Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lost, found, still wandering ...

Often these days I feel God is inviting me to let go of--or at least reexamine--everything I was once pretty sure I believed. This is not an invitation I'm particularly happy about, since I thought I was doing just fine where I was. But here I am. My church odyssey has been part of this process; so now is the class I am auditing at the university, called Christian ethics and modern society. We are reading so much stuff representing so many different points of view within the Christian spectrum that my head is spinning.

Yesterday I was thinking so hard about all of this on my way home that I got lost. Seriously. I was riding my motorscooter along my backroads route when suddenly I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was. My lostness didn't last long because I know this area pretty well and eventually I found a road I recognized, but meanwhile I'd gone way out of my way and ended up having to travel some roads I would have preferred not to be on.

What is the message here?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

To serve you is perfect freedom

To serve you is perfect freedom.

The bishop quoted that line in his homily on Sunday, and it has stayed with me. It comes from the Morning Prayer Collect for Peace in the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know
you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend
us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that
we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of
any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Formal written prayer and poetry are alike in that they try to express in words things that don't easily lend themselves to being expressed in words. (The best written prayer is poetry, and the worst—well, don't get me started … ) In the case of written prayer, those things are usually about our longing for God and how we work out that relationship. Some prayers are more transparent than others, though. It doesn't require advanced powers of interpretation to understand why Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid or Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart resonate.

But I'm still thinking about to serve you is perfect freedom, as I've been thinking about freedom and uncertainty. We celebrate freedom, but our simple view is that freedom equals happiness. I wonder if it's ever that easy. Limits can provide safety and security. Newborn babies know this. Released from the confines of the womb, they flail and sometimes they can't come to quiet until you pick them up and wrap them tightly in your arms.

Twice in the past two years, I've stepped outside the circle, leaving places that had been mine, places where I understood the limits of a certain structure and knew how to locate myself within the framework it provided. Boy, it feels weird out here. Not good, not bad, necessarily; just weird. Who am I, anyway, if I'm not who I thought I was? And where am I going?

Of course the situation looks different from other perspectives: You could say that I haven't really gone anywhere at all, I just made the circle bigger, or that I've stepped into a another circle. I just haven't had as much time to figure out how I fit into this new framework, to learn how to think about myself as a newborn Episcopalian.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known … send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.

In perfect freedom. Whatever that means.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The big day

I'm still trying to sort out my impressions about this big day, which doesn't really seem so momentous now that it has come and gone. I feel a little like a kid who is asked on her birthday if she feels any different. Of course she says she feels older, because she thinks she's supposed to, though in truth seven feels an awful lot like six and 364 days. What is different is that, for a passing moment, she is the center of everyone's attention, and though she is too bashful to admit it, she's actually enjoying that.

It was nice this morning to be applauded and hugged and welcomed by all. I suspect that next Sunday will feel a lot like the day after your birthday, which is to say back to business as usual, but today was nice while it lasted.

Two of our Inquirers' group were still away on honeymoon, so six of us were called to the front of our little church together to restate our baptismal promises. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this. By the middle of last week I was enjoying a measure of peace and certainty about it, but Thursday's letter from my old church was an invitation to enter into turmoil again. A friend from work sent me an email on Friday with this advice: "Enjoy Sunday. Remember why you came to this decision," and that really helped, though I doubt she understood exactly how much those words meant to me. By this morning I was calm again, and happy.

So we stood up together, renewed our commitment to Jesus Christ, and affirmed our belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We promised "with God's help" to "proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ," to "seek and serve Christ in all persons," and "to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." The bishop laid his hands upon each of our heads and said a prayer. There are some things that have special meaning in church but in fact are quite ordinary: shaking hands, for example, or sharing bread and wine. The laying on of hands isn't something we ordinarily do to one another, though, and it was an interesting sensation. I experienced it as a very peaceful, focused moment.

When that part was over and we returned to our places, the hymn that came next was Lord of All Hopefulness, which I've always liked, but which now will have special meaning:

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever child-like, no cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

(The bishop said "Wow!" to our singing, but I realized today that the building has a relatively low ceiling, at least in church terms, which probably adds to the effect.)

When the whole thing was over we went outside and had a party, and the rain stayed away until the very end. It was really a very nice morning.

I'm auditing a course at the university about Christian ethics and modern culture, and in these early days our reading is meant to lay the groundwork for understanding the sources of Christian thinking. Last week we read a piece by Nicholas Lasch in which he draws a parallel between interpreting the New Testament and interpreting a musical composition or play. In all three cases, he says, we can enhance our understanding through the application of academic kinds of thinking, but the real work of interpretation happens when we together with others and perform it.

