At the Corner of Common St. and All Saints Day

IMG_7251This morning as I waited for the light at the corner of Common Street and Mt. Auburn, I glanced over at the cemetery. It was a dark but searing morning. Everything about the weather and the light announced in all caps, IT’S NOVEMBER. A hawk sat atop a tree recently stripped of its leaves – You can see it if you look carefully at this photo – motionless and determined to keep vigil over this grey scene.

This was the morning of All Saints Day, when the church remembers all the faithful departed and makes the gob-smackingly audacious claim that those who came before us are kinda still with us. Their witness, their work, their prayers, their participation in the holy work of love reverberate powerfully. It is inaccurate to simply say they are “gone.” They are still at work in us.

I wondered about these tombstones I looked out over as I waited for the light. They honor the “past.” But they also call me to account. What will my legacy be? What warmth and truth will my life radiate so powerfully that my children and my children’s children will find something of hope in them? It may be November, and the weather may be turning wintery, but, like that hawk in the tree, I keep vigil over a world that is more than what it seems, and a landscape that needs my testimony and your testimony and our shared work for good. Happy All Saints.

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Shelter

File_000-7What do you think of when you imagine a priest or deacon offering pastoral care? Certainly, in my nineteen years of ordained ministry, I have attended to people in all sorts of needs. I have accompanied people young and old, with a very wide range of questions on their hearts.  But in 2017 in Watertown, Massachusetts, the most frequent call, email, or conversation I am asked to respond to is housing insecurity.

Rents are exorbitant. Buying a house in Watertown is no mean feat. My congregation continues to loose young families who cannot afford to live in Watertown anymore so move farther from Boston to buy a house. The loss of a job, a mental or physical illness, disability, aging, a change in marital status, a thumbs-down from the immigration office, taking on the care of an elder — all of these can send someone into a housing tailspin. Most people have no idea where to turn.

On Thursday, I was blessed to hear a presentation by Brian Costello, Executive Director of the Watertown Housing Authority, who led the Board of the Marshall Home Fund on a tour of the E. Joyce Munger Apartments, one of five facilities managed by the WHA. Brian shared some amazing, important statistics with us:

  • WHA offers 745 opportunities to live in safe, decent, affordable housing for low income individuals.
  • 75-80% of the WHA operating cost is covered by residents, 80% of whom work.
  • Last year, the WHA had a record-low vacancy rate, and it now has a waiting list of 2,000 applicants.

I was deeply moved by Brian Costello’s attention to detail, respect for the dignity of the people housed by the WHA, Job-like patience, and fierce conviction that public housing is a wise investment. His work is at least as pastoral as mine.

There is no collect for housing in the Book of Common Prayer. So here’s a stab at a prayer for the countless people in our region unsure where to lay their heads.

O God our refuge, we hold before you all those who are housing insecure. Lead them to the resources they need, and watch over them as they navigate processes that are hard to understand and inadequate to their need. Move the hearts and minds of those in positions of public trust to invest in new housing, so that all may abide in peace, in this world and the next. Amen.

 

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Things are looking up

File_000-6We should have an eclipse every day. In the midst of a season of truly awful words and actions filling the news daily, yesterday’s eclipse was like a secular Easter. I was part of a huge crowd that gathered near Watertown Public Library to take in the event. The mood was festive and anticipatory. I saw folks I hadn’t seen all summer. I met new people who were gracious enough to explain their home-make eclipse viewing gadgets to me. Everyone looked equally goofy in their eclipse-watching goggles. Not being in the Path of Totality, as the afternoon continued there were equal parts looking-up-at-the-sky and wandering around gabbing with people. it was awesome.

And by awesome I mean both “a really fun time,” and “full of awe.” An eclipse puts everything in perspective. While we humans have been making a hash of our corporate life and threatening all things nuclear, the planets, galaxies, universe (multiverse?) keep on holding us in being and operating on a timescale outrageously longer than an election cycle.

Maybe if we looked up more it would change our decisions and deepen our gratitude. The prayer we use to bless bread and wine at my church every Lent gives thanks for the “vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.” This prayer is often dismissed as the “Star Wars prayer.” But I’m always thankful for it. We are part of systems and forces way beyond our daily awareness, not just on the days we gather to watch eclipses, but every day. Let’s not wait till 2024 for get together in celebration of that.

 

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Difference is Holy

fri3Difference is holy.

This photo shows campers and staff from our Vacation Garden School yesterday doing something counter-cultural. They are holding hands and listening to one another. They are Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, African-American, white, Pakistani, Chinese, Armenian. They bring their variety together with gentle touch and open hearts to make a sacred place.

