Monday, January 25, 2010

COU: on Children, and loyalty

I have recently been elected to serve on the Board of Directors for Children of Uganda. They were kind to choose me, as I have none of the Money, Influence, Connections we so massively could use, but they know I am loyal and devoted. I have volunteered my time, energy, and address book to their service since 2005. Once you begin this sort of service, and especially after one or two kids say shyly "can I call you Mum?" it's pretty hard to abandon it.

I was superexcited about joining the Board. Full of vision for the future, etc, etc. During my January vacation I stayed over with Sarah, another board member, and the excitement of planning our next trips to Uganda very nearly overwhelmed me... to the point where my hunger for dinner -- a good Ugandan meal -- dissipated into butterflies in my stomach, jumping beans in my toes, squeals of joy choking up into my throat. I took a moment to look at myself, dancing around Sarah's kitchen, and sternly told myself that if I am to have the dignifed position of Board member I ought to work on the problem of controlling my enthusiasm at least a little.

My first day as a Board member, however, gave me the opposite kind of problem. There was no dancing as I received emails, opened attachments, and composed replies.
COU is coming up to a major deadline -- Spring semester fees are due in about a week. Every year this time is a squeeze, a push, a call for help.
This year, however, as everyone knows, our world has occupied with the disaster in Haiti. And although we rejoice in the outpouring of financial generosity toward the relief effort there, at the same time with a certain amount of shock we (and most other charities) saw our donations drop sharply as money went to Haiti instead.
I'm in a hard place. I'm donating to Partners In Health for the relief work in Haiti and feel overwhelmed with grief for them just reading a few newspaper articles. Haiti is facing the worst of times ahead, and there will be thousands upon thousands of orphans looking to call someone Mum. But even as all this unfolds I have to throw myself even more wholeheartedly into our work in Uganda. I have to be that person standing in the painful gap between needs and funding, asking you to help us in whatever way you can. At a time when many of us, looking at the TV and pictures of desolation, have reconsidered what it means to "have enough," I must ask you if you have enough, if you have enough to spare, if you can help me close that gap to keep our children developing and learning and building a positive future for themselves and for Uganda.
Please consider whether you can make an extra donation and help COU through an already tough time that has now become much more difficult.
Thanks for walking this road with me, friends! Your support means so much.

There are several ways to donate:
If you have $5 to spare, TEXT uganda to 50555, and your mobile company will immediately donate $5, charging you on your next bill.

ONLINE we have our website and the facebook Cause

by MAIL please send to Children Of Uganda, PO Box 659, Charles Town, WV 25414   

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Adventures in contemplation

I really and truly did spend a weekend in silent retreat.
Kate and I, (your OTHER favorite blogger, at of course) are a very unique set of friends. We met folk dancing amidst a lovely bunch of atheists, jews, unitarians, and whatever elses, so if it hadn't rolled around into the age of facebook we may never have discovered that we had anything in common other than a few dance steps and songs. voila, facebook, and we promptly wrote one another several messages full of exclamation points and capitals letters. Those sections nobody ever reads on your profile, like "interests," and "books" and "religious views" were actually the cause of much excitement. Moltmann!?! Gutierrez?! Henri Nouwen!!!! AND FOLK DANCING!?
So we were blog-friends for a long time, and now we finally met up face-to-face again, and went to a monastery, of course.
Abbey of the Genesee was our chosen location, which is a silent place. You pray, read, stare out the window, write blogs (but don't post them!), and pray some more. And the monks pray the psalter, beautifully, in plainchant, 5 times a day and you try to get your butt over to the chapel to join them. This is hard because it's a hike, and because silence is soporific, and because the first of their daily prayers is at TWO TWENTY FIVE IN THE MORNING. Followed by 6, 11, 4, 6:40, and you'd best be falling right into bed at 7 PM if you hope to get up again the next morning. I confess we only got to one of the earliest prayers.
The retreat house is silent and the abbey is silent, but one can talk on the road, which naturally we did. And that's all I have to say in introduction, so read the following 3 entries, and wait for Kate to post something (right Kate?), and if you're actually interested in Trappist Monkness check out their website. I highly commend the retreat house.

