Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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 Who Am I Really? A “Rebecca on Reunion” Podcast

Here, in my firstborn daughter’s own voice,  is Rebecca telling the story of our reunion.   Who Am I Really? is a project of Damon Davis: a series of very personal podcasts about the life journey of an adoptee and their search for reunion. Rebecca’s is Episode 18:What I Gained Through Reunion Is Context.

Listening to Rebecca’s voice, I definitely hear Joani. And I hear my daughter Colleen’s voice, too. Maybe even my niece, Lauren’s, as well. Not just the timbre of our voices resonates but how we all string words together. We use the same verbal punctuation. It is uncanny.

And Rebecca’s description of reunion dovetails incredibly with biomom’s. No coordination involved. Just DNA. Incredibly delightful.

So take a listen to Rebecca and let her fill you in on Who She Really Is!


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If It’s Green, Let It Grow

Back in the day in Del Ray, when I still had a yard, this was my gardening mantra:

If it’s green, leave it alone.

I should have had better garden sense, having once upon a time worked at a plant store called “Great Plants Alive”. But truth be told, my house was kind of like a hospice – where plants came home to die.

I depended on Mother Earth to till my soil.  Whatever grew, grew — and whatever withered, withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my golden rule:

If it’s green, let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my push mower and my weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

But I did learn one thing of worth at “Great Plants Alive” from a South African gentleman who came into the shop. I noticed him admiring the orange calla lilies just outside the front door.

“Can I help you. Sir? Those lilies are beautiful, aren’t they? Just three dollars a pot.”

“Back home these are WEEDS. Why are you selling weeds? We tear them up and throw them away,” he said.

One person’s weed is another person’s flower, you see.

Good seeds. Bad seeds. Whose to know the difference?

Consider your life a garden, crumbly creative dirt.  Watered by  grace, seeds sprout, reach for light, struggle to grow:

Seeds planted by parents who raised us.

Seeds planted by all the beloved, bewildering people in our lives.

Seeds planted by all of the puzzles we solve and by problems we invent.

Seeds planted by poets who inspire and by writers we have read.

Seeds planted in all of the ages and stages of our growing up.

Seeds planted by the predicaments and the challenges of our times.

Good seeds. Bad Seeds. Flowers. Weeds.

Whose to know the difference?

Over the course of our lifetimes, whose to know the difference?

Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned but gather the wheat into my barn. Matthew 13:30

 This burning thing makes me very uncomfortable. My personal and favorite heresy is the denial of Hell – at least the three-tiered universe kind of Hell, with Heaven above and Earth below. The flames that burn for all time, fire and brimstone, that eternal damnation kind of Hell.

No, I do not believe in it at all because, if you excuse the expression:

What in Hell kind of God is that?

have weeds taken over your garden picture

But I do believe in a more personal hell, more of a purgatory really, where we burn through, burn off, burn up the weeds that have choked out the wheat.

This refining fire is something we all walk through. Like the winnowing of wheat, all of that crappy chaff flies away, and we are left with just a handful of kernels, a few kernels of wisdom.  (Maybe.)

Anne Lamott did a Ted Talk a few years back. One of my favorite authors, she is funny, earthy, poignant, and profound – in the most ordinary of ways. Her Ted Talk is called: Twelve Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.”

On the eve of her 61st birthday, she decided to write down everything she knew to be true. Twelve things but by my count sixteen. Let  me briefly paraphrase them for you.

Lamott shares:

