Friday, May 27, 2011

Day Seventeen: Brazilian Hands

Last summer, I visited some Anglican friends in the diocese of Rio de Janiero in Brazil. One evening, we went with the bishop to a street Eucharist. While I was there, in anticipation of this project, I took pictures of this woman and her daughter accepting Eucharist. I hate to admit this, but I didn't write down her name. I remember what she said, though. "what important things do you do with your hands?" I asked. "I take care of my daughter," she replied, "I raise her to follow Christ."

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day Sixteen: Nature

On a log run this morning, I tripped over yet another tree root breaking through yet another Atlanta sidewalk.  I was a minor incident. That is to say, I managed to stay upright.

In my recovery steps, I muttered under my breath about the "stupid sidewalk" and the "stupid tree" and the "stupid people who don't get these things fixed".  Mature growlings at mile 9, to be sure, but growl I did.

But then I started thinking about that tree and noticing all of the activity going on around me dedicated entirely to the beating back of nature from taking over entirely.  The lawn services were out in Ansley Park, trimming, blowing, bagging, pulling, plucking...  The power company had huge trucks out in Grant Park, cutting limbs back from the power lines...  The city had folks with gloves and rakes clearing storm drains of debris...

We spend a lot of time either protecting ourselves from our recovering from or trying to control the forces of nature.  On one hand, we could be seen as successful in these ventures:  we have air conditioning and roofs and lawn mowers.  We have machinery and technology and opposable thumbs.  We have big brains.  We're humans.  We win.

Or do we?

More than just the crack in the sidewalk, the "acts of God" of the last few years have shown us over and over that we don't win.  When humans battle ature, we usually lose.  Sometimes it take a while to know how much we have lost, but we lose just about every time.

I am not entirely a crunchy back-to-nature kind of girl.  I like my roof and my air conditioning and my lawn mower (well, okay, maybe not the lawn mower).  I don't think that we should be living in huts and passively sacrificing ourselves to the elements.

Nor do I think that is what God wants for us.  God wants all good things for us, wholeness and balance, the chance to love and to be loved.  But I do think that we could do with a little dose simple respect for the world that was created just as we were created:  with love and purpose, coupled with respect for the sheer force that is nature in all her glory.

I don't know what the answer is.  Actually, I don't think there is an answer.  I think there is a whole scema of answers that probably start with a little humility and soul-searching by the whole human race.  We don't own this place.  We are not stronger or smarter or better.  We are a part of a whole.  And until we understand this and begin to live in such a manner, we will lose, every time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day Fourteen: I love summer.

It almost hit 90 today in Atlanta.  I love summer.  It is hotter than habeneros once July and August roll around but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I spent a chunk of the day trying to tame a little scrubby, wild patch of my small yard.  I'm holding out hope that I will one day have a little herb garden.  I can't grow the vegetables and berries the kids and I would like to see.  Tried that, the squirrels carried it all off, every last tomato.  Even though I know that they need to eat, too, it still breaks my heart and makes me want to get a bb gun.  Seems like the furry little jerks could share some with the rest of us.  In any case, I'm not doing that again.  I'll take my chance this year with rosemary and sweet mint.  The kids planted basil and parsley seeds in pots and we'll plant out whatever pops up in some big bright planters I found.  And a habenero plant for my sweetheart who loves peppers.  The squirrels won't dare.

I love summer.  I love getting dirty and sweaty in the yard.  I love watching things grow and bloom, including my children, who, with their father's skin tone, get brown as breadcrusts despite constant slathering of spf 30.  The school year has opportunities for learning and expanding, but summer is different.  As a child, the things I learned in the summer were different from what I learned during the rest of the year:  how to ride a horse, how to use a circular saw, how to skip a stone on a lake, how to waterski, how to kick a ball, how to swim.  I grew in different ways in the summer.

I still do.  This sabbatical is a perfect example.  Last year, I saw Rio de Janiero and forged some great relationships.  This year I'm remembering how to photograph things.  I'm teaching my kids how to swim and kick a ball and plant things (but not how to use a circular saw... just yet).  It is good an holy time, slow, long, extended holy time.

