Rest: Advent Word 21

On December 1, the first day of Advent 2019, I penned for all the world to see, “I have decided once again to participate in #AdventWord, the global online Advent calendar.” I managed to complete meditations for days 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 before the end-of-semester scramble–or the insidious sin of acedia–caused me to slough off that commitment and neglect not only #AdventWord, but also my entire blog, until yesterday, when the actual end of the semester inspired me to take up my (virtual) pen once again. Continue reading

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Measuring Life in Semesters: I Am a Teacher

During what was probably the most important ten-plus years of my life, I was a member of a tiny parish in the Episcopal Church. Actually, it was so small that it was officially a mission, dependent upon the diocese for financial support and headed by a vicar. And during the heart of that decade, I selected and played the music for Sunday services (and weddings and funerals), published the quasi-monthly newsletter, served on the altar guild, sporadically taught adult Sunday school, and occasionally prepared the weekly service bulletin. That period began on the First Sunday of Advent in 1996 and ended on the First Sunday after the Epiphany in 2007. Continue reading

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Unity: Advent Word 7

Today we commemorate a day that has lived in infamy for 78 years–a day that also united our country as has no other event in history. I was not born for another 12 years, but as if from instant mutation of both X and Y chromosomes, my parents passed along that sense of reverence to my sister and me. It was never spoken. After all, one seldom discusses tongue-rolling or hand-clasping either, but they’re in our genes. Thus, for the generation with whom I came of age (yes, the infamous Boomers), the current divisiveness in our culture is unprecedented and uncomfortable and pernicious.

I have responded in the only way I know how–in the halls of academe. Perhaps my response is laughably feeble, but I have seen some encouraging results. For the last two years, I have been attempting to unite my little cadre of freshman-composition students in a project entitled “Coming Together in a Time of Discord.” I first regale them with my belief that ours is the most divisive period in memory (and yes, I lived through the Sixties). At first, they don’t believe me because it’s all they have ever known. Continue reading

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Raise: Advent Word 5

The end-of-semester avalanche–conferring with teary students, grading endless stacks of essays, registering advisees for next semester–has made me realize that I will not be able to keep up with the page of the Advent word-a-day project. But #5 on the list has inspired me to backtrack and offer a few passing thoughts that occurred to me as I drove home last night from my daily 1,000-yard swim.

Pondering whether I would have time to write a post after making a simple supper of oatmeal–a go-to favorite for cold post-workout evenings–I suddenly realized the aptness of raise as a word to characterize Advent. Specifically, I began to understand how important it is during Advent and always to raise our hopes.

This year has provided an especially bittersweet reminder of that lesson. In July, after four and a half cancer-free years post-transplant, my husband learned that his lymphoma has returned. With that news as a substrate, subsequent tests and scans have offered the best possible updates in the form of indolent cancer for which treatments are available when it becomes symptomatic. However, even five months later, Pavel is only slowly beginning to wrest himself from the torpor that dashed the hopes for the future that are his lifeblood. He stopped going to the gym, talking long walks on crisp fall evenings, even watching the art-house films he loves. Last week, though, I could see the ember of new hope flicker in his eyes when he ordered a bicycle for megrim an exclusive British company–and even more when as we sat around a campfire at the Great Dismal Swamp, slept in hammocks, and watched our aged dog frolicking in the fall leaves.

In my own life, that same ember has roared into a blaze lighting the past year with new goals and even dreams–those childish things I thought I had put away long ago. With diet and exercise, I have lost the equivalent of a person, attained a body-fat percentage of 16.7, and come to life on campus with faculty presentations and new class themes–and even participation in a 5K color run. Once again I am dreaming of that novel I should write, those Gothic cathedrals I should see, those calluses I should developing so I can play my mandolin again.

Simply raising our hopes can transform our lives. And at the present moment, through God’s infinite grace, we are enacting the greatest hope ever granted the human race.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV). 

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Time: Advent Word 3

Today, I will borrow my contribution from”Burnt Norton,” first of the Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot, my acknowledged maestro in all things Anglican. Whenever I ponder the word time, it is this poem that informs my musings:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
. . .
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Nor, considering the idea further, are these excerpts from that intricate and complicated poem entirely unrelated to the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ–the Incarnation in Bethlehem two millennia ago, the God who always with us, Emmanuel, and the coming again of the once and future King.

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Visit: Advent Word 2

Visit me when you can,
But when you do,
Let me know you’re here.

Knock on the door,
Rap on the windowpane,
Holler across the fence,
Whisper in my ear, “I’m here.”

For my senses have dulled,
I neglect to watch and listen.
I lock the doors and fasten the shutters,
And I seldom keep the lights on.

