21 October 2007

This is my solemn vow

I officiated a marriage yesterday afternoon at Our Saviour in Trenton. I am solidly with the vast majority of my clergy colleagues in detesting weddings. Even I have to admit, however, that this one was different.

The bride and groom, in their late 50s and early 60s respectively, were radiant. The bride's three adult children presented her for marriage and the three of them offered the prayers. In that quiet, lovely, long-prayed-in space with the afternoon sun streaming through the clear windows on the west side, familiar words lingering in the air, each of the six of us fought tears, some more successfully than others.

Very occasionally I remember why I do what I do. Those events mark red-letter days. In my book October 20th 2007 is crimson.

I had the camera and tripod with me. This photograph was taken before the bridal party arrived. A parishioner, related somehow to the bride, for the sheer joy of it put the flowers on the altar. The fragrance of the lilies was transporting. The bride, tearful on her arrival, was unable to stay composed in the face of the tenderness of the gift. They took one arrangement home to enjoy over the weekend; I took the other and delivered it to a parishioner this afternoon in the nursing home when I delivered her weekly communion.

These other photographs came after the litury was finished and before I turned out the lights OR turned the air-conditioning back up. There's something about sunlight on wood that I find hard to resist.

20 October 2007

Living on a mud flat

Well, "on golden pond" is isn't! With our region's now long-standing rainless spell Country Club Pond is fast becoming a mud flat. The water is down three feet and yesterday's predicted and longed-for rain didn't materialize. Pictured here is the shallow end of the pond and the end of the deer fence which was designed to project six feet out into the water. This is now the deer's route to Tal's roses ...

Fall color is pretty brab. Leaves are simply turning brown and falling. The brightest color across the Ridge, actually, is in the soybean fields, the leaves bright yellow. Sadly, for most farmers the yield from those fields once the leaves fall is going to be minimal.

It's a dry time. But, such times -- agriculturally, spiritually, personally, if honored and pondered -- can also prove enormously fruitful. I'm hanging my hat there. I have to admit, however, that I'd prefer water to come eventually and refill the pond. Adapting to living on a mud flat forever, while certainly something I could do, isn't my first choice.

16 October 2007


Yesterday, after climbing into a tree stand before 5:30, followed by the trip to the fair in Columbia, Tal was in need of a nap. Whitby was so glad we were home, all he wanted was to be with Tal, so they napped together. Here Tal's blue recliner is stretched out almost flat and Whitby found a spot, precarious but comfortable, above Tal's head. He was so sound asleep I was able to enter the room, set up the tripod and make several exposures of three seconds or more.

Laughter is good for the soul. Whitby's contributing to my spiritual health just by being his faithful self.

15 October 2007

Fair food

Tal and I have had this day on the calendar since before I went on the Ansel Adams trip in September -- a visit to the SC State Fair. It's not that this particular event is something either of us particularly like. In fact, it's hot, noisy, dusty and crowded. But, it IS an event! And, we were determined to take a day off, and to do that requires leaving home. Hence, the plan.

True to form, it was all those things I listed above. Beyond that, though, it was colorful and interesting and even surprising. My #1 agenda item was to view the photographic exhibit and it did not disappoint. I gravitated to the black and white images in both the amateur and professional categories and had my preference for not giving photographs names reaffirmed. The photographer doesn't need to tell the viewer what to see or feel or how to react. Giving location is one thing; making the viewer get past serenity is another.

We fell into conversation with a man while there who is a member of the Columbia Camera Club. His invitation to join them some Tuesday evening was so tempting. Distance and job responsibilities kept the offer from moving beyond a nice gesture. But, that conversation helped me know I probably need to find (or found) a more local club and, by the way, that I must locate a class to learn PhotoShop and for guidance on printers and the like.

We also visited the flower and sand sculpture display. Always a favorite and this year an eye-popping surprise. The various garden displays installed by local nurseries and landscapers had very distinguished focal points: sculpture from Brookgreen Gardens. Probably 10 pieces, maybe 12. And the huge sand sculpture was of the "Fighting Stallions," the first thing a person sees when coming through the main entrance. Also present was a representative form Brookgreen's bookstore and a large array of books and other items for sale. Yes, it was strange seeing such familiar sculpure out of context. But, also a delight.

And, finally, here it is -- true confessions. Another aspect of the fair is a once-a-year thing that I hate to admit ... corns dogs and funnel cakes. Yes, it's fair food and, truth be known, it's only fair. But, oh yum, anyway! A supply of Rolaids is always a help after that particular indulgence.

And, now it's done for another year.

10 October 2007

From the judgment seat

After I posted yesterday's essay, I continued thinking about those drivers whose cars were left running while they transacted business. Noticing such things probably says as much about me as it does about them. Such as? Well, it appears my sense of righteousness, my flair for self-justification, my superiority complex are all, each one, quite well formed.

