Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dancing Shadows

There's a woodland I like to visit. I tend to go there on Friday nights, so that I might breathe that fresh, green-scented air, walk amongst those ancient trees, and rid myself of all the pressures I face during the week.

Last night, I went there with a friend, but something was not right. There were a large number of people about, for one, and there was a sense that they just didn't belong there. Even once we left the people behind and were deeper in the woods, the woods themselves seemed agitated, for some unknown reason. There was a Shadow passing through, and we could not stay. I do not understand what was wrong, but something was very wrong. It wasn't just an ordinary feeling of surprise at being not as alone as we had expected to be, but a sense of unbalance, of darkness, maybe even of evil presence. It was a stronger and more pure fear than I have felt in many years.

I know the woods will right themselves. Those woods are as sacred and holy as any church or any Druid oak grove ever was. But last night Shadows walked on human legs, and I don't know what feels worse: having to accept that we will probably never know what was really wrong, or knowing now that those woods are not the complete haven I believed them to be. They are still beautiful and still sacred, but even there, reminders of Shadow may still come.

Friday, July 29, 2005


There are certain compliments I’ve been given in my life which, for some reason or another, are incredibly meaningful and have stuck with me. I keep them in my heart as treasures.

From my high school math teacher, for whom I have the greatest respect:
“You have a wisdom and insight beyond your years.”

From a lady who saw me helping one of the disabled individuals I used to work for:
“There needs to be more people like you in the world.”

From an elderly gentleman I was visiting in a nursing home:
“That smile of yours just lights up the whole room. That’s all the medicine I need.”

From the former priest of my parish, upon reading one of my poems:
“It’s brilliant!”

From a friend I helped through a rough spot:
“You are the light that guides me through the darkness.”

Another from a friend, quite some time ago:
“When you smile, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

All thoughts that make me feel good on a sleepy Friday. :-)

Thursday, July 28, 2005


I have a lot of ambition. It happens to be totally undirected and unfocused most of the time, but it is very much there, that yearning for something more, something better, something beyond. It’s a wish to make my own way, to create a new path for myself, and to make things better in the world along the way.

The problem with ambition, when it has no clear direction, is that it builds up and manifests as anxiety or paralysis. I don’t know what to do, so I don’t do anything. Is that better or worse than trying lots of different things? It’s safer, and it makes more sense to people who don’t know me well, but then all that deferred ambition builds up inside me until it feels like I simply must scream, or run away, or something. It gets to be too much after awhile.

Still, I’ve met plenty of people with no ambition at all. One of the jobs I’ve had was as a direct care worker in a group home. It’s very difficult work—it has its rewards, no doubt, but financial rewards cannot be counted among them. When I was leaving there, it was for an office temp job that paid $10 an hour, and my co-workers were ecstatic for me, implying in so many words that this would be all I ever needed. Um, a $10 per hour filing and typing job is not exactly career fulfillment, in my book! I know sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and there’s no shame in that, but what’s wrong with hoping and trying for more?

I think I’d rather have the unfocused ambition than no ambition at all. At least this way, I can dream, even if I have to continue trying on dreams until I find the one that fits.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A little more on healing.

The former rector of Grace Church told me that when a person is trying to discern God’s call for their life, it is important to listen to clues given by others. God very often speaks through people along the way. Fair enough. Discernment (usually) doesn’t involve anything so dramatic as a burning bush telling you to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, so it only makes sense that many of the clues will come from other people. It’s important to listen to the people who know you well, because they can see things you may not be able to, but it’s also important to be open to hearing things from people who don’t know you all that well. The people you’re close to are used to seeing you in a particular way, and when you look at moving in directions that move you out of that “mold,” they may be too close to the situation and too wrapped in their own expectations to be able to see what direction God actually wants you to go.

So, armed with this advice, I’ve been listening. What have people been telling me? What clues am I getting to reveal God’s plan for me?

My brother told me that I simply must try out for musicals, for one. Which is flattering, but I don’t think it’s quite what God wants for me.

The one I’ve been hearing for the longest is that I should be a writer. Well, I write for the church newsletter, I write my blog, and I write other things when I get a chance. I have stories to tell, to be sure. But I don’t see being a writer as an exclusive career. It’s something I am and something I do, but if it’s all I do, what would I write about?

Another I’ve heard with some frequency is that I should be a physical therapist / massage therapist. This generally comes from friends who have aches and pains, starting in college and continuing into the now. I admit that the little bit I know how to do is extremely satisfying. A little stretch here, a gentle rub there, and pain is gone or at least relieved. How cool is that? There’s a sort of warmth I feel in my hands when I help people this way, and I envision that warmth and light transferring into the person’s muscles as I work. A PT may be the closest thing to a miracle worker western medicine has. People who couldn’t walk can walk again; people who were in pain can use their hands again. It’s really very awe-inspiring to think of.

