Monday, February 29, 2016

LEAPing into Monday

Happy Leap Year / Day folks! I'm currently not this energetic or excited about it, but here's my Bitmoji looking all excited :-) I'll get there. In fact, the whole weekend was sort of a transition to my being back to my normally excited and happy self!
My weekend included a choral workshop at a Catholic HS in Baton Rouge, a meeting for the St. Paul's (and Diocesan) pilgrimage to The Holy Land, a funeral, almost no sleep Saturday night (stress), and a Sunday full of grading and paperwork plus cleaning my apartment, wheeeeee! 

Still, I had some serious moments of re-realization of how short life is. Looking at how fast time passes for us on Earth, it just blows my mind again and again. I found myself thinking of all the things I want to do in life and all the adventures to be had. There just isn't any time compared to the massive amount of life that's possible. I thought "I'd better be thankful for what I've done, then......and I'd better be thankful right now"!  You know, I AM very thankful, but I feel the need to practice that gratitude more overtly and more often, like every day! "Every day is a gift" - I used to have that sticker on my car. I need to buy it again.
The past two weeks have been rather crazy health-wise. I've come off of some medicine (Medroxyprogesterone) because of some scary side effects and have been worried about that. I'm already taking an iron prescription and this medicine is, among other things, to shrink my endometrial lining, and also to help prepare me for a scheduled and necessary hysterectomy in May. The medicine can cause strokes (of the eye and more) and lesions, serious depression (to which I am already susceptible) and all sorts of things, but it's pretty rare. I did suffer a depressive episode and full on weepiness. I also had numbness in my hands, debilitating headaches, insane ocular pressure and pinpoint pupils. It scared me a LOT and that in itself wasn't helping the situation for this already-anxious person! ESPECIALLY since it happened in the midst of exciting and happy visits to seminaries. All the travel of the past few weeks combined with not feeling so well was hard.
After getting off of the medicine, I've been taking it somewhat easy and have been miserable with the withdrawal. Last night I used an ice pack for my headache and it is the ONLY thing that has worked. This morning, it's my first time in three weeks that I have only a minor headache, but still have ocular and temple pressure. 


Back to that being thankful part....I am TRULY thankful for no more serious side effects and for feeling a bit better. We never know what we have in the way of time left. This whole incident provided me with yet another layer of being thankful for my overall good health, for opportunities that lie ahead, and for life itself. Today, it SEEMS like we get an extra day, a leap day in a leap year! Aside from the real reason we have Leap Year, I'm treating today like a day "out of time" - a day to remind myself to look at everything with hope and gratitude and to be thankful for what God has already given me and what the Holy Spirit has in store for me.
So, this post is pretty much for myself and to get all that off my chest, but if it helps anyone think about being thankful for every day, then good! :-) Sometimes, I just need to ramble on.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A leaf floating on God's river, ready and willing to GO!

I Samuel 3:9 
9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

These verses, especially: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”, resonate with me in a very direct way this Lent. I recently became a Postulant for the priesthood in The Episcopal Church (!!!) and I am hoping to attend seminary this coming Fall.
I'm 45.
Pending acceptances to MDiv programs and qualification for Financial Aid, I very well may be leaving behind a tenured university music position, a state presidency (LA-ACDA), several other jobs, and more.
Wait, WHAT?!
Having said all that, you can probably deduce that my personal journey has included much discernment as to God's will for my life and perhaps a little.....ok, a LOT of trepidation and some denial of a call that has been forming for many years.
I feel a bit like Eli, yet also like Samuel. Eli had allowed himself to wander from God's grace and presence. Sure enough, I am rather comfortable in my city, my music, my life. After having such strong and clear experiences of God's call, I overthought everything and practically discerned it away. I was excited, yet afraid of the idea of being called to ministry.

I was definitely a wayward leaf, clinging wildly to the branch trailing in the water, afraid of being swept away, maybe even of drowning. Being a conductor, I had the false sense of control down to an art, literally. I needed to learn how to let God lead. 

Luckily, more discernment and calling and then outside affirmations kept coming. A friend called from a House of Bishops meeting and said "Girrrl you need to talk to your bishop. He said he's tried to talk to you about discernment twice and that you'd shut him down both times". (*faints upon hearing)
Suddenly, I realized that this wasn't about me and my concerns, but about what God was doing in my life. I had been ignoring that. There's Eli and again, putting himself first, taking the best of the offerings.
I asked myself "Does God even speak with us today and if so, how on Earth can we tell if what we are hearing is indeed God's voice?" Samuel must have been about 12 or 13 when he heard God's voice. Thank goodness there's no age limit for God's Holy Spirit working in your life!
Then, when I thought I had all my own answers, I arrived at the beginning of my discernment and spiritual direction, I found myself "listening too hard". I wasn't expecting a booming voice from the sky, but then again, maybe I was. Samuel - fresh, unknowing and unexpecting, teaches us that we can indeed hear God and when we least expect it.
The innocence of his earnestness, wow. How do we position ourselves to better hear the Word of God? Well, perhaps we should "Go and lie down"
As I continue in my journey, I strive to be as open as Samuel. A leaf intentionally, yet freely floating on God's river, ready and willing to Go!