I love summer.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day Twelve: La Capilla Bonita

I spent part of this morning worshipping with the people of La Capilla de Santa Maria in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  La Capilla is a beautiful church in the woods with a warm and welcoming Hispanic congregation.  This was a special morning for the congregation as they celebrated the baptism of a young member of the congregation.  The rector, Austin Rios, is a friend and it was a delight to see him in action at the altar.

The church is a lovely historic stone structure built by two brothers, both priests, as the family chapel for a big family compound on the edge of Hendersonville.  It was a delight to photograph.  The light was tricky, mixed sunlight and incandescent, but I had a great time.

 I think that some of these will be the best shots of the project.  At La Capilla, the children come forward for Communion together.  I was able to take a few pictures during Communion of these great kids, all of their hands outstretched.  They need a little editing to correct for some lighting snafus, so these are just a preview.  I am looking forward to sharing the rest!

Speaking of rest, I got some this morning.  It is hard to explain, but after the fun craziness of the week in Abingdon with family, it was really nice to be in the close, gentle La Capilla.  I don't speak Spanish and I understand only a little bit, but one of the great gifts of the Episcopal Church is that Eucharist has the same rhythm everywhere.  I didn't worry too much about following the words exactly, I just rested in the musicality of the language and the clear presence of the Holy Spirit.  Except for taking a few pictures, I didn't have to do anything but worship.  It was a great gift!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day Eleven: Spontaneity lost

Many of you in your mid-thirties may remember an airline about fifteen years ago that had "X Fares", extremely low fares for folks in their late teens/early twenties to fly standby anywhere the airline went. I flew that way a lot in college and spent a lot of time in airports with magazines and music, sometimes getting a spot on a flight, sometimes missing it. I always packed only what I could carry (I hated checking luggage!).

It was a great way to travel and totally inaccessible to me now.

For starters, all of my "baggage" doesn't fit in the overhead bins anymore. My baggage requires baggage of it's own-- carseats and sippy cups, books and diapers and food. I wouldn't trade them for all of the vagabond flights in the world, but they do make things more complicated.

A crazy afternoon going out for ice cream is about as spontaneous as we ever get these days. Spontaneity doesn't really jive well with our temperaments anymore. Today's adventure is a great example. We left Abingdon, sadly, after a great week with The Cousins, for a couple of days in Hendersonville, a lovely little town in the NC mountains. I had found a great little cottage right downtown with space for all of us including the dog. We pulled up after a 2 1/2 hour drive to find that the hotel and cottage were closed. Permanently. Since April. But they had failed to take down their website, including the online reservations service. But but but... I have a confirmation number!!

In the past, I would have relished the adventure, scouted out a coffee shop, sat down and done some research on the next best thing. Or I would have thrown caution to the wind and stayed somewhere weird just for the story.

But I looked up at the closed sign then back at the minivan full of sippies and carseats and diapers and kids and felt panic rising like lava through my system.

It has worked out fine. We're in an interstate motel, one of the few in town that takes dogs. Kids are asleep--their first motel, hooray!-- and I'm headed that way. But I can't help wondering about flexibility and the weightiness that comes with responsibility. I've gone from catamaran to ocean liner in just a few short years. I dearly love my ocean liner but it is really hard to steer.

I think this is intimately related to the question of rest and relaxation. It is hard enough to relax if I am worried about whether I remembered my own toothbrush, but when I have to worry about other peoples' toothbrushes and worry about whether or not the hotel I booked will actually deign to be open when I arrive, it is a recipe for a spot of anxiety.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day Ten: Nada


I originally intended to write every day of this sabbatical in order to keep up the discipline of it.

It didn't occur to me that I might come upon an evening when I didn't have anything to say. Like now.

So... Yeah. At least I'm keeping up the discipline, right?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day Nine: Miles and miles

As previously mentioned as part of my sabbatical, I am preparing to run a marathon at the end of July.  I am historically a mediocre runner, but am learning to change that "mediocre" into "slow and steady".  It is unlikely that I will win the race, but I am aiming to finish strong.

I went for a long training run this morning, 15.4 miles along the incredible Virginia Creeper Trail.  The Creeper is one of the country's most famous rail-to-trail conversions, 34 miles of well-groomed, wide, flat trail, perfect for running, hiking, biking, horseback riding... I love running there when I am visiting family in this area.