But then, since I’ve started going to Grace Church and becoming very involved, a few people have asked me if I have considered being a priest or a deacon. And I’ve had some very strange dreams that seem to indicate I may be called in this direction. Hmm. The idea of being up in front of a congregation, saying or singing the words that consecrate the bread and wine, and then bringing that gift to the people is a very appealing one. I have a decided interest in theology and philosophy, and I seem to do well working with others. But how much of that is my own ego? When people ask me, is it because they think the church needs younger priests, or because they really sense that I am called this way? If I peel back the layers of myself, I have to admit that the purer idea of what I think clergy should do is more in line with a deacon’s function. These are the servants, the ones known as God’s hands in the world. They are the ones who help, who comfort, who are simply there for anyone who needs them.

So what am I supposed to do with all of this? I feel stirrings that might be a call in more than one direction. Is this normal? Am I supposed to bounce from path to path?

Maybe I am supposed to invent something entirely new. Maybe I’m supposed to discover some path that combines a deacon’s ways of healing and comforting the spirit with a PT’s ways of healing and comforting the body. Physical manipulation with a spiritual component, maybe. Pray while working to alleviate someone’s aches and pains. (Maybe even sing the prayers, so I can work the musical gift in there too.) And then of course I’d want to write about what I discovered, what God led me to….

But for now, all I can do is pray that guidance will be given as I need it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Healing and Joy

Not only did my church do a special music service on Sunday, but we also did a healing service. For this, those people who feel they are in need of healing of their souls, minds, or bodies (or who wish such healing for a loved one) can come up to the front, where people will pray with them about their problem and they can be anointed by the priest if they wish.

The very first service I attended at Grace Church happened to be a healing service, and I was intrigued from the start. It wasn’t like you see on televangelist shows, where it’s all very dramatic. (“Heal! I cast you out, demons!”) No, it was instead very quiet, very peaceful. The people receiving the healing may weep. But otherwise the only sound is the softly whispered prayers and the gentle music.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of healing a lot lately. Not only have I been spending a lot of time with a pre-med student friend of mine, but as part of my class I had to take an assessment of Spiritual Gifts. Now, I was expecting that the ones which would come out most strongly for me would be the ones a priest should have. The whole point of taking the class, after all, was because I was quite sure I was called to the priesthood. I was expecting gifts such as leadership, administration, and evangelism to be at the fore.

I was quite wrong. The ones which came out highest—with the highest possible scores, as a matter of fact—were healing, mercy, and encouragement. And so I was surprised. I described the test and my scores to a couple of friends who know me well. The consensus response was, “Well, yeah, of course you scored that way. That’s you.”

One who heals by faith should not expect dramatic miracles. My inner scientist balks quite thoroughly at such a thing. What the spiritual gift of healing means—at least to me—is that the healer helps the person calm their spirit and their mind so that medicine, biology, and God can all work together for physical healing most efficiently—or if it is the person’s time to pass on, the spiritual healer helps calm the spirit and mind so that the person can face that transition into the afterlife without fear.

There are shamanistic teachings of how people’s souls, minds, and bodies can become misaligned, and the shaman’s job is to help them align so that they may all work together as they should. This is also the task of the spiritual healer, to work in conjunction with traditional medicine, not in its place. A healed body without a healed soul can become a shell, open to being filled with darkness. A healed soul without a healed body is likely to leave and go wandering about the spirit realms. One is not much good without the other.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Random Guy by the Side of the Road

I saw an oddly surreal thing on the way to work this morning. It's a very hot and humid day, and it was early, so I was surprised to see a man walking along the side of the road. I was in traffic and had to move slowly, so I got a good look at him as I passed.

He was grubby, wearing tattered clothing and a beat-up, shapeless black hat. He was just ambling along slowly, not seeming to have anywhere in particular to go, clutching a large bottle in his left hand.

In short, he looked like a typical "wino."

But his bottle was not one of cheap, strong wine. No, this man was staggering down the street with a 2-liter bottle of Faygo Cola.

Is Faygo the new beverage of choice for wandering winos? Has US society become so against carbohydrate and sugar intake that those who can't shake their pop habit have been reduced to wandering through the elements, taking furtive swigs of cheap, almost-off-brand cola? Is the drinking of sugary beverages now such a shameful thing that it can cause people to lose their families, their homes, their cleanliness?

