Sunday Offerings: The Key to Re-Encountering My Faith

My Sundays typically involve church.  Growing up Roman Catholic, church was a big part of my life. I felt God in the liturgy of the mass, the rituals of incense, candles, and music. As an adult I have found that going to church regularly refreshes my soul and keeps me connected to God, my community and my family. For the past several months, I have not been feeling quite the same about church. I have been struggling with feeling my connection to the Divine.  I know a lot of my struggle with my faith is due to the challenges I have been dealing with in my family life. The liturgy of the mass offers little comfort. I don’t know if it’s a chicken or egg thing. Perhaps because I have been struggling in my family life, my church attendance has been spotty, or perhaps because my church attendance has spotty, I have been struggling in my family life.

My Buddhist friend, who knows my struggle, and feels my despair, invited me a lay Buddhist meeting.  She talks to me enthusiastically about how her life and her children’s lives have turned around since they started chanting. We went to lunch one day and I met with one of her Buddhist leaders.  It was an inspiring and insightful conversation. I have no doubt that the Buddhist faith is working in their lives. I accepted the invitation to the Buddhist meeting.  At first I was a bit self-conscious about chanting words I wasn’t even sure I was pronouncing correctly.  But, as the sound washed over me in community with the other women in the room I felt peace.  It was a very positive experience that was both familiar and strange.  It was strange in the sense, that the language was foreign and I struggled to find meaning in the words we chanted.  It was familiar in the sense that the ritual of the prayer beads, the gong and chanting seemed a lot like the rituals I had grown up with and which gave me comfort.

This morning Juan and Diego had to go to soccer practice.  The other kids were sleeping in. I didn’t want to go to church by myself, so I decided I would take Molly on a walk to the big outdoor church. Nature. It’s the other place I feel God. I don’t get outdoors nearly enough, but today the air was crisp, the sun was bright and I needed to move my body.  I announced to my kids that we weren’t going to church this morning.  I think they were a bit relieved they would have a leisurely Sunday morning.

I  drove to nearby Eaton Canyon, took my car key off the ring and stuck it in my iPhone case.  As Molly and I hiked the canyon I listened to a talk given by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran preacher who had visited my church a couple of weeks ago.  At one point during the talk she explained how she had grown up in the fundamentalist Church of Christ, and then decided to become a Lutheran when she experienced and fell in love with the liturgy.  She said liturgy feels like “choreographed sacredness” and that it was like a “stream that flowed long before us and will continue long after us so that we… can be immersed in the language of truth and promise and Grace.” Her words rang so true for me.

I listened and worshipped the nature around me, trying to feel the presence of God.  It was challenging because Molly kept pulling on her leash and the canyon was filled with hikers, joggers, and a lot of dogs.  By the time we had hiked over a mile, we were  she was tired and we turned around to make our way back to the car.  I took my phone out from its case and took this picture of me communing with nature.  I definitely look more sweaty than full of Grace.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

Hiking the trail in the great outdoor church.

About halfway back to the car it occurred to me that the key I had placed in my iPhone case was no longer there. You know the key?  The one with the computer chip in it that costs hundreds of dollars to replace? I panicked. Whatever sense of peace and Grace I felt during my hike evaporated.  Molly and I sprinted back to the spot where I took the picture.  Along the way, I kept dodging hikers, dogs and the occasional horse and dog poop, all the while looking, hoping, praying to find the key.

I have lost a lot of things before. I have found them too, in odd, unexpected places. My mom is the same way. She has taught me to pray to St. Anthony whenever I lose things.  Along the trail I prayed to St. Anthony again.  I laughed at myself at the absurdity of me losing the key and the even greater absurdity of finding it along the well-traveled trail covered with leaves, dirt and rocks.

I arrived at the spot where I had taken the picture. I looked among the shrubs, under leaves and turned over rocks. It wasn’t there. I made the walk back to the car my eyes downcast, searching for the key, missing the beauty of nature and ignoring the presence of God around me. I thought of the irony in losing the key in my quest to find God.  By the time I reached my car, I still hadn’t found the key and felt resigned that it was probably gone.  I called Juan and told him the bad news, and ask that he bring me the one spare key we had left.

Juan and Nico arrived, prepared to do one more sweep through the canyon. I refused to go, saying it was a lost cause.  Before we left, I decided I’d go into the ranger station to see if the key had been turned in. The ranger told me that no one had turned in any keys and asked me for my name and the key description.  Just then another ranger walked into the office. The second ranger asked, “You lost a key?” Then she pulled out my key from her shirt pocket. She said someone along the trail had just turned it in.

I took the key and in a moment of evangelizing told the ranger about St. Anthony. She said I should go buy a lottery ticket.  I replied that I was going to light a candle instead. Nico drove home with me and along the way we laughed and talked about the miracle.  In my best Southern evangelical preacher voice I shouted, “Allelulia!”  I asked him “Can I have an Amen?”  Getting into the spirit of it, Nico shouted “Amen!”  I enthused, “See? You just need to have faith.”  Nico asked,  “Well, what’s the lesson here?”  I paused and thought about it.  Then, I replied, I guess the lesson is that I just need to have faith that what has been lost will be found.

