from Tennessee to join our mom Isabel, who had been staying in Midtown for several weeks, and Connie, who lived there. I remember walking with Connie to Haven House, through Piedmont Park to 14th Street, expecting to see a hearse. Instead we were greeted by hundreds of runners pouring into the park as the Peachtree Road Race ended. As we stood there, unable to cross the street, I looked and on the front porch of Haven House, sitting in a high back wheelchair sat Philip, waving like the Queen of England. He lived another 15 days.

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This Halloween photo with his sister Ann is the closest I could come to Philip waving like the Queen of England.  OMG, he was adorable.

Haven House was an amazing place. The nurses worked so hard caring for patients. I remember Isabel, sitting on the porch with a nurse named Walter as he smoked a cigarette. “Walter,” she said, “you need a vacation!” (I bet my mother told him to stop smoking too!) Walter, who had the largest, gentlest hands, was never too tired to rub Philip’s feet since neuropathy had set in. Philip loved that.

On one early morning visit, I asked Philip if he needed anything. Without batting an eye, he replied, “YES, I want some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.”

(Martha here:  my memory of that time is stopping by occasionally to Haven House which I believe was yellow, to see Philip and that the day he died, the Spirit had nudged me over there. Philip loved  Robert Shaw’s  Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and I remember the Nunc Dimittis filling the room with this gorgeous good news:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

I believe that revelation happened in and through Philip at that very moment and into eternity.

Here’s Ann again:

Weeks later, before his memorial service at All Saints, another brother, Ian, and I went to Patterson Funeral home to pick up Philip’s ashes. We stopped by Ansley Mall liquor store and, appropriately, bought a case of champagne. As we drove back to Philip’s apartment, Ian said, “Do you have the ashes?” I said, “No, you’ve got the ashes!” … neither of us had the ashes. Upon returning to the liquor store, the nice woman behind the counter asked why we were back. “Aw, honey,” she said, after I told her. “I lost someone recently. I can help you find him.” I still think that would make a great country music song title, “I left my brother’s ashes in the liquor store.”

After the service (officiated those 22 years ago by Martha), Harry Pritchett buried most of Philip’s ashes in the church’s Memorial Garden. The remaining ashes were sent to be spread at the Valley of Elke in Northern Chile, a place Philip loved. Then, we celebrated his life with some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.

I learned a lot through Philip’s illness and death. I learned how incredibly loving and accepting my family was… How my mom took charge and cared for her son.. How patient my husband Enoch was, while I traveled back and forth to Atlanta… How doctors and nurses kindly helped AIDS patients die with dignity. On numerous trips, my brothers came from Florida and New Jersey to help care for Philip. Connie and the neighbors in Midtown rallied even as they had already witnessed the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS.

I’ll never forget what a great community All Saints Episcopal Church was during that time.  Philip died surrounded by love and song and blessing. To this day, he remains one of my favorite people and I miss him still.

Fast forward twenty years to June 26, 2015, I also couldn’t help but think of Philip and his partner of ten years, Bob as my husband and I gathered with hundreds of others in Johnson Square in downtown Savannah cheering and celebrating the passage of the marriage equality act. Earlier that morning my son Philip Walker, named for his uncle, sent me a text that read, “Mom all f%$@ing 50 states!” I took a moment to let that sink in.

I am grateful for circles and reconnections and grace and a tiny star in All Saint’s Chapel.

Ann Curry

(Martha again) And beloved Saints, I am grateful as well.  For all the love we share and for how God passes that love on and on and on even to the furthest star.  I’ll be taking a big pause from All Saints’ but God willing I’ll see you again.  God bless you and when you look up at that little star way way high in the chapel, remember all the days the saints have been through and thank God for the power and the glory and the love and the hope for tomorrow for all God’s children.  And remember, When you wish upon a star, your wish just may come true!  My prayers sure have spending this year with you.

Martha +

Star squared up

 

Simon!

