Heart stopped

Sometimes we are arrested, pole-axed, stricken by beauty and it makes our world stand still. I am not sure how I feel about this experience. After all, it is unanticipated, it takes matters out of your hands and your reaction is pure and whole hearted. The world can look upon your face in that moment and see you in all your nakedness, awe struck and reverent. Worship can be like that, it’s why I find that I close my eyes so often in prayer, it’s why I love the Episcopal liturgy that allows us gracious space for those moments. Part of me longs for more of these moments, and part of me fears them. After all, your heart is stopped, if only for an instant. It takes your breath.

The summer has flown by, a stretch of days enjoying my mother’s company in Richmond while she recovered from surgery, feasting on the Mitford Series by Jan Karon and overdosing on summer TV series and films. I am such an info junkie. The best movie I saw all summer was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It’s very Not American, and very much the better because of it. The protagonist is a waif like, hard as nails hacker who has learned to bury her softness deep inside and use her rage as a weapon to defend herself. She has an uncompromising sense of right and wrong and in an age where rapists and murderers frequently escape atonement due to extenuating circumstance, she draws a clear line between victim and victimizer. It’s on DVD now, so check it out, if only so you can be amazed by how badly Hollywood will butcher the remake.

I am writing from my new home in Durham, North Carolina. I have arrived and survived my first 2.5 weeks at Duke. Week one was a “pre-week” program for a limited number of students called “Project Bridddge”. During it, we studied the complicated history of Durham, race relations, poverty and class issues. We worked in local programs in the community to begin to see the “real Durham”. We visited a historical plantation, met a famous civil rights leader named Ann Atwater who was incredible and got to know each other. At the end of the week, we shared our experiences and then voted on a specific mission to donate the offering to from the official Divinity School Orientation Day worship. We picked a group called Urban Ministries. Several of us participated in the worship service and it fell to me to describe the organization and why we chose it. I confess that when the incoming Dean of the Divinity School made eye contact, my mind went blank, but I managed to get the main details out and make a passionate appeal on their behalf. Urban Ministries is downtown and feeds 200-250 people at each meal, 3 meals a day every day. They also operate a food pantry, and when we entered I was dismayed to see the shelves were bare in some of the categories. (No macaroni and cheese or boxed foods, only a few canned goods) Needless to say, I lobbied hard for this group as did others in my group who spent time there. I had the opportunity to eat with and visit with people who were having lunch there the day we went and it will definitely  be a place I donate food and time to in the future. We raised a nice amount of money from the offering, nearly doubling last year’s amount. Yay!

Orientation was pretty intense, with information and lectures on every topic imaginable from early in the morning until late in the afternoon for three days straight. I particularly enjoyed a lecture on Spiritual Formation and one on Harassment. Harassment? Yes, well I also didn’t think I had anything to learn after endless corporate seminars on this topic, but I was wrong. I am guessing many of the students (200+) in the audience were re-evaluating their behavior in light of the presentation and wondering if they may have ever inadvertently made someone uncomfortable. Thought provoking.

I secured a work study at the Institute for the Care at End of Life which is right up my alley. I am loving it. I have attended several Anglican Episcopal House of Studies events, including a retreat earlier today and am so happy to be here. I quite adore Dr. Bailey-Wells who has such a steady and sure energy about her and demonstrates a love for the church that is encouraging. I’ve already attended two Eucharists she has celebrated and they were along the lines of what I grew up with, though in Virginia, some would describe that as high. I find it comforting and reassuring. Especially in the midst of so much newness.

There is so much that is new here. A new home, a large 4 bedroom house I am sharing with a perfectly wonderful house mate. She is an English professor at North Carolina Central University. She is not here most evenings, so it is a teeny bit lonely, but once I get little Tucker here I think it will be less so. Nothing like a snuggly Yorkie to make you feel comfy. The house itself is very nice. I have both a bedroom and office, storage in the attic and then share the downstairs which has a giant kitchen, dining room and living room. There is a large deck out back. I am hankering after a rocking chair or Adirondack to sit out there and watch the birds and squirrels.

