Tuesday, September 28, 2010

midrash on the hemorrhaging woman

Homiletics (the study of preaching) is my favorite class this semester so far. One of our assignments was to read Mark 5:21-43 and either write a poem or a midrash (literally meaning "investigation," midrash is a Jewish practice of interpreting Scripture that "fills in the gaps" of what is not included in the text. So in this case we were to take a minor character and tell the story from their point of view). Mine was kind of a midrashic-poem, and it was weird because the story kind of took hold of me and wouldn't let me go until I had finished. As strange as it sounds, it was almost as if the hemorrhaging woman was begging me to tell her story. Now, I made the story/poem up, but even if it is not factual, I tend to align with the late author, Madeleine L'Engle, in maintaining that "Truth is what is true, and it's not necessarily factual. Truth and fact  are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it  goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very  difficult for some people to understand. Truth can be dangerous. If you  go beyond the facts, [bad] things can happen...But  wonderful things can happen, too."

It took a lot out of me to write this. It was painful and yet strangely healing. But I felt inspired by listening to what my classmates had written. So, in the spirit of being honest and open--and to prove that I actually do work in seminary--I thought I'd share what I wrote. Many thanks to Melanie and Becky for listening and giving suggestions over coffee :o)

I stare warily at the cup coming toward me,
     the sanguine liquid within a reminder of the very thing I have tried so
     desperately to forget.

My life had been one of privilege: a solid upbringing, a suitable marriage.
     I was content to begin a life of bearing children.
The first died before birth, and I had collapsed, weeping, in my husband's arms.
The second one died before they had even cleaned him off.
     And then the bleeding started.
Its unpredictability meant that I could not venture into public for fear I would make things impure,                                                               unclean.
     I did not mind; I didn't want to see their pitying looks or to hear the 
     whispers that trailed after me as doggedly as a shadow. 
The physicians tried desperately to come up with a solution.
     One after another, they turned me away, the questions unanswered.
I visited specialists, and when that didn't work I turned to healers, superstitions--
     anything that had even a remote chance of a cure.
With each poke and prod and failed remedy I drew deeper and deeper within myself,
     until even I couldn't recognize my reflection.

I did not blame my husband for divorcing me; 
    I had failed to do the one task required of a wife.
He had been better than most; he had stuck around for 5 years of it, had 
    grieved with me, had footed the bill. But he had needs, too, and 
    eventually his interest and sympathy waned.

That was seven years ago.
I had seen him, once, holding his son's hand as they made their way to the synagogue.
I liked to imagine that the little boy was mine:
     what stories I would have told him,
     what silly jokes we would have shared,
                and what his sleepy weight would feel like in my arms.
I would play this little imaginary game to pass the time
      as I waited for strangers to have mercy on me and drop coins in my lap.

One day, sitting in my usual spot, I was suddenly pulled out of my reverie by loud shouting.
      Grumbling to myself, I glared in the direction of the commotion.
A large crowd of people had rounded the corner, moving from the lake into town. 
As they drew nearer, I spotted the source of the shouting.
      His clothing revealed that he was a man of importance, a leader of the 
      But his fine garments were disheveled, his face was sweaty, and he 
      breathed heavily, as if he had been running.
               "My little one is dying! Come put your hands on her and heal her. 
               Please! My little girl..." 

Over and over he sobbed, gasping, choking on the pain.

      I recognized the desperation in his eyes;
               I had donned that look myself many a day.
Slowly I shifted my gaze, curious as to whom a respected leader like this would turn to in a moment of crisis.
His back was toward me.
I watched him wordlessly put his hand on the leader's shoulder.
      The leader's entire countenance changed, a 
      look of peace where only a moment before 
      lay                                                                                                   despair.
      He picked himself up off of the ground.
What kind of man could have such an effect on a person, let alone a person of authority?
I half-stood, straining to get a better look. 
      Suddenly he turned and his gaze rested briefly on me.
      I observed the dark shadows underneath his eyes,
      the worry lines that had formed above his nose, a testament to the 
             compassion and concern he felt for the multitude surrounding him.
      They were like children begging a doting father for sweets, and he 
      listened to them each tenderly, loving them all, but so unbelievable sad 
      to witness their                                                                         
There was something about this man that I could not put a finger on,
and I sensed something awakening within me, something I hadn't felt in awhile, something like...hope?!
      If he could calm the leader of the synagogue with just one touch, 
      then surely he could make me, a lonely, broken woman, feel the 
      same kind of peace. 
The crowd passed by and I found my legs moving me in the same direction,
      my body knowing my plan before it had even entered my thoughts.
            "I'll just reach for his robe, that's all it'll take. The crowd will hide 
I stre----tched and grabbed hold of his clothes.
      In that instant I felt a rush of inexplicable joy,
            and I wanted to laugh, to dance, to sing, to weep;
            I knew that the illness had                                             vanished.
He stopped abruptly. "Someone touched me," he said. "Who was it?"
     My heart began pounding, but some men nearby interceded, calling 
     the question unreasonable because of the throng pressing in on him.
"I know that someone touched me," he insisted.
    I stepped forward and fell at his feet, the men's faces mirroring my 
    own shock at this boldness. My body began trembling violently as
    I confessed what I had done.
He helped me up and spoke warmly, "Daughter, your faith has made 
    you well; go in peace, and be healed of your dis-ease." 
    And with that, he left.