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The Rev. Simon Mainwaring is our new Rector.  My heart is full of joy and not just because I get to go back to eating bonbons, reading novels, and hanging out with Carroll and Flash and our family.  I am truly, truly  joyful because this particular human being and this family  are coming.  

I asked some members of the Search Committee and Vestry and two priest friends who have encountered Simon to describe your new rector and then I pulled pictures off the internet so  here you go!

From Search Committee member:

First AHA moment: I initially got to know Simon through his responses to the Diocese application. Clear from the beginning that Simon has a deep faith, sound theological grounding and keen intellect. But what really caught me was his passion for sussing out our christian call to be a church “in the world’. What does that mean for us in a changing downtown Atlanta neighborhood and frankly in a pretty scary global community. I was intrigued by his church’s community outreach to the beach community their around their property and the growing hispanic population in San Diego. Was clear to me that while Simon is grounded in tradition, liturgy and Episcopal worship, he can comfortably stretch himself to boldly follow the Cross out into world and meet folks where there are outside the four walls of his parish.

Second AHA moment: I had the privilege of visiting Simon’s parish for Sunday service. St. Andrews By the Sea is not by any means a “resource” parish. They operate on a very lean budget. HOWEVER, you never got a sense of scarcity in the parish. The Word coming from that community is abundant life. Joyful hospitality for all who entered the doors, including the homeless population that lives around their block. It was as warm, welcoming and authentic an experience as I have had in a long time in a church pew. The tone of course was set by Simon and his staff. I have to say I came away feeling very sure that the Holy Spirit was alive, well and doing good work at St. Andrews By the Sea.

Third AHA moment: As part of our parish visit, we would ask the candidate and his wife to pick a restaurant for us to have dinner together as a group. Simon and Monica insisted that we join them and their children for dinner in the rectory. After a few weeks on the road doing these kinds of visits, a home cooked meal and a relaxed casual evening around a family dinner table was a welcome respite. Such easy hospitality … They had me at hello!

And this from a priest colleague:

Gentle and kind, deep and good.

And this from a Vestry member:

Simon has a sparkling intellect, an insuppressible but gentle sense of humor and a passion for Christ.  He has a special way of connecting with people.  I can’t wait for the people of All Saints’ to join in the fun.

Simon is a fit but relatively unimposing man.  During the worship portion of his interview with the vestry, he delivered a brilliant, humorous and inspiring sermon.  Then, during Eucharist, he bowled us over by chanting the Great Thanksgiving beautifully.  It was clear by this point that we were   dealing with a heavyweight.

And this:

He is so easy to be around and just exudes happiness and fun.  Simon is extremely talented, doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously and is up for the challenge of All Saints’ and the block.  They both seem to enjoy life and adore their children and each other.  We are going to have fun with them. 

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And this:

With Simon as our leader, people near and far will know that All Saints’, Atlanta is open for business.  He will invite the world into the church and help lead the church into the world.

And this:

Monica has an inquiring mind, a warm heart and a charming presence about her.  Gracious rector’s spouse, priest in her own right, and mother of three–look out.  This is going to be exciting!

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Here’s Monica in San Diego with two Dominicans who are her friends and also dear friends of my best priest friend in East Tennessee.  God’s love is so interconnected.  This makes me happy. 

 

And this:

Simon is a warm, real, smart, and passionate Christian. The love felt within his immediate family (with his wife Monica and their three children) was palpable; and he also spreads that love wherever he goes. Every person we interviewed was so positive about how he handles every aspect of life as a rector. Seeing how he has positively impacted lives through his vision and his pastoral care was impressive. The tears of sadness which will pour out from San Diego as he leaves will surely lead to tears of joy for us lucky ones at All Saints’.

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Goldfish blessing. Lovely!

And dear ones, the rest will unfold!

Martha +

 

“Celebrate Me Home!”

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This is who we are!  Party Animals and also at-Home-in-the-Body of Christ!