  1. ;I am every age I have ever been, though my paperwork says I was born in 1954, I feel 47.  My true self is outside myself. A friend in his seventies says, “I feel like a young person just with something really wrong with me.”
  2.  All truth is a paradox. Life is at one time a precious, unfathomable, beautiful gift. It is also hard and weird. Filled both with heartbreaking sweetness and heartbreaking poverty.  I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
  3.  Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes and then plug it back in. Including you.
  4.  Help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everyone.
  5.  You can’t buy or steal or make anyone else’s happiness. You can’t run alongside of your grown children with sunscreen and Chap-stick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s the respectful thing to do.
  1. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Everyone is broken, insecure and scared. They are more like you than you can imagine.
  2.  You also can’t fix or save or rescue anyone else or get anyone else sober. One acronym for God is the “Gift of Desperation.”
  1.  Be full of yourself. Being at home in your own cranky self allows others to be at home in themselves.  Being full of affection for one’s self is where world peace begins.
  2. Chocolate with 78% Cacao is not actually a food. It was never supposed to considered edible. It is best used to balance the legs of wobbly chairs.
  3.  Writers all write terrible first drafts. But they keep their butt in their chairs. Their truth comes through little by little.  Just take it bird by bird, her dad told her brother when writing a report for school. Tell them about each bird in your own voice. Bird by bird, God awful first drafts — really good advice for all of life.
  1. Success will not heal you. It will feel good for a while but it will not fill the “Swiss-Cheesy holes” in your soul.  But fostering old dogs or painting murals might
  2.  Families are hard, hard, hard — no matter how cherished or astonishing they might be. Remember that it is a miracle that any one of us was conceived and born. And Earth is forgiveness school. So, we might as well start at the dinner table. This way we can do this work in comfortable pants.
  1. And food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
  2. Grace. Spiritual WD40 or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Vladmir Putin and me and you exactly as much your new grandchild.

 Laughter is bubbling grace. It is really “carbonated holiness.” It allows us to breathe again and again and to renew our faith in ourselves and in one another.

 And Grace always bats last.

  1. A good name for God is “not me”.  The happiest person on earth, Emerson says, is one who learns from nature the lesson of worship. Go outside. Look up!
  2. And finally, death. Wow. Yikes.

 We never get over these losses and against what our culture says, we are not supposed to. Tears of grief bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize us on the ground on which we walk. Take off your shoes, God says, this garden is holy ground. All evidence to the contrary, this is the truest thing of all.

 Death is as sacred as birth.

 When all is said and done, we’re all just walking each other home.

Lamott says she will get back to us, if she thinks of any more.

So, winnow through your own wheat and toss out the weeds.  What kernels do you come up with?

I came up with three on my way home from Montana. A frequent flier, I am not, and turbulence is not my friend. I tightened my seat belt and rattled my rosary on a very bumpy ride out of Missoula. Usually it is terror that I taste coming up in my throat, but on this occasion, tears smearing my mascara streamed down my face. Three little words popped into my head.

Love. (OMG! I love you God.)

Thanks. (Thanks for EVERYTHING.  Thanks for EVERYONE.  I can’t say THANKS enough.)

Hope. (I hope I made a difference. At least a little.)

And then we were safely on the ground. Thank God.

I hope to hold onto these kernels, these little scraps of God given grace – from United Flight 3054.

Love. Thanks. Hope.

And with my feet firmly on the ground, I pray, that they take root, sprout up, and grow all over the place: my place, your place, everyone’s place.

Let the weeds grow up with the wheat, let them grow together until the harvest.

If it’s green, let it grow.

 

JoaniSign


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A Room Full of Mothers

How many children do you have?

Not a trick question, right? But it is a tricky one for me.

Publicly the answer has been an easy “three”  for twenty-nine years since I bore Jacob, my third following  Zach and Colleen back in 1987.

But behind closed doors, when asked, I would falter. The gynecologist would look at my chart and say: “How many pregnancies? Number of successful deliveries?”

Do I lie and say “three”? Does it really matter for my medical history?

Or do I tell the truth and say “four”. Then hold my breath and hope I won’t have to explain why I gave the first one away.

Every doctor’s appointment was a little flashback to my 17th year. The year the rabbit died. The year of seasick mornings and solitary trips to the Medicaid clinic. The year of the swelling belly and iron capsules to choke a horse. Remembering being ostracized by my family and terrified by the little life inside me.

Sitting on the examining table in a hospital gown, I would recall the mysterious being who kicked and elbowed and crammed their little self  into every little square inch of me.

And every year, September 28th, on her birthday, I would think of her and wonder where she was. I would beam powerful positive thoughts in her direction — to her unknown location.  And I would permit myself a melancholy moment or two, stuff it down, and then move on.

Stretched, so stretched beyond my teenage capacity.

