Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Scent of Gratitude

Now and then there comes a moment when time seems to stop, even for the merest fraction of a second, and in that fraction of a second something becomes so clear that it's almost heartbreaking. It happened to me the other morning when I went to feed the outside cats. It was just about dawn, and the air was moderately crisp, given the temperatures we've been having during the day lately. In my hurry to get the cats fed I didn't notice anything special, but when I turned to go back to the  house all of a sudden there was this most marvelous scent. I looked at my jasmine growing up one of the patio supports. I couldn't see any blooms although there were plenty of buds, but still there was a slight whiff of something sweet coming from it. Then I noticed an even stronger fragrance coming from the orange trees across the road. Between the two it was such a delightful aroma that I wanted it to last forever. Unfortunately, like most things that attract me by scent, the olfactory centers quickly assume that that is normal and move on to something else, so I can't smell it anymore. It's only for a short period of time that it's new enough to the nose that I can actually smell us and enjoy it.

There are other times when I know I noticed a pleasant odor or tang that that has a trigger to it that cascades memories and sometimes new thoughts in my head. Give me a whiff of salt water and I'm back home on my river even though I'm thousands of miles away. The scent of pine, the smell of rain, the aura and warmth of wax candles, like a bayberry one at Christmas or the beeswax ones in church. Speaking of church, there's a remnant of, the scent of incense in church from years of high holy day celebrations. Then there's the  perfume mama used to wear, and her hand lotion. There are probably a hundred others ( would recognize that I can't remember right at the moment, but if I caught a bit of their scent then I would react to it.

The world we are  more accustomed to smelling is one of  diesel fumes or auto exhaust, hot tar, fresh-cut grass, the neighbor's steaks on the grill, the sweaty smell of the gym, some pleasant, some  pungent. We lose ignore smells because there are more important sensory work going on. Still, it's hard to walk past a stand of flowers in the grocery store this time of year, because there is a fragrance of hyacinths, and it reminds me of the hyacinths back home in the spring. I can walk by the fruit and for a moment I'll smell the strawberries or oranges or even some of the vegetables, and I remember how amazing they smell compared to the aisle full of air fresheners which, while they smell good, or so I'm told, they don't necessarily do the trick.

As I stood there the other morning enjoying the brief encounter with the orange blossoms and the jasmine, it was easy for me to be thankful for such an enjoyable treat. I'm afraid there many times when I fail to be thankful for little things like sweet scent in the air or the flight of the hummingbird or even a gorgeous sunset. I've been churches were there was an indefinable smell of furniture polish and candles with maybe just a tiny bit of leftover incense last used months ago. It seems to soak into the place and it adds a kind of what used to be called an "odor of sanctity", a smell that reminded me that I was in a holy place, and one where such things  help me to relax and to fall into a little bit more meditative mood simply .

When was the last time I stopped to smell something like I did the other morning? I did this morning after I finish mopping the floor and the Pine-Sol made the house smell nice and clean. After that I gave thanks. There are times I give thanks for the smell of clean sheets or the almond oil for the wood furniture. Perhaps the sense of smell is somehow attached to a feeling of love? Well, some of them, anyway. It's hard to love the smell of a diesel bus exhaust.

So where am I going to allow scent to take me this week? There are many pungent smells, many of them unpleasant, that I run across on a daily basis, but how do I create a thankfulness moment with fragrance that gives my heart a little bit of joy? Febreze won't always do it, and now they tell us not to burn candles because of the lead in the wick, and one can only take so much Pine-Sol. So my next search is to look for something somewhere, inside or out, that will help me find a moment of joy and a moment of thankfulness. After all, God made smells as well as sights and sounds and tastes and touches. God put them there for us to use and to enjoy and also spur us on to clean up the unpleasant and rejoice in the pleasant. So this week I need to find something to bring that to mind are more regular basis.

Go thou and find something beautiful and sweet and fresh, then remember to thank God for it. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 25, 2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

God in Creation

The wider our contemplation of creation, the grander is our conception of God.  -  Cyril of Jerusalem

This week I've been thinking about climate, weather, and all that they entail. It could be that the temperature here in the Phoenix area has been around 90°, and this is only the middle of March! Our average is at least 10° below that, so please don't mention that global warming doesn't exist. At least don't mention it to me.