Sunday Offerings: Children of Light

Today is Children’s Advocacy Sunday in our church. The prayers, songs and homily reflected the idea that we all have a responsibility to nurture the world’s children. I especially liked the prayer offered during the Prayers of the People:

Eternal source of love and justice, we give you thanks for the richness of our diversity and the treasured uniqueness of every person.  We give you thanks for planting in each of us a heart that cares for your most vulnerable children and a passion for justice so that every child may grow and flourish.  We give you thanks for our shared concern and commitment.  Use us now, we pray, to create change for your children so that each will know the hope of a better tomorrow.

The children’s choirs all sang today too. Their faces and their words were inspiring:

You were sometimes darkness,

But now are light in the Lord.

Walk as children of light.

– Words: Based on Ephesians 5:8, Music: Valerie Ann Webdell; edited by Ruth Dwyer (2003)

Click here to see the the choir singing this anthem. Happy Sunday!

Sunday Offerings: Ode to My Water Heater

My water heater died today.

An untimely death.

Nine years new.

Installed haphazardly, carelessly, by a worker in a hurry

Contributing to its early demise.


When the water ran tepid these past few days

we summoned a plumber

Urgently requesting his help to resuscitate our old friend.

He arrived without delay, coaxing new life

from the white elephant creaking, leaking water from its valves.


Like a craftsman, the plumber built a new shed for our friend,

Protecting it from the elements.

Like a surgeon, he connected new hoses and installed a new pump,

Hoping to give us the gift of time, and the decadence of hot, flowing water

Cascading out of our shower heads, and flowing into our sinks.


But it was not to be.


On a day meant for hot showers, breakfast dishes and weekly laundry,

Tepid water filled with minerals spewed and sputtered

from the aging elephant.

Until the last of its life source poured out,

leaving us with frigid baths, dirty dishes and soiled clothing.


So I sit in my van, writing, lamenting outside Launderland.

Washing clothes in need of the cleaning power of hot water,

Dreading the cold shower which awaits me in the morning,

Regretting the cancelled gym membership with its white tiled shower stalls

Mourning the death of an old friend.

Awaiting the arrival of a new one,

which cannot come soon enough.

Good-bye old friend.  My water heater waiting for its last rites.

Good-bye old friend. My water heater waiting for its last rites.

Sunday Offerings – Telling My Story

Last week I was asked to give a “witness” in my church, All Saints Pasadena.  For those of you who, like myself, did not grow up in a very charismatic church, (or any church for that matter),  a “witness” is when a member of the congregation gets up and [insert southern dialect here] testifies.  I learned about this a few years ago when Juan and I were asked to speak in front of our congregation.

Every October our church has  Stewardship season, a time when some of the church members begin telling their story about how they found All Saints Church and why they pledge money to support the church and its mission.  I heard a member say that talking about money and church used to make him uncomfortable.  I get that. I was uncomfortable at first too.  But, once I understood that supporting my church really does support its mission of love, inclusion and justice, I felt good about making a financial pledge.

I was also nervous about having to share my story. I struggled writing about what to say. I went through several drafts and still wasn’t happy with it. Then I met with Jamie, a woman from our church who is an acting coach. (Only in LA!) She is also a blessing. Not only did Jamie sense my discomfort with my material, she helped to draw out those parts of my speech which were personal, which really told my story. I scrapped 90% of what I’d written and went back to my computer. When I focused on the intimate part of my story, the words just flowed and I ended up with a draft which I liked. I met with Jamie again and this time as I read the words, I could not get through my story without choking up at certain parts. I thought that after a few rehearsals, I would be able to get through my witness without getting emotional during the church services, but I cried all three times.

In the end, even though it was a struggle to write, and re-write and then share my story in front of my congregation, it was really a blessing. I felt uplifted by my community, as they wept along with me,  appreciated my words and in the words of Sally Field, “liked me.” (This is LA, after all.)



Sunday Offerings – Beginning Anew

Last month, as part of my confirmation process into the Episcopal church, I attended a day-long meditative retreat in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. It was a perfect day.  The theme of the retreat was, “A Lenten Path to Newness.” One of the readings that our confirmation group  reflected upon was a poem by John O’Donohue, For a New Beginning. This poem really spoke to me. It meant so much to me because of the wayward path I have taken to get to his moment in my life. After this reading we broke into small groups and discussed how O’Donohue’s words affected us. Most of us shared that expectations, and failed expectations, can keep us from taking risks, and tie us to things we have outgrown. But, we also know that God is patient and waiting, with the Holy Spirit, to kindle our courage and find a way of listening to our true self to empower ourselves to enter a new beginning.

After, reading the poem we were given an hour to go on a meditative walk. As I walked along the footpath I thought about how I have been blessed in my life to have many new beginnings. I have also been blessed to feel that with each new beginning I have been guided by a force greater than myself, God and the Holy Spirit. I came across a shady spot and sat down to read the poem again. I had my journal with me and was inspired by O’Donohue’s words, and perhaps the Holy Spirit, to write my own poem.

Beginning Anew

This moment of eternity

Is mine for the taking.

To live in,

To dwell in,

To step out from the sameness

Of old hurt,

And former lives.

To begin anew,

Embracing the possibility of something different.

Something special,

Something dangerous.

Something that God has been waiting for me to meet.

How have you begun again in your life? What has inspired you to challenge yourself and take a risk beginning anew?