While I still don't understand leaving a vehicle running unattended and while I cited economic considerations (isn't gasoline expensive enough yet?) at the end of the essay, I realize there is more to this whole phenomenon than a car left running at the curb.

First, this is an isolated example of a larger issue. My brother, Paul, once commented after witnessing a particularly surprising action by another person which caused some confusion, "Well, that was thought-free." That, more than the pure economics of fuel costs versus comfort, is what I noticed. How many of those drivers really thought about what they were doing when they exited the car? Or the passengers who requested that they air conditioning stay on? I'm talking, I think, about being self-aware, about being thoughtful, about considering a larger scene than the one we're starring in at the moment.

Second, I can get all puffed up and privately outraged and innocently confused about cars left running unattended. After all, "I would never do that," insists Miss Virtous herself. But, BUT there does exist a host, a legion of things I do without thinking, a gracious plenty of ideas and positions I've always held that could use a serious re-thinking. Just because I've always thought a certain thing or gone about doing something a certain way doesn't mean it's necessarily right, and it certainly doesn't mean my way is the only way.

What I'm noticing on these unseasonably warm autumn days outside places of business could actually be the proverbial speck or splinter I'm so quick to notice in an other's eye while missing altogether the mote, the PLANK (let's make it 2X8X12), protruding precariously from my own. How much of the activity filling my days is thoughtfully evaluated for accuracy and worth and its effect on others? Focusing on what another person is doing and disapproving of it keeps me from attending to the things I can do something about, the ONLY things I can do something about. My own actions and attitudes and prejudices.

Cease the "tisk, tisk, tisking," Janet. Step down off your throne, oh, high and lofty one. There's way more than enough thought-free in the world to go around. The question I have to attend to is this: what is it I do in my daily life that would be the equivalent of leaving a car running unattended, the A/C on high?

09 October 2007

Things don't seem to be hard enough yet

Since returning from Alexandria last Thursday I've noticed a phenomenon in nearly every location where I've had to get out of the car. At the grocery store, at the pharmacy, at the post office, at the dry cleaner, at one of the churches I serve, I've seen cars unattended with the engines running.

Admittedly, the weather has been unseasonably warm. Hot, truth be told, and I understand today beat an old record by two degrees. Sometimes the driver has left passengers in the car and in those cases, I am assuming, the air-conditioned comfort of those waiting is the reason. And, there could, of course, be extenuating circumstances in the cases where the car is left running without passengers, like some item inside the car which must stay cool, a heart enroute to a transplant, for example.

It's hard for me to believe that every vehicle I've seen left running these past five days has such a story associated with it. Things must not be hard enough yet or gasoline costly enough yet to cause economics or conservation to trump comfort.

08 October 2007

October gardenias

It's the 8th of October and the thermometer in the shade of the screened porch reads 92 degrees. True, it's a decorative instrument and gives, at best, ball park readings. But, it's hot no matter what thermometer one consults.

The bowls of gardenias continue to grace my desk. The gardenia bushes under our bedroom windows are laden with blooms. And, with the temperature as it is, the scent is intense. Ahhh ...

07 October 2007

Celebrating animal friends

Our animal blessing was this afternoon in the churchyard at Our Saviour. The 7th annual, honoring St Francis whose feast day is October 4th -- offered to the community and benefiting our local animal rescue and adoption non-profit, All God's Creatures. Today was the best attended of the seven and raised the most money to date.

In general, things went well, if you're not looking for great liturgy. The person who normally plays the keyboard had the opportunity to see her son who was passing through Charleston and, good for her, took it. So, we sang a capela -- one verse of All creatures of our God and King as an opener and wound our way through all the verses of All things bright and beautiful while the offering was taken up. Whitby, one of our two dogs, couldn't resist and sang along. The laughing overtook the singing a time or two. The meditation was met with significant canine competition. But, the kisses I received when I went animal-to-animal for the blessing bought wholesale forgiveness.

The dogs were, however, doing what they do, what they're supposed to do -- barking at each other, not paying attention to humans, sniffing everything and everybody. In fact, the most tense moments during the hour weren't actually caused by the dogs, but by "owner error." For example, when two dogs wind leashes around the ankles of a human, who was holding those leashes and who didn't disable their extension/retraction feature for the occasion? I could go on ...

The meditation I offered was an exerpt from a longer sermon by the Rev'd Dr Scott Cowdell entitled "Animal Care and the New Creation" and is included here.

Blessing animals is a reminder that God is bigger than our own hearts, and that God's purposes take in all creatures. We bless them today to recognize their importance in their own right -- that their being and their end is God's to give and part of God's plan. Blessing animals is a sign of humility and respect on our part, and an admission that humans aren't the centre of everything.

Moreoever, the animals we bless today are our companions. They're part of our lives, they share our homes, the mammals among them may even share our joys and sorrows. ... Because they're our companions, our friends, we're reminded that friends aren't there to be used; they're not part of any calculation of our own benefit. Friendship is one of life's great, unmerited gifts, and a sign of God's care for us. Friends are the tonic of life, and our animal friends are no exception. So our blessing today is also an act of love, of friendship and of thankfulness.