Climate is part of what makes our world work. Climate defines how much rainfall we get, or are supposed to get. It defines a basic temperature range, what kind of precipitation we can expect, or not expect. It defines where we spend our time, if we have the ability. Folks who freeze to death in Minnesota cheerfully drive down to the Phoenix area for the winter because it seldom freezes, and is usually warm enough for them to run around in Bermuda shorts and T-shirts when people like me who live here are bundled up against what we perceive as cold. My friend in Oregon groans when I tell her it's 90° here because she still cold and getting snow and lots of rain. Can't please everybody I guess.

Climate has changed over centuries and millennia. When the world was new and pristine it was like a huge garden, or so we are told. There were deserts I'm sure, just as I'm sure there were mountains where the snow never melted and glaciers that crept along and kept forming along with the ice caps. I'm sure there were things like earthquakes and massive windstorms, and typhoons and hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, all affecting our world and our climate in one way or another.

Thing is, God created the world to run according to certain rules. If the balance of things gets out of kilter, something happens. Take fault lines. when the pressure builds up to a certain point, something's gotta give, and so the earth shakes, rumbles, and acts like an old man trying to get comfortable in a lumpy bed. When a warm air current runs into a cold air current, all kinds of interesting (more or less) happens. God set the rules, then set the world in motion, and it's been following those rules all along - until humans decided to play God and change things. Too bad we're not God-wise enough to see clearly what we're doing.

Since we are unable to control a lot of what goes on in creation, especially when it comes to things like creation itself, we're just out of luck. We have to admire the fact that God put everything together like a clockmaker forming an instrument that would run well, keep accurate time, and also be interesting to look at. The clockmaker might add a set of gears that would show which planets were circling overhead as well as tell the time of day, chimes on the hour and a quarter hour, and even a very comforting tick-tock as the pendulum swings back and forth. Creation is a bit like that. It started out as finely tuned as a watch of the finest craftsmanship. But then we started "improving." We completely left God out of creation and put ourselves in. 

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but I've seen enough pictures from enough different viewpoints that I have no doubt that it is a most spectacular place to see.  I've seen great mountains and I've overlooked the Shenandoah Rivers,  so old that in places the sides of almost every curve in the river almost touch each other. I seen storms at sea and I've seen the fury of hurricanes and typhoons. I've felt the rumble and shake of a big earthquake, or even a small one for that matter. Every time I run across something like that it reminds me of how immense this world is and how tiny I am, and then I think about God.

God is so much more than the clockmaker who set this one little blue marble in motion. It's part of a small universe in a small galaxy off to one side of a super galaxy billions and trillions of miles from the next galaxy or the next star is. We look through telescopes to see if we can find God, but what we find is that the universe is infinitely more expansive, more complex, and more spectacular than we could possibly have ever dreamt, and we haven't even found the edge of it yet, for all our technology and our looking.

We still haven't found God, but we have found what God created. I have to agree with Cyril, I can't contemplate creation without being totally in awe of the Supreme Being with such immense power and such immense love, a God who is the creator of worlds and universes but who willingly cradles each of us in God's hands, especially when we need a little nurturing.

This week I will contemplate the mystery of God in the enormous diversity of creation itself and my place in it. I look up at Orion, my favorite constellation, and think of all that lies beyond it even as I look at the familiar shape that I have seen many times from my childhood. It's God's work, and all that is in that creation, from the lichens on the rocks in the woods and the moss beside streams, to the vast variety of animals. I think about the different kinds of trees and the adorable innocence of babies and kittens and puppies. We are all made of star stuff because God made the stars from stardust and, as we are told on Ash Wednesday, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Guess who made the dust?

In the creation that is God's playground, go thou and find something awesome in creation that points thee to God. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 18, 2017.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Saints and Sinners -- with a nod to Lent Madness

The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.  Oscar Wilde

We're already one full week into Lent. By now we've started to miss the little things that we gave up and maybe chafing a bit at the extra that we've taken on, but that's what Lent is, a time to make changes, look inside and see what needs to be pitched out and what can be dusted off and put back on the shelf.

