Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Embodied Energy

As I laced my Nike running shoes tonight I thought about how impractical it was for me to be running in an atmosphere where the temperature hovers at 90 degrees, with equal amounts of humidity. All day, I have walked outside only to be met with a fiery inferno, except that a fiery inferno would be dry heat.

I began running in April of 1991, my first year of college, when I was 19 years old. I am now 33, and am still startled that I feel like pulling lycra and Spandex over my thighs, and that then I have the audacity to show said thighs in public. Further, I am shocked that I have remained devoted to running, even if it is only a measly 3 mile route, when it once was five.

The reasons I began running I shamefully admit, were not for the exhilarated "high" most runners feel, not for the unity with nature, or because Oprah told me to, but rather because I felt uncomfortable with my body image (imagine--feeling uncomfortable in your body at 118 lbs?!?). For a few years the running was an obsession, an activity I attacked almost angrily. Slowly, my running mellowed into a slightly more, dare I say, relaxing jaunt, sort of like taking my head on vacation, while my body did all the hard work.

When I pastored a church in North Manchester, Indiana my congregants in that small community could tell when it was my week to preach, based on how many days that week they'd seen me running along the country roads or small-town avenues, muttering to myself. I did my best sermon preparation on those back roads. I prided myself on how muscular my legs were during the Lenten season.

Today I felt nervous as I stretched my hamstrings, and adjusted the cords on my newly acquired portable headphones. With trepidation my feet pounded into the sidewalk of our neighborhood the syncopated rhythm with which I am so familiar. Why the case of nerves? I don't know. Perhaps it is instead an anxious excitement as my muscles prepare, as I feel the embodied energy of the Spirit.

In the last half mile of my run, I began to tire. The sun silhouetted my body on the pavement as I ran eastward. I didn't plan to have my shadow in front of me, the sun to my back as I struggled up the last hill, but I have found that it is the perfect motivation. I watch the girl who has become woman in front of me, her ponytail swinging and try to catch her. My body has changed. My hips have widened, where they once were slim. That ponytail has gotten shorter, where it once brushed my back. The Spirit, though, has fired us both. The Spirit, though, reminds me that we are one. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rock Star Elmo

One of my book group list-serv buddies told me, "Christen, write EVERY DAY." (Okay, he didn't type it in caps like that, but still it seemed a stern admonition). The idea was, even if you don't think you've got a lot to say, you've got somethin' to say. So, bare with me, friends and foes of the blogging universe, cause this contemplative chick is thinkin' there ain't much here...

I have, however, been meaning to share with you all a little somethin' somethin' from a recent hospice jaunt (somehow "somethin' somethin'" and "hospice" don't work quite in the same sentence). Regardless...

It was Friday afternoon. It was my last visit of the day. I was tired. I was weary. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I was really looking forward to the end of the week...and a nice cold glass of chardonay with some baked doritos on the side (my snack of choice--I find the nacho cheesy goodness mixes well with the dry white grape succulence). My last visit of the day was to see a sweet woman who was in her 90s. This woman was also in rather good health, despite her status as a Hospice patient. She was a delightful woman, who reminded me a great deal of the wonderful grandmother of mine who died in the end of January. I found myself immediately smitten with Miss A. and kept asking more and more questions so I could hear her spin tales of her life growing up in Virginia. I adored Miss A.

Sitting on a beautiful antique chair, amongst Miss A.'s well-cared for houseplants and African violets, and her elegant Hummels and Queen Anne furniture, there was a strange anachronistic visitor. Sitting on that beautiful walnut chair, was a "Rock Star Elmo" (and believe me brothers and sisters, if I knew how to link things together I'd pass a picture on to you from a Toys 'R Us website of said creature). Elmo, as you probably know, is the furry red monster from Sesame Street who talks with a sweet little voice. Well, "Rock Star Elmo" is sort of Sesame Street Elmo's greaser counterpart (again, if there were a way I knew how to do that #@*&% link thing, I'd link you to an Outsiders movie website to compare the difference between "soc" and "greaser" types).

RSE (my new name for him) sat on the chair in all his rock star glory, eyeing me, the hospice chaplain...sort of like he was saying, "Yo, you think my lady's gonna die soon, punk?" I asked Miss A. where Elmo came from, and instead of answering she rose to carry him in her loving arms over to where I was seated on the aforementioned Queen Anne furniture. Whilst holding RSE, I was encouraged to squeeze his little hand (paw?) so that RSE could regale me with a few words of wisdom.