This week marks just about the one year anniversary of my being back here with the Saints.  The final rector candidates are wonderful people, and we can look forward to the call of the new rector of All Saints’ Church pretty soon!  When I look back over the circle of the days of this year, over and over I am remembering how much FUN it is to be church with you.  How good-natured you usually are, how hilarious you can be, how real you always are.  Churches sometimes are not able to be these things which is too bad.

Betty Derrick mentioned to me that great “Celebrate me Home” song from Kenny Loggins and wrote us a note that gets at the feel of All Saints’ on our best days. And even on our bad days.

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Betty Derrick gets it: the heart of the universe is celebration. Betty is a one of the wonderful Agnes Scott women that are all around All Saints’. She retired from AT&T after thirty years and then circled back to Agnes Scott for eleven years as special assistant to the President. She knows life-giving community.

 

Here are both of us thinking about you and the great dance of All Saints’.  Betty is in italics.

Some people joke that Episcopalians know how to party. (I have always taken it as a compliment.) It may be accurate but falls short of the essential truth, I think. What we really know how to do, at least at All Saints’, is celebrate.  We mark the small and great moments of our life together with song, streamers, flowers, beautiful liturgy, procession and even cymbals. The Psalmist would be proud.

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Every time we gather, we are remembering and hoping for a feast! Already but not yet! That’s the deal!  

One of my favorite celebrations is the rite of baptism. There are colorful banners with each child’s name. We reconfirm our own vows as a church family… and then we sing the welcoming message to Harry’s grand melody and march through the sanctuary to applause. How wonderful is that!

Betty and I are also both into the pet blessings!

I love the smiles.

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And I love the meetings.

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Thank you God.

And I love the public displays of affection.

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A lick on the nose is a true gift of love.

And the blessings!

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Here’s Betty: I learned an important lesson at the Blessing of the Animals several years ago. At the time I owned a young, frenetic, frighteningly intelligent border collie named Scout. By the time we took our place for the blessing, Scout had wrapped me around several lamp posts and provoked a number of other dogs by staring at them. When Walter Smith asked what I wanted him to pray for Scout, I answered “a calm and peaceful disposition.” Walter looked me squarely in the eye and replied, “I don’t think that is Scout’s nature.”

He proceeded to pray for a patient and understanding owner!

As I drove home with Scout, leaping from the front to the back seats, I thought: “that man just said I was the problem.” It was a lesson that not only changed my relationship with Scout but one I have remembered often with people. The Blessing of the Animals may seem a frivolous celebration to some, but it holds a lasting instruction for me.

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At our best we don’t just tolerate one another; we befriend one another, in spite of, no because of our differences. This is Flash with his old Mississippi friend Toby. Nothing first-hand to do with All Saints’  I just like the picture, and it reminds me how All Saints’ isn’t an end in itself.  Our community points to the power of love in far-flung corners of our lives apart. That is why we exist, dear ones.  That’s it.  Practice celebrating life at All Saints’  and carry it out the door.

My favorite and very complex celebration this year was Maundy Thursday.  It is a night of betrayal and a night of love because that’s the way human beings roll.  We had a supper that turned into eucharist in Ellis, which is exactly how the last supper turned into the first eucharist—in a secular room lit by the light of the love of Christ.  And we washed feet.

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Strange and deep.  This.

Betty brings up one of our other best celebrations.  Rarely do I sit at the back of the sanctuary, but I always try to for the no stress children’s Christmas pageant. From the back one has a good vantage point to see all the ears of the animals—or one year, the claws of a lobster.

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Yes, that is a tiger heading to the manger.

I love that there are not just three “wise people”. We can use all the wisdom we can find. A friend worked on the pageant a few years ago when there were traditional costumes. More children volunteered than there were outfits. She stayed up many nights making angel wings. As she said, “ the heavenly host is not a finite number.” Indeed.

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No Words.
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Here’s Betty and her new friend, Mr. Chips. She says He was a little bit of a surprise. He came as a puppy from the border collie rescue and was advertised to be 45 lbs. like his mother. Forgot my biology-he’s 84 lbs and more like his Staffordshire Bull Terrier dad but all sweetness.

