There is a Balm in Gilead

Over the past few days, I have been rediscovering some music I grew up with. Mahalia Jackson, who I think was the greatest gospel singer of all time, played on my mom’s LP player until I thought I would wear it out. Here is one of her classics. My iPod is gospel-happy now.

Sad news about our baby girl

For those of you who have not heard, I just wanted you to know that our latest attempt at enlarging our family failed this past week when the birth mother suddenly changed her mind and decided to parent the beautiful little baby girl, who we will always know as Siri Grace, last Thursday night.  She was born at 10:07 p.m. and Harald and I were both there assisting Jennifer during the delivery.  We were there for almost the entire 26 hour labor, and were with her for every push.  But apparently it was not meant to be.  We worked so hard on building a strong relationship with the birth mother over the past 5 months, and this feels like such a devastating and personal blow.

As you might imagine, we feel a profound, and at times overwhelming, sadness and sense of loss.  It feels like we had a daughter, and then lost her.  I vascillate between being OK and on an even keel and in emotional pain so strong that it bends me in half.  For all the grief I have experienced over the years, for friends, lovers, dear family – I have never felt this.  I can’t even begin to put words to it.  But I know that facing people is particularly hard for both of us right now.  Even though we aren’t making any decisions immediately, both of us have said this feels like it might be the end of our dream to become parents, and that only makes the grief that much more intense.  Maybe time and space will bring different results.

We have each decided to take some time off from work, just to be with one other in our process of grief and healing, and to try to figure out which pieces to pick up and put back and where.  Our faith is a constant help to us and I’ve been profoundly aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit during the past few days.  I have no doubt that God is with us. And I thank my God at all times for Harald’s presence, because I can’t imagine surviving this without him by my side.

How y’all are?

Thinking about all my fellow southerners, and those who feel the soulful tug of the south in their heart no matter where they live, as we get ready for Fat Tuesday.  My uncle in Tallahassee just ripped out his winter garden late last week and momma overnight expressed an entire box full of collard greens and mustard greens which arrived last night.  I took the day off today (in part) so that I could cook up this mess of greens and make some cornbread and rice and some baked chicken to go with it.  The pitcher of tea is ready and waiting and although Harald will come home and say the house stinks, it smells like heaven to me!
Anyone else got big plans for Shrove Tuesday, before the seriousness of Lent sets in?
Our church is doing a “read along” for Lent, with the congregation dividing into subgroups depending on which book from the “40 day journey with …” series that you pick.  I went to the Luther Seminary bookstore this morning because I couldn’t find any of the “40 day journey with …” books in stock at any of the local stores.  But LS had them all – makes sense since they are the primary retail outlet for Augsburg Fortress.  Anyway, I read several pages of Sr. Joan Chittester and Madeleine L’Engle, but neither one of them really spoke to me.  The Parker Palmer version did a little.  But when I picked up the Julian of Norwich and read three pages, it shook me and wouldn’t let go.  So I’ll be doing my 40 day journey with Julian.  I couldn’t bring myself to leave, though, because my intuition kept telling me there was something else there I was supposed to see.  I looked and looked at looked at all the displays and tables, and then out of nowhere, one lone copy of “The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents” and I knew instantly that was it.  It will appeal to the sinophile in both of us.  So I came home with two good books instead of one.
It is 42 degrees outside right now and the sun is shining bright.  I rolled the front windows down on the way home just to get the refreshing, clean air in my lungs.  I know, only in Minnesota, right?  Well, anyway …..

What a week!

What a great week it has been since I got back from that quilt retreat! Just the best in every way.

On Thursday night I realized I had spent more time in my sewing room over the past week than I have the whole time since we’ve moved in. That was startling. Earlier in the week I had unpacked some boxes from the garage that were still on shelves from the move and found some things that were presonally meaningful to me (along with some old crap I’m only too glad to let go of). It was surprising to me how much of my soul had been sitting taped up inside a box in the garage and although I try not to be too attached to material things, it felt good to have some artifacts of my life and sentimental objects back in my sewing room where they belonged. After all, they are markers of where I have been, physically and otherwise, and how I have become the person that I am today. I decided to move the picture of my grandma that was in the downstairs den into my sewing room as well, so that I would see her smiling at me whenever I was sewing in there. And I bought myself a new candle for my sewing room too. I was trying to figure out which Yankee Candle to get when I picked up the honeysuckle one, and it immediately reminded me of that innocent time in my youth when I would go into my grandma’s front yard with my cousin and we would laugh in the summer heat and pick those honeysuckle blossoms and suck the sweet nectar from the bottoms of them. Finally, I got rid of all the “junk”, i.e. non-sewing stuff, that had been accumulating in there and put it somewhere else. And I even bought a new clock radio for the room so I could plug my iPod into it and listen to my music or Podcasts while I am in there. And the radio is color coordinated with my iPod – how cool is that? All of this made a profound difference in how I feel about the place. Now I actually LIKE going in there!