Leaf in small river near Kanuga, NC
(I Samuel 3:1-9)

3 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5 and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Monday, February 15, 2016

My First Sermon

Dr. Caroline Carson 1
First Sunday in Lent
Year C
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Romans 10:8b-13
Luke 4:1-13
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

First, HERE is the audio file!

This is my first sermon and I haven't yet studied Homiletics gentle in thy critique.

Don’t worry everyone, I’m not going to sing this sermon, tempting though that may be! ;-)

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

In these powerful words, Jesus tells us that we will need some help when (and not IF, but when) we are tempted or tested. The scene in today’s Gospel account was recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but not John. (Jackson) Luke’s Gospel reads: “After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

Now, wait just a moment…Led by the Spirit… Jesus was not there by accident? Why? Doesn’t it disturb us that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted? Maybe a little, but perhaps no more so than the fact that Christ was sent into the world to die. (Jackson).

We are all led at one time or another, by a series of decisions and consequences, by a gut feeling, on a recommendation, and yes, even by God himself, into our own wildernesses. In a mix of our own actions and maybe some consequences beyond our control, in a way, we are set up to be tempted. Certain situations make us as fragile as little pieces of kindling, ready to be struck by a match we didn’t intend, only to spread fire and destroy the entire forest.

Why was Jesus led into the wilderness to be tempted? Did God want to test his own son? Right after Jesus’ Baptism and the holy moments of his father speaking “This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased” ?… Did Jesus choose this, knowing he would be setting an example for the future of humankind? Was God trying to see if his son was becoming spiritually arrogant…over confident in what must surely have been the security of being divine? As Fr. Rob said two weeks ago “Believing in yourself is an act of faith.” Isn’t it a fine line? A fine line between being confident enough and being haughtily over-confident. Are we tempted sometimes to fool ourselves into believing our answers or our actions sometimes, even if they’re not exactly truths?

Was Jesus there to grow? To prepare? Aren’t we also led down wild forest paths and through dark valleys in preparation with the outcome of personal growth? Like all good preparation, this scene is grounded in the aura of God. Jesus had just been baptized and was marked for all to see as God’s son. Perhaps Jesus was not expecting to be tempted, but he was ready.

How often do we let God or his word into our preparations? For me it’s often after the fact, when I know I’ve messed things up and need God’s help and/or support while I walk with him through another dark vale. Wherever I fit on the sliding scale of including God in all aspects of my life, I’m quite sure I could infuse my life with a greater portion!

Lucky for us, Jesus’ examples enable us to meet our tests head on.
Test 1 – “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus says “NOPE”.
It’s true, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It’s still not as simple as it sounds. In Jesus’ time, bread was THE biggest item in one’s diet. Bread was like maize to early cultures, like kingcake to Mardi gras, like ten pots coffee for me on a Monday. That said, there was a time and a place for miracles and this was neither. If he could go 40 days in fast, then another few minutes to an hour was inconsequential – besides - there was no audience to see about rocks becoming stones out in the forest. If he had performed a miracle, it would have looked impatient and as if he did not trust his father and his father’s will for him.

Test 2 - Jesus says “NOPE” in response to worshipping Satan and ruling the kingdoms of the world. Well guess what – it wasn’t the devil’s to give. Aaand – again, it wasn’t necessarily the time to be showy about using the power God gave him. Later, he showed his power over sickness, hunger, and even death. This was for a different purpose and for a different kingdom, an eternal one. Why would Jesus be tempted by this false offer of power? Wasn’t the devil smart enough to come up with something a wee bit more enticing? Think deeper, if Jesus had ruled over the nations, this would have included Rome….which was basically known at the time for tossing dirt in Israel’s face. A bunch of others: Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians all dominated and brought ruin to Israel at one time or another. so Jesus actually would have had the power to show revenge on behalf of his own people. That’s a little better Satan, but Christ shows he isn’t like that. He may have turned over some tables in his time, but he is capable of some restraint.

Test 3 - "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.” And with this we have the final “NOPE” from Jesus and it was an easy one, taking only the confidence in his knowledge that God should not be tested.