From the beginning of life to the remembrance of lives well-lived, we rejoice and celebrate. Through tears and laughter, we celebrate. We are reminded that each day is to be celebrated. We have good reason to celebrate. All are welcome at God’s table and we are home.  

 

AMEN BETTY!  THANKS FOR CELEBRATING US HOME!

Sisters and Brothers, do you trust God’s got your back?

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Sisters

 

Above is a fabulous picture of Lynne Bryant (crowned) and her  beloved sister, Melanie in about 1963. Lynne says, “This is for a Baptist girls club which helps young ladies to grow in the Kingdom of God. Melanie received her “Maiden” award that year and I received the ‘Queen’ award.  See her shining eyes and mine closed!”
I’ve known Henry and Lynne Bryant through all the years I have been at All Saints’—not well but I knew that they quietly did good at the church and in this world and raised their kids to be strong and good people.  Lynne told me this summer that her sister had become very sick very fast.  Here is the story from Lynne with some gifts of courage and grace for you, I promise.

“My sister, Melanie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma—an aggressive,invasive form of brain cancer in July. In September we began daily trips to Georgia Radiation in Augusta, GA, so that she could receive 30 radiation treatments.

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It really helps to have a tough sister or brother go with you.

 

The first day there Melanie was able to hobble in using a walker. To our surprise the door popped open and a man welcomed us to the center. He seemed to be there every day. We thought that perhaps he worked there. About three weeks into the treatments, he came over as we sat in the clinic and introduced himself as “Allen.” We never found out whether he was Mr. Allen or Allen something else.

It seems that Allen had been an instructor for the US Army and had taught boxing to all the recruits. He said to Melanie, ‘Missus, I always tell the men to keep the gloves on and keep fighting ‘cause if you take the gloves off and stop fighting, it means the fight is over. So Missus, keep your gloves on!’

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When you are in a fight keep your gloves on.

 

Allen was there the day she finished radiation and posed for pictures at the ringing of the bell ceremony traditional for radiation patients.

 

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It so helps to have help ringing the bells that you can ring.

 

It turned out that he had fought cancer the year before and volunteered at the center as many days as he possibly could. Allen was unaware that he was actually one of God’s angels sent to give people hope.

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Always in disguise.

Another one of the regulars—Jim- introduced himself while Melanie was in the treatment room. He told me the story of how his cancer had come back twice and this was his last chance with a second round of radiation. I told him that I was so sorry. “Oh, no!” he said. ‘God’s got my back. If he doesn’t heal me here, he will heal me up there (pointing to Heaven)!’ He walked down the hall repeating ‘God’s got my back!’  Jim was another angel for me.”

 

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If somebody has been in the valley of the shadow of death, they can say encouraging words with great power and healing  that nobody else in the world can say.

(Did you know that ‘angelos’ means messenger? An angel in our tradition is a messenger from God telling us God is with us and those we love and that God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is just what we want, when we want. And sometimes the answer is not what we want but something deep inside us shifts, so that the situation does not change in the way we want it to, but we change. We change. And we trust.  And that makes all the difference.)

“Melanie died in December, 2016. God’s got her back.”

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Lynne says God’s got her back.”

Even in the aftermath of great loss, Lynne said to me and writes to you that God has got her sister’s back. Sometimes it causes me to tremble—the troubles people go through, the kindness among strangers, the pain of loss, the power of hope, the trust that God has our backs.  This matters so.  Thank you Lynne and thank you saints.

Martha +

 

 

 

Facebook? Love it? Hate it?

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Posted on FB the first week I came home—the green, my happiness, Flash being Flash. Most of the time on FB I am trying to convey a moment. Why do you post on FB?

This blog post will be totally boring if you are not on Facebook or other social media, but around this block, a lot of us are Facebookers.   And I think some of us are struggling to define how to use it without getting used up. I for one hate conflict.  Hate it.  However:

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Human beings are built for conflict AND community. It’s who we are as children of God.

