Monday, May 31, 2010

A pre-birthday meditation

In eight days, I will be 68 years old. I was born at 3:55 p.m. on June 8, 1942 in Chehalis, Washington, the first living child of my parents, Mona and Merritt Ketcham. Two brothers had been born in the years before my birth, James and Charles. I was the first baby carried to term.

I don't know what effect these too-premature-for-the-times babies' deaths had on my parents, though the writings my mother left behind seem to indicate a certain stoicism and steady belief that they were in the arms of Jesus. Somehow they carried on, managing seminary and the Great Depression and poverty with grace, and when I was born, my dad was in his first pastorate in Mossyrock, Washington, at the Mossyrock Community Church.

Sixty eight years later, I am in a pastorate in Freeland, Washington, having benefited from their steady grace and deep faith and having the natural or nurtural resources to find happiness, though the world is increasingly messy and tormented by humankind's mistreatment.

I am finding that the days and weeks and months and years are speeding by more quickly than I could imagine. I remember when each month was endless, when I was living from paycheck to paycheck, hoping I could make it for the next week by judiciously parceling out the sparse funds in my bank account, even floating a check at the grocery store on the last days of the month, hoping the paycheck would make it to the bank before the check cleared. The Favorite Son seemed always to be in some kind of growth spurt, eating constantly and outgrowing everything.

Friends tell me I don't look like I'm 68 and truthfully, I don't feel like I'm 68. My dad had been dead for eight years when his 68th birthday rolled around. I have outlived him by eight years and during those eight years, I have marveled that I have been given this gift of time. His health problems presaged mine, but by the time mine were discovered, medical science had progressed enough that mine could be easily fixed.

My mother would have been 100 years old this August, had she lived past her 84th birthday. I figure I probably have at least another 16 years, likely more, as I also have escaped some of her health concerns by being born after penicillin prevented scarlet fever from damaging heart valves. She was not so lucky.

So here I am at this young age of 68, watching time fly by and wondering what the future brings. What does the rest of my life look like? How long will I stay on Whidbey Island? Will I ever get to live on the Oregon Coast? Will I ever be able to live close enough to my son and his family that I can see them more often? How long will I be able to be an active, energetic minister? Will my brain ever fail me? Will my own efforts to control my health without medications be enough? Will I find a life's companion who can put up with me for the next (at least) 16 years? And will I be able to put up with him?

It's another rainy morning on the island, it's Memorial Day, and the newspaper is full of bad news. My friends whose son recently died are managing, heroically, to offer the now-annual Veterans Tribute event to the larger community, despite their grief. I will be there to support them. And then we will meet this week to begin planning his Memorial service.

May this Memorial Day have deep significance to you, my friends. May you give thanks for freedom, for health, for friends and family, for the many gifts of life which outshine the sadness and destruction so pervasive in today's world. And may you do what you can to make others' lives easier. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A misty morning

As I walked down to the road to get my newspaper this morning at a few minutes before 5 a.m., I was struck by how often I used to will myself awake at dawn, as a teenager, in order to ride my horse through the fields around Athena.

Have you ever mentally set your alarm for a certain hour or prayed "dear God, please let me wake up at 5 a.m." and then done it? I didn't have an alarm clock to set and my sister wouldn't have appreciated it if I had set it on a summer morning, since we shared a room all the time we were growing up. But riding in the early hours of the day was much better than riding in the afternoon, since temps were in the 90's and 100's on eastern Oregon summer days. And anyhow, I wanted to go swimming in the afternoons.

So I'd squinch my eyes tight shut at night and pray fervently that I'd wake up at 5 a.m. And my mental alarm would go off, I'd slide into my jeans and boots, and ride my bike to the pasture where my horse would nicker softly, asking about the possibility of a handful of oats or a carrot piece.

Most of the time, I'd just slip a bridle or hackamore on his willing nose, climb the fence so I could reach his back, and we'd be off through the streets of our sleeping town, on our way to the stubble field just a few blocks north of the pasture. There on the silver-gold wheat stubble, we'd lope gently alongside the road, waving at the occasional car going by, feeling the freedom and exhilaration of being out and about when almost nobody else was.

Those mornings were clear and bright, not misty like Whidbey is this morning, with the rising sun glinting on the bent and broken stalks of decapitated wheat. I used to write poetry about those mornings, poems which are now mostly stored in memento boxes.

