So I did, and he did, and now it’s been published online and in print.
Seven years ago, I was trying to figure out what direction I was headed in, trying to hear God’s voice, trying to figure out what was actually next for me. I look back at those posts from 2010, and I see a younger me trying to let the process unfold as it should.
At every step, I’ve been fairly clear that the next thing to do is just the next right thing to do – whether it was another essay, or another form, or another class, or whatever presented itself next. I didn’t look far ahead like I usually did – I just did what I was meant to do next, because the big future planning hadn’t worked out so well for me, and why not actually trust God for a change?
Well, that next right thing process has now gotten me to this day, this day of my ordination into the Unitarian Universalist ministry.
Ain’t that a hell of a thing.
And here I am, at the culmination of a journey which is in fact the start of a journey. In these nearly seven years, I have leaned in, breathed deeply, and discovered the minister I am and the ministry I am called to – a ministry of the heart as much as a ministry of the arts – and for me it is less about being the artist and more about inspiring creation and creativity as our way to truth and right action.
The readings and songs that make up my ordination service are all very much about following that impulse: to enter the difficult sideways through the act and experience of creation, to open our hearts to a love that is limitless and unimaginably good, to leap boldly into possibility.
One particular piece, written by my friend, the Biblical scholar Celene Lillie, specifically for my ordination (what a gift it is!), is a narrative of the call of Mary Magdalene: Mary, who was not told to follow Jesus and learn from him, and whose words after his death were met with doubt, and whose very character was defiled by church fathers centuries after her death. Mary, whose call, Celene notes, “is not uncomplicated.”
Our calls are complicated – especially the calls of women who choose an alternative path in ministry. What does it mean to breathe into and step forward into a complicated call of the arts and the heart in a complicated world? I don’t know, and I suspect the sermon my mentor preaches today is going to challenge us to consider it…just as I will be challenged by this call every day.
But what I do know is that this call is full of color and movement, sound and excitement, chaos and stillness, truth and beauty, awe and wonder, openness and possibility, friendship and love.
I hardly have words this morning – this carol is simply beautiful.
Set to the tune Prospect, one of my very favorites from Southern Harmony, these lyrics by Royce Scherf are melancholy and holy and full of whatever it is that hearts are full of in that moment of exhaustion when something like a miracle happens.
The hills are bare at Bethlehem, no future for the world they show;
yet here new life begins to grow, from earth’s old dust a greenwood stem.
The stars are cold at Bethlehem, no warmth for those beneath the sky;
yet here the radiant angels fly, and joy burns new, a fi’ry gem.
The heart is tired at Bethlehem, no human dream unbroken stands;
yet here God comes to mortal hands, and hope renewed cries out: “Amen!”
In my creative imaginings, I would put this in a contemplative section with “I Wonder as I Wander” and Britten’s “Wealden Trio” and dwell in the earthy holiness of the moment.
I don’t have much more to say… words are failing me in witness to this song. Maybe the song is enough.
While I know there are readers who are not Unitarian Universalists, most of you are.
And of that group, some of you will be attending General Assembly in New Orleans this June.
And of that group, some of you don’t mind getting up early for something cool, especially if it’s just for one morning.
And of that group, seven of you will get to be my guest one morning during Ministry Days and General Assembly for breakfast, singing, and conversation.
We’ll share a meal, sing the hymn of the day (as best we can), discuss the hymn and maybe a few other things. Then – with your permission – I will include highlights from our conversation in the post.
If this sounds interesting to you, then fill out the contact form below. Since many breakfast meetings/events get scheduled in late May/early June, I will pick winners and set dates on June 10th. However, it will help if you can indicate which dates you already know you can/can’t attend. And if you aren’t a morning person and still want to connect, let me know and we’ll try to work something out.
Hope to sing with some of you in person!
I just wrote my 51st entry in this crazy Hymn by Hymn thing, and there are actually people reading it. Whodathunkit?
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the practice itself, having gotten into it and into the habit. This kind of reflection – processing the process – is common in UU Wellspring Spiritual Deepening – we are encouraged to take up a spiritual practice during the class, and we take time now and then to reflect on how that’s going. Is it working? What are we discovering? Do we need to make changes? It’s a worthwhile tool, not only because it helps us form and format our practice, but it also helps draw our attention to it so that it doesn’t become mindless habit.