Upon the first squeeze, he sang me some 1950s rock ditty that I can't recall here. But, hark, on the second squeeze he said, in his little RSE voice, "Let's Rock the House!" The voice was filled with a joie de' vive that I cannot adequately express here apart from asking you to raise your voice to its highest possible decibal and repeat, happily and ecstatically as if you were just told that it wouldn't be long before Cat Stevens did indeed renounce his Islamic faith and begin singing again, "Let's Rock the house!!!!"

At first, I didn't understand exactly what Little Elmo was asking of me, and so I cocked my head and said, "Miss A.? What was it that Elmo said?" She smiled, adjusted her hearing aide, and shrugged saying only, "I think it says, 'What the hell!' But, what do I know?"

I love my job.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A fight with the insurance company

This is a not so contemplative post...R and I have been fighting with our health insurance about covering a claim. I had a little fun with the form letters that we sent (yet again) and thought I'd share the joy. My fear, however, is that I'll have some imbecile read the claim and think that I mean it...enjoy.

June 13, 2005

To Whom it May Concern,

In regard to Claim Number: XXXXXXXX in Patient Account: XXXXXXXX. Here is the information requested on the claim form for the events which led to my Emergency Room visit on 5/11/05.

In regard to subrogation:
  • Where did the accident occur? It was not technically an “accident” it was, rather a cat bite which occurred in our home, by our own cat (who had a broken leg and was being transported to the vet. The cat is a calm, tame, rather portly cat [topping the scales at a whopping 21 lbs.], but was in tremendous pain at the time and responded as animals [and some humans] do when in pain).
  • Who was involved? Me, Christen, and the cat, Cooper.
  • Who are the insurance carriers? Our insurance. That would be: ______ College, Group No: XXX, Division: XXX. (The cat has no insurance, obviously, as he is a cat).
  • Were the police involved? Heavens, no.
  • Do you or anyone involved have an attorney? I do not. I assume the cat does not as well, as he does not has opposable thumbs, and thus would not have been able to pick up a telephone and contact an attorney. However, cats are wily creatures and he has been looking at me strangely, of late.

I hope this clears up this unfortunate incident. Incidentally, both the cat and I are healing quite well, thank you.

Yours truly,
The Contemplative Chaplain

Friday, June 10, 2005


I was running this evening in the hot, humid, sticky Northeastern Indiana summer and was trying to focus my mind on things other than the sweat trickling down my forehead into my eyes. I was trying to find even one thing to be happy about while my feet were thumping the cement. And here's my brilliant realization. I am thankful for my feet. Yes, brothers and sisters, this is what I contemplated this evening...this hot evening.

Having a father who had to give up running in his 40s due to his arthritic feet, I am sometimes mindful of how many good years I have left. And even when it's so, so damn hot, my wimpy three mile runs are still a source of reflection for me. I used to say that you could tell the weeks I was preaching based on how many miles I ran in the small hamlet of North Manchester.

I wrote this little ditty about my homage of sorts.

These feet have walked acres--
calloused and rubbed raw--
broken teeny tiny bones
from the strange, heavy-set girl who
tripped during a high school
Campus Life event--
and fell--
oh-so-clumsily on them.
but they carried me, painfully,
slowly, away,
so she wouldn't have to see how much it hurt.

These feet have weathered
splinters and pine needles,
they've relished fuzzy wool slippers,
and tolerated bright red toenail polish.

These feet have been kneaded,
and reflexologied.
They've been soaked in Epson salts,
and washed in Love Feasts
by tired old white-haired women
who pat them gently dry.

These feet are a bit pathetic,
the littlest toes don't really
move on their own,
the first three are all the same length.
They are a freak show of sorts.
but I know their lineage,
they come from hearty stock,
see my own feet
when I sit at the swimming hole
and watch my Aunt Patty
digging her own, identical toes in the tiny rocks.

I spend so little time appreciating them, really--
never really stopped much to thank them--
these draft-horses of my body--
for if I did, I may have to marvel at each step.

