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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mary Magdalene's Rather Creepy Hair Suits, Portrayed by Early Renaissance Painters

Today (July 22, 2017) we commemorate the feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. I saw the first image on Instagram and thought "wow, that looks like a pantsuit....painted in the 1430's and referring to waaaaay earlier, my how progressive...what's up with that?" 
THEN saw the second image which revealed to me it's actually her hair! Wow!
Hair suits...
Ponder that for a moment...
The imagery is both grotesque and amazing.... It was Mary Magdalene (in many interpretations) who used her hair to wipe her tears from Jesus' feet and anoint them (instead of Mary of Bethany, Martha's sister), thus her hair was an important feature. Perhaps she did have red hair and perhaps she didn't, but many Italian painters portrayed women with red hair. Here is an interesting blog post on red haired Italian women. 
Nice (and a bit creepy) touch of modesty here in these paintings though, covering Mary's naked form with suit-like long hair. First image: a master of Gdansk, an unknown painter circa 1430. Second image: Giovanni Pietro di Birago (Italy, active from 1471-1513).
Third image: Antonio Vivarini (active from 1440-1480). These images are almost akin to modern hairy images of the mythical Bigfoot in some ways, but as I stare at the paintings, I think they're growing on me. If I can love early Renaissance music and the sackbut, krummhorn and shawm, I can surely make the stretch to strange paintings of hair-covered saints!

Here's a very interesting and informative article link Who Framed Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene Raised by Angels in Glory, Unknown from Gdansk, 1430.
Mary Magdalene by Giovanni Pietro di Birago, Italy ca. 1500
Mary Magdalene by Antonio Vivarini, ca. 1460

A Collect for Coffee

A Collect for Coffee
~ Found on the coffee pot in the student commons room in Hamilton Hall at The Sewanee School of Theology with no author's credit given, therefore, Anonymous. I performed a Google search and did not find anything so, I present it here for all to read and share!

Almighty God, who in your mercy provides all things for our goodwill and maintenance, pour out your blessings upon the farmers, harvesters, distributors, roasters, and all others who participate in the manifold tasks required to provide your people with that most useful beverage, coffee, that we, your church, might continue to reap the benefits of this beverage for the glory of your kingdom and the sake of your only son, our savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Photo by Caroline Carson, Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA

A Prayer for Quiet Confidence

A Prayer for Quiet Confidence

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

~ Book of Common Prayer
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Bay Ridge in Brooklyn at sunset, CPE summer 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Little CPE Reflection

I'll preface this by saying that it's a boiling hot summer day in NYC and I've a free day, but feel rather congested so I decided to stay home and write and watch a few movies later. I hope this makes some sense and either is of interest of helps those seeking CPE experiences. :-)
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At the core of my personal theology resides two themes: that of our time being short upon this Earth and that of all humanity belonging to God and being comprised of a colorful collage of brokenness within it. I believe that our souls, our essences of spirit, are forms of sentient energy, separate, yet inextricably bound to our bodies….these bodies…these growing and learning, yet breakable and decaying bodies. We were created in the image of God, we are broken by our journey, and we will be healed in and by Christ’s breaking and rising. There is a temporal limit to our bodies and no one knows whether our souls existed before or will last afterwards. I choose to believe they live onward. I also believe that we are all children of God of equal standing in life and death. We are all born and we all die. There is no distinction and no division within Christ. Romans 3:22-25, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” 

One aspect of what this means to me is that I am as broken as my fellow man. As a postulant, praying and studying to one day (God willing) become a priest, I am called to use my brokenness to minister to those paralyzed by the fear this brokenness may create. This summer unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), has placed me in an extremely socio-economically and demographically diverse environment. I chose it. It was as close as I could get to doing my CPE in another country. I crave diversity of people and culture.