I took Friday off since it was the last day of Harald’s vacation and Good Friday. We ran errands, putzed around the house, etc. I took a vacuum to the sewing room to get rid of dust bunnies and cobwebs – and I do mean that literally! Then the desire overtook me to scrub the floor clean in my sewing room. And I mean the old-fashioned way. Getting down on your hands and knees with a scrub brush, two pails of water, one soapy and one clear, and some rags. And I mean I scrubbed that floor so good you could EAT off of them when I was done! It took a day or two for the Pine-Sol scent to dissipate. And an hour after I started I was exhausted, but it was *so* worth it. When that room was clean, it felt like I had managed to clean out a dim and dusty part of my psyche as well. Maybe sometimes my surroundings really are a reflection of my inner life.

The weekend was so busy I didn’t get the borders put on the French braid, but I will get to that this week. But who can complain about getting to eat homemade coconut cake all weekend? Harald has turned into quite the active little baker and I for one am loving it. He got a hold of a Deen brothers recipe for coconut cake and all I will tell you I can hardly wait to get home tonight and eat the last leftover piece. We had a beautiful Easter service at church yesterday and a truly lovely dinner afterwards. Despite the snow that fell since Thursday, hope springs anew. Now if only spring would spring, we’d be all set.

Thesis Presentation

To say last night went well would be an understatement. Here I was, all mentally armed to defend my thesis and they really didn’t challenge me at all. It was a bit of a let down. On the other hand, it was nice to hear such unexpected and glowing praise. I was really stunned, because the two readers I was assigned are two of of the toughest and most respected professors in the entire department.

They announced at the beginning of last night that two papers are selected from each seminar to be presented at the regional chapter meeting of the American Academy of Religion, which is the preeminent organization of religious scholars in the U.S. One of my professors asked for my permission to submit my paper for consideration by the entire faculty as one of the recommended papers. She also wants me to submit it to a undergrad thesis competition the college sponsors each spring *and* said that three professors had agreed to assist me in getting my thesis published in a religion journal.

She said that I was doing something that other scholars weren’t doing yet, and I think she used the term “post-structuralist constructivist theory for GLBT persons” – and although I can’t explain exactly what that means, it sure sounds impressive, don’t it? 😉 A lot of works like “ontology” and “epistomology” were thrown around as well. When she compared my work to the work of Michel Foucault, I almost fell off my chair. Though I haven’t read him (will start in January with my History of Sexuality class), I know enough to know that Foucault was a towering figure of 20th c. philosophy and any comparison to him, no matter how small, is quite a compliment.

My other reader was my academic advisor and my reformation theology professor who trained at the University of Munich. He told me at the dinner afterwards that he was very proud of my paper. I asked him if I did Luther and King justice and he said he was very pleased to see how I had laid out my argument and used those sources. He told me, in the larger group, he though my paper made an important contribution to reimagining the gospels in a way that places the GLBT community not merely as the recipients of the grace of the gospels, but helps make of them agents of the gospel message. Internally, I let out a sigh because I realized that I had, in fact, conveyed what I wished to convey in my paper.

So, right now I’m going through the “day after the last class” let down that I normally go through in December, when all that inner angst and anxiety floats away and what’s left is a whole that life gets to step into for a few weeks before it all starts up again. I was SO worried about this religion seminar class and what it would demand of me but it seems that I rose to the occasion and delivered, and I’m very proud of myself for that. I pursued this degree to prove to myself that I could really do it, and even though I still have four classes to go to get my degree, I know inside I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish and that gives me great confidence and self-esteem, to tell you the truth.