There are lots of new people to meet. Most of whom are younger than me. This never bothered me at Hollins, where it was not an issue at all. Here, unaccountably it seems to be one. I quite like one of the administrators I work with at the ICEOL, who seems more like a peer. I also have met a few people in my classes whom I have enjoyed great conversations with. But as for off hours socializing, well that’s never been my thing as my friends in Roanoke can attest to. I’m a few special friends kind of person. I like to have my own little tribe of friends and then we parachute in for events. In a nice way of course. I call it The Wicked Tribe. It’s invitation only. It originally started as a group of singletons at an Internet Conference called Shop.org back in the freewheeling days of my corporate life. We banded together at an evening event at Disney’s California Park, played games, rode rides, ate and drank together and generally had a fine old time. Since then, wherever I’ve gone I’ve found people standing with some mixture of disdain, disinterest or puzzlement on the fringes and gathered them to me. I’ve discovered that, no shocker here, they are always the most interesting and eclectic of the bunch. Which suits me down to the ground, being no lost in the herd kind of girl myself.

In all the orienting and logistics of moving and the anxiety of OMIGOD I have to move again, I completely forgot why I was here…the classes. So I was pleasantly shocked when the first one arrived and I was transfixed. It just happened to be Introduction to New Testament Greek, and I kind of fell in love with it, but still. It reminded me, Oh yeah, there’s a REASON, I’m doing all this. For the longest I was just operating on the “Because God said to” model, not really thinking about the fact that I might like it. But boy howdy, do I like it. There’s Church History with a lecturer named Dr. Warren Smith who is erudite, witty, and possesses a vast amount of knowledge of all things church historical. I love listening to him. I am reminded at every moment that he speaks of how very little I know…but I feel that changing with every second I spend in his class.  Yay Dr. Smith!

Back to Greek, my professor is named Nathan Eubank . It’s hard to pick a teacher sight unseen, so I Googled them and I liked what Professor Eubank said on a few esoteric websites. I am SO glad I did that. He is funny, creative and encouraging. It’s a challenging class, and frustrating because there are only 5 girls in a class of 25, so I already feel surrounded by testosterone. In addition, most of the boys are just that, boys. Their brains are still squishy and young and they memorize with ease. You can just see it go in and stick. I, on the other hand, have to flog my older brain like a sluggish pack mule. Maybe I could take some kind of vitamin. If only I could stand to eat fish. Ick. Yet still, it’s my favorite class. When I can read a word, or make sense of a declension I feel *such* a surge of adrenaline. I think to myself that I really WILL be able to read the Bible in Greek in the near future and I feel my heart about to burst. Yeah, I am determined, it will happen. Then there is my Intro to Old Testament Class. Keep in mind that my Church History and Intro  to Old Testament classes have over 200 students in them. We do meet later in a smaller precept course for discussion on another day. My Old Testament teacher is the same person who gave the Harrassment lecture, Dr. Anathea Portier-Young. She is a brilliant scholar who interprets the OT in such a serious and thought provoking way. It’s like she takes every line and unpacks it, giving us the Hebrew and adding context, explaining its place in the whole…it’s incredible. I’ve never heard/read the OT this way. I also have Anglican and regular Spiritual formation classes. In regular Spiritual formation, you share your spiritual call story with a small group and a leader from the Duke community. My leader is Father Rommen, an Orthodox priest. He seems a wonderful fellow. In Anglican Spiritual Formation, it’s a little more demanding, with commitments of attendance to events and to morning prayer. I quite enjoy the discipline.

My last class is Introduction to the Ministry of Social Work. In it we will read about the intersection of Christianity and Social Work throughout the centuries and in modern society. Since I am keenly interested in pastoral care, especially for those near death and dying, I felt this was the best match out of the classes offered to me. There were two classes I really wanted to take but they were only open to second years. I have them on my to do list. One is an Exegesis of Luke class and one is about Death and Grief.

I feel as though I am about to dive into a river at full flood. I am not sure how often I will surface to reflect and add to my blog. I hope I will be able to write often, because I will doubtless need to reflect on this transformational time. If my workload and the intensity of the study is any guide however, I am not sure that will be the case. I came home last night, my first Friday of classes, and fell into bed at 6:30 p.m. I woke at 9:00 a.m. this morning. Other than answering a phone call, I slept the night through. Phew! I was exhausted. This is only the beginning.

Should I pray for strength? I will. Should I pray for an open mind and heart? I do pray that, daily…

What I  really pray is that I will survive those heart stopping moments with grace and ask no more of them than that they continue.


When a heart breaks, it don’t break even

The title of this post is from a great song by a new Irish band called the Script.

I find myself singing it a lot lately. Not only is a catchy song, but it’s so true that when a relationship breaks one party always hurts more.  All kinds of relationships get broken and changed when endings and beginnings come around. It’s a chance to start over, let go of some things, embrace others. Redefine who you are and start with a blank slate. I’ve read that the Methodist faith has a requirement that its pastors move often… it seems I’ve been doing that my whole life. I’ve kind of got that down pat. Truthfully I would like nothing more that to find a nice place to call home and settle there for the rest of my life.  Though I know I will never truly get home until I meet my creator when all the work he asks of me is done.  I’d like travel to be something I did for recreation, not as a requirement from year to year. Somehow I think God probably has other plans. But then again, he is the master of surprises!

