Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, March 24, 2017


It happened again just the other day.

I was in a fairly newly-built office building. Toward the end of my appointment, I needed to make a stop at the rest room.  Before I left. Of course.

As often happens, we kept chatting as I made my way toward the rest room. I was searching for the light switch which should have been right on the inside of the doorway.  On the right. Right? 

Or, maybe - maybe - on the left, but right there on the inside. Right?


It was on the outside of the doorway, on the left.


How could that possibly be? This was an office in a building that had been constructed in the last 8-10 years. In Delaware. Not like the construction of homes when I was a child. In Massachusetts.

All the light switches were outside the entrance to the room. On the outside of the doorway. On the left. Bedrooms. Bathrooms. Kitchen. Dining room. Living room. Didn't matter.

Before you entered the room, you turned on the light which could always be found on the wall, on the left hand side of the door frame. Outside the room.

Which was a real liability when you were a girl in a family of four - three girls and one boy. My brother always waited until the sun went down and one of us was alone in the room with the door closed. The bathroom was his favorite spot but any room would do.

There you'd be, in the bathroom, sitting on the pot, or in your bedroom, studying for an exam and suddenly, the lights would go out.

"Johnnnnnnnnnnnneeeeee!" someone would scream my brother's name.

Giggles from the other side of the door would float their way into the darkness.

I always wondered why in the name of logic would anyone design a light switch in that way?

It had to be because we lived in old houses -  tenement houses and apartments - that were probably built by people who were, themselves, immigrants.

Which, of course, made them deficient and flawed and at the very least "second class".

The issue took on even greater significance when I was old enough to visit my classmates and friends in their homes. 

One of the first things I noticed was that none of THEIR homes had light switches designed in that way. All of THEIR light switches were right where they were supposed to be, logically: on the right hand on the inside of the door frame.

Or, at least, the light switch was on the wall on the inside of the room. Not too far from the door.

Of course! Why would it be anywhere else?

To my young, impressionable mind, it was one more piece of evidence that to be a second generation immigrant - especially one from Portugal - was to be a lesser child of God and a second class citizen.

The evidence was compelling. It wasn't enough that my skin was darker, my hair was dark and curly, and my eyes were not brown - they were hazel green - but definitely not clear blue like the rest of my friends who had names like "Smyth" and "Brown," "Brandon" and "Workman."

My schoolmates spoke in that breezy, giggly way young girls do about the stores where they had gotten that "cute" sweater or "cute" pair of slacks. I had no idea where my clothes had first been bought. I only knew they were first worn by either my cousin Judy or Jennie.

And, my clothes were not "cute". Cute meant "the latest style" in "the latest season's color."

My clothes, when they were worthy of notice and comment, were considered "nice".

I knew the difference between "cute" and "nice" and "nice" wasn't "cute". 

"Cute" is definitely what you wanted your "outfit" to be.

There were other differences. Their homes smelled like beef stew and chicken and fresh flowers. Our homes smelled like garlic and potatoes and bread and fish.

"Peasant food," my girlfriends called it, trying to be .... "nice". The problem was that in trying to somehow elevate that status, they only emphasized the inferior status of our culinary habits.

Oh, and their mothers smelled like French soap and expensive perfume.My mother smelled like Lysol and Noxema and Jean Nate.

If I could name any one thing that shaped and formed me it would be summed up in this one word:


I've spent thousands of hours (and dollars) working out all of the "second class citizenship" and the attendant self esteem issues that are all part and parcel of a very formative part of my childhood.

I've always thought that I had made great progress in healing those old hurts and salving those old wounds.  I've always been aware of and grateful for the progress I've made.

And, in fact, I have. Healed and made progress.

And there I was, just the other day - a grownass woman, fairly well educated, responsible, fairly accomplished, emotionally stable, co-parent of six and Nana to seven - breaking into a slight sweat about the location of the light switch.

How neurotic is that? 

Oh, I laughed softly at myself and then, when I closed the door, I found myself simultaneously thinking about and relieved by the fact that I could, if necessary, use my cell phone as a flashlight.

I confess I sat there wondering who designed or built this office? Why in heaven's name would you put the light switch outside the door?

Were they immigrants, too? Children and grandchildren of immigrants like me?

Could be. There are a lot of us around. Even in Sussex County, DE.

I wondered if their kids were growing up thinking their "outfits" were "nice" but not "cute", or worried that they carried the smells of their ethnic food on their hair and clothing and if they were concerned about how different they look and how they don't fit in.

And then I thought that at least I didn't have to worry about someone coming into our home, breaking down the door, and taking my grandparents or parents back to Portugal.