It's also a time for that monumental event, Lent Madness. It's a celebration of both saints and ordinary people, all of whom have and all of whom have done marvelous, remarkable things. They've started schools, traveled the world preaching the gospel, may have smuggled people from a place of danger to a place of safety at risk of their own lives. They have made music, they have started organizations to take care of the less fortunate, they have risked all to help fellow human beings. Many of them may not be canonized, or officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but Episcopalians can still consider them saints. Look at Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Julian of Norwich, among many others. Lent Madness makes us aware of some of the lesser-known capital S Saints (canonized)  and lower case saints. It teaches us their lives were like and how they came to wear the crowns of saints and martyrs and the like.

I doubt that anyone would consider Oscar Wilde a saint. He was a wordsmith of the highest caliber, had a wicked sense of humor, and was the author of plays, poems, and novels, as well as a wry commenter on just about everything. One thing about Oscar Wilde that many would consider a barrier to his being considered any kind of saint was the fact that he was homosexual in a time when homosexuality was not only frowned upon but isolating and dangerous. That made me think about what  the quote that I used this morning about every saint having a past that every sinner having a future. Oscar Wilde definitely gave credence to that statement, whether you considered him a saint for his writing or a sinner for who he was.

We often think of saints as people who were recognized from the very beginning as saintly, even as children. Some of them spent hours in church as small children. Joan of Arc prayed and heard voices and saw visions in as a preteen. St. Bernadette, many of the medieval female saints, began early in their lives to be called to God's service as cloistered nuns -rather than follow the  norm of getting married and having lots of children. The thing was that even though many of them were good little  girls (and boys too), they also had a little quirks and flaws that might somehow tarnish their image of being as close to perfection as a body could get on earth.

 Mary Magdalene , was considered to be a harlot for many centuries, despite her closeness to Jesus and her accolade as the Disciple to the Disciples. In the fifth century an Orthodox priest proclaimed that she was a harlot and poor Mary didn't get her reputation back until the 1960s. Is a long time to go with the tarnished reputation. There are tales in the gospel of Thomas of Jesus being somewhat naughty from time to time but yet we overlook those things if we even know about them because were accustomed to the four Gospels were Jesus never put a foot wrong. It's like we want people to be worse then we are. If they can become saints, what's stopping us?

Every saint had a past of some sort, but if I look at the second half of the quotation, it makes a balance that I haven't really thought about that much before. To go with every saint has a past, Wilde put that every sinner had a future. Just because a person has a "past" does not mean that is the only option for them. They can change. They may feel a call from God that they were not expecting, pr something which involved a complete turnaround in their manner of life and thought.

I myself have a past. A lot of it is stiff that I would not be even remotely proud of; in fact, I'm shamed by a good deal of it. Being brought up with shame as something that was a part of our religious tradition, and being imprinted at such a young age with that particular theology, it was and is  kind of hard to get past it. But I have learned that I'm not stuck in that sinful past unless I choose to be. I have the ability and hopefully the desire to make changes, whether in or outside of Lent, to move from abject sinner perhaps not to saint, but at least to someone who is seen the folly of sin and decided to get past that.

So this week, I think I will be trying to be a little more of a saint than a sinner. I will feel a little more saintly once I get the house clean, and the laundry is caught up, and the yard mowed, but that's only stuff that benefits me. I need to find something to do in my life this week that can make a difference in someone else's life, not to put a halo on my head, but to do what Jesus said about loving my neighbor as myself and help other people who need help. It's going to be interesting to see how I can resolve that.

So let's all try this week to look at the bracket of Lent Madness, read the biographies of the saints proposed, and find something that we can have in common with those formerly sinful people, many who don't have the word "saint" in front of their name. It might just be an enlightening adventure.

Go thou, play Lent Madness, and find a link to a future of sainthood. God bless.

PS. Wilde also said, "The Roman Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone -- for respectable people. the Anglican Church will do."  (Disclaimer -- he said it, but I don't think I totally buy it, I think.)