And so, this spiritual practice. Because this is how it began, after all. I felt like I wasn’t being attentive to myself, and I knew that taking up a time-limited but long-play practice has served me well in the past. In my high pagan days, I was taught to spend a year and a day studying a path, a divination tool, a deity, or some such; and I had wonderful years studying the runes, Artemis, Sophia, and the chakras. As I shifted from pagan to agnostic to theist, my year and a day practices changed; I did a year of CS Lewis (and have dents in the spines of his books to prove it), and in my 50th year on earth, did my Year of Jubilee, focusing on the renewal of myself, letting go of emotional debts, etc.
But now it’s been a couple of years and some trauma later, and it felt like time to fill the void. I didn’t know what to do, so I put out a call on Facebook, and my colleague Heather Petit suggested singing a hymn a day. I added the blogging about it part, because I knew that, like my Year of Jubilee, public posts would keep me accountable. And so, on my birthday (when I have started all of these practices), I began with May Nothing Evil Cross This Door.
It’s been intriguing so far, and I’ve already discovered some things:
- there are so many more hymns that I don’t know than I realized
- the hymnal compilers made some odd language choices here and there and I am more of a quibbler than I expected
- every time I think a hymn is unsingable, I hear Jason Shelton saying every hymn is singable with the right music leadership
- there are some hymns that are incredibly controversial and there’s no middle ground, at least according to the long thread of Facebook comments from my colleagues
- doing these in order means there have been and will be some jarring juxtapositions between hymn and real life – see the swath of cheery morning songs the days after the election
- singing hymns that don’t fit the day makes my imagination work more, and that’s a good thing
- I want to lead more vespers services
- every time I think no one is reading, someone comments and makes my day – and at least once, the commenter ministered to me
- I have yet to drag myself to the practice – in fact, I look forward to it, even in the darkest of days
And so, it continues. I’ll be heading into spring and summer songs soon, immersed fully into nature by Christmas. That, to me, is a real gift – as someone who doesn’t like the overload of Christmas music on tv, radios, shops, played by well-meaning friends, family, and congregants, it’ll be an oasis. (I will hit the winter holiday tunes in late spring.)
Thanks, all, for reading. Thanks for being a lovely part of my spiritual practice, a part that reminds me that what we do for ourselves can also help others.
Why this, why now?
I realized that I feel most connected to myself when I take up a special project as a spiritual practice – something with a particular scope and time limit. I’ve previously spent a year studying a particular pantheon, or spiritual path, or in the case of my 50th year, the project that was My Year of Jubilee.
I put out a call for ideas on Facebook, and my colleague Heather Petit suggested singing a hymn a day. It seemed perfect – hymns are almost second nature, but to walk through them all – familiar and unfamiliar – with intention? That sounds amazing.
How long will this take?
Originally, I was seeking something I could do for a year, but I realized that if I am to do the project justice, I need to sing every hymn in both hymnals, even the one-verse offerings for Old Hundredth.
Will it get weird?
Absolutely. I’ll be singing Christmas carols in late spring. Sometimes we sing the same lyrics to two different tunes (Light of Ages and of Nations, Amazing Grace).
What will I do each day?
First I will sing the hymn – if I know it, it’ll be easy. I will also turn to online resources and musician friends to help with those I don’t. Then… I’ll write.
What will I cover in each day’s post?
First will be the lyrics – then, who knows? I plan to reflect on what strikes me – experience of singing, theological reflections, personal memories, and who knows what else – this is perhaps the beauty of a spiritual practice with several boundaries (frequency, order, process) – a great amount of freedom within the structure.
What do I hope for you, the reader?
On one level, it will hopefully become a resource. But on another, who knows. It might be that I bore everyone, including myself. But it will be an adventure of some sort.
Thanks for coming on the adventure with me.
Somehow, this blog was forgotten in the fray. I stopped blogging about anything – theology, art, justice – because life had gotten the better of me. It was all I could do to write sermons and newsletter articles.
Perhaps this was my downfall – I feel best when I write. But I let a million excuses – busy-ness, trauma, a surprising dislike for the WordPress theme I’d fallen in love with – get in the way. I couldn’t figure out what to write when I’d poured out so much into sermons and the only words I felt were left were unpublishable words of frustration, shame, anger, and fear. Probably a lack of imagination on my part. Certainly a lack of commitment.
But now I’m going to blog again.
This time – much like my Year of Jubilee – with a sense of purpose. I will be going through the UUA’s two hymnals – a hymn a day, reflecting on the lyrics, melodies, and meaning. It will, of course, get a little weird, when I start doing the Christmas carols in springtime, or when I go through the many lyric options for Old Hundredth. But it’ll be interesting – Hymn By Hymn will start tomorrow, on my 52nd birthday – with the first notes of STLT #1, May Nothing Evil Cross This Door, and end on the final, joyful notes of STJ #1074, Turn the World Around.