She gave me my very first stretch marks. A badge of honor.

And just prior to Christmas past, she found me. Rebecca found me. I have told this story on U&U. And I have blogged about our Saint Patrick’s Day weekend reunion.

So serendipitous that we reunited on this Celtic feast. As an adoptee, in a sealed adoption, Rebecca’s “non-identifying information” identified her biological maternal family as Jewish.

Uh, no. Def got that wrong.

DNA and Ancestry.com identified a healthy dose of green blood. Irish. Definitely Irish.

Somehow deep down in her bones, Rebecca intuited this all along. All three of her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir are all steeped in Irish step dancing.

On my visit in March, I tagged along to their class at a dance studio in a nearby town. Kids of all ages in comfortable clothes and special shoes shuffled and kicked to Celtic tunes.

A Room Full of Mothers Jackie Wade mother an daughter

Parents, meanwhile, and by “parents”, I mean mostly moms crowded into the windowed little waiting room. Kindly one mom gave up her seat so that I could sit up front and see.

As other moms came and went, Rebecca introduced my unfamiliar face. Some already knew our story and some did not. Those who knew smiled and nodded. One very sweet mom even made us a celebratory strawberry tart.

But for those not in the know, Rebecca would quickly try to catch them up, starting with,

“This is my mother.”

Startled by her words, instinctively I looked over my shoulder and thought:

“Where, where is your mother? OMG, she means me!”

A singular mom sitting by the door had a quizzical look on her face — which compelled me to explain myself. I spew forth my teenage tale, circa 1972.

I didn’t need to do that. Or did I?

And I wonder about all of the moms in the room and what their stories might be. I wonder about the maternal ghosts and mothers in abstentia – who haunt this waiting room. Rebecca’s mother. My mother. Adoptive mothers. Birth mothers. Grandmothers. Stepmothers – both evil and good.

I wonder about all of the overlay and layers of expectations that our culture slathers onto maternity.

From our very first December conversation, I wanted to be especially respectful of Rebecca’s mom — the one who parented her so wonderfully. And I wanted  – and still want – to be especially careful not to offend her in any way.

Rebecca, 44 years old, reminded me that she is a fully functional grownup. Ha! And that it is hers alone to manage these relationships separately. I need be responsible only for my own.

And Rebecca has taught me that it is okay to say that I am her mother. That is biologically and verifably true. “Biomom” is what she most appropriately calls me.

Six months have now passed since Christmas. Rebecca and I talk, text, and email with some frequency. We have a loving relationship, a rippling relationship that now ripples throughout my family: with her siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and even cousins many times removed.

I now include Rebecca on all family emails, both the good news and the bad news. And when I send an email to “my kids”, I simply sign it “mom”. It was just too wonky and weird to qualify it as bio/mom or biomom/mom/Joani. And it seemed really silly to leave it blank. Its just an email for heavens’ sake, right?

It really is more though, isn’t it? Yes, I think it is.

And so back to the question:

How many children do you have?

No longer a tricky question,  I answer “four”.

One in VT. One in NYC. One in D.C. One in NC.

All rocking adults.

And I am happy to answer any questions, if you would like to know more.

JoaniSign


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The Library of Congress Restoreth My Soul

WELCOME TO THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!

I AM SOOOOOO EXCITED YOU ARE HERE!

I AM SOOOOOO EXCITED TO SHARE THIS LIBRARY WITH YOU!

Such begins my weekly spiel, as I lead visitors from all over the world on a tour of the Nation’s Library.

A bibliomaniac, I served seven years at Bishop Payne at VTS.  Last fall, I was simply OVER THE MOON when I got into the four-month docent immersion program at the Library of Congress.

In class, I got to sit at the feet of remarkable librarians – who curate remarkable collections from around the world. We got to go behind the scenes and behind closed doors. Into the stacks and into the reading rooms.

We got to touch – well not actually touch – but see up close – Thomas Edison’s pencil sketch of the telephone; Thomas Jefferson’s journal pages; Amelia Earhart’s flight logs.

WOW. Right? WOW.

