This is a mom washing paint from her toddler’s hands. I bet she had to wash the child’s hands three or four times in the course of the 1.5 hr Mother’s Day Tea sponsored by Watertown Family Network. Washing hands is just part of the deal for moms. They do it over and over and over, usually without thinking about it. It’s one of those quotidian but profound acts rich with holiness.

Hand washing protects the child. I remember the period of time when I was learning to trust my children to wash their own hands. So hard to let go! There were times at birthday parties or picnics when I had to sit on my own hands to keep from grabbing a wet wipe and reaching for their wrist, which would have embarrassed them to no end.

Now my children are Tweens and we have moved on to new challenges: entrusting them to the internet, to their own sense of fashion, and to their own emerging sense of self.  That impulse to rush in and protect is still oh, so strong, and sometimes, I believe, important to honor. But when and how seems less clear. It’s not as simple as grabbing a wet wipe.

I take comfort from the fact that I seem to have survived not only  dirty hands (Did I ever wash my hands at summer camp?), but bumping around in the station wagon sans seat belt, drinking Tab all through high school, and walking around Kenya for a year without applying even a dollop of sunscreen. But I’m still gonna pray every night for my children’s health and safety. And I’m still going to gather advice from wise friends sharing this parenthood journey with me. And I’m keeping some wet wipes handy, too.

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Pothole Season

On the road in Watertown

On the road in Watertown

Right on schedule, I came down with a head cold on Easter Monday. It’s an occupational hazard. It’s practically what Episcopal clergy sign up for. It should just be added into the ordination vows:

Q: Will you be diligent in the reading and study of Holy Scriptures?

A: I will.

Q: Will you stock up on Kleenex and Theraflu during Holy Week and promise not to complain when you start sneezing late in the afternoon on Easter Day for the rest of your vocational life?

A. I will.

I’m not complaining about the head cold. But I do wish it would go away. I also wish the pot holes all over town would get fixed – today! And I wish my propensity to impatience would dissipate. And I wish relationships that feel strained would magically heal with the touch of a few prayers.

In short, I wish Easter fixed everything.

But as it turns out, Easter doesn’t take away the hurts and hardships, the pot holes and the much larger challenges of this world. We’re still here, sorting out the complexities, looking for hands to hold ours when we’re lonely, and being the ill-tempered, petty human beings we’ve always been.

But Easter does two things that matter a lot, at least to me. First, it reminds me that while my hardships matter – to me and to God – they are part of a much larger story of God creating and recreating and pulling new life out of what appears to have died. Just as Thomas was freed for new life only after touching Jesus’s wounds, we, too, find resurrection only by touching one another’s suffering and pain.

And second, Easter assures me that there is more going on than I can ever see or understand. My perspective is limited. I’m finite. The Spirit is making all things new in ways that I cannot fully fathom, even when my mind isn’t fogged over by a head cold. I place my hand over my mouth, as Job says (Ch. 40), in the face of the mysterium tremendum, who has been revealed – Happy Easter! – as love.

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These Children, They Are Not (And Yet They Are) Your Children….

At the Watertown Early Childhood Education Faire

At the Watertown Early Childhood Education Faire

I always enjoy the Watertown Early Childhood Education Faire. A school cafeteria packed to the brim with educators, caregivers, parents, babies, and small kids is a room packed to the brim with hope and possibility. This year I was splitting my time between promoting Vacation Garden School and supporting the Girl Scouts who were doing a craft with the little ones, which made the adventure doubly fun.

As I watched parents gathering brochures and signing up for mailing lists, I thought about how many decisions parents and caregivers make, and how hard those decisions feel. This preschool or that one? Computer camp or soccer camp or just give the kid a break? Each decision can feel monumental, as though an entirely different future will unfold on this path, versus the other.

And sometimes it does. Sometimes a child’s life goes one way or another based on the day camp, the playdate or the movie, for better or worse. And sometimes it doesn’t: it’s just another playdate or day camp or movie. Parenting is a spiritual practice of holding responsibility with grace and care, while learning to reconcile oneself to what one cannot control. Twelve years into this vocation of parenting, I am still learning this practice. In the meantime, I’ll make some seed art, eat some Thin Mints, and watch in wonder as my children become who they are, partly in response to decisions I’ve made, and partly due to a providence way beyond my understanding.

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Fire and Ice(dams)

photo (97)Like most of you reading this — well, at least those in New England — I’ve been too busy to do much blogging recently. My creative and expressive juices were dried up by days of just trying to navigate narrow streets and find a place to park, discern the appropriate level of concern/urgency/panic based on the latest forecast, and attend to children whose school days were cancelled again and again and again.

I love winter. I grew up going skiing in Michigan every February. I have beloved memories of walking across Madison, Wisconsin on a silent, snow-covered night. I adore a good winter retreat — brisk walks through the woods or out onto an ice-covered lake, followed by cocoa near a fire.

But this one has been taxing, even for me. We broke a record yesterday: now it’s officially the 2nd snowiest winter on record in the Boston area. Huzzah.