They are giving thanks for one another. Everyone says something different, each in his or her own voice. We are stronger for our diversity.

It pains my heart that this photo was taken on the same day that a white supremacist rally was gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia. It pains my heart that these children, and the children of Charlottesville, and children everywhere are growing up at a time when our nation’s leader can’t do better than call for the end of “violence on many sides” in the face of horrific threat to life and liberty for citizens of color, and cars crashing into silent, non-violent groups.

The children at our VGS learned about the gift of diversity in crops, in gardens, in fish populations, and in humanity. I pray fervently for a world that can nurture the sacred and unique beauty in each one of them. I rededicate myself to bringing that about.

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Grief, Faith and Flowers

File_000-6I am at Russo’s, staring at the cut flowers. This is the first time I have found myself overwhelmed by the task of choosing flowers. Shoppers are coming and going, elbows out, determined to get their fresh pasta and head home in time for whatever is Very Important tonight. A Russo’s employee, in contrast, slowly and carefully places fresh carrots onto a shelf. I just keep staring at the flowers.

I am buying flowers for the church altar, in honor of the first anniversary of my mother’s passing from this life to the next. Mom loved flowers, and she was very good at choosing just the right ones for any occasion. She ran a fundraiser for years featuring florists making gorgeous arrangements that were auctioned off at the end of the event. She favored floral prints for wallpaper and fabric. And she was a great gardener.

My friend Bruce believes that everyone reflects God’s Being with a focus on one of three things: truth, beauty, or justice. My Mom was all about beauty.

My aesthetic is different from my Mom’s, and I don’t know flowers nearly as well as she did. Standing here blocking traffic in the aisle at Russo’s, the simple task of making a decision brings up memories, thanksgivings, grief, unresolved mother-daughter stuff, and more. What to do? I defer to the liturgical calendar: we’re celebrating the Transfiguration of Christ tomorrow, so white it is. White roses. I’ll add some rosemary from our garden at home (Mom was a great cook, too), and place it all in a vase I inherited from her. My modest offering won’t win any floral competitions, but it’s from the heart.  Now for that fresh pasta….

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Re-creation

File_000-4The photo here captures the quiet bliss of creation and recreation on a New England pond. It was not taken in Watertown. I’ve not been in Watertown for a while.

I’ve just returned from a three-month sabbatical. When I left for sabbatical, I felt like a balloon that had been overfilled: no room for anything more to get in, emotionally, logistically, spiritually. Sabbatical was not so much about adding fun experiences to my life as it was about exhaling enough that I could recover my spirit and make room for what is beautiful, good, and necessary now.

I am very aware that sabbaticals are a luxury. Few people have jobs that allow them such a gracious season of renewal. Nonetheless, my hope for you is that this summer you find (or create) enough margin to “deflate” your overfilled balloon. Step away from your gmail. Put down your phone. Walk through a park you’ve never visited. Send a letter to an old friend. Engage in that “holy waste of time” that is prayer.

My guess is that no one will tell you to do these things. You’ll have to intentionally carve out time and space for them.

For encouragement, I leave you with this “prayer for leisure” from the Book of Common Prayer, which guided me in my sabbatical:

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Notes on an Overfull Time

File_000 (8)What a winter. I’ve not posted here for sooo long. My kitchen is sooo messy. My inbox is soooo full. My heart is soooo full, too.

So let me summarize the last 6 weeks of my life out and about in Watertown: Lots of conversations with lots of thoughtful people about how to support those in the greatest need. People are chatting loudly about the news of the day at Starbucks. Middle schoolers are reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” and letting it inform what they hear on the news. People are meeting in church basements to learn about the sanctuary movement. Friends are meeting in homes to write postcards to the President. Residents from Russia, Iran, Syria, and Peru are putting prayer requests on the prayer board for loved ones who had hopes to travel here but cannot.

This photo is from an afternoon that gave me some spiritual strength. Hundreds of people gathered in Watertown Square and later in a church sanctuary to affirm the goodness, dignity, and gift of all people, including immigrants. It felt right to me to be doing this as I was preparing for Lent, a season when we “repent,” which means “turn and face.” We turn and face one another, turn and face the God who made every single one of us in God’s image, and turn and face the ways in which we participate in brokenness. Sometimes, repentance happens on our knees in a pew. Sometimes it happens holding a sign in a town square. Where are you called to this practice now?

Posted in Churchy Stuff, civil discourse, Community, justice, lent, Uncategorized, Watertown | Tagged , ,