One of them, however, seems worth dusting off. I don't remember when I wrote this, but it would have been in the 50's sometime and clearly seems to indicate a growing vocabulary!

Day washed her face with flamboyant rags:
palest green, clear yellow, and warm, warm pink.
Cleaned away black sooty night
from her clear blue brow.
Yawned and struggled to keep open
her great gold eye,
befogged with clouds of sleep.

Monday, May 24, 2010

An addendum to the story

There are always awarenesses that emerge after the fact, after the story, that add to the meaning of any event, and my experience with friends at the morgue has been deeper than I initially realized.

I had said in my previous post that these friends did not know they were inviting me into a sacred moment, but as I reread the post and re-experienced the time we spent together that day, I realized that of course they knew. It was a sacred time for them and they wanted me to be there with them. It gives the time even greater meaning, to know that their invitation was intentional. And as I know them better, I understand the depth of their own spiritual maturity.

An email conversation this morning after my friends read the blog post helped clarify a few things for me: fear short-circuits thoughts and awareness sometimes; setting aside the fear and going forward despite one's qualms is often the right thing to do; being ashamed of the fear and lack of awareness is normal but not necessary.

It hadn't yet occurred to me to update my recent post with this new learning but I want to do so. Without my acknowledging all the growth that this experience spurred in me, the story is incomplete. And it may always be incomplete because I suspect I will continue to grow because of my friendship and love for this family.

I am grateful for their wisdom, their grace in a terrible situation, and the connection we have which has become stronger with each new step in this process.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A story

Sometimes something happens in my ministry life that feels so profound and so formative that I want to share it, particularly with newer ministers and seminarians. But I have found it useful (and essential) to ask myself "whose story is this?". In other words, can I tell this story without exploiting the event for its drama? Can I express my part in the story without revealing identities or disregarding the privacy of the participants? If the participants read what I've written, would they be okay with its being out there?

It can be a gamble and I'm going to try to do it right now, because what happened recently was one of those moments in time: profound, meaningful, scary, formative. I will tell my part of the story and if I'm not satisfied that it meets my criteria for publication, I will not publish it. If you are reading it, I decided it was okay. If you feel it reveals too much, you are welcome to tell me and I may take down the post, if I am convinced. For better or for worse, here it is.

I had just gotten back from my weekly grocery store run, had put away the goods, and was checking my email and voice messages. Surprisingly, though it was still early in the day, a voice mail had come through from a person whom I know best by his activities in support of local veterans. "Kit, will you call me as soon as you get in?" was the message.

I called and learned that their son, an Afghanistan vet suffering from PTSD and a host of physical trauma left over from injuries sustained in war, had died in the night, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, possibly accidentally because he had been coping pretty successfully with his challenges. Yet he was dead and his family and friends were left behind wondering. "Can you come over?" was their question.

I was there within a few minutes and stayed for over two hours. During that time, I learned that the young man's body was at the county morgue and that the family was making arrangements to go up, view his body even though it was still bloody and messy, wash him, anoint him, and say goodbye in a way that felt better than his being whisked off to a mortuary and out of sight.

"Would you be able...?" was the beginning of the question and I erroneously assumed it was asking if I would be willing to perform the memorial service so I immediately said "yes" and then realized that the question was actually asking me to go with them to the morgue.

That I wasn't so sure of. I have seen many dead bodies in my years in ministry; they are empty of life, sometimes lovely in death, sometimes not. But I have not seen many victims of violent death, and never people whose families I know. In my mind, I backpedaled, thinking of all the possible excuses I might use to avoid this experience.

But as I thought about the great honor that was the invitation, I realized that I could not say no. The family did not know they were honoring me, they did not know they were offering me a sacred experience, they did not know anything but that they needed me to be with them. And I quickly abandoned my excuse-finding mode and put my fears away, believing that I would find the strength to be present for them, no matter what we found when we arrived at the morgue.

The trip to the morgue was scheduled for late in the day and in the middle of a blinding wind and rain storm, we drove the 30 miles to the tiny hallway that serves as the county morgue at a small funeral home. The personnel who met us were apologetic about the space and the lack of amenities and listened to the family's requests with compassion and realism. They explained what we would see, they advised us to be aware of our reactions and to leave the space if necessary. They offered to help us in whatever ways they could and allowed the family to be with this beloved young man as long as they wished.