I do want to share one beautiful moment, however. The photo above is from Shrove Tuesday, when we burned last year’s palms to make ashes for our Ash Wednesday liturgy. This is always a beautiful moment. But this year, a small group of us gathered at dusk around our church’s “holy hibatchi,” which had been dug out of it two-foot snowcone for our use. The wall of snow on all sides muffled the sound of our laughter and our prayers, creating a comforting cushion around us. The reflection of the fire on the snow was simply stunning, a reminder that the Holy Spirit comes to warm and purify and ignite us, even when ice dams threaten to take over our homes and our souls.

Come, Holy Spirit, burn brightly in our tired and frostbitten community. Warm our hearts through this holy season of Lent, and spark in us new joy and unexpected transformation.

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People got polite

photo (92)I always love the Watertown Unity Breakfast on MLK Day. And I always find that the most memorable and inspiring offerings are from the young people. This year was no exception. A group of middle school students performed a rap against racism they had composed. So beautiful. So direct.

The rap recounts Dr. King’s life and work, then moves on to challenge us to live into the legacy. At one point in their telling of the story of the civil rights struggle, the students summarized the early progress made with the phrase, “People got polite.” Yes, it really was (still is) about common human decency.

This great phrase brought to mind conversations I’ve had with my own middle school children, whose response to the ongoing injustices and indecencies they hear about and see around them is incredulity. “What’s wrong with people?” I’ve heard them say on more than one occasion. How would you respond? What is wrong with people?

“People got polite” also brought to mind the words of the great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who called us to move from I-It relationships to I-Thou relationships. To see the other as fully worthy of being, a full partner in the gift and challenge of life, good and valuable without reference to my needs or my subjectivities.

Thanks to those who wrote and offered the rap. Thanks to all those who are speaking, singing, marching, and working for a better future for all God’s children. Let’s get polite, and just, and peaceful, and together.

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Mother and child taking a break from holiday shopping.

Mother and child taking a break from holiday shopping.

Sitting quietly in the midst of the holiday hub-bub, while sugary holiday songs wafted through the air around her, this mother sat feeding her baby at the Arsenal Mall — I mean “Project.” Her centeredness was so beautiful. It felt like a gift in the midst of an atmosphere engineered to make me restless, designed to make me feel like I need more. She conveyed contentedness and presence.

There are some good books on parenting. But in the end, one learns to be a parent by parenting. One gathers the inner strength needed to get through the sleepless nights and put up with the spit and poop and other glop by simply putting up with it. Experience is the best professor, in parenting, and in so much in life, including prayer.

I met recently with some colleagues who had both read a good book about prayer. They traded favorite quotes and teachings from the book. Clearly it had made an impression. I’ve read some good books about prayer, too, but I chose not to join in the conversation. I think I’ve learned more about prayer from praying, and from being with people who have more experience than I with it. Chief among them are the brothers of SSJE, an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge. The brothers’ entire life is prayer, ordered around corporate prayer, which they offer to God at set times all through the day. Every day. Day after day. They are a living book on prayer.

During Advent, they invite us to pray with them through an online Advent calendar. Each day, they invite us to meditate on a different word, using an image and a short quotation from one of the brothers’ sermons as a touchstone. Today’s word is “experience.” Check their website here or on Twitter, check #Experience #AdventWord to find out what they and others are hearing the Spirit say about experience.

Thank you to the mother in the mall (I mean “project”), whose name I do not know. Thank you for being an icon through which God’s experience of being patient and caring and still with us was revealed. Thanks for being part of my experience.

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Keep on Walking in Circles

photo (51)One of my favorite songs from back in the day is called “We’re Gonna Keep on Walking Forward.” It’s a great song for replenishing your courage in the midst of work for justice or positive change of any kind. Singing it with friends and colleagues, slowly and in four-part harmony, always makes my heart sing. Here’s the version I know.

But there are times when I feel like I’m walking in circles. Or that our society is walking in circles. Are we making any progress? Am I “achieving” anything of note? Making a difference at all? Certainly the news of recent weeks makes gives me pause. Are we a better society than the ones our ancestors crossed oceans to escape? Am I any more self-aware or open-hearted than I was as a youth?

I was glad on Saturday to have the chance to walk a labyrinth, which we brought to our parish and incorporated into our Advent Quiet Day. In a labyrinth, you can’t get lost. But you do need to keep going. “It is solved by walking,” as the ancient phrase goes. I walked slowly, letting my mind travel back to many other places I’ve walked in my life: walks on the beach of Lake Michigan, walks around the rim of a volcano in Kenya, protest marches, walks across a snowy city in Wisconsin, AIDS walks. So many steps, each one bringing me closer to this moment, this decision-point. Where will I walk next?

The labyrinth feels true to my experience. Around and around we go in life and as a society. But the labyrinth is a path, and the journey itself holds blessing. To sit it out would be sad – maybe sinful, even. I will “keep on walking forward,” inviting as wide an array of people to accompany me as possible. But I will anticipate some twists and turns, and I will seek to make sure no one gets left behind on the journey.

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