Sort of like a liberal arts education in all things LOC, we heard from art historians, rare book collectors, doctors of the arts, architectural experts, scholars of the Gilded Age, and experts in the history of D.C.

The Jefferson building is  breathtaking: “Beauxes Artes” breathtaking. A boastful triumphant building completed in 1897, fifty American artists worked, painted, crafted, and sculpted its insides.  America flexed its cultural muscles at the close of the 19th century. The United States was as great a nation, as any in Europe. And a great nation – needs a great library.

library of congress compass rose floor

In the floor of the Great Hall is a multicolored marble Compass Rose — surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac in bronze. Parallel white marble staircases rise on either side – each carved with angelic looking figures – who are not angels at all but little boys.

Halfway up each staircase is a globe – nestled between two of the boys. To the left is Asia and Europe. To the right Africa, with a crocodile behind him and a Native American, hand raised  to his forehead.

Learning is universal, you see, and comes from all four corners of the universe. This library – the LARGEST library in the world – is America’s library – but it is not an American library – half the collection is in languages other than English – 470 and counting.

This is not some 21st century – cultural diversity tax collector waste of money thing. This is the raison d’etre of the place since the first library burned in the War of 1812.

In 1814 Thomas Jefferson offered his own books to Congress to restart the fledgling library — housed across the street in the Capitol.

Jefferson’s literary collection was one of the most extensive in the young United States. He cataloged his books according to memory, reason, and imagination: history, philosophy, and the arts. He had books in 16 languages including Arabic and Native American dialects. He had books about bee keeping, magic tricks, and Italian cooking. He had books about EVERYTHING.

Congress balked. We just want the law books, they said. But Jefferson argued that “There may not be a subject to which a member of Congress may not need to refer in the course of his work.” So, Congress bought his almost 7,000 books for almost $24,000.

And the LOC to this day, still collects this way. It is Thomas Jefferson on steroids.

And the library’s universal collection is universally available to anyone – not just members of Congress.

library of congress good government

Just above the doors to the Main Reading Room are a series of murals called “Good Government”.  A young boy with books tucked under his arms drops his ballot into a Grecian voting urn. Sound government rests on sound learning. Not just for elected servants but for EVERYBODY.

Because this land is your land, this land is my land.  Right? No matter where we came from. And we all came from somewhere else.

When I introduce myself to the LOC visitors, I boast about my native Washingtonian, as in D.C. creds.

I boast that when I was in high school, I used to do my homework at LOC. My family on the Peacock side goes back seven generations in the Nation’s Capital – back to the late 18th century. My mom was a (not very serious) member of the DAR. A Peacock, a 13year-old boy – Nathaniel Peacock arrived stowed away on a boat at Jamestown.

library of congress dome

But I am no more American than the most recent naturalized citizen – be they from Mexico, Syria, South Korea, Guatemala, Germany, or Yemen. They are just as American as you and me.

We are a nation defined by liberty and law — not by ethnicity, religion, or race. Right?

 Every week, the Library of Congress, restores my American soul. Its a place where politics are verboten – a secular temple that celebrates our highest American ideals.

We were constituted to be a radically welcoming nation, born both of the Enlightenment and  of ancient biblical values.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.  I lift my light beside the golden door.”

To welcome the stranger, to welcome the sojourner, to welcome the orphaned, the refugee: it’s the Judeo-Christian thing to do.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 First century Jewish and Christian hospitality is really different than how we think of hospitality. We ready the guest room for when friends and family visit. We don’t change the sheets for strangers. But that who really needs it. “Biblical hospitality is about welcoming the needy for the sake of their need.”

Strangers, immigrants, the homeless.

Jesus says, “Take that love for family, that love for country and kin, and extend it, extend it further and further still. Welcome in the stranger. Welcome in the one whose life you hardly understand. Not to change them but because they too are God’s children.” (Feasting on the Word, Lance Pape)

This Independence Day weekend, Jesus gives us a challenge.

As Christians. As Americans.

A challenge to our public discourse and policy. A personal challenge.  A challenge to our faith.

To practice this radical welcome of Jesus  – to see the sacred — in every encounter, in every exchange, in the face of friends, of course, but even more so in the face of those we count as foes, in the face of what seems foreign, in the face of the unknown.