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 11, 2017.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Celebration in Lent

Family doesn't have to be your relatives. Family means that your life is part of someone else's, like sections of hair that need each other to form a braid. — Michelle Bender.

Something I've always known about families is that they don't always have to be related people, related by blood, that is. Family can be people you related to, people you have something in common with, people with whom you are in community, and people who come into your life almost by coincidence and set up a place all their own  in your heart. I've got lots of friends and I love them all, but you know, sometimes there are just special people that do have a place no one else could possibly fill, people that, that no matter how long it's been since you've seen each other or talked, when we connect it's like the years have become minutes and we pick up immediately where you left off.

I got an invitation in the mail this past week to a celebration, the 70th wedding anniversary of two people I've known for probably 35 years or so, and who have been like a family to me in every good sense of the word. It will be a celebration, because honoring a commitment of 70 years is something indeed worth celebrating. I saw a quote from Paul Sweeney that struck me when I found it just after receiving the invitation.  "A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance, and tenacity. The order varies for any given year." I have a feeling any marriage of any length would find it applicable, and especially those who have lasted for decades.

These friends, a priest and his wife, have been warm, full of hospitality, full of  laughs, full of good food, good company, and willing to share. There are both highly intelligent people, and very talented in very different ways. Perhaps that's what has helped make their marriage survive. That plus they have three great kids, they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The whole family devoted to each other and I think that has helped make the marriage strong. It's only right to celebrate an event like this for special people like them. Even though its Lent, it's time to celebrate two lives which, while maybe not perfect (at least not 100% of the time, anyway), are nonetheless an example of commitment.

We don't usually consider Lent as a time for celebrations. Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection and repentance and change. One is supposed to give up things, or at least that's used to be the prevailing thought. It was a big deal to give up coffee, or chocolate, or maybe going to the movies for Lent, but that has sort of taken on a new emphasis. It is not so much about giving up of favorite things, although that is still encouraged, but now we are encouraged to take on things, usually charitable works or more religious practice and reading. At any rate, Lent is a time of solemnity and, sometimes, a bit overwhelming when we consider our very own sins for any length of time.

There's a saying by Robert Orben that makes me chuckle but also reflects a deeper truth. "Most people would like to be delivered from temptation but would like it to keep in touch." It's hard to try and change habits and give up our beloved little sins for 40 days. It's hard to be reminded of our sinful natures and our shortcomings, and sometimes that can get to be just a little much. It can become very depressing. Of course, it's good for us to examine our faults and flaws, although it's not as easy as examining other people's. Still, in Lent, we're supposed to think about our own sins and how they need to be fixed, changed, or done away with.

Then, in the midst of all this, there comes a celebration like my friends' wedding anniversary, and you know, why shouldn't we have celebrations during Lent? If I stop and think about it, Lent is 40 days spread over six weeks. That comes out to 6.6666666 days of repentence we round out to 6 days a week. But what about that other day, the day we call Sunday? It's still part of the week, but it's not considered a Lenten day. Oh yes, it the church colors are still the purple of repentance and our readings are generally dealing with sin and salvation from those sins, but Sunday is like a day off, a time to celebrate.

We gather on Sunday in church and lo and behold, even though we have put away a specific word like "Alleluia" which is word of joy, we still have a celebration. We still gather as a family to celebrate the Eucharist, and that's a celebration. It's joyfully gathering together in the presence of God to partake of a family meal instituted by Jesus to join us together in our faith. It's not simply a reenactment, it is a celebration in every sense of the word.

During Lent we celebrate things like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, births, and promotions, and we look forward to Easter where there will be celebrations of  baptisms where new Christians will be brought into the church as we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord. Then will celebrate the Eucharist on Easter just like we do every Sunday and it will be another celebration for us.

So to all those who celebrate something during Lent, it's cause for joy even in the midst of repentance. So happy anniversary, Jack and Bettie.  May you continue to remind us that a braid is made up of individual strands, and each strand strengthens the whole exponentially. May you have more anniversaries, family births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and just joyful get-togethers.

For all of us, go thou and celebrate. God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 4, 2017.