Praise God with the Tambourine and Dance (silently)

Part of this retreat, for me, is the game of figuring out where I fit. You see, for a while, I was pretty sure that while other things might work temporarily, ULTIMATELY the only vocation that would satisfy me was to be a contemplative nun. Which is, of course, a scary thought. So it is with a pretty decent-sized serving of joy that I can now say confidently that I think I’ll pass on that option.
I know most of you are not surprised at ALL, and that if someone were to invent a facebook quiz, “which nun in the Sound of Music are you?” you’d know my answer before I took the quiz… but after lunch today (Saturday) my toes agitatedly tapping away, I started to silently sing “How do you solve a problem like Talitha?”
We are to keep quiet at all times here, but to protect us from the awkwardness of listening to each other chew our lunch, we get recorded music during meals. And therein lay my downfall. This particular CD had moved me deeply and I wanted to belt out a harmony line, but there will be none of that, so I stifled the sound… but it had to come out somewhere, and my toes wriggled under the table. I took the occasion to clear the lunch dishes, for the sake of some movement… but the music kept getting better and better, and while dish-clearing in a rhythmic manner is slightly satisfying, the urge to sing was really growing into an urge to waltz and pirouette around the kitchen, and being as clumsy as I am, I knew that was a sure path to breaking silence. Anyway, I went to my tiny room, closed the door, and danced to the music in my head for a good half hour.
And thus I discovered that I’d really rather not contemplate the goodness of the Lord in silence all the time. It’s good to be sure about these things.

Adventures in the ongoing discovery that I may not be cut out for nundom, part II: Eucharist.

Obvious statements are the rule of the day, and this one is…
I’m not a Catholic.
That’s actually a rather profound statement for me, as I tend to get all ecumenical, insisting that we’re all “catholic” (small c, meaning the church universal). And in fact I was very nearly Catholic for a while, in Uganda at the village church where I came up at my first Mass with hands obediently crossed for a non-wafer blessing, and dear old Father Grandpa, clearly not screening for the Protestant hand-cross position, put the wafer straight into my unsuspecting mouth. As I munched (and thought duly reverent thoughts) I rejoiced that at least for a while the Table was not fenced from me… and I continued taking Mass, often at the daily dawn service, throughout my time in that village. I know how to cross myself, and when to kneel, etc, even in the Luganda language. When I went to the capital I attended Kampala Pentecostal, because I am a unifier, not a divider, and because the (English!) sermons were fantastic.
So there have been many times where I have taken part in a Catholic Eucharist from which I was technically barred. I love Eucharist with all my heart, and never want to miss out.
But here my non-Catholicity was at the forefront of my mind, thanks to a few talks by Father Jerome, possibly The Least Likely Candidate for a vow of silence (when he’s allowed to talk, as in lectures, he is extroverted and overbearingly jolly). All this stuff he said about the hierarchical church, and the succession of rule from Peter through popes to bishops and priests? I SO do not buy that. And I heard more about Mary in the past 2 days than the previous 2 years, only some of which I comprehended, much less accepted. I quickly realized I was walking through a foreign land.
There is a sign at the Abbey chapel saying something along the lines of “we welcome members of non-Catholic faith communions to celebrate with us. We cannot share with you in the Sacrament of Holy Communion but we invite you to pray with us for peace and unity.”
So I did. Instead of protesting by breaking and flaunting the rules, I lamented and mourned the division of churches. My standing still at the side of the row while other worshippers filed past was, for me, a poignant reminder of our broken relations. I prayed and continued to pray that we may all be One, as the persons of the Trinity are One (although Three).

Psalm 23

I returned from Lauds this morning (Saturday) hoping for a sunrise. Alas, the liturgical Hours do not always coordinate with the whims of the Sun, especially when it is (a) winter, and (b) cloudy. It was nearly 9 by the time the sun started peeking through. So when it did, I threw on my jacket and boots, and went out to walk and to have my soul restored.
A few days ago, in the belly of the machine that is downtown Chicago, walking through the city lights, past bank and cellular shop and fast food and traffic, I very nearly cried out for green pastures and still waters. I went into a church to meditate but all the wood there was dead, sliced, painted, nailed, and all the water was chilling in the hum of a drinking fountain.
Here at the Abbey of the Genesee there may be no green pastures, but they are available in other shades, such as the blue of early morning light on snow, and the gold of cornstalk stubble. Still waters are all around – much of them so still they have frozen. The guesthouse host has prepared a banquet for us, no burgers and donuts here, it is simple and abundant and it came from the earth.
When the Psalmist wrote “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” he probably meant “in the Temple.” Okay, man, if that’s what you want, go for it. For me, all I ask is to be on the land, to sink my feet into it, to take my food and drink with gratitude from this earth (God’s body, God’s creation, God’s gift), to live under the ever-changing sky.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I'm off on another leg of my epic Christmas vacation...
I realize, this is not what many people consider a "normal" vacation. I'm not hitting the tourist spots, not seeing *many* sights, spending wayy too long stretching out in train seats...
what I am is seeing people. Next up, visiting a KID for whom I was camp counselor back in the day (well I guess she's not a kid anymore) who then became a counselor at the same camp. Friends from SYI next, and a very awesome Ndagire I met in Uganda, and in this scheme there will also be a folk dancing friend with whom I shall meditate for several days in silence. at a monastery. I'm not joking.

Also, collar-wearing on a train, at least sometimes.

You're free to take bets on whether or not this will actually be a FUN vacation, or RELAXING, but hey, I just relaxed all year long in a perfect vacation location. I'm ready to roll!