I'm looking forward to that.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sucker punch

So I’m ready to be received into the Episcopal church on Sunday. I’m not starry-eyed about it. Churches may be divinely inspired but I know they’re all populated by human beings, and I don't expect any church to be perfect. However, in this little congregation I have chosen I am beginning to experience church as I have dreamed for years that it could be, and I’m pretty excited about that.

Then in today’s mail comes a letter from my old parish, where I was a member for 26 years before I left in the midst of a big brouhaha two years ago. At first I assumed they were sending raffle tickets. On those infrequent occasions when there was mail from that church, it was nearly always raffle tickets. I don’t know why I bothered to open it, because I wasn’t planning to sell any raffle tickets, but open it I did.

This is how the letter began:
Dear Parishioner,

We Miss You! Whether you have just been busy or are not sure St. Meltdown's is the right place for you we want you to know you are missed and we would love to see you again. Being an active member of the parish is important on a practical level because it is required for receiving Sacraments and for being a sponsor/godparent. But most importantly – we need you! The Church is a family made up of the people of God which is all of us, including you. When you are not here your absence is felt.

In September and October we will be celebrating parish unity at St. Meltdown’s. Look at the flyer on the other side of this letter for dates and times. Come and hear and see what is going on in your parish!

Turns out that "Hospitality Weekend" is happening this weekend. Too bad I have another engagement.

The letter is signed by the pastor, with a short, handwritten personal note from someone I actually liked and respected. Not exactly warmly personal, but that was always one of my complaints, and I guess they had a lot of letters to send out.

The mailing included a short survey, giving me the opportunity to register that
I/we are disillusioned with:
___ the Catholic church
___ St. Meltdown’s

___ I don’t feel like we are part of the community.

Well, yes.

But my favorite question and possible response is this:
I/we don't go to Mass regularly because?
___I/we do go regularly, we just don't use envelopes.

He calls his own sheep by name ...

What would I have done if I’d received this letter a year ago? And how am I supposed to react now to a form letter that says we miss you? (That is, if you're actually gone we miss you; otherwise, we're sorry we didn't notice you were still here.) And why should I think that anything's really changed there? (Note that the number one reason for being active is so your kids can make First Communion, while We need you! is number two.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Working without a net

It's all about trust, which when you think about it is one of the most irrational things we humans do.

Whether we're talking marriage or God, it starts out the same: I like what I know of you. I want to know more. I want to know know you completely. I know I never will, but I'm handing myself over to you anyway. Wherever you are, I want to be there. Whatever you're into, I want to be part of it. Just let me know what you need from me. I'm making you my one and only; don't let me down.

Logic says you could get hurt. Trust says you won't. Experience says you could get hurt, but trust tells you not to worry about that. One foot in front of the other; it's a little like making music together: You speed up, slow down, adjust pitch as necessary to keep the melody going. Sometimes it's easy to follow; sometimes more difficult. Sometimes you just have to improvise until you find your way back to the place where the music makes sense.

Relationships built on trust are what keep us going. Is there anything else we can do or possess or consume that can satisfy and sustain us in a way that endures?

It's crazy. It makes no sense at all. But then again, what else do we have?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Maybe I'm really a Quaker

No, just kidding. I'm definitely not a Quaker, though certainly I have been influenced by those good people.

We had our final Inquirers' meeting over the weekend, and to wrap up the discussion each of the eight of us who could be there (10 are actually joining--a very big number for such a small congregation) was supposed to answer these questions: What do you believe, and what do you hope to get out of being part of the community you are joining?

In 90 seconds or less? Oh, sure, no problem.

I said I believe in a loving God who is very much present in the world, and I believe if we're quiet and take time to listen, we can hear what God is saying to each of us, but if we try to relate to God only as individuals, eventually we hit the wall. Good thing I blogged about this last week so I could quote myself about needing community for inspiration, encouragement, and to be grounded in worshiping together.

Beyond that I believe in all the traditional Christian stuff and I made a sort of shorthand reference to that without really going into it, since we were sharing abridged versions of what could have been a much longer conversation. Had I spelled it all out I might have sounded less like a mainstream Quaker, but as it was my statement was something any Quaker might have said. To add to that impression, at another point in the evening when we were for some reason talking about silence, I made a comment about the special quality of shared silence. DearQuakerHusband (who was a good sport and went to this dinner session with me) teased me later, saying he never knew I was really a Quaker at heart. Hearing that, one of my fellow Inquirers said it was interesting that the two of us had never realized this before, but of course we had; I don't think we'd have made it through 27 years and 11 months together without knowing we are in the same pew, even if we worship in different churches (in my case over the past two years, many different churches!).

Those 27 years and 11 months make a good segue to two still-vivid images of my wedding day that have been much with me these past few days. The first is my first conscious thought upon waking up that morning, which was something along the lines of, Holy ***, what have I gotten myself into here!? (Note: This was not a prayer, and the substitution of *** for an actual word is not meant to signify that I am too reverent to spell out the name of God.)