His body was covered in a sheet, lying on a gurney in a narrow hallway. The staff first uncovered the long, slender, icy feet. We all were able to touch them, the parents and his fiancee washing and anointing them with cedar oil. Then the hands were revealed and, finally, the bloody, maimed head was uncovered and it was clear then that this was just a body. A beloved, beautiful body, but only a body, that the spirit of this man had left that body. It was bad but not horrifying, except in the realization of the loss of life and potential for healing.

Gently washing the blood away from his cheeks and temples, viewing the bullet hole, cleansing the ugliness away as best they could, family members prepared his body for the next step in its journey, the autopsy that is required by the law in cases of gun-related deaths. They left sweet herbs on his body and a small amount of tobacco.

We said goodbye to the morgue staff and left for home, profoundly calmed by the experience, the worst having been revealed, the understanding that the spirit was gone, and the realization that for this young man the pain of his earthly life was behind him. And I felt, during the ride home, that the pain for all of us had shifted, that the loss was still acute but that something had happened there which had begun our healing.

With Memorial Day events coming soon, including one in which this family is deeply involved, the significance of this death cannot be understated. The desperate straits in which so many of our vets find themselves, from PTSD, from self-medication, from homelessness, from addictions, cannot be set aside. Veterans die every day, often from self-inflicted injury or other efforts to stop their pain. They have let themselves be sacrificed on the altar of American ambition and desire. In many cases, this has been their only alternative. Is there any way to change the American dream from one which requires this kind of sacrifice to one which rewards integrity and hard work, rather than greed and wealth? I just don't know any more.

But I do know that this was an experience that will never again scare me or cause me to look for excuses not to accompany a bereaved family. I feel blessed by it and honored by the family for turning to me in their need.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Defeating gloom

It's interesting to see how life's changes affect my sense of wellbeing and ignite a desire for something different. Recently, our little band of musicians has had some upheaval in its ranks, with one member being released, another deciding to pursue other interests, and the rest of us left hanging. My life hasn't changed any, but others' lives have.

Consequently, my life took a hit too because of the change in makeup in this organization which has been so important to me. We don't know for sure what direction we'll take. We're down to three members, fewer musical instruments, an emerging sense of who we are and what we sing, and, unfortunately, no gigs in sight to help us with the process of defining ourselves.

So I've been trying to absorb the changes, think about how I feel about the changes, and make a stab at reconstructing in my mind what the future might hold. It's not easy and this morning found me very gloomy, to the point of writing the other band members and suggesting we go on hiatus for awhile until the dust settles. I wasn't sure I could take any more rollercoaster stuff for awhile.

The mood persisted until I had to get in the car to drive to Coupeville for our regular chaplaincy meeting at the hospital. I'd had to bow out of a scheduled reunion with the Athena pals because of the conflict in dates (they were all in Portland overnight for a sleepover and I couldn't go) and because I had requested the particular topic of this session.

Dr. Haigh Fox from the hospital ethics committee came to talk to us about what that committee does, what some of the protocols for that committee are, and how they operate. I was fascinated, particularly as some of the thornier problems for chaplains were discussed----family members who want to override the patient's desire for DNR (do not resuscitate) orders or want to impose life-saving measures, however fruitless, on a loved one who has expressed different wishes but is now unable to speak for him/herself.

Surprisingly, despite the somewhat gloomy-sounding subject matter, I found my spirits lighter and my mood much elevated after the meeting. I was distracted, yes, from the band's problems, but it got me thinking about the much more important tasks in my life, the work I do with patients in the hospital every couple of weeks and the preparation tasks I do with my own aging congregation.

It kind of put things in better perspective; I could see that my asking for the topic had borne fruit and that all of the other chaplains and other attendees at the meeting were deeply engaged in the topic. If I had been downhearted earlier, that mood had been superseded by the sense of accomplishment I felt at the success of the session.

The band will get together tomorrow, start practicing again, and we will make some decisions about what our next steps will be.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This I Believe----about death

Some of you will remember that during this church year, we have used the theme of "Great Questions of Human Living" and each month has dealt with a different question, ranging from "Who am I and what is my purpose?" to "How do I know what to believe?" and the like. This month's question has been "What does it mean that I am human and that I will die?"