Or was he just some guy who really likes Faygo Cola walking home from a midnight shift of work?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Oh, holy song!

Well, I went to church this morning, and I sang my songs. Even the one I was nervous/excited about. What a great song that was! I felt while doing it that the room was swallowing my sound; it's a very different sound to practice there on Tuesdays when the place is empty, or to sing to a friend in my living room.

I don't feel I did as well as I could have done. My voice felt strained as I tried to sing loudly enough for everyone to hear, and I missed a line and had to try to pass it off as if I'd done it on purpose. Still, even the people in the back could hear me, and people echoed in the right places, and little kids were dancing and clapping along. My wee brother informed me afterwards that I absolutely must try out for musicals.

I prayed before the song started, that the Holy Spirit be with me and make this song into something which is an acceptable offering to God and an acceptable gift to the church. This is my sacrifice-- my nervous self-consciousness, my awkwardness, and the song that I will sing as best as I am able.

It was not perfect. But it was acceptable, and it and I fulfilled our purposes this morning.

Zoo update.

It was fun. Oh, it was so much fun! What a great group of imaginary friends I have!

Here we all are. I'm the one being pointed at by the strange giant red arrow thing on the sign behind us.

I think we scared some of the people at the zoo, though. And our waiter didn't cry, but I do think we had him nervous.

I really hope we manage to get together again soon. Someone mentioned that maybe the group could go to the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly at the end of the summer. I think that would be a great time! Jousting is always more fun to watch when one is with a Merry Band of Adventurers.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Toledo Safari!

Today I am going to the Toledo Zoo!

Not only am I going to the zoo, but I'm going with a bunch of "imaginary friends." Sort of.

My other online home is the Snopes Urban Legends Message Board, where I post as Minstrel. It's a really great sort of online community. Reasoned discourse, great senses of humor, and the vast majority of the board members type in ordinary English instead of the annoying "AOL-speak" so common on the internet these days. A few months ago, someone got the idea that those of us in the Midwest region should get together so we can see each other in person, maybe for dinner or something. So we've been planning this since then. Originally we were supposed to meet in May, but then we bumped it back to July because too many people were already booked for May.

Now the day has finally arrived. There are going to be 8 of us going to the zoo (well, 7 actual board members and 1 husband), and then 4 people will be joining us at the restaurant for late lunch (2 board members and 2 husbands).

I am so excited to meet these people. I've already met one in person, and we've become very good friends. I've talked to a few of the others via long and drawn out email threads about absurdly random things. But today I finally get to see them all in person. Does my excitement over meeting online friends make me a geek? Probably! But you know what? I don't care!

I've got my hiking sandals ready, I've got the digital camera I borrowed from my mom, and my car is fueled and ready for the trip south to Toledo. I'm ready to go!

"The snopesters gathered in Toledo that bright Saturday in July.... and the city was never the same again."

Friday, July 22, 2005

Getting the Last Word?

My cousin was recently telling me about the prank calls she and some of her friends make to a guy who was a jerk to one of the friends. I admit, I was in a juvenile humor that day, and it was hilarious! We giggled like teenagers over the story, then she offered her friends’ “services” in case I thought my soon-to-be-ex should receive such calls. I admit, that idea made me giggle too. But I told her no.

“Why?” she wanted to know, saying she thought I should get some sort of “revenge.”

“Ah, but the best revenge is to live well,” I told her.

But I don’t want to live well for the sake of “revenge” or for making someone else feel bad, or so I can “flaunt” my happiness. That would make it all very hollow. I don’t want revenge. I just want to be able to live well for the sake of life itself. There are days when I feel it is the greatest of all possible gifts just to be alive, and I don’t want to squander that. So I want to live well.

I competed in Lincoln-Douglas debate at a few tournaments in college. The format is fairly simple: the Affirmative presents a case, the Negative rebuts, the Affirmative rebuts the rebuttal and restates the case, the Negative rebuts again, and the Affirmative states a conclusion. One key thing to remember in a debate is that if your opponent makes a point and you fail to address it in your next turn, you concede the point. This makes it so that the Affirmative presenter has a better chance to conclude strongly; after all, they get the last word in the discussion. (Strangely, I always did better when I was assigned to the Negative presentation.)

Real life is not like debate; there are no such organized rules, and the person who gets the last word is not most likely to “win.” In real life, it doesn’t matter who gets the last word. It doesn’t matter in the slightest. What matters is who gets the best word.

I know what is true from my perspective, and I know what I strongly believe. This truth I carry as a shield. Is my word the best word? That I can’t say. But I believe it to be true, and that means I don’t need the last word at all.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Last summer at this time I was frantically preparing for my wedding which was to be August 14th. I don’t remember the exact date of the fight, but I know it was in July. It was a horrible fight.