There are no seminary bubbles here. 
There are no remote and lush mountain hideaways here
Here, one is faced with everything and everyone and can embrace the truths of the raw and beautiful or of the hidden and ugly…basically all aspects of humanity. It continues to be very refreshing for my soul and I feel at home in the middle of it all. It is not easy though. I was placed in a stroke/neurological unit after my mother had a stroke. It has hit home HARD that our family has these tendencies toward strokes and dementia. There have been times I’ve relived my father’s death through witnessing someone else’s love done gasping for that last breath. I have seen dysfunctional family dynamics and it has been like a mirror to my own family. These were not events that I buried, not at all, but rather, events that, like grief, tend to resurface.
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In a hospital environment, the brokenness of the body comes with the aching of the soul, the purest joy at rehabilitative progress, the deep sadness of parting, the humor from tired, slap-happy minds, the pain of needles, the happy tears of new and health birth, the stench of bodies, the warmth of blankets, the noise…and the silence. My calling to be a priest in this world has called me to pray, discern, and reflect. I am recognizing both strengths and growing edges of mine. Some of my gifts are  enthusiasm, listening, reflection, and energy. Some of my strengths have nothing to do with my gifts, but rather the progress I have made in some of my growing edges. Even the tiniest bit of self-awareness is something I consider as progress. The urge to fix, the uncertainty of pastoral identity, and the awareness of how my anxiety plays roles in various situations from the unknown, to the wanting-to-be-in-charge, to the yes/no questions preventing going deeper with patients – these have all been identified and are all being worked on. I am feeling more at home in my role as it is sculpted toward priesthood. I feel more comfortable with the constancy of human physical ailments, traumatic events, the dying process, and thinking and talking about death.

This feeling of home aligns with one of the themes we studied and read about in our CPE course books this summer, that of grief and the grieving process. [The books are: I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Wasn’t) by Brené Brown and All Our Losses, All Our Griefs by Mitchell and Anderson]. CPE has helped me to gain some tools to help me recognize when and how others are grieving. Grief does not simply take the form of physical death, but can also go along with change itself. I will grieve the loss of some of the ways I’ve done things and habits I’ve held. For example: in letting go of trying to fix things when I listen to suffering, I can become a vessel of God’s healing presence, allowing for an authenticity from the patient I’m with, an honesty and sincerity of feeling and emotion that they can express. I have re-learned in CPE that one of the most comforting things I can offer to someone is silence. Any words of comfort must be those that can let them open up their own experiences and find sacred space in which they can find their own path to God’s healing. Even if the person is not of any faith background, spiritual and sacred experiences can happen.
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People need the holy. They need to know God cares for them, even in their grief and that God is there for them, even in their raw state of being. Having let down my fences through therapy in the past, I know how healing it can be to let go. Still, letting go, involves a type of grief over the loss of what you let go. What if you never had it to begin with? Can a person grieve over something they have never had? I propose that yes, we can in fact grieve the loss of something we have not actually had. It can be the loss of an imagined state, the loss of potential, or the loss of an opportunity for growth. During this summer of CPE and working with patients at the hospital, I have observed many people who have suddenly lost physical opportunities they did not consider until it became too late. They grieve in varying ways. CPE is teaching me to learn to sit with them in this grief instead of creating a false sort of bravery that keeps sorrow and death at a comfortable distance. By showing our vulnerability do we begin to reach the sacredness inside ourselves. By allowing others to do so without invasion, we allow them to experience release and healing. This allowance is a thin place in our emotional lives, enabling us to be truly connected with God and open to God’s interaction with all humanity. Once we are comfortable with our own vulnerability and our own sense of the holiness in ourselves, we can truly be home anywhere. By this, I mean that we may give ourselves, our souls, and our bodies to the God in everyone and every place we experience.
Some of the cultural and sociological observations I have include the following. I’ve seen no racial, age, or cultural issues arise, but I have seen gender issues while at NYUL. NYUL is a hospital open to all, but most of the patients are Catholic and many in this tradition prefer to have a male Catholic priest. Likewise, I have seen men in the Jewish faith or Muslim traditions prefer not to pastorally talk with a woman. It has been very interesting for me to see these dynamics. Because of my travels and personality, I can often provide pastoral support for these families even if they did not necessarily want to “see a chaplain”. Part of being a good leader is to know when to step back and when to follow and to do it willingly, both for the sake of respect and for learning. I was respected as an intern and included by response teams doctors, family, and others. I was invited to discussions, allowed to watch some therapy and some procedures, and grew comfortable and affirmed in my role.

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Theologically, I saw God at this hospital….in patients, pastoral care team, staff, doctors, and more. I have been in hospitals many times, but this time being in a leadership capacity, I was able to step into others’ grieving process and witness transformation in progress. I did not see the end results of many of these processes, but having a glimpse into them was valuable. Chaplains are in a unique role of representing God and/or the Divine. Sometimes all we can do is to let a person know that the divine is still divine in the midst of their story. The sacred nature of this is the visceral reality of our own mortality. Again, we are all born and we all die. Where do we stand before God? How shall we live out our lives? The key for me is made of favorite quotes from Jonathan Swift and Henri Amiel.