On Mother's Day, my topic was "When our mothers die" and several afterwards said that it had been a chance for them to look at their relationship with their mother and to change it in some way. One person confided that a letter to her deceased mother had helped release her from some of the tension that had existed in that relationship.

Today we had three people from the congregation speak about their answers to the question of the month. One man is a scientist, an atheist, a person who respects alternate points of view on the subject but is firmly committed to his own: when we die, we die, and that's it, though we live on for a time in others' memory. One woman, in her 80's, is writing a book about preparing for death and shared her sense that there may be communication with our beloved dead in some way, that our lives must be made meaningful and fully lived, using the gifts of God, the Creative Source. And the third person spoke of a former-life experience which helped her understand some of the pain she'd experienced in this life.

Our choir sang beautifully, ending with the song "Zen Gospel Singing", to elevate the mood a bit. This is a rather poor recording of another group singing the song, but it's all I could find.

My own take on death is that we (I hope) rise to a new level of understanding, that the questions I have now about life and the reasons why my life has been the way it has, the failures and successes, the mysteries and the frustrations, will find some resolution in death. It may be that I will live on in my friends' and family's memory; I hope so. I hope somebody feels that their life has been happier because of our friendship or our kinship.

But these are all hopes. I don't actually KNOW anything. I have long ago let go of my fanciful ideas of heaven and hell. It may be that heaven exists in the form of golden streets and the like, at least for those who believe in such things. It may be that there is a parallel kind of hell, for those who believe they're going to such a place.

But I don't believe in a physical heaven or hell after death. I do believe that I have a responsibility to bring as much heaven to earth as I possibly can. And I do believe that I am quite capable of making my life a hell on earth, as well. By bringing help to those who are struggling, I make my own heaven (and perhaps theirs as well, to some extent) and by withholding love from others, I deprive myself of that heaven, as well as depriving them.

I'm glad they were the main attraction today, however. I thought they did a spectacular job of revealing some very personal ideas and thoughts to a congregation of friends and strangers. I'm grateful to them for their courage and creativity.

Friday, May 14, 2010

First things first, do what's next.

That's Twelve Step wisdom, embedded deep in my psyche, and the way I'm responding to the many crises afoot around the globe. I don't think I have my head in the sand; I don't think I'm opting out in fear or apathy or ignorance. It's just that I've got a different way of looking at things; it could be because of my upbringing in a home that focused more on local needs than on global needs or because my life experience has taught me that the current crisis almost always morphs into something else regardless of my reaction.

Anyhow, it was interesting to watch myself hold back as many of my colleagues pledged goodly sums of money ($100 or so) to encourage the UUA board to withhold General Assembly 2012 from Arizona because of their new and draconian immigration policies. It seemed to me like "wait and see" might be a more cautious approach, given that the new law is a clear effort to get Congress to act, a possible political move to get conservative votes, a nightmare of unconstitutionality, a slap in the face to already-overworked police departments. It didn't seem like financial pledges and a withdrawal from an AZ GA was really more than a knee-jerk response, especially when it turns out that AZ UUs are not in favor of a boycott or moving GA. Also, I have already pledged the only extra $100 in my bank account to the local Habitat project which my congregation is part of.

I do feel I have a responsibility to make the world a better place, but my efforts seem more effective here in the local arena, where we have our own set of problems to address. Though I have to admit, if it turns out that the Arizona immigration mess morphs the wrong direction, I will have to figure out how to respond differently. Because I can't just ignore what's going on elsewhere.

What's that prayer? "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Seems to me I learned that in a 12 Step program too.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Matter of LIfe and Death

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 9, 2010

Sing with me: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home, a long way from home.”

It’s taken me a long time since my mother’s death in 1994 to understand better my relationship with her, a relationship that often made me feel guilty that I wasn’t more patient with her, that I didn’t come to visit her more often, that I couldn’t be with her as she was dying.

And yet it was also a relationship of great joy, times spent walking down country roads in the Klickitat River valley while gazing at Mount Adams in the distance and smelling the sagebrush, times spent with her and my son on a long crosscountry trip through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, intense Scrabble and Boggle games when she would chortle gleefully over her phenomenal scores—and my pitiful ones.