Refreshments were served. Dog biscuits for dogs and dog biscuit-shaped cookies for the humans. Yes, there is such a cookie cutter. The three cats were left out at refreshment time and didn't seem to care.

05 October 2007

Singin' in the rain

How many places would you go and deliberately stand in the rain?

Yesterday I left the VTS campus and flew from Reagan National to Columbia, again a direct flight. We were about 30 minutes behind schedule, as always, because of the gate arrangement for regional flights at Reagan. And, yesterday, we were delayed slightly longer with a stony-faced FAA inspector aboard.

Tal picked me up in Columbia and we went from there to supper and on to the Carolina/Kentucky football game. A storm cell passed over about 45 minutes before kickoff, sending tailgaters under their little tents, producing heavy rain and two extraordinary views: the setting sun in the west illuminating the underside of the heavy clouds and a double rainbow in the east.

Fifteen minutes before the game was to begin, when the band takes the field (who knew they had matching raincoats as part of their uniforms?), the colors are presented, the national anthem and the alma mater are sung, we were in the almost filled stands in full rain gear, the rain coming down in sheets, made all the more dramatic seen in the lights of the east stands. I didn't take my hat off or put the hood of my rain jacket down for either anthem, by the way. But, there I stood, singing in the rain.

The rain abated just after the first play of the game and from then on it was unseasonably warm and humid. And, yes, "Fran" was there, pretty much drowned out by the enthusiasm of last night's crowd. While it wasn't a particularly pretty game, according to those who can judge such things, Carolina did win by a comfortable margin.

02 October 2007

A gracious plenty of a good thing

What a day.

After yesterday's class steward event, followed by an off-campus banquet, providing an evening of very good food and equally good conversation, I slept fitfully and missed chapel this morning. When I left the guest house at 8:30, the campus was full of movement: shuttles from local hotels arriving, coffee stations under porches busy, calls of greeting almost constant. Convocation was underway.

The class of 1992's reunion from 9 to 10, consisting of sitting around a table, drinking coffee and talking, was followed by the annual meeting of the Alumni/ae Association at which Dean Markham spoke and fielded questions. He's hitting homeruns, by the way. The AAEC (Alumni and Alumnae Executive Committee) met until lunch (missing the mid-day Eucharist). The afternoon held the first of two Sprigg Lectures and the early evening the Academic Convocation and conferring of honorary degrees, a beautiful evening prayer office with stunning music. Then, the Class of 1992 departed campus for a meal at Ramparts, a favorite haunt of many of us during our seminary days.

Truth is, for this introvert, much of the day is a blur. It's hard for me to admit, but one, two or even three of today's events would have been enough. On the other hand, not wanting to miss anything AND knowing all too well that the quality of what is being offered is hard to come by anywhere but here, I'm happily content to be tired.

01 October 2007

In full voice

Yesterday afternoon, after time at home for unloading my "Sunday" totebag and packing a suitcase and a computer, Tal drove me to the Columbia airport for my non-stop flight to Alexandria and Fall Convocation at Virginia Theological Seminary. US(sc)Air was on time and I arrived at Reagan National just at dusk, Washington on my left warmly illuminated in the fading light. I was mesmerized, shocked back to reality when the aircraft touched the runway.

Convocation actually begins tomorrow, the topic of the Sprigg Lecltures provocative: "Religious Discourse on Our National Life as Perceived and Reported by the Media." Today's activity was limited to a day-long meeting with the institutions's class stewards, a group I co-chair and whose mission is staying connected graduating classes and helping former students find ways to stay engaged with the seminary. It was an energetic gathering of over 50 stewards, its high point, not unexpectedly, being a nearly two-hour session with VTS' new dean and president, Ian Markham.

Returning to campus is one of the most pleasant and most anticipated things I get to do. While the place has changed markedly since my class departed in May of 1992, it is still very much the same. For example, during my three years here one worship service was offered each day and we were all (students and faculty) required to attend. Now, 15 years later, there are three services per day and students and faculty are asked to be present at one.

That change means the daily schedule is considerably more complicated than it used to be and it also means that the chapel is not full-to-overflowing at 8:10 each morning any more, a potential drawback to the new plan, no doubt. But, to my delight and relief the single-most memorable feature of the chapel experience for me and the feature I miss the most as an ordained person has not changed at all.

The singing (even of unfamiliar hymns and canticle settings) and the verbal responses are strong, full of conviction, confident. Oh, how I do miss it. In the liturgies I officiate and on the rare occasions I attend worship, the congregations seem shy or bored or distracted or doubtful. The give and take which defines liturgy (a word meaning the work of the people) is missing.

But, not here. Those who gather in the seminary chapel gather there in full voice. Still.