What do I like on Facebook?  I like posts of good writers I don’t know about. I like reading about Mississippi. I like it when I see somebody’s trip to a place I will never go or their new baby or grand-baby. I like keeping up with faraway friends and parishioners.  I like hilarious cat videos.  I like cartoons! The Facebookers I follow come from their own life experience and also run their Facebook page according to their own core values. I like  complex and tender posts, for our lives are complex and tender. With permission from the authors, here are some starting with a simple and tender example which happened just two days ago:

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  God bless Bitsy. Facebook helps people know about each other’s pain and joy.

On Wednesday, Dottie Miller wrote that she and Jamie lost their beloved Bitsy and that their pain was very deep. Friends called and wrote and facebooked and comforted.  They didn’t have to tell people one by one

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Sometimes we feel like the sea is so large and our boat is so small.  All of us lose; all of us mourn. Facebook can help some – not all – but some of us.

Also Facebook can help with gathering all points of view, with agreeable disagreement. Sam Buice is the priest in charge up at Grace-Calvary, Barbara Brown Taylor’s old stomping grounds and he is one of my favorite priests and an effective Facebook gospeler, Here he is pictured with some of his favorites – BBT, baptism, and his Harley!

Last month, I noticed Sam asking this question to his Facebook friends and he has a bunch: “Why currently are you upset? If you choose to respond to this post, I ask that you respond by talking about yourself. Say more about what is upsetting to you. Refrain from making assumptions or statements about the “others.” If you are posting to my page, I will feel free to delete comments that I deem accusing or hateful or not on point.”

Sam started by describing in civil terms the national issue (sudden refugee ban)  he is upset about and others described what they PERSONALLY were upset about from all different angles. He curated his post so that it did not become vicious or goofy, but it was quite diverse and enlightening. Never assume you know why others act, vote, speak the way they do.  And don’t assume that social media always separates us; sometimes we understand one another through social media, maybe for the first time.

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This photo is both true and false. We are isolated and connected through social media.

My own Facebook page is not an opinion forum, nor, please note, is it the parish page.   It is as I say below one of the public rooms of my heart.

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What is your Facebook page? Your personal page is one of your gifts to others. I have 1200 friends, many of whom I don’t know personally, but they like the theologians and other voices I curate. And I think they like Flash who is often featured! 

What I want to read and share is authentic life and thought and story, not riled up stuff.  Jerry Byrd gave me permission to share this very moving post about his twin brother who died three years ago.  Yes, Jerry is advocating for a particular issue, and he is doing it from the depths of his life.

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Twin brother Jim and flowers from sister.

Here is Jerry’s post from last week:

This is what death with dignity looks like. It came courtesy of the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare is another name given it. The picture is my twin brother Jim in Hospice Atlanta. I took it on Jan. 30th, our birthday. That’s why there are flowers. My sister who lives in another city had sent them. I wanted her to see how pretty they were. Just 24 hours after I took this photo Jim would be dead. Today is the 3rd anniversary of his death.
Do not think that I post this for sympathy. Do not think I’d ever make the decision to post something this intimate lightly. Do not think I post this out of mourning. I do on a continual basis mourn my twin though. Why do I post this then? Because Jim would want that. I know this because no one knows a twin like his twin. Jim would want me to use this image to make the statement that society without health coverage for all is no society at all.
He died after fighting the spread of cancer for close to 3 years. At his diagnosis he didn’t have health insurance. It goes without saying that this pre-existing condition would have blocked him from having any health insurance. Try to imagine the trips to the emergency room without it when I’d have to take him there in the middle of the night due to the pain and infection and fever that his illness brought him. Try to imagine his rounds of chemotherapy without it. Try to imagine his many visits to the oncologist without it. Try to imagine hope without it. Try to imagine someone you love and consider irreplaceable finding themselves in a health crisis and unable to get health insurance. It could happen to anyone anytime.
Why do I post this then? I want you who might have similar stories to post those stories. I want you to give a face to the idea of healthcare as a fundamental human right. Our elected officials are debating whether some get health care and whether some do not. I post this to ask that you contact your elected officials and let them know that healthcare can’t be a luxury for just a few, not in a civil society.
Thank you Jerry.
Now Here are some important and timely words, versions of which  I have seen from a number of people lately:  “I posted a picture earlier today which I am not sure was a true representation of reality. I have removed it from my page and apologize to anybody who saw it.”
YES!! YAY!! People of all political persuasians are spotting FAKE NEWS (shows up from everywhere, sometimes called “click bait”) and taking it down.  People are curating their pages to reflect their lives! You don’t have to leave stuff on there you don’t want!
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What is your mission in life?
Finally Brian Barefield’s post from New Years Eve is literally lifegiving since he had very recently almost died of  a massive heart attack.  He moves me to my toes and gives us our marching orders. Here’s Brian:
Bear with me here as this is stream of consciousness and it’s long for me, but it’s New Year’s Eve… the conclusion to a very traumatic year for many, myself included.