As we aged, she into health crises of major significance and I into single parenthood and career changes, our roles shifted. Her caretaking of me over my lifetime morphed from the normal Mom duties of wiping noses, administering kaopectate, mopping up tears, reassuring teenage angst, and comforting a newly-single, once-married daughter; eventually her caretaking was evidenced more in her willingness to weed my Denver gardens, vacuum my dusty floors, clean my grimy kitchen, pray for my return to the Baptist fold.

My relationship with her moved from dependence on her mothering to impatience with her lack of understanding of my life, of my religious changes, of my parenting techniques, and of my fondness for one boyfriend or another, for she never felt they were worthy of me.

It also eventually became a relationship which required me to take care of her the best I could from my faraway home in Colorado. Impatience with her became fear of losing her, a sense of obligation that I must do what I could to be present for her---and for my family members upon whose shoulders her care eventually fell. I needed to make amends to her for many lapses in my daughterly duties: that familiar impatience, resentment of her pleas that I return to my childhood faith, my own efforts to make HER see the light of truth and reason.

My relationship with my mother probably has many of the same characteristics of your relationship with your mother, whether your mother is alive or not. I invite you, for a moment or two in silence, to consider the trajectory of your relationship with your mother or the mother figure in your life, whether a biological relationship exists or not. (silence)

Mother’s Day is one of those tough holidays during the church year that causes a preacher to dig deep for a new way of observing it, for it is a holiday that has been commercialized way beyond its original meaning, a meaning stated so eloquently in our antiphonal reading of Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers’ Day Proclamation.

In addition, some of us have had wonderful experiences with our mothers and others of us have had very painful years because of a mother who was unable to fulfill her role well.

We depend so much on those who mother us! We depend on them for all the tasks that accompany children and youths: the feeding, clothing, cleaning up, teaching, encouraging, nurturing, training, accompanying, shaping, guarding, approving, disapproving. Though others share these tasks---thank you to big sisters, big brothers, fathers, and other adults---mothers are often the ones who do the most. And, of course, pregnancy and birth are one-woman jobs, though usually with a lot of help.

When we move into those mothering roles ourselves, whether as birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, all those female roles of nurture and shaping, we tend to mother the way our mothers mothered us. Even men who take on nurturing roles often find themselves behaving like their own mothers on occasion.

I remember one time, when my son was small and being annoying in that sort-of-innocent little-boy way, my yelling at him, the way my mother sometimes had yelled at me, “you ornery whelp! I’m going to rip off your leg and beat you over the head with the bloody stump!” Astonished, he puddled up and began to cry a little bit, not knowing that I was joking, in the way my mother used to joke when she was fed to the gills with our rambunctiousness and needed to say something shocking but entirely impossible.

To young Mike, HIS mom, I, was completely capable of ripping off his leg, at least in fantasy! Oh boy, did I ever have to backpedal! And now I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the same situation, of needing something emphatic to get his kids’ attention and make them laugh at the same time.

It has occurred to me to wonder where MY mother got that memorable and shocking phrase! It didn’t come out of her brain, I expect, as she was about 5 feet tall, slim, and gentle, and I knew she couldn’t possibly rip off anyone’s leg! When I heard it, I knew I was safe from her, but my own son wasn’t sure! Aaaaah!

But what happens when we approach our mothering job after having been raised by a mother who really couldn’t do the tasks of motherhood, whether from illness or a rotten upbringing herself or addictions or any number of the plagues of human living?

We may have been lucky enough to have a different mother figure to learn from or we may have turned to our father for the nurture our mother couldn’t give. And we stumbled along as best we could, using our own negative experiences as guideposts for what NOT to do.

In the movie “Precious”, the actress Mo’nique portrayed the abusive mother of the title character Precious Jones in such a violent and terrifying way that my stomach was absolutely in turmoil. And during that performance, we got a glimpse of the kind of neediness that creates a mother like Mary Jones, whose physical and emotional abuse toward her daughter stemmed from her own lifetime of poverty and mistreatment.

Some of us have been pretty angry with our mothers; we may have told them so or we may have kept it inside, only sharing the positive feelings we had or withdrawing so that we wouldn’t express our hurt. Some of us have used our mothers’ behavior to learn new ways of being in relationship with children, unwilling to risk making the same mistakes. Some of us have been leery of motherhood and not sure we should take on the role. Some of us mother other people’s children, sometimes in addition to our own. Some of us would love to be mothers but have not yet had that chance.

