Uncategorized

Having Published a Book

I confess to writer’s block. I miss my manuscript, always waiting for me here in my study, beckoning me to sit, concentrate, and create as well as recreate, rewrite, edit, and try different phrases on for size and feel.

On what shall I focus now? she asks. Shorter things. Different things? How can I when writing is part and parcel of me—the way I learn what I feel and think. When bemused, befuddled, and out of focus, I need words to write by hand to talk to myself, as I do frequently in my journal. That journal lasts a year, perhaps, and then is shelved—and often not consulted again because it is the very process of writing that informs me.

I wrote a review myself for Loving the Enemy, because I felt satisfied that I had done my best. It isn’t perfect. I still spot phrases I wish I had spent more time on. But nearly 10 years!? Really. I wrote it in fits and starts among the three or four positions I held since 1999.
The beginnings were reflections on how to cope with the decline in my oh-so independent parents, suddenly claiming weakness, and, in my dad’s case, falling prey to a UTI (urinary tract infection). Read all about it in Loving the Enemy: When the favorite parent dies first.

I’d love for you to read it. You will find the benefit of seeing a family approach a crisis no one had prepared for, whose patriarch refused intervention until he could no longer refuse. A move to a nursing home completely unanticipated in their children’s minds. The need for decisions no one had considered with both parents. It was as if what my parents waited for was fate. Neither made any decisions ahead of time. No plans. And I suspect they would have waved off any attempt at planning! So shortsighted.

Clearly, writing about how I feel about my book is the thing to do. I’d love to know what you think, especially if it gives you any wise ideas.

Uncategorized

The Thread You Follow

Life has taught me that I rarely know how my choices will turn out. Sometimes there are remarkable discoveries and sometimes nothing. Little by little, year after year, and under the thrall of many talented teachers, I began to learn to understand paradox, the language of the spiritual journey. One of the “rules of the road” is, What appears to be a detour may be the most important leg of the journey. [“Paradox Road,” Judy Cannato. WeavingsXVI:6] These are not the rules you follow on a “road trip.” They’re spiritual rules of the road. Paradoxical, because that’s how Spirit works.

As we learn to trust God, our lives change—but the changes don’t always make sense. Change calls for discernment, weighing the dynamics of travel through the deserts, plains or plush gardens of God’s dwelling in our lives.

As a cradle-roll American Baptist in Everett, Washington, I was in community with friends, worship, and my work through my university years, except for the several years that I was an organist for an evangelical Presbyterian church. I needed the money for college tuition and books. I later became the organist at my church as well, but then moved to Seattle. While teaching English at Garfield High I played for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church near where I lived. In church after church I discovered varied worship, but God was as present to me in one place as the other. I didn’t understand that I felt untethered as well as tethered. Not in my community worshiping, but worshiping, nevertheless. Offering my “God-given talent” as I had been urged to do and also because I needed the work.

Was this “okay”? My home church had emphasized church involvement throughout our lives, but when we move, how do we maintain that commitment? Is a different church okay? A new denomination? A Catholic influence for a Protestant? Why not?

The charismatic renewal in the early seventies drew me and a few friends into Pentecostal worship, singing prayers, prayer-group sharing.  Compared to the informality of the Baptists, it felt heretical, but I really grew to know myself better than I had before. I joined the Episcopal church then, participating in a number of ecumenical worship gatherings, including the Cursillo, a “little course in Christianity” founded by laymen in Catholic Spain. I reembraced a deeper spiritual inner life—as I had experienced at church summer camps where singing around a bonfire on the beach and sharing prayers in the wild felt holy.  It was curious for a Baptist to commune at “mass,” but I was as drawn to the Eucharist as I had been drawn to “give my life to Christ” when, at 8, I went forward to be baptized. Except that now, I could “go forward” every Sunday. I loved the prayers and reading Scripture in the service.

I stuck with this worship style for almost as long as I had been Baptist. But another significant relationship change led to a renewed curiosity with those Baptists. When a friend and I decided to visit Seattle First Baptist Church to see what was going on in the 90s, I was amazed to be as drawn to the extemporaneous prayer as I had been drawn to the liturgy before. Both styles of worship met needs of mine, as music enriched the whole. We stayed. And unexpectedly, I felt a call to ministry as well. You know that story.

People of faith—of any faith or belief system—often talk about looking back to see a thread that connected unrelated parts of their experience through their lives. Few people I know have done the same thing, worshiped the same way, and believed the same principle for years and years. I have been committed both emotionally and spiritually to at least four church communities. Now I am committed to two of them, while devoting most of my time to the fifth: a small Lutheran church close to home.

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message [Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992], writes that when we move to another town, state or country and start looking for a church, we ought to choose the local church most convenient to our new home. Why? Because church is about community more than denomination: creating it, learning from it, improving it, and growing it. This surprised me. Rather than loyalty to only one denomination, Peterson recommended membership close by, the goal being engaging as much as possible in other people’s lives while following the faithful path. A life of faith is lived more in community, conceivably, than only in a faith system.

I’ve experienced over and over a spiritual life spiced by surprise and paradox. It is the foreign country we enter when we become intentional about our walk with God, following where we are led. Another rule of that road is that it is permissible to ask for directions and, often, ‘enemies and aliens’ make good traveling companions. William Stafford says it more poetically in “The Way It Is.”

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford ~

Discovery, Lavish loving, Ordinary Miracles, Uncategorized

The Little Things

            Being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. We need soft night noises—a mother speaking downstairs, a grandfather rumbling in response, cars swishing past on Philadelphia Avenue and their headlights  wheeling about the room. We need the little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness.

 

John Updike describes the comforting “clicks and sighs” of the presence of others in our lives, our awareness of parents talking quietly downstairs, or brothers murmuring in the next room, traffic on Colby cruising to a stoplight.

 

Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection are that kind of presence. Not only does he speak peace to his friends, he appears unannounced as if the dead regularly materialize in our living rooms, urging calm and trust.

 

My favorite story is of the disciples coasting close to shore where Jesus has prepared a small fire on the beach. He is grilling a few fish and some bread. (Jn 21) He calls to them to come closer, tells them where they’ll find more fish, and once they’ve beached their boat, to bring more fish to the fire. They don’t even recognize him at first. And then they’re astonished. You can imagine the smoke blown into the hills behind him, the welcome warmth in the chill salty air, and the fatigue—not only from a night of fishing, but another whole net full of fish pulled in as they arrive.

 

So schooled was I to expect Jesus’ return at any hour of any day, one Sunday night before evening church I thought I saw him standing near a staircase in a brilliant white robe, light shining round about him. I thought Jesus had returned! A second later I realized it was just the pastor in his white baptismal robe standing under a 100-watt light bulb.

 

So much for peace and presence. I was taught that the Lord might return just this way, all of a sudden, in the middle of a football game or church picnic, and especially in spectacular sunsets over Hat Island. Anticipation overran my imagination.

 

I grew up with a “Jesus-and-me” complex, a relationship so tight that I always felt him at my side, walking in the fields together. Years later when this assurance had faded, I began to realize the limitations of my naïve familiarity and the millennia that already distanced believers from its magic. At the same time, there was an other-worldliness to the ways I discovered we can still expect the Mysteries of God in our lives. The soft night voices of those we love, the reflection of the back porch light, phrases of music suddenly distinct when the furnace shuts down, the gifts of clean sheets and hopes for tomorrow.

 

It may not be grilled fish on a rocky beach, but the fragrance of coffee and toast in the kitchen. These little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness still speak to us of the love that will never let us go.

 

 

Rev. Cathy Fransson blogs at SpiritStones.net, and sees individuals for spiritual direction