Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, 988

O God of truth and beauty, you richly endowed your bishop Dunstan with skill in music and the working of metals, and with gifts of administration and reforming zeal... (from the Collect for Dunstan's feast day)

Today, one of our students celebrates her 21st birthday. Not only does it fall on Dunstan's day, but her home church is St. Dunstan's -- and so is the name of her violin! To my delight, she and her roommate (also a violinist), agreed to bring their instruments to the 5:30 Eucharist at which I'm talking about Dunstan. I'm going to ask this smaller midweek congregation to sing St. Dunstan's hymn (Hymnal 1982 #564) while our musicians harmonize to their heart's content. How many 21-yr.-olds in this university town would spend time in a midweek church service when they could be out at one of the bars in town that give the birthday person 21 free pitchers of beer? (Yes, pitchers -- not glasses.)

The musical delight that I was not expecting today, however, took place at the Agape Cafe, where we serve a hot breakfast each Wednesday. One of the regular guests summoned me to his table, pulling out a guitar of an unusual shape (round), assuring me it was not a mandolin. He asked if I would play it. Yikes! I haven't had one in my hands for a long time.

So I took it, checked to see if its strings were in tune, and picked out notes that were pretty close to the Dunstan melody. Then, one of the crusty, gruff guests said, "That's the prettiest thing I ever heard." So, Dunstan, this day is for you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


On Friday, I decided to fast from all internet activity for 24 hours. (I lasted 23, and thought that was pretty good.) I've observed in myself and others an increasing lack of patience when expecting immediate responses to requests and questions, many of which have a tone of urgency.

Too many times to report here, I've been in face-to-face conversation with someone who, in the middle of a sentence, responded to a text message -- all the while still engaged (maybe) in our discussion. A majority of people in my daily life are "connected" at all times. It's great to be available in that way, and once in a while I'm envious. But being connected at all times makes us very bad at waiting.

Some good comes out of waiting, which sometimes includes silence. What I noticed during this 23 hour experiment was that toward the end of it, my anxiety level was nearly through the roof, imagining urgent messages waiting and the authors of those messages frustrated.

I've learned from this that I need to confront whatever it is that makes me think my response to something that's not an emergency is urgent enough to break into most of my days off. I've also decided that my irritability this past week has something to do with having responded to most everything immediately, day or night. This needs some work. For starters, I'm on my way back to Iowa City now, where I will not have internet access till Sunday morning when I arrive at 7 a.m. for church.

Patience, where art thou? One of my grad school professors back in the late 70s had a golden retriever named Patience. This dog did exhibit all the patience a human might want. I'm praying for the same, right now. And may your day, gentle reader, also be filled with patience and peace.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mary's Prayer Book

Eight years later, I still miss my friend Mary. She chaired my parish discernment team, was the first to tell me I should be a priest, and promised to go with me when I interviewed at my seminary. Mary died unexpectedly 6 weeks before that happened.

Perhaps I think of Mary in part because the discernment team I've chaired these past months concluded its work last week. I will miss the gatherings; such bold honesty shone through them. I hope I was as gracious as Mary was for my team.

Mary's husband gave me her prayer book. She had written her name on the inside cover in sharp, black ink. Mary was a school teacher with that distinctive ability to write perfectly formed words in cursive. I used her prayer book when I preached at her funeral. I am drawn to it, even though we own...well, let's just say several others.

Mary has a way of making an appearance at times when I wish I could talk with her. Sometimes it's a shudder of wind, or one of God's creatures running through the grass that remind me of her. Her relentlessly positive attitude greatly influenced others to look at a situation from a better angle.

These past two weeks have brought news of people I care about who are toppled by serious personal crisis. I spend hours in prayer on their behalf. I pray I will be helpful when I sit with them. But with so many at one time, anxiety over missing something or not listening well bats its wings over my sleep.

I know that I am allowed a few slips; we're imperfect humans. Mary would tell me this in a way so real that thick clouds seemed to part in the sky, illuminating such extravagant light! I hope that her wonderful spirit shows up soon.