Most of us, probably, can name the many gifts our mothers gave us, both the positive ones and the negative ones. For a gift’s meaning depends on how we use it. In the movie, the teenage girl Precious learned hard lessons from her mother’s abuse but she was determined to change the trajectory of her life and not let her mother’s behavior become her own behavior. And she was aided in this by other loving adult women she encountered.

Our mothers teach us self-sufficiency in many areas and many ways; some of those are the traditional roles of womanhood---housekeeping, nurturing children, dealing with relationships with men, with other women, with siblings. Some of her ways were helpful and others were not.

We learn from their example, both the good example and the bad. We may find ourselves living out our mother’s foibles and catch ourselves just in time to avoid the behaviors we deplored in her. Or not!

What have been the gifts our mothers gave us? I invite you again into a time of silence to think about the gifts our mothers offered, the gifts we received joyfully, the gifts we rejected because they were inappropriate, the gifts we have transformed from something negative into something positive. (silence)

As I think about the gifts my mother gave me, I am most struck by the gift of JOY, her firm belief that life was good, that there was plenty of love to go around, and that happiness was a natural state of being. She also gave me the gift of scolding me for saying I was bored and teaching me to look inside myself and at the world outside myself to find interesting things to see and experience. She gave me the negative gift of being deeply, continuously disappointed in my choice of religious beliefs, and I learned how important it is to respect others’ religious paths.

Just for a moment, I’d like to give you a chance to say your mother’s gift aloud. Just call out the name of the gift, whether it was an attitude, a material gift, a deed, a skill, whatever it was. If the gift was negative, see if you can find the silver lining there. Go ahead----say it! And it doesn’t matter if you say the same things or if you say them at the same time. It is a way of honoring our mothers and their gifts.

Many of us are lucky enough to have mothers living, even living with us or close by and experiencing an entirely different kind of relationship than we did when we lived together as a young family. There is something appropriate about that cycle of living, in which the caretaker becomes the taken-care-of and the child becomes the caretaker. It’s often not a comfortable place to be, for either person, and yet great joy is available in that changed relationship.

When my mother was living in a retirement facility and then in assisted living in Longview WA, we had a chance to see her in a different way. My siblings and I wondered how she would survive the challenges of institutional living after being independent for so many years and we worried about her ability to communicate after several small strokes left her mostly wordless.

But despite her aphasia, her inability to utter intelligible speech, she found other ways of communicating. She immediately found friends at the assisted living facility, she expressed herself with hugs and touches, smiles, tears. She miraculously could remember and sing lustily all the words to the old hymns and carols, even adding her strong alto part at the Christmas concert the care facility put on.

We saw her then in a whole new way, this woman who had survived so many of life’s challenges and great sorrows: the loss of her mother at an early age, her father’s painful death from cancer, the loss of two stillborn babies before I came along, the chronic illness of her beloved husband, my father, my heretical religious beliefs and commitments, the failed marriages of all three of her children, loneliness and pain and ill health.

We saw her make joy out of almost nothing. We saw her continue to love---to love us and our children, to love her new companions also at the far edges of their lives, to love music and singing and visiting favorite places. We saw her give thanks continuously---to her God, whom she saw as close by and accessible, to us for our love and care, to the nurses and staff members who cared for her, to the friends who visited and took her to church and made sure she was not lonely. What an example for us to follow!

And then she died. Not unexpectedly, not in great pain, but one day she was awake and responsive, the next day unconscious, almost the next day, gone.

The death of our mother is one of the greatest losses we humans endure. Whether she was a good or a notsogood parent, whether she gave us what we needed from her or failed us badly, whether she was joyous or depressed, thankful or ungrateful, nurturing or needy, her death creates a hole in our lives.

A familiar relationship, a long-lived pattern has ended, at least in physical form. How do we deal with that loss? How do we make it as meaningful as possible? How do we cope with the fact that so much still needs to be repaired or acknowledged between us, though time has run out?

I invite us to take another few moments of silence to consider this important moment in all of our lives. For some of us it has occurred; for others, it is yet to be. And before the silence, let me offer these ideas:

If there is pain because of unresolved issues, if there is relief at her release from illness and old age, if there is fear about the future, if there is joy about her life, if there is a desire to make things better, let these feelings and thoughts come to mind, acknowledge them, and let them go, for the present. You can come back to them later.