May you live all the days of your life.
~ Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

My friends, Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be quick to love and make haste to be kind. And may the blessing of the One who made us, and the One who loves us, and the One who travels with us, be with you and those you love this day and always. AMEN.
~ Adapted from Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821–1881)

Below is one of my spiritual reflections after an evening shift at NYUL.

As soon as I walked out of the hospital, I could feel it and so I chose to walk slowly, savoring every moment. My whole 0.7 mile walk to the subway station this evening was a mystical and transcendent thin place. It's chilly, misting droplets filling the air, and the twilight fading into the night. The softness of the air. The hum of a streetlight. The hint of the idea of an Autumn out of place. The sounds of children playing. The smells of dinners. The oddity of civic fireflies that flickered over green garbage cans and brownstones. A multitude of languages, cars whooshing by, bells on shop doors dinging the way in or the way out, music of all sorts coming from a distance down every street, the smell of fresh laundry, and an occasional breeze in the trees. I'm so grateful to have moments like this! Moments of satisfying joy, a twinge of sadness, a breath of excitement - Moments that fill me with inexplicable longing, yet fill me with this transitory life itself. I walked from the past, through the present, and touched the future tonight. 

Thanks be to God.
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Sometimes, we suit up for the protection of the patient or our protection.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hair-Raising Rantings of a Ginger

Keep in the recesses of your mind while you read this - that this is in fact, my hair, my head, and my opinion!
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There are unalienable truthbombs all redheaded folks face, though I wonder if it's as much of an issue in northern Scotland as it is in my neck of the woods. People you've never met will ask about the nature of your hair: whether it's real or not, whether or not certain other portions match the hair on your head, whether you steal souls when you get angry, or whether you've ever been called "Annie" before (oh THAT's a new one #not).
Seriously, people have no shame about it and feel you shouldn't either. Regardless of your heritage, it will always be assumed you're Irish (not that that's a bad thing)! How dare you think of cutting it. "You should" blah blah blah.. Srsly. People will give you unwanted advice ALL. THE. TIME.
People tell me several times a week how jealous they are and compare my hair to someone they've known or known about. I get stopped on the street, even here in NYC just last week. They offer recommendations about what colors to wear in makeup, clothing, and look offended if you don't like "terracotta camel orangine" or whatever...but you get the point. 
I might appreciate compliments....if they weren't only ever followed by advice and directives.
It gets old. 
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It's fun to see their faces when I tell them how I used to want to dye my hair black when I was in kindergarten through six grade. 

It's way less fun to hear their shocked and critical responses. 

They tell me "that's crazy", "you're insane", "how stupid can you be?!" "only an idiot would do that....you should (blah blah blah)" and proceed to tell me how lucky I am to have this color and that people would kill for it (really?) That only made me want to change it more.
For as long as I can remember in my life, I've been having to interact with this strange sort of attention. My brother and I used to think we were adopted because we didn't know as tiny children that red hair is a recessive gene and sometimes skips a generation. I used to be teased and bullied by kids my own age AND ADULTS who acted as if it was so hilarious to call me Annie all the time or some other name. It wasn't just the names. As I grew up, I traveled to other countries where redheads were thought to be from the dark side, or witches, or worse. Watch out, or I might steal your soul. Good grief, England is TERRIBLE when it comes to gingers. Then again, Italy is not. I was reminded how they'e often angelic and in Titian paintings or Florentine Renaissance Botticelli works. 
Nowadays, anyone can be a redhead and that's great....or is it?
I read. I traveled some more. I grew up and embraced what I wanted and dropped the rest. I actually began to legitimately love my hair and in fact, I truly do appreciate it as an identifier. It's also quite pretty in the sunlight. Not many people have red hair. There is much distinction between shades too. Here are a few quick facts about us gingers:
- Usually redheads are born with brown eyes, but many end up being green (mine change from green to grey to green/blue etc.)
- Redheads have less hair than most other colors, but each individual strand is stronger
- Red hair doesn't usually turn grey, it sometimes goes through a molting bird color and then turns white.
- Redheads are more sensitive to hot and cold
- Gingers often need more anesthesia
- Redheads have low concentrations of eumelanin in their body and as a result, they can’t absorb the required level of Vitamin D. However, they make up for this by producing their own Vitamin D when they are exposed to low-light conditions.
- (Personal note: bees stung me more and horses tried to eat my hair...I assume they thought I was a GIANT CARROT!)
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I will fry up if they even think about the sun, but that won't change if my hair color changes. Red air is who I am now. It's toughened me, made me stronger, and become something that connects me to legends and beauty and truly unique creatures of nature...plus the whole "I was considered a vampire in ancient Greece" thing gets me a few cool points. I'm not getting rid of it, but I've finally decided to scratch the itch of dying it a bit. I can no longer ignore my fascination with blues and purples and shiny tints of peach. I'm not 100% sure what I'll do and I'm sure it'll last only a few weeks and then I'll return to my normal color. If anything, cutting my hair is also an option. My body type doesn't do too well with long flowy locks, but I've had them for the past 12 years anyway :-) Why? Because it's MY head and MY hair....plus I had a terrible bowl cut for most of my life before the long locks. I also lost 2/3 of my hair after VSG surgery. I almost cut it all off except that it seemed to grow back with a bit of natural curl in it (wahoo!) As someone who spent HOURS daily in hard plastic heated rollers and then used a curling iron and hairspray, that is a miracle!