Soooo, back to this bit about preparation… Have you ever noticed the stones in your life that you wish could be bread instead….and if you JUST had it, “it would fix everything”?
Maybe your stones, like mine, are financial. Perhaps they are situational. If you just didn’t have to go through with that root canal, that house sale, to tell your children their beloved pet has died, or to tell your child, or yourself, you can’t do something you REALLY want to do. As he pleads later… “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” (Luke 22:42) Is Jesus not led here in preparation for a greater cause?

What if you had the best job, the highest salary, the most influential position? What if X politician wants to show he/she can do more good than Y politician? Consider that true power is shown in words found later in Luke’s gospel (12:48) “to whom much is given, much is expected.” WE hold the box of matches and with God’s help in our dry, thirsty tempted selves, we try to avoid striking them. Don’t play with matches, especially in a dry forest.

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

“Man does not live by bread alone”. WHAT IF your temptations are more spiritual in nature? Do you ever doubt? If you didn’t I’d be worried. Faith isn’t faith unless stained by the colorful glass and tribulations of our doubt. Humanity is curious. We ask questions when we want to know about things. We ask questions also when we need reassurance. Will so-and-so remember to take care of ________? If I take a day off, will the office be able to run without me?

“and lead us not into the temptation...of doubt…”

One of my best friends up in NYC, who is a priest, wrote once that another priest had come to him in confidence. This colleague trusted him enough to share the depths of his struggles, saying to him in great fear that he wasn’t sure he believed: in God, in Christ, in anything anymore. Imagine experiencing that. Imagine a point in your life at which you have felt the lowest or have been in utter despair. What a stone – this is well past hunger. Instead of berating him, ostracizing him, judging him, or trying to convince him otherwise, my friend simply told him “Then, I, and others, we will believe for you right now”. What a response! What beauty of God’s grace shown to him in that moment!

I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet that most of us are faced with this kind of spiritual doubt at some point in our lives. I found great solace in my friend’s story, but also in Michael Ramsey’s words in his book The Christian Priest Today. This short little book is one I will read over and over for Ramsey’s wisdom and advice. He writes “You put yourself with God, empty perhaps, but hungry and thirsty for him; and if in sincerity you cannot say that you want God you can perhaps tell him that you want to want him; and if you cannot say even that, perhaps you can say that you want to want to want him!” (Ramsey) Now that is hope and THAT is provision from God and fills deeper than any mortal bread.

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

I am reminded of Jesus’ words according to John (John 14:1): “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” I bring it up to remind us all of the last line in today’s Gospel “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” Why is this left open-ended? Was Luke trying to tell us something? Or, is it perhaps that it is for us to finish the story in our own lives?

“None, however holy, are exempt from temptations.” (Emerson) We can expect challenges to appear over our lives, in fact, it’s part of being human. We can expect that since we tend to live in patterns, some of the same challenges may appear repeatedly. Consider that our answers and the ways which we face these temptations may change over time! Again, it is by Jesus’ examples that we have hope of overcoming our wildernesses. In our dark forests, Christ is our light.

“and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” and in so being delivered, remember that “only you can prevent forest fires”.

1. The Christian Courier - - Jason Jackson
2. - Matt Emerson
3. The Christian Priest Today, Michael Ramsey
4. The Gospel of Luke

I think the first service was a bit rough in my delivery so I deleted that recording. I think the second service had most folks engaged and while I may have spoken rather rapidly, it wasn't "too fast" in my own opinion. I'm sure some will disagree. As a Postulant for the priesthood and looking at seminaries, I am quite honored to have this chance to deliver a sermon! I am indebted to my fabulous rector, Fr. Rob Courtney, for the experience, advice, and support!
Image by Caroline Carson

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lord it is night. The night is for stillness.

Lord it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be. The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you. The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace. The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities. In your name we pray. Amen.

Monday, February 1, 2016

NOLA Fog, February 1, 2016

Some lovely fog this morning on Frenchmen Street
I tried to catch some, but I MIST....
#OldestJokeEver #StillHilarious  :-)
I walked across the street to Washington Square and snapped a few photos. Then, on my drive to UNO, I decided to go a few more blocks up to Lake Pontchartrain and back through the main entrance of campus. They're just iPhone photos (and copied from my own FB post so LOW quality), but enjoy!

This Tree

This tree stopped me yesterday on my way home from St. Paul's. I drove past it and then had to turn around and drive back back a few blocks, park, get out of the car, and just enjoy its beauty. We don't have what I would call a real Autumn or Winter here in New Orleans and I personally don't see too many deciduous trees around these parts so I had to stop and appreciate it. It's found on Esplanade Avenue, quite near the CC's Coffee House.