If there is guilt because we were not the best possible sons and daughters, if there is satisfaction because we know we did the best we could, if there is anger, if there is grief, if there is hope for reconciliation, let these feelings and thoughts come to mind, acknowledge them and let them go, for the present. You can come back to them later.

Let us be still together as we consider the loss of our mothers. (Silence)

We are who we are, in great part, because of our mothers, because of who they were and who their mothers were. We are who we are because of who our mothers chose to be our fathers; we are who we are because of the genetic makeup we inherited, the family constellation in which we grew up, the communities we inhabited.

We do with our own true natures what we have learned from our mothers and fathers. And where those lessons were negative, we have the ability to turn those dark times into silver linings.

As Sara and I were talking, in preparation for this service, we shared what it had felt like since our mothers died, and she used the word “anchorless”. “She’s our connection to the beginning of our lives”, Sara said. And I thought of the stories my mother had told me of my birth and early childhood, things I could not remember without her help.

I no longer have my mother’s presence, but I have my mother’s spirit deeply embedded in my heart. She influences my behavior even now, as I understand how hard it is to parent an adult child without impinging upon his selfhood as a father, husband, and friend.

And I have become the anchor for myself, for my son, and for others who need me to be that anchor. I look to some of you for anchoring as well, those of you whose years or experience are greater than mine, whose lives reflect wisdom and strength received over all the years of your lives. Thank you for that contribution.

Let me speak to you as an anchor-person myself now: if there are unresolved issues between you and your living mother, do what you can to resolve them, kindly and with the understanding gained from your years of experience. For she will not always be alive but she will always be part of your life.

If she is already gone, consider writing her a letter, perhaps forgiving her lapses, perhaps accepting the gifts she was able to give, perhaps apologizing for your own mistakes and reassuring her and yourself of your love for each other. Then keep that letter and reread it occasionally to remind yourself of the many gifts of the life she gave you.

These actions can bring peace if your heart is troubled by your relationship with your mother; you will have done what you can do and then you can let go of some of that sorrow. It may be worth the effort.

In closing, I’d like to share with you an ode to motherhood that expresses some of the gifts our mothers bestowed. It appeared in my email, so be forewarned. We’ve been awfully serious this morning; let’s laugh.

My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE .

"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning." 

My mother taught me RELIGION. 
"You better pray that will come out of the carpet."

My mother taught me LOGIC. 
" Because I said so, that's why."

My mother taught me ADVANCED LOGIC . 
"If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you're not going to the store with me."

My mother taught me FORESIGHT. 
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."

My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM. 
"Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck?

My mother taught me about GARDENING.
“You could grow potatoes in those ears of yours!”

My mother taught me about WEATHER. 
"This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it." 

My mother taught me about HYPERBOLE. 
"If I told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION. 
"Just wait until we get home." 

My mother taught me about RECEIVING . 
"You are going to get it when you get home!"

My mother taught me OPHTHALMOLOGY. 
"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way." 

My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT . 
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up." 

My mother taught me GENETICS. 
"You're just like your father."

My mother taught me about my ROOTS. 
"Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?" 

My mother taught me WISDOM. 
"When you get to be my age, you'll understand."

And finally, my mother taught me about JUSTICE. 

"Honey," she said, "you deserve that kid."

Let’s pause for a time of silent laughter and remembrance!

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering our mothers with love and forgiveness, remembering our own efforts to offer mothering to those who need it and forgiving ourselves our lapses. Let us remember as well the many women and men who want children of their own and do not yet have them. May their hearts be eased. May we find joy and growth in the lessons learned
from our many, many mothers and may we give our own gifts to the children in our lives. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Slow down, you move too fast...

comes from one of my favorite songs: "The Fifty-ninth Street Bridge Song" by Simon and Garfunkle. I used to warble it in the shower, mowing the lawn, taking a walk. It had a good rhythm for hiking: slow down (emphasis on the "down" with right foot hitting path), you move too fast (again, emphasis with right foot heavier on the path), you got to make the morning last (emphasis on last).

In those days I was teaching school, tending house (sort of), tending a husband, going to school, expecting a baby, organizing a student trip, multitasking most of the time. I NEVER slowed down because I couldn't. I could only sing songs about it and look for ways of streamlining the daily tasks that needed to be done.