This morning was cool and quiet, overcast and a little damp.  The trail runs through farms and national forest and the views were amazing.  Even in less-than-perfect weather, this morning was no exception.  It made for an absolutely lovely solo run.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day Eight: First visits

I made my first two church visits today. I went to morning Eucharist at St. Thomas in Abingdon. St. Thomas is an historic parish in an historic town. I had a great time with their deacon, Ellie, talking and snapping photos. I look forward to editing that interview and sharing the photo with you.

I also had a great time at Emmanuel in Bristol, overlooking the Tennessee/Virginia border that runs right down the middle of the city. I photographed two Barbaras and a Jim. Jim had great stories to tell.

This project is off to a great start!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day Seven: The sermon that started it all

Many of you may not know that the inspiration for this sabbatical came from a sermon I preached on Maundy Thursday last year.  Here is the text of that sermon.

Noelle York-Simmons
Maundy Thursday 2010
Year C
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

I love my job.

I love my job for many, many reasons.  One of the reasons I love my job is that I love to serve Communion. 

A priest friend of mine says that she feels most at home behind the altar, saying the words of institution, breaking the bread and pronouncing it the Body and Blood.  That part is a remarkable honor, to be sure, an honor I am humbled by, but I really love to serve Communion, to pass it out, to commune with you. 

One of the most remarkable things about serving Communion here or at any church, really, is the variety of hands that are outstretched before me at any given Eucharist.  As I walk slowly down the row, I see all manner of hands attached to people I love, people who challenge me and people I’ve never met.

I see hands scarred and hands smooth, rough from working or inky from writing, sticky kids’ hands covered with marker, older hands gnarled with arthritis.  The hands that open in front of me are bejeweled and unadorned, sensible and sensitive.

These hands tell your stories, of the garden you’ve planted and the children you’ve fed.  They talk about the sort of work you do and how you use your time.  And I know that there are even more stories that your hands are not telling, about tears you have wiped, wounds you have healed, about what you have built and what you have broken down. 

And I have the honor of bestowing upon each pair of hands a piece of the broken body of our Messiah, whose hands also healed and held, worried and worked.  And in this way, we continue our Christian story.

Think of the hands in the Gospel:  there were Mary’s hands, who held her baby tightly as they fled into Egypt.  There were the hands of the fishermen pulling in their nets and the hands of the woman who bathed his feet with her tears.  There were the hands that grasped at the fringe of his garment to be freed from a lifetime of physical ailment. There were the hands that betrayed him, Judas’ hands.  Pilates guilty hands that were washed of responsibility.  Hands waved palms and hands held whips.  Hands nailed him up and hands carefully took him down, bathed him and buried him.

As the story passes on to us, these hands become our hands.  We receive the body of Christ in upturned hands every time we kneel at the altar.  And as we kneel and wait, our hands, so unique and revealing about our lives, are made equal.  The hands of strangers and friends are stretched out in like fashion.  Everyone gets exactly what she needs, no one has more, no one has less.  The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.

The Eucharist was instituted when Jesus passed broken bread into the hands of those who loved him and sat at table with him.  “Take, eat.  This is my body, given for you.”

Jesus’ hands will be pierced through with nails.  His hands will always bear the mark of what was done to them, his hands will tell a story, the story of how his body was broken for us.  In addition to the story of Jesus communing with his friends, we will remember the story of brokenness and human error every time we kneel down, too.  We will remember that story every time we open our own hands to receive that broken body. 

Our hands act out this story every time we celebrate together as our minds and our hearts race to embrace it, to make sense of it, to own it.  With our hands and voices, we remember our Christian story, all of it, the proud parts and the difficult ones.  We identify with the people who lived it and perhaps see ourselves in them.

But we’re here, now.  We’re living in the present and trying to make sense of our own reality, of our own actions by reading and understanding what went on before us.  Like our forebears who sat at supper with Christ, we approach this table a little confused, a little apprehensive, a little guilty, a little haughty, a little entitled, a little self-righteous. 

But when we kneel down and turn up our palms, asking for the bread which will feed us, body and soul,  for just this moment, for just this NOW, we are supplicants together, equally implicated, equally beloved.  Our hands tell our stories and our hands, outstretched, show that we are reaching toward belief.  Just for a moment.

And when that NOW ends, our hands go on to other things, herding children, fiddling with ties, jingling keys.  We go back to our pews, back to our thoughts and our lives and start thinking about what happens next.  Because what happens next is our response to what has been given into our hands.