Now, many years have passed and I am crammed around a table in
a friend's house for a secret meeting. The head of the household 
invites us to share in a meal just as the Teacher had; "Drink this to
remember the one who shed his blood for us."
     I can no longer associate blood merely with pain, for it carries
     also memories of life restored, of an uninhibited love.
            The cup has made its way to me. 
             I reach for it and drink deeply.

Monday, September 27, 2010

not-so-quiet day

Consider this Lara's birthday, part 2.

Every semester we have a Quiet Day that begins and ends with a meditation in the campus chapel. The point is to spend intentional time with God, and as a result classes do not meet. Last year I stayed on campus and spent time journaling and poem-writing. This year, I journeyed with 7 fellow seminarians to Great Falls, Va. We divided into 2 cars: the girls in one and the boys in another. We had a great time listening to music and conversing while dodging traffic (as I attempted to follow Josiah).

We hiked for awhile, talking and laughing some, me lagging behind occasionally to take pictures:

Then we made our way back to the picnic tables and shared a simple meal of egg and chicken salad, homemade pitas, hummus, vegetables, fruit, and chocolate chip cookies. Healthy, vegetarian friendly, and simply scrumptious!

After lunch we walked over to the actual falls:

And here is a group picture taken by a nice guy who happened to walk by:

We finished by playing a little frisbee (interrupted occasionally by groups of people who were doing a scavenger hunt and needed pictures with people playing frisbee for their list).

Another great day! It may not have been quiet, but it was certainly filled with God's presence.

they say it's your birthday...

I'm a week late, but I felt the need to reiterate how wonderful my birthday was, so here it goes.

Those of you who know me well know that I absolutely LOVE birthdays--and mine, in particular. I still have trouble sleeping the night before, anticipating the wonderful things that will happen the next day. Well, this year I didn't make too many plans. My day started out bright and early with a breakfast cooked by Katie and Josiah Rengers.

The menu: coffee, potatoes, fried eggs, and waffles (made with melted white chocolate chips melted into the batter). A-maz-ing. Katie and I had done a long run the night before (14 miles), so it was the perfect quiet, scrumptious start to my day!

-Katie, me, and Mike in the Rengers' apartment.

The next part of my day was filled with meetings, classes, playing flute and reading for the Eucharist. And, since David Rose and I (and Catherine Hicks) share a birthday, they sang to us at lunch--and I loved it, of course. After all of this was done I took a book outside (Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, if you were curious) and intermittently read and answered a plethora of phone calls--don't worry, Mama, I sat in the shade.

Went to dinner in the refectory and made plans to watch an episode or two of Northern Exposure with the gang later that night--a nice, quiet end to a lovely day.

Well, when 9:10 rolled around I met up with Chase and went over to the "Maywood Mansion" (an old house on campus where some of my friends live) to watch the show. I opened the door, smelled cake and was met with this sight:

SURPRISE!!!! And here was my reaction:

Totally blew my mind! So many people were there to help me celebrate. It was wonderful!!!

I want to thank all of you who left me a facebook message, called, smiled, sang, texted, emailed, hugged, cooked, baked, took pictures or simply kept me in your thoughts and prayers that day. I am blessed beyond comprehension by all of you.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

who do you say that i am?

I don't know about anyone else, but I constantly wonder what people think of me. It's something I'm working on, and I have a feeling it will be something I'll work on my whole life. Well, recently some of us have been playing a game where we tried to match up our classmates and professors with Harry Potter characters. It was great fun until I asked them what character they thought I was. They replied that I was Luna Lovegood, obviously. Of course, my insecure self jumped straight to the negative, and the only image I could come up with was of Luna wandering the halls with her glazed-over look, asking Harry if he'd seen her shoes. I protested, but they insisted that I was Luna, and after I had whined a bit one of my friends suggested that I could be Moaning Myrtle instead. Point taken--I shut up.