Over the years since then, I have never quit the streamlining habit. I look for shorter, easier, faster ways to do things and have become quite skilled at accomplishing a whole lot in a short period of time. Unfortunately, such a habit has its downside.

Since I no longer have husband or child at home to make life complicated, there is no point in doing everything rapidly and efficiently. I have more time than I need in this stage of my life and I end up spending that extra time in front of the computer screen checking email and FaceBook every little once in awhile, just to make sure I haven't missed anything.

But a month or so ago, I decided to revamp my eating habits, shifting from eating too much sweet junk to eating fruits and vegetables instead, partly in an effort to look a little less hefty in a swimsuit on next winter's cruise with the Favorite Son and family but also to be more mindful about what I was shoving down my throat and why I was so shoving it.

I'd also decided to quit taking the bone and cholesterol meds I'd been on for several months, not willing to put up with the heartburn and irritability that seemed linked to their usage. And I knew I couldn't blithely continue to eat carelessly if I was going to keep my bones and my heart healthy. So out went the ice cream and the cookies (mostly) and in came the oranges, apples, and grapefruit.

Trouble was, I'd eaten the junk in part because it was faster than cutting up an apple or peeling an orange. And that caused me to wonder: how come I was so loathe to spend time slicing an apple so it would be available to me easily? how come I would rather eat a cookie than peel an orange? It was because it was so much faster to grab the cookie than to prepare the fruit. And the fruit was far tastier than the cookie, far healthier, far longer-lasting.

So now I'm noticing that lots of little tasks in my life can be done much more slowly and I am enjoying discovering what they are. Cleaning the office doesn't need to be done in one fell swoop; it can be done a little at a time. If I cut up the fruit one piece at a time, I have slices of apple or orange to snack on all day long. If I cut up the red and orange peppers (at @2.99 a pound, yikes!), they can also serve as a snack with hummus or just plain, and they won't rot before I do something else with them. I have the time to make my bed properly in the morning, not just pull up the covers and bedspread and leave them.

I've always been eager to get tasks behind me and completed. I am a Myers-Briggs "J" personality to the nth degree. But once those tasks are completed, time sometimes stretches out before me and I am not sure what to do with it, other than to start another task. Which means I am working constantly, accomplishing more and more and having less and less time spent in "kickin' down the cobblestones, lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy".

Luckily, the music life has given me several reliable hours of just plain fun and grooviness every week, so I'm not "all work and no play Kit". I am getting several hours of play into my life. Now all I have to do is figure out how to slow down the email and FaceBook!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

We have such a great...

Director of Religious Education! I just came back from my first meeting with her since the birth of her baby and her return from maternity leave. I got to hold the baby Carl, replace his pacifier in that "little bird" mouth (he wanted something else, but pacifier was all I could give him!), say hello to Big Brother Leon, and enjoy the atmosphere of a baby-filled home.

She just came back to work last Sunday and we needed to get our May 23 service underway, as it will be a combination of Flower Communion, Bridging, Child Dedication, Teacher Recognition, Youth Music, and Story time in an intergenerational context. So we have a lot to do in a short time. But she's so efficient, even with babies to tend, that she will be able to manage her share without too much trouble, I think.

We're going to dramatize the story "Miss Rumphius" and I get to be Miss R! I've been Old Turtle in the past and also another less memorable character. Who would have thought that being a minister gave me a chance to be a character actress as well! My big stage opportunity, I guess, if you don't count sermonizing.

I've always enjoyed working with our DREs and find a lot of satisfaction in helping that person develop a religious education program that fits the needs of the congregation. We are able to talk over the needs of individual families and the class make-up, because we are fairly small and we both know the families fairly well.

If our program can develop, in our children, a strong sense of UU identity, I will be happy. If they understand to the core how important it is to treat others with dignity and respect, if they want to be helpful to others rather than hurtful, if they are able to see themselves as worthy and capable, if we can instill these understandings in them and give their parents the support they need, I will be happy.

I am so pleased that my own son grew up in UUism, even though he has had his moments of rebellion and scorn for those who don't walk their talk, because he is, at his core, a Unitarian Universalist. And he is doing what he can to live the ideals of our faith in his current congregation. As we approach Mother's Day, I feel gifted by the knowledge that he is a good man and that he is related to me!