When we take the bread into our hands then into our body, we fill ourselves to go out into the world.  We prepare ourselves for the work our hands and hearts have to do as Christians, as God’s beloved.  We stand up and look to the future, getting ready for the journey ahead, regardless of whether we know what is to come.  The next part of the story is ours.

Christ delivered himself to us, into our hands, and now it is our job to carry him out into the world.  We can choose how to do that.  We can choose whether to nurture or to nail.  We can choose whether to clasp our hands in prayer, to open them in confession, or to make our hands too busy to think about it.  When we leave this place and use our hands with our heads and our hearts in response to the story of the Gospel, we bring the reminder of that bread, that broken body, into a world that needs the promise of resurrection.  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day Six: Going Deep

We visited the Bryson Caverns today.  Despite the tour group of 5th graders, the shrieking toddler on my back and the strange fun-park lighting, it was pretty amazing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day Five: The First Adventure

We made it in our rented minivan (so much space!) to visit family in Abingdon, Virginia.  The trip was fine, the kids were good, DVD's were watched, french fries were consumed.

But when we arrived in the late evening, there was no power because of the most recent in a long line of thunderstorms that have been plaguing the area in the last few months.  The kids and their cousins had a great time running around with flashlights.  The grown ups stayed up late talking and catching up in the dark with no TV or internet to distract.  Though mildly logistically frustrating it was actually lovely.

The morning brought the power back.  The kids rejoiced and ate biscuits in their pajamas.  The four of them (mine and my nephews, collectively known as "The Cousins") are a travelling preschool party.  They are, officially as of today, ages 1, 2, 3 and 4.  The youngest tries to keep up with the oldest, the girl bosses the boys around, they are patient and gleeful with each other.  They have a great time and we love getting them together.  And they wear each other out, which is a bonus!

This morning took me to the lovely little parish of St. Thomas for their 9:30 morning prayer.  IT was as different from All Saints' as night is from day but they were warm and welcoming and I look forward to returning on Wednesday for Eucharist and photographs.

But today, after some well-earned naps, we're off on a biking adventure.  

Friday, May 13, 2011


I've had a few people mention to me they wish comments were open.  I'm going to leave them open as long as you are gentle and as long as I don't get spammed.  Bleh.

Some early thoughts on sabbatical: anxiety and rest

Someone (okay, he's my boss) once said that you really need two weeks of vacation before you can come back feeling refreshed, because you will inevitably spend the first week thinking about all the work you left behind or worrying about some project you didn't finish before you left.  

I hope that this theory holds true for the first few weeks of a sabbatical.  I'm not so much worried about things I left behind, but I haven't really relaxed at all in the last three days because I've been working so much at getting the affairs of this project in order.  Contacting sites, procuring equipment, making car, plane, hotel reservations, doing training runs... whew!  The last three days have been just as full as any working day has ever been.  And that doesn't include all of those "life maintenance" things that I put off when I was getting ready to leave.

Not that I am complaining, BELIEVE ME!  I am so excited about this time and about the adventures we have in store as a family and for me as an individual.  I am incredibly grateful to the Lilly Endowment for making this possible and to my parish for extending me the courtesy of this time. 

But I am looking forward to the rest part.  

Trut be told, I'm not entirely sure I know how to rest.  I know how to sleep-- I'm pretty much an expert in that department-- but I'm not confident in my abilities to just relax without worrying about something else I'm supposed to be doing.  I have lived so long with something always hanging over my head that I am the poster child for Jesus' admonition from the Mount of Olives, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow."  How in the world...?  

I'm pretty sure that if I didn't eat the bread of anxiety, I'd starve.  

And I know I'm not alone in this.  I have friends, ordained and otherwise, who have come to live on the crisis roller coaster, bouncing along from highs to lows, always thinking about the next hill, even when we haven't descended from this one yet.  It is a taxing way to live and even though I have great support systems and healthy habits for decompressing (mostly-- I am human), it can wring me out and leave me empty. 

So I guess this will be a lesson/struggle for me on this sabbatical.  Maybe a little carpe diem, maybe a little failure, maybe a little letting go.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

Day Three: Cupcakes

Looks like Blogger has decided to come back to life.  Whew!