A spiritual exercise:

To stretch those welcome muscles.  To stretch beyond our comfort level. To stretch until we feel the burn. It’s a good workout for the heart. It’s an even better workout for the soul.

Stretch your spirit, friends, stretch.

(And if you would like a tour of the Library of Congress just let me know!)

JoaniSign

 


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Our Father, Who Art Where?

My father, Dr. Peacock, God rest his soul, was a healer.

I was in awe of him.

Brilliant, like Dr. Salk who conquered polio; handsome as Dr. Kildare; a doctor of fine arts: Salvador Dali etchings hung on his walls; a master of music: Mozart spun on his turntable.  A gourmet, he insisted on lemon peel with his espresso and fresh oysters in the stuffing. A voracious reader of classics, art books, and avant-garde novels, his library runneth over.  He was a tinkerer and a gardener who  grew roses and azaleas in our back yard. In our basement, he built short wave radios and puttered at his workbench.

He was also more than a bit like Felix Unger. Everything had to be spit and polished and squeaky clean. Dr. Peacock was exceedingly dapper in his tweed sport coats and wing tip shoes. On his bathroom mirror. he pasted a label: “You, handsome devil you!” He bragged about getting 100% and acing his surgical boards.

Modest, he was not but he was marvelous in my eyes.

And when I was a child, I would pull wondrous instruments out of Dr. Peacock’s little black bag – the same things he would use to prod and poke us if we claimed we were too sick to go to school – the stethoscope to listen to your chest, tongue depressors to look down your throat, the little flashlight to peer into your ears, the little hammer to hit your knees.  Invariably he would pronounce us well, prescribe two aspirin and send us off to school.

(No wonder, I won the perfect attendance ribbon – many years running at Holy Family School.)

And my father was our family’s avid protector. A surgeon conscious of all kinds of calamity, he took extraordinary measures to keep his family safe.

our father norman rockwell painting

Long before seat belts were standard in American cars, my dad had “safety belts” installed in ours. If he discovered you were not wearing it, he would swear and pull over to the side of the road and go nowhere until we had buckled ourselves in.

Long before smoke detectors, my house had fire alarms and we quite literally had fire drills.

In a time when only banks were wired for burglary, so was our home in Hillcrest Heights.

In my house, we had no ashtrays. Smoking was forbidden– protecting us both from fire and from lung cancer.

Firearms – even BB guns — could not get through our front door. My dad, the surgeon had stitched up and lost too many young men on his operating table in Southeast D.C.

He wouldn’t even let us twirl sparklers on the Fourth of July – in case we might burn our little hands!

Does this remind you of your father? Or a grandfather? Or a step father – who stepped up when your own wasn’t there? Or a godfather – who guarded  you under his  wings?

Who loves you so much, that they would want to catch you before you fall – “lest you dash your foot upon a stone”?

Fathers, of course.

But even the best of fathers cannot save us from ourselves.

We fall, we scrape our knees, we crash the family car. We make bad choices, ingest things we shouldn’t, and head down the wrong path. We fail, we drop out of school, get in trouble with the law. Selfish and self – centered, we don’t realize the havoc we create in other’s lives. Quick to blame others but not ourselves.

Nor can even the best of fathers save us from the muck and the mire of this world.

Life itself is a risky business. The world is a dangerous place.

Every day, when we head out from home to work or school or wherever – we assume that we will return safe when the day is done.

We assume that everyone will stop at red lights.

We assume the food we eat is safe and the water we drink is free of lead.

We assume that everyone will follow “the rules” – whatever the rules may be.

And that the bad guys are all behind bars.

And we take for granted our safety and security and those who serve to protect us,

with a fatherly care (be they male or female).

We take for granted the safety and security in our own backyard.

Bad things happen in Manchester, London, Tehran, Aleppo,

And Lord almighty, even in Portland.

BUT…

Not in Del Ray with the “Kindness” signs in everyone’s yard.

Not here on the baseball field,

Not here in our own backyards.

But it did. On Wednesday, June 14th it did. And all of our assumptions were shattered.

