Friday, March 30, 2007

For Unto Us...

A son is born. And his name shall be called Grayson James Pettit.

All of us are well. And all is well. And all shall be well. Blessed Be.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Packing it up, Thowing it in, Giving it over.

The other night I had a little "come-to-Jesus" meeting with myself. The meeting happened after sitting on the bathroom floor in my pajamas sobbing so hard that I began to wretch. The issue? When to stop working and begin my maternity leave.

Initially, I decided I would be a superhero and work right up until my due date, thus saving my precious twelve weeks of FMLA time to be with Grayson after his birth. Of course, I also thought that every single day of my pregnancy I would run three miles and eat only organic vegetables and fruits too. So much for dreams (I say, while popping another strawberry poptart into my mouth). However, I've come to the place where waddling, I mean walking, is hard and riding in the car puts too much pressure on my back, and I don't feel as if I'm giving my best emotional and spiritual energy to my patients. And so, despite the fact that I still have a few weeks to go before Grayson's birth, I think it's time to begin maternity leave. It's hard to say goodbye, though, especially knowing that statistics show that most of my patients will likely die in the next few months and I won't get to be part of that journey with them, that I will feel as if I am abandoning them (how selfish is that?). The overriding emotion for me, though, as I contemplate the time away from this agency is one of tremendous relief. I'm so exhausted. I'm so tired of feeling as if I'm not giving the appropriate attention to those who I serve. I'm tired of being torn between the world of "work" and the world of "home and body." I think it's probably time to turn my energy toward making room, spiritual and emotional and physical room, for my son.

So, come Friday afternoon, I'll pack up some files and books and turn the light off on my desk and realize that the next time I sit here the calendar will be open to the month of June and there will be a new photo next to the portraits of T. and B. It's time.

Monday, March 12, 2007


This afternoon I was called upon to do what I have done before; to speak in a class of fresh-faced college students about the work I do as a hospice chaplain. The critical difference between today's class and other classes in which I've spoken was that today's class was at the local Bible college, a Bible college significantly more conservative than my social milieu. This should not be surprising, as I do live in Indiana, which is not exactly Diane Feinstein country. But, I am always taken aback when certain assumptions are made about me because I am a chaplain. Mainly assumptions about my belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven, and my understanding of the importance of "winning souls" before people die. Today I was asked, "Is it hard for you to just let people die when you know they aren't saved?" and "How do you feel good about your work knowing that so many people don't come to Jesus before they die? Do you feel responsible for that?" I don't think I gave them the answers they wanted, the easy pat answers, the answers which seem to guarantee a one-way ticket to heaven.

Instead I talked about the power of story as that crucible which holds us. I spoke of the power of being heard into speech and the importance of listening, and then listening some more. I told them that each person has to tell their own story, and find the ways in which grace and forgiveness and confession and guilt and loss and hope and resurrection have all played a part in weaving each person's life story. I talked of a God of love and forgiveness who is manifest in many forms and many ways and with many names. And many of their eager faces seemed to stare at me with blank stares. And then one young woman said, "I have a question for many people in your agency are Christian?" And I wanted to bang my head on the table and say, "Who gives a flying fuck?!? Is it that important to label people into your all-important categories?"

Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite in my work, as if I am the one the least concerned with bringing my patients to kneel before the feet of Jesus. Instead, I would like to imagine Jesus sitting at their feet, washing their mottled toes, and healing their wounded hearts, completely unconcerned with their theological rules.

Perhaps I'll burn in hell for that. But, if that's the case, I think I'll find myself in good company with the other sinners.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Listening for the Word--Sermon

This is the sermon I didn't get to preach last Sunday due to an ice storm which kept me home. It is based on three scriptures from the book of Mark (1:35, 6:45-46, 14:32).

When I was a little girl, my father and I had a daily ritual which began when he would come home each noontime for an hour to eat his lunch with my mother and me. While my mother was preparing our egg salad sandwiches, my father would take me into the living room for our noontime confab, which I assume now was an attempt to rescue my mother for at least an hour from a spirited only child. Dad would ask about my morning. I’d ask about his day at work. I’d tell him about who I had seen on the Captain Kangaroo show while I was eating breakfast, he’d tell me which of his parishioners stopped in for coffee at the church. I’d put on a mini-show for him. He’d show me a magic trick. Every day it was the same routine with a little different variation. Father-daughter time.

