Interesting that this Sunday's assigned readings are the Transfiguration -- the origin of that "down off the mountaintop" phrase. That's what's on my mind tonight. It hasn't been an entirely easy week and a half, coming back to the real world after my graduation weekend, which was both literally and metaphorically a mountaintop experience. I came back to many pastoral care needs, large and small. It's hard being in a parish made up primarily of retirement-age and older people who inevitably go from vibrant, active retirement to increasing frailty and illness, eventually to decline and death. Just now one of my best-beloveds in the parish (I know, I shouldn't have favorites, but it's an impossible expectation) is facing very serious heart surgery. His bride of only 12 years (they are both in their 80s) is worried sick. He is amazingly calm and accepting, whatever the outcome of this risky procedure may be. My heart is breaking. And he's not the only one, of course. It has happened over and over in my 5 years here, and will continue to happen more as my tenure here increases. Yes, of course, there is always an influx of new members (mostly young, healthy retirees who move to this area, the retirement capital of the midwest), who I also come to love. But that doesn't make the loss any less painful, even though I truly believe the ones who die are in a wonderful place.
I'm also left after my graduation with this great void, wondering, "Okay, what's next?" I'm caught between wanting to create a dozen projects right away, in order to fill that void (the loss of a program I was passionate about), and on the other hand, suspecting that a bit of fallow time is probably what I need -- a time to grieve, a time to discern. I already have a half-dozen projects in mind. What I know is that I need to be doing something creative (more about this in a minute), something spiritual, and something physical.
I think I'm finally back on track with my exercise practices, which haven't been anything approaching normal since Christmas when I was sick. I'm back to running with the dogs (well, what I call my "old lady runs" -- I run where it's downhill or flat, but mostly walk uphill, and it's quite hilly here in the mountains), and back to yoga. I know when I run, it's definitely going to be a good day. I attribute it to the endorphins that get kicked up when my heart rate elevates. It's also good mindfulness practice, whether it's feeling how sore and out of breath I can get, delighting in the shenanigans of my dogs, or noticing the beauty of the geography where I live. I credit yoga with changing my life. It has taught me to love my body (yes, even this aching, overweight, aging body), and it quickly became a spiritual practice, as well. There were times during savasana that I felt pure bliss -- enough to bring tears to my eyes and a song to my soul. And I am poorer when I'm unable to get to 3 classes a week, since I can't seem to discipline myself to have a daily home practice.
I've actually been making some art since I got home. Yesterday I went to a friend's birthday party. She always invites 2-3 dozen women to come to lunch in some restaurant that can accommodate us all, and insists on "cards only, no gifts." Some of us go to great lengths now to create handmade and elaborate cards -- I saw that at least half her cards (of course we pass them around the tables) were handmade: some very fine, some very simple, but all lovely. I made a large card (perhaps 8x11 or 9x12 -- didn't measure) with a decoupaged picture of an angel (her theme this year), a hand-crafted border, and "Ave" (greetings) painted below, with my birthday wish on the back. I should have photographed it for you! I coated it with acrylic gloss finish and it was barely dry by the time I had to leave! I had a picture in my head of what I wanted my greeting to look like, how I wanted to write it -- and it actually came out very much as I wanted it to. That's new for me, and I think maybe artistic progress. I'm getting technically just that teeny bit better so that I can come closer to realizing the vision that I have in my head. I love that. What fun it was!
Tonight I'm making a collage for the inside front page of my journal. I thought it might be a black madonna. I thought it might be something spiritual. Turns out, once I got to my studio, I was drawn to my paper souvenirs from Italy, and it's going to be Italian (pictures, ticket stubs, business cards, etc -- I guess they're called "ephemera"), on a red acrylic painted background. I'm usually surprised by what happens, and this one is no exception!
So I've got physical and creative practices back in my life. You would think spiritual would be easy for a priest. It is, in a way. I pray daily, and I mean it when I pray -- it's not just an empty practice. Wednesdays I do centering prayer, and in our savasana at yoga class (the "corpse pose," the resting period at the end) I do my best to clear my mind and just rest in the presence of the Holy. But there's nothing setting my heart on fire just now. When I was cramming my head with all those spiritual books, doing the suggested spiritual exercises, it all felt much more alive and passionate. It will come again, I know -- probably sooner, rather than later. But now it feels just a little blah.
There is some good news, I think. An elderly parishioner has decided, it seems, to become my "fairy godmother." She's a great and very interesting lady, recently received an inheritance from her beloved sister, and I think is doing a little "life review," having also lost her husband a year and a half ago. She has no children, and I think she wants to leave a little something that will outlive her. At any rate, she has offered to help financially with my sabbatical, but also wants me to write a book (or an outline and first chapter, at least), which she will shop around to various agents with whom she has connections -- she has published at least one book, and also sells her paintings. I don't know if this will truly go anywhere at all, but it's kind of exciting to think about. I don't even know if it's ethical -- I need to think and pray more about that, I suppose -- to accept all this assistance from her. Perhaps I really need to channel the money into the church, since she's a member here. I would never want to use my position as her priest for personal gain from her. I need to talk to others, I think -- my Bishop and spiritual director, to start with. I have no problem with the assistance with writing a book -- non-monetary help -- but I'm not so sure about the other. Any thoughts?
No photos today. As I said before, my digital camera is broken -- it's quite a bit outdated, anyway, and so needs to be replaced. Only my phone camera works -- no flash, less megapixils. Time to buy a new one, but it's on my list, after new glasses and car maintenance and some bills that need to be paid. It may be summer before I can take really good shots!
Snow is predicted for tomorrow, February 1, but I know that by mid-month, the witch hazel will be blooming! Spring is almost here!