This past week, I was able to take part in something that was new to me. While I work with trauma in aviation as a peer counselor, being on the opposite side of the proverbial table was a new experience. A dear friend who is a trauma specialist guided me through a unique trauma therapy session to help with mentally and emotionally processing all I went through during my heart attack. What I discovered was that the most traumatic experience of the entire ordeal was the sense of loneliness I experienced. By loneliness I mean deep existential loneliness full of dread. Not only was I facing the possible end of my career, I was, for all intents and purposes, staring death in the face. When I looked back on those 14 or so hours before they finally figured out what was going on my faith didn’t seem to inform that bleakness. All I felt was a terrible, hopeless solitude. Where was meaning in the experience?

What I have realized is that meaning was found in those who rushed to my side the moment they found out there was a problem. Meaning was found in those who cared, those who sacrificed their time and convenience to stop and just be there with me. People like Bob Tick, Ed O’Halloran, Pat Brown Bruce Garner, my father who dropped everything and drove 3 hours to be by my side that night, and my mother, who did the same early the next morning.

That terrible night when I would be awoken multiple times from my drug induced haze (administered by the hospital) by my heart turning somersaults in my chest in that dark ICU room, I would literally reach out looking for someone, anyone, for support, and there was always a hand of someone who cared that grabbed mine.

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In the emptiness of that solitude of experience, even there I was never really alone. My personal faith didn’t prove just a mirage. You see, my faith stresses the importance of community, of togetherness. It says we care for each other, that the American ideal of individualism is largely hokum. We share, we communicate, we give ourselves to each other; we offer ourselves fully. Meaning, God, whatever you want to call it was there that night for me in those who cared for me and sat that awful watch by my side. As alone as I felt, the miracle of connection, of community, got me through (with the help of many doctors and nurses).

With all of that said, and being that it is the conclusion of an incredibly divisive year in the aggregate, I guess I’m saying I found meaning in that senseless experience in my community of friends and family. We are all we really have in this crazy world with all its ups and downs. My hope is that you remember those around you who care for you, who believe in you, who love you. Grab hold of them and dear God don’t let them go. No matter what the coming year holds, the one thing certain is that we have each other, and the bond that living and loving for each other creates between us is stronger than the darkest night; it’s the only real strength we have. Love those who love you; love and laugh and cry with them. Believe in them and hope with them. Hold them close and know that everything, no matter how dark, will get better, and the good things will only get brighter, stronger, more resilient.

Happy New Year friends!”

Thank you Brian, and thank you all around this block for being there for each other.  Whether you Facebook or not (and if you do and it is eating up too much of your time, you might consider doing a Facebook fast for lent – I might!) Just know how beloved you are in the “vast reaches and endless memory” of eternity.

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The ocean is big, but look at the footsteps and paw prints. We are not alone.