It is so hard to believe but my journey through undergraduate school is completed, and a brand new road to Divinity School at Duke is opening up before me. Graduation was everything I hoped it would be. Exciting, scary, inspiring, hot, a little boring in places but exhilarating and triumphant. Especially the part where I opened my degree and saw the little gold sticker that read cum laude. It made me feel extra happy. It has been a tumultuous six months. So many highs and lows. There were moments when I was certain I wouldn’t complete my final work. I stared at a stack of books 20 volumes high and realized that there was just no way to condense all that I had gleaned from them and my hours of online field ethnography into a twenty page final project. Luckily my professor didn’t penalize me for going over.

I toured seminaries in Alexandria, VA and in Austin, TX and Divinity School at Yale. After not really feeling any of them and at the recommendation of a classmate, I checked out Duke during their Women in Ministry conference and the differences were startling. From the beginning when I assembled in front of the modern R. David Thomas Executive Center with a group of other women exploring their calls, I felt at home. When we arrived at our welcome dinner, the admissions director began with prayer. The way that each and every person spoke about God, Jesus and relationship was immediate and personal and absolutely true to my experience. All of this had been absent from my other tours, where God was discussed in theoretical terms. There were lots of signs, small and large that were personal to me and my ongoing conversations with God. When I walked into Duke chapel before catching the van back to the hotel, it was almost completely empty, the twilight filtered in through the many, many stunning stained glass windows. I stared up at the vaulted ceiling and was filled with that almost painful feeling of joy at beauty. That was when the choir began to sing “What wondrous love is this?” at the altar. In my daze I had not even realized they were in the chapel practicing. As the sound swelled over me, I felt my skin prickle all over with goosebumps and shivered at how present I felt God was. It had been a while since I had been given such clear direction on my next steps so what an amazing weekend it turned out to be. I wasn’t sure how all of it would happen, but I knew that it would. Somehow, despite the fact that I am Episcopalian and its a Methodist seminary, that I am broke and its expensive, I just knew God would make it happen. He would provide.

And so he did. I was accepted and received a grant from the annual fund, work study and (un?)fortunately some more loans. However, I’ll take em’ for now. I’ll apply myself and hopefully kick enough academic butt to get scholarship money next year.

I am leaving a safe haven and venturing through a rocky pass into the next valley. In my moments of communion with God I am tantalized with momentary glimpses of the beauty and possibility that await. Still, the people I have shared my days and nights with, the lessons I have learned about finding and building a home and living in community have been precious beyond measure.

There is still so much to come. I discovered that I can participate in up to 5 field education experiences, 3 of them funded by Duke. (So in my case, that probably means 3!) Still, three is awesome! They have a Parish based CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program that is partnered with Duke Hospital that lasts a year. I can do a mission overseas. I can also do a summer internship in a church! So three wonderful experiences.

There’s the fact that I will be moving into a new place, maybe even a house with wood floors and my own backyard where I can plant my favorite flower, gardenias, under my bedroom window. Nothing like sleeping with the window open and smelling the gardenias blooming while listening to the frogs and cicadas sing. Maybe even a garden. Haven’t had one of those since I left Alabama.

So many adventures await. So much new information. New experiences, new faces and friends, new opportunities to grow and fail too of course! 🙂

Twilight is on cable and I am struck by how romantic it is. When Edward dances with Bella at the end they play one of my favorite songs by Iron and Wine,and you can tell he is absolutely committed and in love with her. Earlier in the film they play Clair de Lune and not only is it such a beautiful composition, it’s one of the best classical compositions ever written in my opinion, and the one thing I would love to learn to play on the piano before I die.

The summer holds its own adventures. I will take care of my mom during and after a hard surgery in Richmond. I hope to get some actual vacation-y time. See my daughter and grandson. Go camping, maybe kayaking and rafting. Definitely revamp my workout routine and my wardrobe!