Religion 495 – Seminar Final Paper

Well, I finally heard back from three of my professors. One, the research methods professor that I had so much difficulty with last year, gave it to me right between the eyes about a couple of things, but I was able to slough off her hasty form of communication to see the valuable suggestions behind her ill-mannered words. She made one really good point that I must immediately address and two or three minor but helpful suggestions. So I’ll work on getting that stuff fixed this weekend. Then my two professors from my seminar class itself contacted me. One, the adjunct who is team teaching our Seminar with the department head, told me it was the “no news is good news” kind of thing. The other, the department chair, gave me critical feedback today. She also made the same point the first professor did, which is why I know I have to fix that issue with my paper (it’s a conceptual and organizational clarification they are suggesting). But she also made several other comments among them:

“Boyd, this paper is very well done. Thank you for your work. Let’s have a talk about turning this into an Honors Project, about what happens next for you (graduate school?), etc.”

and (about my explication of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work on love of the enemy presented in Strength to Love)

“This is great stuff, this whole section.”

and several WOWs and YESs and NICEs interspersed throughout – all of which made me feel really good. Now, I must admit, however, that I was NOT looking forward to the additional work necessary to turn this into a departmental honors. I’m already going to graduate with Latin honors and have decided not to do the additional thesis work for “summa cum laude” but only go after the “magna cum laude” designation, so I’m not sure I want to do a departmental honor, although that is thought of rather more highly than the general Latin honors thesis. And it looks like the speech class I was going to take in the spring term has been dropped, so I will be missing my one speech requirement class I need to graduate (but I can walk at the same time, just have to take the speech class the following year – and I wanted to be DONE with classes when I walked down that aisle!).

Anyway, I don’t know what the hell I want to do. I feel good knowing that my final major paper has been well received and with a few relatively minor corrections, it can be even better. That’s a big load off my shoulders.

On another note, we go to Advent Vespers tonight at Central Lutheran Church, led by the choirs of Augsburg College. It’s a lovely way to start off the holiday season. If you haven’t seen or attended the service before, you can click here to find out more about Advent Vespers and see the re-broadcast schedule for Twin Cities public televsion of the 2004 Emmy award-winning production.

Speaking of Faith

I usually listen to the program Speaking of Faith each week. One of the things I love about my iPod is the ability to listen to podcasts of shows at my leisure. Recently I’ve been catching up with past episodes that I missed. I wanted to direct those of you who might be interested in such things to two particular recent episodes:

Jaroslav Pelikan, the noted Yale historian and religious scholar, discusses the history, purpose, and need for creeds, both ancient and modern.

Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht discusses the role of the “great doubters” as a positive and necessary element in the formulation of belief, religious history and human identity.

I found both of these episodes to be particularly good and would encourage anyone interested in religion, history and humanity to listen carefully to each interview.

Illuminating the Word

Saturday was the day that H and I had members-only preview tickets to attend the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts exhibit of the St. John’s Bible. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the St. John’s Bible was commissioned by St. John’s University (College of St. Benedict), following a long-lost Benedictine tradition of handwritten bibles. St. John’s is located in Collegeville, about an hour north of Minneapolis. The chief scribe and artistic director of the project is Donald Jackson, the Queen’s Scribe, who lives in Wales and is considered one of the foremost calligraphers of our time. According to the website for St. John’s:

In the tradition of great medieval Bibles, The Saint John’s Bible will be monumental — two feet tall and three feet wide and more than 1,000 pages bound in seven distinct volumes.

How could I begin to describe what I felt? I’m afraid words fail me. How many ways are there, anyway, to say “exquisite?” The exhibit is set up so that pages from Genesis are the first that you see, you progress through the books and end with the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. I don’t know exactly why it made such a difference, but reading the scriptures again in this form – well, it was almost like reading them for the first time. As much as I appreciate the utilitarian value of my mass-printed study bible, this wasn’t just about reading. This was an experience of sacred dimension that engages the imagination. As I stood in front of the page and read my favorite Psalm, the 91st, I got tears in my eyes. Somehow, the careful formation of every single character and illustration seems a fitting treatment for the holy scriptures. The illustrations are just beyond description – extraordinary in every way. I’ve never seen anything like them. But if you go to the St. John’s Bible web site and click on See & Hear, you’ll get a glimpse of some of them. You can now purchase the Gospels and Acts of the Apostels (as well as reprints of specific illustrations) as a bound volume and I’m going to get one for myself just as soon as I can save up the money to do so. There is also a PBS Special that has aired several times in the Twin Cities area, though I haven’t been able to find a link at the PBS web site to the program.