Monday, July 16, 2012

So many gifts

Yes, that's my goofy grin and short hair; a photo taken at Diocesan House in Seattle, mugging with George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury.

I found the picture in my photo files (a glamorous word for what is really just envelopes of photos in a moving box) the other day while looking for something else; I'm posting it here today because I have a wonderful house guest this week whose friendship dates back to that same year, 1992.

I joined the staff of the Diocese of Olympia in February of 1992 to serve as their director of communications, and went to my first Episcopal Communicators conference -- held in Berkeley, CA at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific -- later that spring (actually it may have been summer; I don't quite remember).

What I remember about that conference was that the male communicators were all up in arms because the House of Bishops had gone into closed session about some important issue at the time (women clergy?  homosexuality?) and couldn't stop talking about how wrong this was.  It was my first conference, but I was really really idealistic and passionate about my job (can you spell naive?) so at some point I stood up and said, "I have a question: when are we going to talk about how we keep our faith alive in the face of all the hypocrisy and disappointment we experience looking so closely at the underside of the church?"

That's probably not exactly how I phrased it, but that's roughly what I was trying to ask, and I remember feeling rather foolish and ashamed because the men (who were then in charge of the meeting) sort of looked perplexed, and then went back to their griping.  But a group of women came up to me afterward and applauded me for asking the question -- and those women are still dear friends of mine, now 20 years later; they are the same women I met for a weekend in the Carolinas back in March.

So it's my friend Nan, now communications director for the Diocese of Atlanta, who is staying with me this week, and of course, though we're sharing where our lives are now, all those old memories come pouring in as well.  And I'm realizing -- not for the first time -- that I miss being that engaged at that level of "what's happening in the church."

... which is, of course, an inevitable side effect of aging.  Nan recommends that I read Richard Rohr's work on the second half of life; that the first half (when this photo was taken) is about developing ego, and the second half is about realizing wholeness, and time to let some of that old ego stuff go.

It's not always easy -- I do understand that -- to set aside all our hard-earned wisdom and experience, not to mention the satisfaction of being, for however short a time, a VIP in however small a community, and understand that life may hold something different for us now.  But I think our hearts and bodies do a wonderful job of guiding us onto new paths, paths which may take us somewhere our brains hadn't ever considered going: we just have to listen, pay attention to our longings, what feeds us, what delights us or makes us ill...

Which is all a way of saying that even though my life now is very different from the life I was living 20 years ago when this picture was taken, my primary question, the one for which each day I continue to seek answers, is still -- how do we keep faith alive?  What steps can we take to honor the gifts we've been given -- the gifts of love, and life, and friendship, and experience?  So it's pretty amusing -- especially since tomorrow is my birthday -- that this is the poem that was read as part of last night's contemplative worship service:

So Many Gifts 

There are so many gifts
Still unopened from your birthday,
there are so many hand-crafted presents
that have been sent to you by God.
The Beloved does not mind repeating,
"Everything I have is also yours."

Please forgive Hafiz and the Friend
if we break into a sweet laughter
when your heart complains of being thirsty
when ages ago
every cell in your soul
capsized forever
into this infinite golden sea.

a lover's pain is like holding one's breath
too long
in the middle of a vital performance,
in the middle of one of Creation's favorite

Indeed, a lover's pain is this sleeping,
this sleeping,
when God just rolled over and gave you
such a big good-morning kiss!

There are so many gifts, my dear,
still unopened from your birthday.

O, there are so many hand-crafted presents
that have been sent to your life
from God.

-- Hafiz


Philomena Ewing said...

Your post resonated strongly with me, having just been at a conference. I'm Catholic and your question "when are we going to talk about how we keep our faith alive in the face of all the hypocrisy and disappointment we experience looking so closely at the underside of the church." was certainly one that was being asked by many people around me.
Thanks you for your poem by Hafiz it's beautiful. It was also my birthday this week and I feel graced to share with you all the blessings and gifts God gives us as we approach a different stage of our life. Holding on in hope !!
Thank you :-)))

Diane Walker said...

Thanks for sharing both compliments and concerns, Philomena -- and happy birthday!

Three times in the last day or two people have mentioned that we may be embarking on an axial age; old ways and institutions declining to make room for a new consciousness. I won't presume to say that's what's happening, but yes, holding on in hope...