Seen in Town, The Inner Landscape

Late in the Evening

I went to Trader Joe's tonight.

This was my third visit to the new Portland store, or rather my second visit out of three attempts. The first time it was insanely rainy, and I eventually found a parking spot. It was around 4 in the afternoon, which is clearly not the time to go. Next I tried going after picking Lucy up from school, on a slightly rainy day, but we gave up because she had a lot of homework to do.

Tonight, after Church Council, I decided to swing by on my way home. I think I had the vague notion that I would pick up some kind of late night snack, since I have to take RA meds in the evening that require food to be eaten at the same time.

Pumpkin bread You would have thought a pumpkin farm had exploded at TJ's. Everywhere I looked, there was every kind of pumpkin: canned, waffle mix, soup, cheesecake, even pumpkin ice cream. I was looking for the pumpkin muffin mix I bought on my first trip, but I didn't find it. Instead I put some organic canned pumpkin in my basket, and a box of cinnamon coffee cake mix, and a carton of turkey broth.

A sign by the front door invited me to discuss fresh turkeys with the butcher, but all I found was a display, with no obvious place you could talk to a person. I looked at the fresh turkeys (we're looking for one that is all-natural, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they taste better) and wondered what's up with the brining? I don't even know why you brine a turkey. I hope someone will explain it. I found non-brined turkeys, too, but clearly in the TJ's world, brining is preferable. 

I wandered up and down the frozen aisle, but I didn't pick out anything there. It was getting later, and I had no idea what I wanted. 

The wine department at TJ's is HUGE. A big sign invited me to buy a FRUITY! DRINKABLE! Beaujolais Nouveau. Given that I tried to buy one last year and was too late, I put a bottle in my basket. It was not a Two Buck Chuck. (Is that what they call it?) I paid the also-not-so-high price of $8.99, which would not have happened at Whole Foods. They claimed it's perfect paired with turkey. We shall see. #1 Son will have to help me decide. 

There weren't very many people in the store, but one of them was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He seemed incongruous, wandering around just like me. I guess I think of TJ's as a place for people like me, but what do I mean? Mainstream liberals with a reasonable number of children who don't mind being touched by people of the opposite sex except when they do mind it? Clergy with graduate degrees who worked thirteen hours today and probably ought to be in bed by now? Short women who grew up in the South but transplanted to the Northeast and proved winter hardy?

(It's possible I'm having a little identity crisis. )

Once the rebbe and I were in the pastoral services office together at the hospital, and I forgot the rules he lives by, even though I knew them somewhere in the back of my mind. I was looking through the patient listing to find a church member. I looked on the denominational lists for Protestant and Congregational, and somewhere I found my person's name, and I wrote the room number on a piece of scrap paper from the basket on the desk, using a pen the hospital provided. He was standing not far from me in the little office, and I got up from the desk, to make the list available to him, and without thinking, I handed him the pen. He looked shocked, really appalled, and I got away as quickly as possible.

When I came back to the frozen aisle, I found him holding a carton of pumpkin ice cream, no doubt contemplating the apparent pumpkin explosion.

I moved to the other side of the frozen aisle, gingerly.

Then he sneezed, all over the ice cream compartment.

I never found a snack. I came home and had some cereal that was already on the shelf in my kitchen. 

Isaiah, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Let us argue it out

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:10-18, NRSV)

Yesterday I preached about confession being the ultimate in vulnerability. We don't like words about humility in this era of self-esteem, I said, and we surely don't want to make people compare themselves to worms. But our authenticity, which I believe is key to our salvation, requires our vulnerability with God.

I believe that.

Which isn't to say I like it, necessarily. Because being vulnerable with God means being truthful with myself. 


"Wash, wash me clean./Mend my wounded seams./Cleanse my tarnished dreams." A friend sent me this song by k.d. lang not too long ago. 

Though my sins be like scarlet…they shall become like snow. 

For me the biggest sin is to be out of touch with God, to stay in the condition or the hiding place, that won't allow God inside. Well, that I *think* won't allow God inside. God has ways.  Like songs a friend sends to you. Or plane reservations they make to come and see you and be sure you are okay. Or frozen lasagna they leave behind. Or toilet paper holders they install, just because.  Or the affirmation of the congregation on a Sunday when you wondered if you would have any Good News to share at all.

I'm amazed at the multiplicity of means God has used to argue things out with me, to make sure I cannot possibly feel alone, at all hours of the night and day. God is tired of old forms of behavior and old ways of being, ways that I tried to be the person society expected or the church demanded or my own family history suggested. Forget about all that, God says. Let us argue it out. Let us find the way in which you will be washed clean of all that and really, truly know it. 

Divorce, Dreams, Genesis, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Call Me Israel

Jacob Wrestling

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

 (Genesis 32:24-28, part of a reading for Pentecost 21C)

It must have been quite a night. Jacob sent his family across the river ahead of him: his wives, his children, his servants, his livestock, all his property as a highly mobile desert patriarch. Was he looking for peace and quiet, or did he anticipate a struggle, or an opportunity?

In the middle of the night, at mid-life or really past it as I edge toward 50, I am struggling with God in the night and trying to call it an opportunity. How am I a different person than I was ten years ago? Or than I was at 24, the age of my oldest child, the age I became his mother? (A terrifying thought! Who ever rated me ready to care for an infant when I was so young myself?)

We’re shifting at home, readjusting our view of what life had been, trying to see what the future will be and bring. I have a new call, and a very sick dog, and my marriage is over.

I am striving with God and humans.

I wake in the night, and I wonder what’s next? And I look back at this year and I think I can never call it the worst year ever, no matter what, because my second son flew out of a car and lived, because all three of my children are wonderful, because I found out who really cares about me, and because two people who cannot live together anymore are doing their best to be merciful about it while caring for a beloved pet who is likely nearing his end.

But like Jacob, I am out of joint, and I may walk with a limp. So call me Israel.