My therapist likes to remind me that I am, in her words, "like many Episcopal clergy - female or male - a healthy neurotic." She also reminds me that "some are not so healthy, just Really neurotic. We have a name for them: bishops," she laughs.

She says its an occupational hazard. It comes from being told that "its not all about you" and yet we are constantly encouraged to self-reflect and be self aware.

In fact, a big part of our ability to have healthy relationships with appropriate boundaries as clergy with our parishioners is dependent on our ability to self reflect and be self aware and have insight about our behavior and the human condition.

I think it may well be that.

For me, it's more about being a legal American citizen who, somewhere in her heart, will always be an immigrant with "nice" hand me down clothes who is concerned that, not by her own design, won't always be in control of the light in her room. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Last Temptation

I hate Lent.

Or, more accurately, I hate what it’s become. 

Let me explain.

My first call in ministry was as Chaplain at ULowell. It was 1986. The Priest at the Newman Center decided, my first year there, that as a way of modeling Christian behavior, we should do “stuff” together. Celebrations. With food. 

I really think he wanted to help me succeed but that's another story for another time. 

Thanksgiving Dinner was our first effort. It was so great, we decided to do more.

Christmas. New Years. Valentine’s Day. All of these celebrations were great.

Then, he, being Irish, decided we just HAD to do St. Patrick’s Day, complete with corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, onions, carrots, and soda bread. The students were doing the cooking. I even planned to make some green cookies. We were very excited.

And then, I looked at the calendar. St. Patrick’s Day was on a Friday that year. And, it was at the beginning of Lent.

“Hey,” I said jokingly to my priest colleague, “If we do this St. Paddy’s Day thing, we’ll have to ask for two dispensations. One for celebrating during Lent and another for eating meat on Friday during Lent.”

He said, “Don’t worry. I’ll square it with the bishop. We’ll get a double dispensation.”

Did I mention that I was joking?

He wasn’t.

So, later on that day, we talked. We included the students we both had on the leadership counsel from both groups.

They were of two minds. One group – a mix of Catholic and Protestant students – was of the mind that what we were building in terms of relationships across ecumenical lines that would have been inconceivable by their parents was more important than rules imposed upon us by the institutional church.

If we had to ask for dispensations from the bishop, they argued, we ought not have the dinner. They felt the insult of asking for dispensation was worse than the injury of not having a dinner together.

But another group felt that was flawed logic. They challenged us to find the scriptural basis for Lent. And, would we be so kind as to show us when it was, exactly, that Jesus ever directed us to give up meat on Fridays in Lent? 

What was more important, they asked, the relationships we were building together as Christians through these celebrations we could share or the institutional church’s directives about a liturgical season imposed upon us by the church? They felt we should have the dinner and not ask for a dispensation from the bishop.

This made my priest colleague break out in a sweat.

Suddenly, the group started to lean toward not having a traditional meal for St. Paddy’s Day. Part of the group didn’t want to make things uncomfortable for observant Roman Catholics. Another part didn’t want to have to go to the bishop for a dispensation they considered unnecessary and an embarrassing remnant of patriarchy.

For a while the group entertained the possibility that we simply declare St. Patrick’s Day a “moveable feast” and have it after Lent, during the Easter season.

One member of the group reminded us of the last stanza of the poem in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Is that what we were doing? The right thing for the wrong reason? Or were we doing the wrong thing for the right reason?

The best part of the conversation, however, came when we engaged more deeply the ‘penitential’ nature of Lent. It’s a conversation that forever changed the way I look at Lent, the way I observe Lent.

It’s the reason I hate Lent. Or, at least, “Lenten disciplines” that trivialize and diminish the power Lent can have in our spiritual lives.

As I remember we talked about ‘repentance’ which is how the King James Version translates the Greek “metanoia”. But, something gets lost in that translation – like the nuances, the depth of the layers of meaning.

Metanoia, literally means, “change of mind”; more fully, it translates to mean “spiritual transformation”.

Let that sink in for a minute.

That doesn’t mean “sacrifice.” Or even, simply “changing your mind” about something. Well, not necessarily. It means “spiritual transformation.”

So, it was asked, what does giving up ice cream, or wine, or meat on Fridays have to do with “spiritual transformation”?

Over the years, I have heard more metaphorical gymnastics stretched and twisted over “Lenten sacrifices” – things we do ‘without’ as well as things we ‘take on’ – than I care to remember, all in an attempt to justify them as appropriate for Lent.

One person argued that the money saved by not have a latte at the Bistro during Lent would allow him to donate that money to a favorite charity. See? He was being a “better steward” of money! And, clearly stewardship is a spiritual issue. Right?