My then fiancĂ© took my cheerful talk about our future (as in, when we have a house, when we get a dog, etc.) to mean that I was discontent with our life as it was. He had been laid off in November and hadn’t found any work at that point. He exploded. I remember that we were folding laundry in the bedroom when he started yelling and punched a hole in the wall. Then he stomped out of the apartment, got in his car, and drove away.

What did I do? I kept folding laundry. My hands were shaking as I put it away. I was absolutely livid. How dare he try to scare me like that?

Eventually he came back. He muttered an apology and tried to explain why he’d been upset. “Oh, sure,” I said. “I guess I’m just not allowed to talk about the future now.”

He stomped out again, slamming the door as he went. I heard his tires squealing as he pulled out of the parking lot.

I started looking around the apartment. Could I gather together enough stuff to get me through a few days, and leave? Could I go to my mom’s house or my aunt’s house? It was 11:30 PM at least, but this was surely an emergency. But then, what about my little guinea pig? I couldn’t leave him behind. In the end, I was standing there wondering numbly what to do when my fiancĂ© came back.

In the resulting conversation he said, “I just want to make you happy.” I wanted to tell him that he can’t control my happiness, only I can do that. He asked why the hell we were even getting married if we couldn’t make each other happy. I tried to explain that happiness is in each person’s keeping, not anyone else’s. Everything was very uneasy, but settled down. For awhile.

Nine months later, after nine months of lonely and fearful marriage, a friend asked me almost the same question: “Why the bloody hell did you marry that guy?”

Inertia, I thought. I have let myself be a victim of my own inertia. I was like water, seeking ever the simplest path, the downward path of gravitation, not fighting, not resisting. For seven years of my life I have let my decisions be based on inertia and the path of least resistance.

This summer, I am working on my divorce papers. I am celebrating life. I will no longer be guided by inertia.

Life is far too short to be passive.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I love to sing. I really do. Sometimes when I am happy, I will just randomly start singing. It might be a song I have learned in the past, or it might be a strange song I just make up on the spot. This has led to some odd songs about things like grocery shopping or taking a shower. But the song just sort of rises up inside and has to be let out. I am notorious for singing along with my car radio, drumming out a rhythm on my steering wheel, only to realize my windows are down, I'm stopped at a light, and someone in the next car is looking over and grinning. (Yes, I can carry a tune. Quite nicely, most of the time!)

In the past couple of years, I've been in the choir at my church. Occasionally I'm given a solo, but usually I just sing as part of the group. We don't have choir during the summer, but the music director wanted to do something a little different this summer. A few of the services will run "contemporary" music instead of the standard stuff out of the hymnal. Oh yes. We have a guitar. We have rhythm. And it is so much fun! (My one complaint about my church is that the music does not dance-- it's pretty, but it's not good rollicking fun.)

The little "band" of musicians already did one service last month, and they'll be doing another this Sunday. I was asked to come sing with them, so I went to practice yesterday expecting to play backup singer.

Well! The very last song we're doing is a responsive one, where the cantor sings a line and the group echoes it. Apparently I was having quite a fun time singing along with the CD when we were listening to get familiar with it, because the director asked me to be the cantor for this one! But she said, "You can't be a pretty little soprano on this one. You have to be a rock star." Yikes! It's a very spiritual-bluesy-gospel sort of song, and if I can pull this off, it is absolutely going to rock. The congregation will LOVE it. I hope my voice can do this one justice!

Holy Spirit, I offer you this song as a gift! Be with me and guide my voice to make it a worthy one. Maybe help me channel the voice of Janis Joplin or something.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Who is Bainwen?

My best friend gave me the name Bainwen. He told me it was derived from one of Tolkien's Elvish languages, and that it means "beautiful light." I'm not as sure this fits me as he seems to be, but he assures me that it's a direct translation of my real name, Jenny. (I'd always thought that Jennifer/Jenny was from Welsh and meant "white spirit" or "white lady," but apparently there's also an Irish derivation which speaks of beautiful light.

His Elvish translation of his own name is Tirithien, meaning "vigilant," and this does truly fit him.

Tirithien and Bainwen! Can't you imagine a ballad about them? The companions who stand close in some ancient moonlit wood, singing to each other softly, or speaking of anything and everything, or perhaps just resting together in silence? Defending each other against evil and attack? Sharing beautiful dreams?

It is a great comfort to know that while I do have to be out in the world and all its prosaic reality, that I see as Bainwen would see, think as Bainwen would think; and thus I may walk in poetry and beauty.