The little one turns 2 this weekend and we had a little family celebration before we leave on our first adventure.  She's going to get a second family celebration when we arrive at our destination.  She's lucky like that!

About those cupcakes... this is not at all about my baking prowess.  They were fine for a 2 year old birthday.  I really love a cupcake!  For me this is more about continuing to use my camera so that I don't forget what I am doing when it comes time to do business.  Plus, there's nothing to look at here otherwise.  I played with the white balance on these first two, still learning the differences in different camera settings.  I'm not sure if I like that bluish hue on those warm colored cupcakes.


So Blogger went down yesterday afternoon to fix some bugs.  it was down for a long time, 24 hours or so. And during that time, they deleted everything posted since Wednesday.  In other words, my whole blog.

They are saying that posts will go back up eventually and I really hope they do since I really do not want to rewrite everything that I posted and, of course, I had not yet backed it up.  Sigh.  The marvels and frustrations that modern technology brings in equal doses, right?

Anyway, a good portion of today was spent icing cupcakes.  Pictures are coming.   They aren't fancy cupcakes, but we're having family over this evening for a tiny little birthday celebration for our juicy almost-two-year-old, so I made a few treats to celebrate with.  I really like making my kids' birthday cakes. It can be really daunting being a working mother, stretched in many compelling directions.  One of the few things I think I can do well that benefits my kids and (I hope) shows them I'm paying attention, is making creative or silly cakes.  I really enjoy it.  I'll post some pictures later today, so as not to lose a lot more work if Blogger decides to bug out again.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Some background and some pictures

For the last couple of months, I have been taking a photography class at the Emory Center for Lifelong Learning taught by Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier.  It was a fantastic class and I learned a lot.  Lynn is a great artist and really, really stinkin' funny.

I took some photography classes in college and then in the year after college at the New School in New York.  But that was in the days of analog (pass the Geritol), of film on rolls, printmaking in darkrooms and fixer stains on your t-shirts.  I miss those days.  I even miss the stains.  Let's face it, darkrooms are sexy.

I was too busy going to graduate school, starting a career and having babies when the digital age hit photography.  I have a great little point and shoot that gets good shots of the kids, but past that, I was too scared to do any real photography lest I find out that I'm not hip or smart enough to catch up.  So I covered the gap by acting snotty about "the good old days".  See above re: darkrooms.

Anyway, Lynn's class got me up to speed and quickly.  Turns out, there are some really amazing new technological advances in digital photography-- who knew?-- but the basics about how to adjust a camera, about light, metering, composition, these things are all the same.  Hooray!

So here are some of the photos I took during the class.  They are totally unrelated to this project but I figure you might enjoy some visuals to break up the monotony of my blathering.  Blah blah blah...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day One: Here we go...

I debated for a couple of weeks about whether or not to post in the days leading up to my sabbatical, a count down of sorts, but in the end, my indecision was the decision.  I put it off deciding until I ran out of time.  So here we are, fresh new blog for a fresh new sabbatical.

My plan is to write every day, a discipline of these three months.  It is a lofty goal for one for whom discipline is not a forte.  But I'm determined, so keep rooting for me.  There will be some times in my travels when we will be out of internet range (What?? It is 2011!). But otherwise, I hope to keep this up.  We shall see.

For those who haven't heard, I am on sabbatical from my work as the associate rector at a large Episcopal parish in Atlanta.  I'm going to be travelling around with my family, husband, 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter, capturing photographs of the hands of people receiving Eucharist.  I hope to interview these folks to learn about what they then do once they have taken the Body to go out into the world and become the Body.  What do you do with your hands?

We're going to Abingdon, Virginia; Asheville, North Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; San Francisco and New York City.  What in God's name do these places have in common?  People we love live there!  So we get the double-blessing of working on this project and spending time with our favorite people in the world.  I"ll be doing a little bit of shooting around Atlanta, too, in some great congregations nearby.  It will be really hard to avoid my own beloved parish, but I'm trying to get some distance, so I will try to be strong.

Finally, the other big piece of this sabbatical time is training for the San Francisco marathon.  I've never run one before.  I am terrified and determined in equal parts.  We'll see which one wins come July.

Collect for the Good Use of Leisure
from the Book of Common Prayer

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of
refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our
leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our
spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.