Another argued that giving up soda during Lent was helping her “cleanse the temple” of her body. See? That’s spiritual, right? That she might loose a few pounds in the process was some sort of ‘proof’ that God approved of her Lenten sacrifice. 

As if, poor helpless creatures that we are, God is the direct cause of weight loss. So, I suppose, it follows that if we gain weight, it’s not our fault, directly. It’s just….. “God’s will”.  Apparently, God seems to will lots of God’s creatures to be ‘chubby’.

Seriously? Is this the stuff of metanoia? Spiritual transformation?

One student in the group said that she felt as if she were watching a modern-day version of the scriptural story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. (John 4:1-42)

The woman came to the well to get water to quench her thirst, but Jesus offered her ‘living water’. Something deeper. Something more satisfying that would quench the thirst of the soul. Something for which you’d have to dive deep and resurface.

The group began to dive into deeper questions: Is there more to Lent than just penitence? Is there more than just sacrifice? To what end? For what purpose?

A several weeks-long study group ensued to face into questions about penitence and sacrifice and the need for it, especially during Lent.

I’ll save that discussion for another time but it has to do with a discussion about Original Sin and Atonement, Redemption and Salvation.

As Blessed Joe Biden would say, “Here’s the deal”: Lent is not a self-help program. I really hate that for so many that’s exactly what Lent has become.

I find it especially cringe-worthy when I see clergy – and there are many, all over Social Media these days – proclaiming that they can’t go here or there or do this or that or, God knows, eat or drink favorite foods or beverages because, well, it’s Lent, you know.

And, see? See how they are sacrificing?  See how they – even they – are working at being better people and better Christians. 

I fear they have succumbed to what T.S. Eliot described as “last temptation.” It is the “greatest treason” to the spirit of Jesus who said, “Go and find out what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13).

What if . . . . . 

What if we, like Jesus, allowed the Spirit to lead us into a wilderness (Mt 4:1-11). 

Not The Wilderness. 

A wilderness.

A place we haven’t yet explored? A place as yet unknown to us? A place where we may confront things – demons, perhaps – we have not yet encountered?

A place where we can explore our own vulnerability? A space where we might discover the limits of our spiritual endurance?

What if we set no goals for a pre-determined outcome? No metrics like weight loss or amount of money saved and donated to “charity”?

Indeed, how does this ‘sacrifice’ which leads us to ‘charity’ actually underscore our privileged status and emphasize – but not bridge –the chasm between rich and poor?

What if we came to our eight-week Lenten journey with a real sense of ‘poverty’, with a full sense of our powerlessness and vulnerability and no measurable goals? 

What if we risked getting to the end of our journey not even certain what we had accomplished? (How thoroughly un-American, right?)

What if we simply trusted the Spirit to lead us into temptation? 

Might that look more like a ‘Holy Lent’ to which we were invited on Ash Wednesday?

How would we do that? Well, certainly not by giving up chocolate or wine for 8-weeks.

It would take a great deal of intentionality, with at least the possibility of some time away – a retreat for a time certain – in a place conducive to this deep spiritual work.

That may also be accomplished by committing to a set amount of time every day for meditation.

And/or, reading and reflecting and journaling.

And/or a weekly meeting with an anamchara – a spiritual friend/director – to talk about what you are finding deep in your soul.

And/or establishing a small anamchara group where you can talk about the landscape of your journey and what you are seeing and discovering along the way.

Again – and, I can’t stress this enough – this is not about Lent as a Self-Help Program.

That is what I hate about what Lent has become.

Actually, it’s quite the opposite. 

It’s about trusting Spirit to lead you through an undiscovered, unexplored part of your soul.

It’s about trusting Spirit to lead you to the spiritual lessons you need to learn and leading you back again.

It’s about allowing Angels to tend to you before you begin the next part of your spiritual journey.

It’s about making a commitment to spiritual discipline which is transformative.

It’s about resisting the last temptation and doing the right thing for the right reason.

It’s still not too late to make this Lent truly holy for you.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Blessing the Dust

All those days you felt like dust, like dirt, as if all you had to do was turn your face toward the wind and be scattered to the four corners or swept away by the smallest breath as insubstantial -

Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?

This is the day we freely say we are scorched. This is the hour we are marked by what has made it through the burning.

This is the moment we ask for the blessing that lives within the ancient ashes, that makes its home inside the soil of this sacred death.

So let us be marked not for sorrow. And let us be marked not for shame. Let us be marked not for false humility or for thinking we are less than we are but for claiming what God can do within the dust, within the dirt, within the stuff of which the world is made, and the stars that blaze in our bones, and the galaxies that spiral inside the smudge we bear.

– by Jan Richardson