Even the Heavenly Father, God almighty, maker of heaven and earth, was not able to deliver us, this neighborhood of Del Ray, this city of Alexandria from violence, from danger, from fear.

At least not in the way, we would like God to.

To swoop down from heaven and make this all go away. To rescue us. To save us.

But as Christians, we believe in a God, a Heavenly Father who did not save his own Son. We believe in a God who did not rescue his own Son from the Cross.

There is no Deus ex Machina. There is no miraculous divine intervention.

But there is redemption.

Because out of fear, God brings forth courage. Out of pain, healing. Out of death, life. Out of suffering, joy.

Our Father, who art in heaven,

can bring out the father in all of us,

to reach out and care for one another,

look over and protect one another,

to love our neighbors as ourselves,

whoever our neighbors might be.

So, let us pay, today, this week, this month, to discern a way to turn this tragic story upside down – to turn it into a redemption story. And borrowing the words attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

JoaniSign


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By Any Other Name

At eight years old, I was an overtly and overly pious parochial school kid.

First in line for Friday confession, first in line for first Friday Mass. Holy cards falling out of my missal, I knew my Baltimore Catechism like the back of my hand.

Eight years old, I was destined to save souls.

Including little Ricky Berger’s soul. He was my friend who lived in the house behind mine. Ricky was a good kid. Fare and square in all his grade school dealings. Pretty good at kickball and quick to share his popsicle. He honored his father and his mother and he kept the Sabbath just about as good as any kid could.

Problem was, it was Saturday. Which everyone knew was the wrong day, it was supposed to be Sunday, of course. And God had ordained me to set little Ricky Berger right.

Stretched out on the lawn, sitting on the grass in his backyard, I looked him in the eye and told him:

Ricky, I am sorry, I really am but unless you are a Christian, unless you are a member of the ONE TRUE CHURCH, unless you believe in the holy name of JESUS, you are going to HELL.

 Yes, I did. That is what I said. So messed up, I know.

What a terrible friend I was.

Know it all, goody two shoes, go to the head of the class Joani – could not be more wrong. Secure in my faith, I used my religion to trash his. What kind of God was I taught to worship – that would condemn a little eight year old boy?

Does God have just one name?

Does God require only one kind of worship?

Each Sunday, I  stand before my congregation as an ordained minister, an Episcopal priest of 23 years. Leading worship of the Holy Three, the three person and undivided Trinity. All according to the Book of Common Prayer.

At Emmanuel, worship is my primary and passionate ministry, weekly weaving together the dozen or so moving parts of the liturgy into the bulletin for the people in the pews. Liturgy means “work of the people” and this is work I love.

Family at worship Srpague Pearce

“Family at Worship” Charles Sprague Pearce

And I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that we worship the Ultimate One, the One and Only Holy One, the one and only God.

But I have long struggled with my way or the highway theology.

Faith, by definition, is not the same thing as certitude. And Christianity is not a monopoly. If God’s truth can be contained, if you think you have captured God in a bottle – then that is some other genie in that bottle.

Are there not many ways up the mountain?

Does God not answer to a million names?

St Augustine wrote in the 4th Century:

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.

Followed up by philosopher Blaise Paschal, who famously quipped that we are all souls created with a God shaped hole — that only the sacred can fill.

And Augustine and Paschal, both got it from Paul. In Sunday’s reading from Acts, Paul gets it.

Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship. I found among them an altar with an inscription: ‘to an unknown god.’

 What therefore you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you.

Paul gets it. He gets that God did not just drop out of the sky and appear out of nowhere when Jesus was born. God is timeless, more ancient than the stars, beyond the event horizon of the Big Bang, we might say.

Paul’s listeners are accustomed to the methods of Socrates, philosophically inclined and spiritually curious.

From one ancestor he made all the nations…and he allotted the times of their existence…so they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from any one of us.

Paul speaks their language and quotes their poets.

For in him we live and move and have our being. For we, too are his offspring.

 In him….

 Not in idols of clay or gold or silver. Not in idols of success or money or sex.

But in the creator of the cosmos, in the “ground of our being” whose language is love and whose name Paul proclaims as the one and only God.