One day, my father came home during the noontime hour preoccupied and overwhelmed. It was during the Watergate scandal I believe, and while my mother was putting lunch on the table, my father hunkered down in his reading chair with the newspaper, trying to catch up on the latest national news. This was not a normal day. As many times as I would try to get my father’s attention, he would answer from behind his Journal Gazette with only a half-hearted “hmmmm” or an uninterested “Oh, really?” I watched him expectantly with all the impatience and righteous indignation that a precocious four-year-old can muster, climbed into his lap, patted the paper down underneath me and sat on it, and then took his whiskered cheeks in my little hands, turned his face toward me and said, “Daddy, you must look at me when I talk to you. I need to know you’re listening!”

The Gospel of Mark is a unique one. It is, by all accounts, the earliest written Gospel message, and it is terse to the point of annoyance at times, for a word-lover like me. It is the shortest of the four Gospels and it records fewer of the words that Jesus spoke as well. The Jesus that we find in Mark is busy. He’s always moving. He’s always acting. He’s always on the go. Reading Mark is like watching a movie on fast-forward. Jesus has marathon days where he heals, teaches, prophesies, performs miracles, walks on water, argues with Pharisees, travels from town to town to town, feeds multitudes, makes disciples and welcomes children (sigh) all before noon and all without breaking a sweat. Surely this Jesus could rub his tummy and pat his head at the same time, all the while whistling Great is Thy Faithfulness. He’s one of those kind of guys, an up and comer of sorts. In fact, Mark’s favorite word, used over 40 times in this short book, is the Greek word meaning “immediately” or “at once.” Mark tells us over and over again, “First Jesus went here, and now look, immediately he did this.” That Jesus was an activist is inarguable. But even in this account of Jesus’ life, we have glimpses of the contemplative side of this one who was himself the Word incarnate.

At several points in Mark’s account, Jesus finds ways to go away, whether it be with others or alone, to do some listening of his own, rather just that immediate speaking. At critical points in his ministry, Jesus finds his way to a quiet place to connect himself to the one who named him “The Word.” Even in the midst of all the action, there is the need to some profound listening. And those of you who are introverts in this sanctuary can’t tell me that that doesn’t allow you to breathe a sigh of relief. Mark tells of a whirlwind day early in Jesus’ ministry, shortly after his baptism where after recruiting some disciples, and teaching in the synagogue, and healing a friends’ mother-in-law, and then having a rally to heal all the sick, he found a place to sleep and awoke while it was still dark and went out to a deserted place to pray. And then there was another time, when after encouraging his disciples to practice self-care and find some space for themselves to pray he realized that there were hungry crowds and he multiplied the food and sent the disciples out on the water for some R&R so that he could again make his way alone to listen and pray on a mountain. And, let’s not forget that on the night he was betrayed, he asked his disciples to stay awake, while he went off by himself to pray. Jesus, the Word incarnate, models for us the need to listen ourselves.

And while this would seem like a simple task, while each of us know that we are each skilled at listening to others, and even perhaps to the nudgings of our God, I would wager that we’re not as good at it as we may think. I would wager, that what most of us are doing is the passive act of hearing, rather than the ever so active task of truly listening, and there is a world of difference between those two.

Several years ago, I went with a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders for an overnight retreat experience at a nature preserve. One of the group activities while we were there was to sit outside on a sunny June day with our eyes closed and listen to what we heard around us. After several minutes of this listening, we were given paper and pencils and asked to write or draw the sounds we heard on the paper. I was amazed at the variety of noise which surrounded me as I participated with them. I was aware of the noise which I simply filter out each day, or don’t consider. I sat under a tree that day and listened with new ears to the voice of God. I did more than merely hear. I noted bird calls, and airplane sounds, wind in the trees, and the distant sound of a dog’s bark. True listening opened me and startled me awake.