Martha +

“Why Did You Cry in Church?”

One of our darling littlest cherubs came up to me after the Nine O’clock service on Sunday and whispered, “Why’d you cry in church?” She had on a fabulous purple dress, much more fabulous than this one but you get the idea:

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Everybody needs a purple dress!

I said something like, “Because (as happens at All Saints’  every year on this MLK Sunday) the ladies of the Singing Sisters of Ebenezer sang songs I love and it made me cry.”  And it is true, I love spirituals, and this past Sunday I loved the old songs and the power and  beauty and dignity in the faces of the singers. Here are the Sisters leading the congregation in” Blessed Assurance”

 

At my ordination almost 28 years ago, the very same Laura English Robinson who directs the Singing Sisters sang “This Little Light of Mine”.  , and here she was—same holy space, beloved people, same hopeful song—all these years later!

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Laura dwells in the deep soul of All Saints’ Church. Beautiful woman, voice, soul.

I was overwhelmed by the pain and joy of history—my own history, All Saints’ history, Ebenezer’s history,  Martin Luther King’s history, our country’s history—and tears started sliding down my face and never stopped. I re-membered  (put back together) a lot, which is what Jesus asks us to do  in every eucharist—”Do this in re-membrance of me.” Re-membering is huge. And sometimes grievous.

People who are grieving have sometimes told me “O I can’t come back to church yet because I am afraid I’ll cry like a baby.” May I gently question this reasoning? Is crying in church a bad thing? What are you supposed to do in church? Put on a happy face? I don’t think so.  Now I must admit, weeping in church when you are trying to offer communion is a little over the top!  And also very human and around this block we are very human—all sorts and conditions! This fully human-ness is the gift in Jesus Christ we have to give one another and to the world.

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For instance, “MLK In the Name of Love” Retreat this Weekend.  Fully human and fun!

Everybody has to find their way to have more abundant life. About two months ago, my husband talked me into trying TWITTER. Not to tweet! But to get a sense of how news and experiences and emotions of all kinds move around this world in 140 character waves which can gather and become combative or healing (sometimes both) forces of nature in and of themselves.  I tried if for a little while and realized, nope, this tweeting thing doesn’t work for me.  I jump to conclusions or I dismiss something someone says just because that person tweets it or I get mad or sad (more often than glad) in ways that are not lifegiving. Basically tweeting is too often a snarky medium.  Instead give me just plain old conversation.  Give me that little girl coming up to me and saying “Why’d you cry?”  Our questions, our very differences, when gently offered help us connect. It’s true! So no more twitter for me.

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Less tweeting, More talking! We have so much in common with everybody else on the planet including the very ones we think we don’t!

Back to crying in church …  yes I cry in church. Not all the time though, come to think of it, I cried solid in church for about six weeks after my father died in the fall of 1996.

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Here is my impossibly young father in New Orleans-probably his intern year at Tulane.  He trained at Charity Hospital which drowned in Katrina which made me cry, too.  I believe our being fully human  is tied to our capacities to relate to the pain and joy stories woven into the fabric of the world.   Scripture teaches this; so does All Saints’!

As I grieved for my father so many years ago, my fellow priests took on all the public roles in the liturgies and I hid in the choir loft amongst all those red-robed cherubim who just kept on singing  gorgeous music.  I cried for my beloved father who had in fact peacefully lived out the length of his days and surely I also cried for the accumulated trauma of all the deaths I had known and of course I cried (though I didn’t sense it) for my own death to come.  For every mourning is also a mourning  for oneself. I cried week after week. And then eventually, cried out, I healed and in time stood and took up my life and my work again.

Cry in church any old time you need to.  Or even better laugh!  Around this block just let us be ourselves before God and love ourselves and our neighbors in our full humanity and see what blessings come.

Martha +

 

 

 

Looking for the One Giant Star of Faith? In Our Day, Try the Milky Way!