I forget to say,
“Come, Lord Jesus.”

But sometimes I remember
That you’re already here.

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Unexpected: Advent Word 1

I have decided once again to participate in #AdventWord, the global online Advent calendar sponsored by Virginia Theological Seminary. Today is the first day of Advent and a wonderful day to return to my sadly neglected blog.

Unexpected is a strange and serendipitous choice for the first Advent Word of 2019. I call it strange because expectation is the very essence of Advent. In my many writings about my favorite season of the liturgical calendar, I have often pondered the appropriateness of the Spanish word esperar as the perfect expression of the Advent trinity: to wait, to hope, to expect. But now we are asked to reflect on precisely its opposite: not expectation (and its brothers, waiting and hoping), but its absence. And therein lies the serendipity of the choice.

For just yesterday, my husband, two dogs, and I returned from a Thanksgiving weekend excursion whose joys were, for me, in the realm of completely unexpected. Through most of my adult life, I held fast to the mantra that whatever adventures I might embark on, I would sleep in a bed at the end of each day. I have broken that pledge on a few occasions that admittedly offered unforeseen moments of magic–mostly sunrises and a few sunsets on the coastal plain and the coast of North Carolina.

Continue reading

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Misinterpreting Emerson: A Meditation on Consistency, the Constitution, and American Exceptionalism

When I first started working as a disability examiner for Social Security, we had no desktop computers, just Wang terminals; nor could we communicate via email, just intraoffice messaging whose default was “reply all.” Hence, I established a wide reputation for pedantry early on. The topic was one on which I have often pontificated in the intervening thirty-plus years. One of the system administrators reached outside his bailiwick and sent the following message to everyone at Disability Determination Services; I still don’t know if it was meant as a challenge or a request for information:

Who said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”?

And here was the presumptuous reply of the newly-trained disability specialist who got herself fired a few years later for her fairly consistent audacity over time:

No one. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” [emphasis mine]. Those are two very different ideas.

I confess that I was so ready with the retort because a high school classmate had burned Emerson’s words onto my brain when she asked Mr. Crawford, our teacher in freshman accelerated English, “What does Emerson mean when he says that consistency is the hemoglobin of little minds?” Now that I think of her question more carefully, I realize that her howler actually contains an astute metaphor of its own. But I digress. Actually, I haven’t even begun the topic from which this extended rabbit trail would be a potential digression! So I’ll proceed apace. Continue reading

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Wilmer and Friends . . . Old Friends

The following conversation occurred late on a summer afternoon about fifteen years ago at a house on the shores of Lake Gaston, North Carolina. The participants were a guileless pre-pubescent girl named Victoria and her two much older auditors, Vicki and Worth:

Victoria: There’s a boy in my class who can’t speak any English at all.
Worth: What language does he speak?
Victoria: Spanish. I’m trying to help him learn English.  
Worth: How do you do that?
Victoria: Well, I show him something like a book or a pencil and then say the word to him and ask him to say it back to me. Sometimes I even write the words down for him.
Vicki: Does he ever tell you how to say the words in Spanish?
Victoria: Yes. He told me libro for book and lápiz for pencil. He wrote them down for me too, but I don’t  remember how to spell them.
Worth: Does it seem to be helping him?
Victoria: No, he really can’t remember his English at all. Everyone in his family speaks Spanish, so they can’t help him at home, and all his other friends speak Spanish too. And everyone else laughs at him because he can’t understand what they say.
Vicki: Oh, that’s too bad. What’s his name?
Victoria: Wilmer.

Yes, Wilmer. . . . WILMER.  Continue reading

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Waiting Room

Of the many words of Just(e) Words, some have become leitmotivs intertwining the preoccupations of my mind with the events in my life. In fact, I find comfort in the notion that body and soul are so firmly bound together and that the bond can be discovered and expressed in words, the substance of my being.

Nowhere has this phenomenon become so apparent as with the recurrent theme of waiting. And what a strange confluence it represents. I remember well the words of Hermann Hesse’s eponymous Siddhartha, who responded when asked what he could do, “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.” I knew even as a college student and fledgling philosopher that while thinking and fasting came easy to me, I could not wait. But now waiting has become my leitmotiv. Owing not only to my monthlong series of posts during that season of waiting in the liturgical year 2018, but also to my passion for those pre-Christmas weeks of quiet and contemplation, Advent is the most used tag word on the entire blog. And now I find that another season of waiting has arrived, unexpected as a lightning strike on a clear and moonlit night. And as I contemplate the implications of this unforeseen intrusion, I realize that I have already expressed its twin implications in my writings. Continue reading

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