So, I've bought some colorful dye and who knows what'll happen next! To anyone who is ultra concerned with my hair or think my intelligence level has been compromised, I strongly urge you to pick a new obsession ;-)
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Friday, July 14, 2017

Transcendence on a Misty Evening

As soon as I walked out of the hospital, I could feel it and so I chose to walk slowly, savoring every moment. My whole 0.7 mile walk to the subway station this evening was a mystical and transcendent thin place. It's chilly, misting droplets filling the air, and the twilight fading into the night. The softness of the air. The hum of a streetlight. The hint of the idea of an Autumn out of place. The sounds of children playing. The smells of dinners. The oddity of civic fireflies that flickered over green garbage cans and brownstones. A multitude of languages, cars whooshing by, bells on shop doors dinging the way in or the way out, music of all sorts coming from a distance down every street, the smell of fresh laundry, and an occasional breeze in the trees. I'm so grateful to have moments like this! Moments of satisfying joy, a twinge of sadness, a breath of excitement - Moments that fill me with inexplicable longing, yet fill me with this transitory life itself. I walked from the past, through the present, and touched the future tonight. Thanks be to God.Image may contain: sky and outdoor

(Photo via google, but it grasps the feelings I had).

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Clinical Pastoral Education in New York!

In The Episcopal Church, the rich journey to priesthood usually contains the vital, and sometimes dreaded, element of CPE. This stands for Clinical Pastoral Education and often consists of work as a chaplain at either a hospital or medical center. Many other denominations also include CPE and many place it in the summer after the first year in semniary.The hours in my program have been divided into 100 hours of class and "Didactic days" while the remaining 300 are spent being and chaplain at a hospital. The National Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) has a list of most CPE programs and presents standards for spiritual care and education for professionals and people seeking to become professionals in any faith tradition or setting. CPE is a form of theological education. While it can lead to professional chaplaincy, it is important for faith leaders to have experiential learning and actually have a chance to practice ministry. Gaining insights of self-awareness and that of others is important to both giving and receiving care.
I chose the New York Lutheran Services Alliance for my program. It's in New York and is an extremely diverse program. I'm working at New York University Langone (formerly NYU Lutheran) hospital in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn, NY.  My classes are held on the upper west side area of Riverside at The Interchurch Center. 
I'm loving my experience, both in the program and in New York and Brooklyn. It's been valuable. I have not liked everything about it and certain things are still growing on me (verbatims, for one), but overall, I am personally finding it a pastorally-validating, mindfullness-creating, rewarding, journey-through-the-emotions type of experience. Long ago, I worked extremely hard on my boundaries between teaching and taking things home. I learned, the hard way, not to take everything with me all of the time. I did not realize how much my previous work and therapy had helped me until I began to notice other colleagues struggling with some things. Here, this time, I have not taken things home and spent time (other than prayer) on them. 
I have, in fact, managed somehow to have a bit of a life here in New York. 
   
Lucky for me, I have a support system, including my sweet Bluebell kitty and some friends in NYC. I am very fortunate that the person from whom I'm renting allowed me to bring Bluebell with me. My friends are mostly busy or on vacation outside of the area, but I have managed to see some of them for dinner, coffee, a harbour cruise (this one), or a Broadway show. I'm able to do those things because my lunches are provided at the hospital (as a volunteer) and being a VSG-er, I eat tiny meals so get plenty of mileage from the salads I get! So, I'll write some more about the CPE experience another time, but: so far, so good.