It’s going to be an exciting year. I can just feel it. 🙂

Full Frame: Take One

I attended my very first film festival in Durham, NC and as usual, as soon as I got home I went online and began to research additional festivals I might make it to. I say “as usual” because my insatiable curiosity always leads to full on immersion in whatever subject is top of mind. Film, like the interweb, has no bottom. There are always new films to see, so I will never be finished. For those of you who resist boredom and a life of obscurity, you will understand how important this is.To feed your passions and have the promise of more discovery always present is a particular pleasure. As a naturally passionate person, my interests are wide ranging. But today I am feeling curiously satiated.
My time at the festival was a dream come true. I was in a different state, so travel was involved, always a happy occurrence. I had friends with me, made new ones and in one case, re-connected with a former classmate from high school who has gone on to direct a feature film about Mobile. Best of all, I did almost nothing but watch movies all day long for days. In between I tried great little restaurants. I had several perfect Stoli Cosmos at the Hotel bar. (For some reason, a perfect one is hard to find.) I saw about 5 movies a day for 3 days and then 2 on my last day. My head is reeling with texture, sound and a constant mental replay of the memorable images that conquered me.
Perhaps the most shocking film I saw was Man on Wire. I don’t know why it resonated as much as it did, except that the main character, Phillippe Petite, a French national who once tight roped across the span between the twin towers, was that which I admire most. A triumphant visionary, a creative who has defied the world and succeeded on his own terms. It reminds me a little bit of how I felt about the new Burton/Depp Willy Wonka and Burton’s Sweeney. The victory of artistry over the commercial. The ephemera of beauty, whimsy, joy captured in a single unforgettable event. This film is a masterpiece of editing, cinematography and is quite simply… breathtaking. The story is beyond unbelievable and the innocence of his dream, beguiling.
I know I will continue to think on this film. I was so moved by it that I felt compelled to address the director via microphone in front of a full theater. I said, “I just want to thank you. I thought that for the rest of my life, whenever I saw images of the twin towers that I would only remember the horror of the events of September 11th, but now, when I see images of it, I will think of this and feel joy.”
Yeah, I’m a dork and I even cried during the moment when he finally achieved his dream. Not a little, polite tearing of the eye, but many tears streaming down my face. Wow.
I cried at other films: Trouble the Water as I was taken back to New Orleans and Katrina. The pictures of it still feel traumatic to me. I have a PTS response. My blood pressure elevates, my hands go cold and my heart plummets. My eyes welled up at image after image of the devastation. I can remember every magical adventure I had in pre-Katrina New Orleans. The hidden places I stumbled upon, the scents of chicory coffee and woodsmoke in winter, the reek of beer laden streets on Halloween. Shivering in delight as I had my palm read by candlelight in the shadow of Jackson Square. Sweet, simple moments on the ferry to Algiers dazed by the taste of river on my tongue, my eyes dazzled by the pearl laden bridge, the diamond strewn sky.
At the Deathhouse Door, when the Prison Chaplain described the last moments of an innocent man who died for a crime he did not commit. Man’s inhumanity to man and a suffering innocent sentenced to death. Soft, sad tears that tracked silently as I watched…
There were wonderful moments as well. Getting interviewed for the local news channel about how I felt about Durham and the festival. Finding a perfect French Bistro that had beignets 2 blocks from the hotel. Securing autographs and handshakes from the makers of the films I fell in love with. Having a great conversation with a Producer from Starz at a chance meeting at the hotel bar in between films. Watching a late night showing of a crazy Iranian film while a man with a lilting, infectious belly laugh sounded behind us, sending us into laughter ourselves. Meeting a charming artist who directs a film festival in Wilmington, NC and being delighted by the unexpected awareness of a kindred spirit and his physical presence at a casual touch.
Laughing at Trumbo and feeling swirled up in the language of his letters. Snapping close-ups of Joan Allen from the second row. Managing to watch 5 episodes of Dexter on my iPod while traveling. Listening to INXS with my friends as we sped towards our hotel at 12:30 a.m. slightly drugged by the heady intoxication of being surrounded by others who loved story as I do. Managing to slip out to a local church this morning several blocks away to have Eucharist while my compatriots covered for me by utilizing my ticket to a required event for a chance acquaintance.
Yes, it was quite an amazing first festival. When I arrived home, my sweet Tucker dog lept into my arms and buried his little snout under my chin. I took a ride to Starbucks for a post trip beverage and savored my familiar routine for a few moments. Part of the joy of leaving a place is in the returning.
My first class (Intro to New Testament) has been canceled tomorrow, leaving me some luxurious free time to catch up on my reading before my Leadership in Africa class.
No wonder I feel so happy. I am humming along to my current favorite song and thinking of taking up running and am approaching my bedtime. I’ll brush my teeth, snuggle into my pj’s and listen to the soothing sounds of a faux rain storm on my iPod cradled in the Sounddock.
I wonder what I will dream…