And in between, I hope the daily hymn blogging will lead to other blogging – not just posting sermons but reflecting on theology, art, justice – all the things these Notes from the Far Fringe have sought to explore.
Hiatus over. Let’s get to work.
If you read yesterday’s blog post, you might think I am too much of a pessimist, that I can’t celebrate victories without bringing everyone down. I guess that is what I did; I have been long cognizant of the “middle class white” nature of the marriage equality fight, and I let the bigger picture take over.
Thankfully, I am friends with Rev. Jude Geiger, who said this on Facebook today (photo because I can’t copy text from FB on my phone, where I am writing this):
1. We need to and CAN celebrate – without guilt. This was a major victory, with elegant words from Justice Kennedy to prove it.
2. These victories – yesterday’s ruling, the strike down of DOMA, the strike down of anti-sodomy laws – these victories make each successive one EASIER. Justice Kennedy’s words will be quoted over and over again in legal cases because they make the case and pave the way for more justice.
Yeah – as I said yesterday, and as Jude said on facebook, there’s still a lot to do. But let me be clear:
This was a VICTORY for love, justice, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
There is so much.. too much, really. Too much bad news, too much good news. Too much stimulation. Too many articles to read. Too many new ideas. Too much movement to respond to. Too much death. Too much hypocrisy. Too much change. Too much…too much…
And yet as intelligent, thoughtful, awake people, we are called upon to notice, to consider, to read, to move, to respond, to address.
But there is too much, and we sit in a paralyzed state, staring at our computer screens while the coffee goes cold and the call to respond beats louder and louder, deafening us. And we find ourselves forgetting the boiling eggs on the stove and the package we need to mail and the thing we went into the next room to get.
We forget to meditate.
We forget to be kind.
We forget to eat well.
We forget to move our bodies.
We forget to smile.
We forget to stare into space.
We forget to pay attention to what matters.
We forget to set aside pettiness and old hurts.
We forget to pray.
We forget ourselves.
What we need is someone or something to call us back into covenant with life. Not with all the too much of life, but with life itself. We need someone or something to call us back to the things that nourish us. We need someone or something to remind us we can’t do everything, can’t respond to everything, can’t read everything, can’t mourn or celebrate everything. We need someone or something to call us back into ourselves.
I don’t know what that thing is for you; for me, it’s helpful to write it out, and then stare at the flowering bougainvillea while I intentionally sip a hot cup of coffee. And then it will be helpful to step away from the computer and take a walk, and then come back and cook the cauliflower that’s beckoning me every time I open the fridge.
We can’t do it all or hold it all. And how we deal with it without going mad is as important as what we deal with. We are not meant to be overloaded – we are meant to be thoughtful and present.
May it be so.
Ever since the shootings in Santa Barbara, California that sparked the powerful hashtag #YesAllWomen, I’ve been paying more attention to the so-called men’s rights movement; men who follow this perspective believe we are actually in a matriarchal society, that women have significant control over men, and that women should abdicate authority – particularly when it comes to who they date. We have seen this movement become violent, not only in Santa Barbara, but in the threats some female game designers, critics, and players have experienced in #Gamergate.
Others have written eloquently about the foundational ideas behind this movement, the personalities who are stirring up the movement, and the day-to-day anger and violence against women that this movement seems to encourage. With every article and news report, I get angrier and more frustrated. I have shaken my head in disgust so much I have a permanent crick in my neck. I have dropped my jaw in shock so much I have TMJ.
But one day, after reading profiles of Warren Farrell and Paul Elam, I began to feel something like pity and compassion. I began to wonder how we have failed these men. What did we miss in our care for them that they turned to petulant anger? What messages have we mistakenly sent to suggest that they are victims? Is it because we haven’t sufficiently addressed the issues Susan Faludi wrote about in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male – the standards by which we measure men? How did we blow it? Were we not supportive enough in our classrooms and churches and extracurricular activities and home life? How did we fail them?
I have no answers; I watch what were decent, everyday men get sucked into a spiraling frustration that is fed by others. Their reasoning is circular, their reactions to women are baffling, their compulsion toward violence even more so. I know there’s some sense of a loss of privilege – but I can’t help but wonder if somewhere in our work toward equality, inclusion, and justice, we forgot to teach those with privilege how to both recognize and use their privilege to help everyone up.
In a perfect world, everyone sees the fullness of their identities, and recognizes that others’ identities do not threaten but rather enrich their own. But we’re not there. I pray every day that one more man who’s sucked into this destructive movement gets what he needs to see his own inherent worth – and everyone else’s. And I pray we are there to help them, not give them reasons to stay in a cycle of anger.