(And then I'd never get out of this damn heat.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I have been homesick for my women friends lately. I'm homesick for The Sisters, the other seven women who serve as my spiritual home. Two of them recently had babies, and it aches that this auntie can't marvel at each one of Vaughn's tiny toes, or stare in wonder at Bethany's new baby eyes. I'm homesick for other women's groups...for other times and places when I have gathered in the midst of solace and silliness. Fort Wayne in June of 2005 seems like a distant and foreign land compared to other years and other places in my life.

We are from dusk
and candles
and the earthy illuminations
which make our faces shine
and our eyes sparkle.

We are from spices
and the exotic,
the always herbal,
and the intoxicatingly sweet.

We are from silence
the tick of the clock
the sigh of a cat
the Breathing, Breathing, Breathing

We are from "I remember's"
and "I sense's"
from the "this hurts" and the "this heals."

We are from tears shared
and griefs carried--

We are from secret whisperings
and growing vulnerabilities.

We are from a feminine God
and as we cradle one another
in the turning of our faces
to glance at the divine--
we stare into one another's eyes.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Jesse is in his late 50s. I sat across from him in his trailer, next to him on the couch, listening carefully as he told me the stories of his life, or at least the stories he wanted to tell this earnest young thing who told him she was the chaplain from Hospice. When I walked in he said, "Now, how old are you?" When I told him I was 33 he seemed relieved. Perhaps he didn't want the care of his spirit left in the hands of a youngster. My ineptitude can be hidden with age, perhaps.

Madeline L'Engle has written that the great thing about getting older is that one never loses all the other ages they have been. Jesse's eyes reflected the gentle spirit of a young boy growing up on a small farm north of Fort Wayne. The deep crag between his eyes told me stories about how it felt to return from a war in Vietnam when you feel as if you're country abandoned you, or how it feels to recognize that your world has become small, because you have to live in your trailer, tethered to your oxygen tank, a literal life-line. Jesse is quick to try to hide these realities though, he is quick to smile, and it is only when you lean closer, close enough to smell his aftershave, that you see to the core.

"What gives you hope now, Jesse?" I asked. "Hospice," he said, "you won't leave me."

No, we won't. And we're not the only one.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What I need in a God...

I think sometimes about what I imagine when I imagine God. Sometimes as I sit with the dying, as I knead life into the ragged and arthritic hands of my patients I wonder about the God to whom they return...or perhaps more selfishly, I imagine the God to whom I will someday return (this is my thinking on my good days, on some of my days I just feel scared to leave this wacky whirling planet. My mind can be a spooky place sometimes if left to its own devices).

I remember a friend telling me once that she imagined God as sort of an ironic middle-aged man who had a cynical and sacracastic wit. Huh. Never thought of that. But whatever gets you through the night, you know?

Here's what I think, when I imagine (as I said, on my good days, or my very best days) who that God is...

Circles of women. Women's bodies. Women's hands. Walking arm in arm through the dark places. Together. Weeping together. Dancing unabashedly. Laughing unashamedly. Sharing wine...swilling it out of the bottle. It is no wonder this "pastor thing" doesn't work for me. I don't seem to find God in the conventional places, in the routine ways. God is raucous laughter--vulnerable sharing--shoulders where I can lay my head.

It is hard to surround myself by those in the institutional church who understand.

I need a feminine God--I need a God to laugh with me--to hold me when I weep--to sing blues and urge me outside at night under the full moon. I need a Woman God to be my friend, to be my mother, to encourage me to love my body--full, ripe, holy.

I need a God whose breasts are large and pendulous--whose hips are wide to birth me again and again--a God who can rock me on her lap and twirl with me as we dance wild and frenzied Polkas.

I need a God who listens with tender ears, who asks what it is that makes me ache, and what it is that makes me weary--a God who laments with me of the passion that has been lost and who then points to the wind, and the moon, and the man who I have married to remind me that it is present now, if I will only let it in.

I need a God who will stomp her foot in righteous indignation and yell, "No! You will not be cruel," when my inner voice berates my fragile ego, but who in the same breath responds, "For you are my beloved, and your cruelty to yourself helps no one."

I need a God who challenges me to that which is of the essence--to that which will take me to the heart of love, to the core of wisdom, to the crux of justice, into the midst of passion, into the center of our connection, standing with others in solidarity.

She is not lofty. She is not weak. She is not submissive. She is not boxed-in. She is Who She Is. She is the feminine face of God.

And she will lead me back to myself.