I confess freely that I am not one who hears the voice of God on a regular basis. Or ever, for that matter. And that doesn’t mean I haven’t deeply desired that kind of response. I remember lamenting to a spiritual director several years ago the doubt I have, and the deep yearning I have for the heavens to open and a booming voice to tell me exactly what it is that I should do in a given situation. And her response was, “Christen, perhaps God doesn’t do that anymore in our culture because God doesn’t have to. Perhaps we’re capable of being attune enough to God that God can afford to be subtle.”

I despised that response at the time for it’s lack of immediate gratification and direction from a Creator, but confess that it has grown on me in the years after and now provides me with hope. Perhaps God’s actions and purposes are so subtle around me, that when I stomp through them like a bulldozer demanding definite answers I miss those slight nuances. Perhaps when as a community or individual we listen only to the shoulds and oughts of our society, or when we remain afraid of truly opening our hearts to the subtleties and whispers of our Creator, but assert our own haughty opinions we are missing the deeper truth of Jesus’ message.

Sometimes I have a vision of God, standing like the four-year-old that I was, impatiently tapping a foot and waiting, waiting for us to pay attention. Sometimes I imagine God folding down my newspaper of a daily life, and putting gentle hands on my face and steering me to look anew into the eyes of my Creator, while a loving voice says, “Christen, you must look at me when I talk to you. You must listen.”

Friends, as we enter the mystery of the Lenten season, as we allow it to have it’s way with us, we are surrounded by the mystery of the ever-present Word. It seems as appropriate a time to listen as ever. And so, come away, come to a quiet place and find balance that we may each know our God anew.


Random Factoids of Little Significance to the Rest of the World

Pregnancy seems to have sucked all the creative energy out of me. What can I say? My body is probably busy perfecting a spleen or putting the finishing touches on some fingernails. Apparently my creative energy is being exerted in other directions at the moment. I'm sure Grayson will thank me later for putting attention there. So, here are a few random factoids which probably matter very little to any of you, but which reassure me that, indeed, I have been posting to my blog.
  • The stray cats outside now are all named. I chose a mystic theme and choose to call the yellow and white one Hildegard of Bingen, who suns herself regularly near the pine tree and thus seems to lean toward the aforementioned mystic's joy of viriditas. The tiger has been named Julian of Norwich, just because I have an icon of Julian holding a tiger cat, and the little gray girl I have named Mechtild of Magdeburg. I have a hunch that there's a fourth tiger too, but I'm plain out of female mystics, so if anyone has any wisdom here, please say the word so the last isn't nameless.
  • My parents came this afternoon to see the nursery and celebrate my step-mother's birthday and they surprised us with over 1000 diapers! Really! 1000 diapers! How amazing is that? Seems that since I announced my pregnancy, they have been squirreling away diapers, thus creating a dearth of diapers for other babies in the tri-state area. And now, they (the diapers, not my parents) are happily ensconced in Grayson's nursery simply awaiting their audition as worthy poop-catchers. Do you have any idea how much space it takes to store over 1000 diapers!? How high the tower is that all these plastic bundles can grow? They are giving R.'s DVD collection a run for the money.
  • I now waddle. Enough said.
  • Jim the Father and I are finishing a book on caregiving. Actually, Jim the Father is writing the book and I read it and say, "Yep, that's right on," or "Nah, doesn't work," or "I dunno...what do you think?" and for this I get credit for assisting in a book's creation. The book is, as far as I'm concerned, superb. The title, however, is leaving us stymied and I find that I become, well, irreverent and not-so-helpful in creative ideas when stymied (remember I am creating a new life here, so I cannot be blamed for my lack of creative powers). Some titles which should probably be vetoed, and for which R. and I will probably burn in hell for after throwing out lots of ideas: "They Wiped Your Butt, Now You Can Wipe Theirs: 12 Encouraging Truths for Caregivers" and "Sucks for You: 12 Thoughts on Why Your Life is Now at the Command of Another" and "When Caregiving Calls, It Might Be Best to Allow the Answering Machine to Pick Up." Burning in hell, I say. I will burn in hell.
  • My belly button is still an innie. The fact that this makes me proud is something which should concern all of us.
And, that's all I've got, friends. Perhaps just for fun I'll post last week's sermon and you'll realize that I do indeed ponder some deep things...Over and out.