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Sorry, great photographer of Wrightsville Beach! I forgot to write down your name for attribution when I found this  on Google.  And now I can’t find you, lost in the universe.

I saw the Milky Way last week while Carroll and I were resting on a dark island.  Sometimes dark places are the very best places to see the light, and what a miracle is the Milky Way, this great swirling river of stars in all stages of birth and life and death and rebirth.  Sort of like us.

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This is who we are every day—a starry swirl of ministries!

Did you know that we on “this fragile earth our island home”are part of the Milky Way? So even though the Epiphany symbol is a single giant dazzling star lighting the way for the wise seekers to the stable, I believe a whole Milky Way of stars await the seekers around this block. Just open your eyes and ears and heart and You Will See God.  That’s the Epiphany Challenge and Promise: God will be manifest for you, in you, through you.  Yes!

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Here is the just right-sized star for Epiphany supper!

I offer an Epiphany/ Milky Way story I watched  unfold from right before Christmas until, well right now!

One day I got a call from our old friend Doug Hales who was the Business Manager at All Saints’   WAY, WAY back in the day in the eighties and nineties.  He went on to get his PhD and teaches Supply Chain Management at the University of Rhode Island, and he travels ALL over the world to teach folks in other countries.  Here’s Doug in Taiwan, one of the places he’s texted me from in the last three weeks

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Even in the eighty countries where Doug teaches, he  has never forgotten the Saints.

Doug got in touch because he had heard that Marian Murphy, the Head Sexton of All Saints so many, many years ago, had had a massive heart attack.  He reached across the world and connected us to a person in trouble right down the street from the church at Emory Midtown.

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Sometimes epiphanies are not manifest in the stars but texted in our cellphones.
I saw Marian—not conscious.  Doug and I texted back and forth. We checked on her again, barely conscious.  I forgot Marian in the craziness of Christmas services.  But across the world Doug did not. He kept up with her and her family and was as  constant as the stars because he knew she needed a friend.

When I did remember Marian, I could not find her. I thought Uh-Oh, I really thought she had died as she was so long in the ICU.  I texted Doug, this time in Taiwan. He WAS RELENTLESS with the hospital tracking system and found her after three tries (!!!!) moved into a step-down cardiac room.  We had tried but given up; Doug never did.  Friendship matters so much! A friend in need is a friend in deed, and that is totally scriptural (See the Good Samaritan!)

The morning Doug found her, Rich Winters, one of our affiliated priests took the eight o’clock for me. Rich and the other priests who call All Saints’ home are the best. I cannot imagine making it through this interim time without them.

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Rich and Geoffrey are old friends, and now Rich and All Saints’ are new friends.  Epiphanies lead to more Epiphanies. Always. Thank you for your friendship and preaching, Rich!

So at the New Years’ morning 8:00, Rich took the flock of 99 (actually, I think 18 !)  and I walked over to the hospital in the cold and rain to find the lost sheep.  And here she is!
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Marian is waving to her friend Doug and to you!  She’s doing so much better!

Back in the day, Marian taught all of us at All Saints that every job matters, and that keeping All Saints’ spaces beautiful and clean is a holy ministry as much as teaching a class or playing the organ or preaching the sermon.   Marian reminds me of Brother Lawrence who taught that “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Marian taught us to do every little thing right, and O boy, she got after us when we were careless and messed up tidy spaces for no good reason!!  For such a little lady, Marian has a big roar!! 

Here is the newest sexton at All Saints’, Earle.  Earle has a legacy of friendship and good work to live into and he has the best smile in the world!

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Welcome Earle. You join a long procession of beloved sextons.

We live in a veritable Milky Way of blessings, of God’s presence manifested in us, among us, through us.  When you are feeling like your way is dark and unclear, remember Doug and Marian and all us Saints, and let the light of compassion guide your way to the next friendship encounter.  For after all, as Rilke wrote and Jesus taught,

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Be a friend. Be an epiphany of God’s love.
We can do this by the light of Christ.

Martha +