But for those of you who are fans of Luna, here's why I have been struggling so much with this: my whole life I feel like I have been fighting against the image of the dumb blond. I don't want to be thought of as stupid, and even though I have tried to make light of my occasional airheadedness (by coming up with obliviousmiss as a screen name, for example), it really is a touchy spot with me. And so, when they said that I was Luna, I was crestfallen because the only thing I could think of was that everyone saw me as eccentric and ditsy. But after my friends assured me that it was not meant to be a negative thing and that Luna was actually an amazing character, I decided to go back and do some research. Here is a website that explains her character in depth. For those of you who don't have the time (or interest) in looking at the site, here are some of her qualities:

Luna was placed in Ravenclaw, which means that she's smart.
She has the tendency to say strange things every once in awhile.
She has her own *ahem* sense of style (think lion hat and butterbeer necklace, for instance).
She is fiercely loyal, brave, and perceptive.

After my research, I feel humbled that my friends would see me as Luna. She is eccentric, but she is also smart and fun. Thanks, guys! Sorry for my reaction--no more whining about this from me.

Oh, by the way, has anyone seen my radish earrings?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

ode to the patio

Well, I guess I didn't have to look much farther than my backyard (in this case, the Moore patio) to find a thin place. I sat with some of my friends (old and new) and we watched the clouds turn pink, then gray, then white, and eventually fade away to reveal the rich blue night sky. We spent hours in conversation, the group waxing and waning, simply enjoying the beautiful evening and each others' company. It reminded me of being at camp--the citronella candle on the table serving as a makeshift campfire and the returning students telling the Juniors legends of students who'd graduated. Every once in awhile the conversation would dissipate and we would stare pensively at the flickering flame, lost in our thoughts. At one point I caught myself thinking, "I'm really going to miss this."

Change. It's such a complex thing. I know I'm not the only one, but I have a really hard time letting go. Both in college and now also in seminary I have had times when meeting a person for the first time where I find myself already beginning to grieve because I know that our time together is limited. Of course, I know that this is a completely ridiculous way to approach things, and yet it continues to happen. I know all-too-well the brevity of life, and am afraid to miss any moment of it, no matter how small or insignificant.

So tonight I am paying tribute to evenings spent in conversation, both with friends I am just getting to know and with those who have moved on. I am blessed to be and to have been on this journey with you all.

Monday, September 13, 2010

in the beginning...

Okay. I'm going to try not to be intimidated by the blank box staring me in the face. Does anyone else experience a feeling of excitement and anticipation when opening journals (or in this case, text boxes) for the first time? Before beginning to write the page is pregnant with potential and I am excited, albeit apprehensive, to find out what explosions of creativity will burst forth or what crazy stories I will have to write about.

It's usually not as good as I hoped.

Even in my diaries I feel this pressure (from who knows where?) to come up with clever turns of phrases or intense theological understandings or riotous anecdotes or all of the above, as if people are going to read every word I write. Fortunately, as soon as I get started the intimidation begins to wear off and I can continue on my merry way, comforted by the realization that I am not, in fact, a genius and that my words will only reach a few people at most. And that is enough.

So...why create a blog? Are the blank pages of a composition notebook not good enough? I appease myself by saying that I am being a good steward of the environment by not cutting down trees just so I can write down my mediocre musings (plus, it's faster to type than to write and, hello, we're in the 21st century!). But why not just do an online journal? Does my ego need to be stroked just a little bit more? Well, it probably does, but it's more than that: I am slowly realizing that to remain healthy it is necessary for me to process things either out loud or in writing, and since I am not good at verbalizing my feelings, I should resort to writing. I also thought that it would be a great way to connect with friends and family all over the world, to share my thoughts, experiences, sermons, songs, poems, prayers, etc. (after all, there's only so much you can post on facebook without taking over your friends' newsfeeds). Additionally, by making this public it will keep me accountable for posting on a somewhat regular basis. That's the hope, anyway.

So what's up with the blog title? What the heck are "thin places" anyway? Contrary to popular opinion, they are not locations where groups of skinny people hang out. It is actually a Celtic phrase that describes the places where the "veil" between heaven and earth is thin, where you are able to notice God's presence effortlessly. Basically, I am attempting to reflect on my life, at both the mundane and extraordinary events, and try to pick out where I see God's presence. I thought the title appropriate since I have Irish roots and, well, love Ireland and Celtic spirituality (The best explanation of thin places that I have found thus far is in this article. It's a quirky little essay but captures the essence of what I am trying to accomplish. Check it out if you get the chance!).

Well, I have reached my limit for tonight: another part of self-care is making sure to get enough sleep. Until next time!