In recent weeks, I have prayed shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brothers and sisters. I have joined in the mystical worship of the Orthodox – surrounded by icons and drenched in incense. I have worshiped at St Mattress in the Springs and at the Church of the Holy Comforter. (Wink, wink. Nod, nod.) And last Sunday, I prayed and sang with the Unitarians at All Souls, my daughter’s church in DC.

God was and is and will be in all these places, by whatever name God be called.

The Jewish tradition says God’s name is so sacred that it cannot be said aloud – so they give him seven nicknames that can be lifted up by the faithful in their prayers.

Islam, says that God has 99 names, all beautiful.

Christians, not to be outdone: one source catalogued 900 biblical names for God.

What unites us is the One God who listens, the One God who loves us enough to lean in and care about our prayers.

God listens no less if we call him Allah, or Buddha, or Krishna, or Jesus.

Though we Christians are pretty sure it’s Jesus who is really listening.:)

And last week at All Souls UU, I discovered this hymn – which turns out to be in myriad hymnals: Presbyterian, UCC, Methodist, and even one of our own. But I had never heard it before.

 It’s called “Bring Many Names”, by Brian Wren and its six verses are very apropos for today. So I had it printed in the bulletin for you to keep and take home.

At 8:00 at Emmanuel, we will read it together as a concluding prayer. And at 10:30, with the music director’s  help, I am going to make the congregation sing!

Bring many names, beautiful and good,

Celebrate, in parable and story,

Holiness in glory, living, loving God,

Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!

 

Strong mother God, working night and day,

Planning all the wonders of creation,

Setting each equation, genius at play:

Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!

 

Warm father God, hugging every child,

Feeling all the strains of human living,

Caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:

Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!

 

Old, aching God, gray with endless care,

Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,

Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair;

Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!

 

Young, growing God, eager and one the move,

Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,

Crying out for justice, giving all you have:

Hail and Hosanna, young growing God!

 

Great, living God, never fully known,

Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,

Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:

Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!

 

JoaniSign


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Dirt Therapy, the 3rd

 

Easter, this year, began for me at Christmas Tide.

Sunday evening, December 11th, my phone rang. It was my baby brother Joseph on the line. “Are you sitting down?” he asks me. “Joani, we have never talked about this. Do you remember in 1972 when you were pregnant and gave a child up for adoption?” Dumbfounded, I literally respond,  “Yes, Joseph, of course, I do.”Well, she found me,” he says. “Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com, she found me.

The birth of a child to a teenage mother is a familiar story at Christmas. But the family trauma that resulted from my personal story, I had long buried.  And these forty-five year old memories resurrected a trembling seventeen year old child.

The very next day, December 12th, scared to death, I called my newfound child.  It was the best Christmas present I have ever been given. Her name is Rebecca.

We have spent the past four months condensing more than four decades, and without going into the details, I am happy to declare that all is good, very good. And if you like, you can catch up here: Scarlet Letter, No MoreThe “Nua” Normal“Knock the Unicorn Off the Cloud”

And resurrection has brought reunion.

It is remarkable how deeply Rebecca and I resemble one another: our personalities, our intellectual curiosity, our spiritual bent, our sense of humor. Not only our way of speaking but what we say. People have confused my writing for hers and her writing for mine. It is uncanny. It is remarkable. Rebecca says that distance reinforced her DNA. It was a form of rebellion, she says.

I do like the sound of that, though I am not sure exactly what it means.

Needless to say, this has been an incredibly healing experience.

I tremble no more.

Sprouted from the same soil,  Rebecca and I, our selves, our souls, and our bodies are intertwined.

So this Easter is all the sweeter:

Now the green blade riseth!  indeed!

So it seems very apropos to post Dirt Therapy once again.

A post that includes an anecdote about Jacob, Rebecca’s newly discovered little brother and a snapshot of my mother, the grandmother Rebecca never knew.

So, here we go…

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 29 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control, tamed only by a regular shot of bourbon, a little lithium, and the occasional session with Dr. Freud. My beloved mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.EA11B186-69B7-45E1-8E52-41A174207E9A

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.

JoaniSign