The other is the moment I joined DearQuakerHusband-to-be in a room away from everyone else right before the actual ceremony. (In typical Quaker fashion, we walked in together when it was time for the wedding to begin.) In that instant, everything else in the world faded into insignificance and I was aware only of him, all dressed up in his wedding suit, his curly hair (he still had some then) turned into a halo by the sunlight behind him. Leaving that room with him was the best decision I'd made in my life up to that moment, and maybe ever since. It hasn't always been easy to be married and at times I wonder if we are strong enough to stay married, but I have never, ever doubted we were going the right way when we set out to walk through life together on that October day so long ago.

So, yes, I admit to waking up in the middle of the night last week asking myself what in heaven's name I've gotten myself into here, but then again at 10:30 am on Sunday morning I looked around the church and thought to myself that it felt very, very right--so I hope the marriage paradigm applies here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

So I'm going to be an Episcopalian

So I'm going to be an Episcopalian--if that's what you call it. I've got a whole new jargon to learn here, like when to say Episcopal and when to say Episcopalian, or when to say Episcopal and when Anglican. I must learn not to smirk at mention of the Primates. Got to remember, too, to say Roman Catholic, not just Catholic, when talking about where I came from.

Actually, those things come fairly easily, thanks to my copy-editing background and the fact that I have been through not one or even two but three rounds of Inquirers' Classes--call me the slow learner in the group. Putting on the overall identity will be more difficult. It is taking me some time to let myself feel happy about my decision. Of course I am glad, but there's sadness involved in letting go of something that seemed a bedrock part of my identity; sadness, too, in knowing that I'll be disappointing many among my family and friends.

I had to go fetch my baptismal certificate from the bank box, to show they don't have to dunk me again. It's a small, folded piece of white paper gone faintly yellow, filled out in good old Palmer method in blue fountain pen--a rather unassuming token of something so huge. I was three weeks (!) old at the time. This paper is dated seven years later, though, meaning that my parents must have sent for it when I was preparing for First Communion. Seeing the names of my godparents makes me happy for a moment, then sad again. I'm glad I don't have to explain this to them. (Coward!)

I took one last good look and slipped the certificate into a manilla folder to keep it safe and dry during this morning's trip back to the bank box. I can't imagine when I'll need it again, but I don't want anything to happen to it in the meantime. I'm glad I had this chance to see it once more, to remind myself that where I'm going isn't so different from where I came from when you get right down it to it, which is why this baptism still counts.

Believing that is the source of the gladness that's slowly taking its place alongside all of my other mixed feelings. I want to get right down to it again. I want to join this quirky little congregation because it appears to offer my best shot at finding the inspiration, mutual encouragement, and grounding in worship that I need to get on with being a follower of Jesus Christ. I hope it will work out that way, though I haven't totally overcome the fear that maybe it won't, but I can't put any more time into second-guessing this question now. It's time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A salute to teachers

I woke up this morning remembering my teachers.

Specifically, my first waking thoughts were about my kindergarten teacher. I have just one memory of kindergarten but it is still vivid lo these many years later. When the class got ready to paint, we all donned smocks that had to be buttoned in the back. (Remember, this was in a time before Velcro, and apparently it was a time before anyone thought much about basic practicality.) The drill was to to slip into your smock and run around looking for someone to do the buttons for you, which led to brief periods of intense chaos in our classroom until all those smocks were properly fastened.

One day I suggested that we all put on our smocks, get in a line, and button the smock of the person in front of us, and my teacher said, "That's a wonderful idea! Everybody, let's try it."

What this story reveals to me today is not my brilliance (which is what I thought it was about at the time), or my rigidity and anxiety in the face of disorder (which is what I feared it was about later). I think this story really speaks volumes about my teacher. Obviously the reason I remember it so clearly still is because it was such a strong experience of affirmation for me, and I feel fortunate indeed to have had a teacher who responded that way.

I feel fortunate, in fact, to have had the teachers I did all the way from kindergarten through high school. I mean, sure, I could dredge up a few tales of bad teaching moments that would make everyone laugh and then sputter about the horrors of parochial school, but on the whole those were quite the exception. I was blessed to have been taught by many wonderful women (true--I was never taught by a man until college) who had a lot to do with the person I am today.

So, a salute to teachers everywhere at the start of this new school year!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

For those who caught that throw-away line at the end of yesterday's blog, here's how that part unfolded:

I reached a point where I had narrowed my church choices down to two, but I could not seem to get any clearness about what next. I decided I would just try to pray as if I belonged in whichever congregation I happened to find myself, which I thought was a very reasonable approach, but the follow-up was that I felt really crazy and I resolved to stop thinking about it or praying about it at all. I was going to try to put it out of my mind for the time being.

At that point the subject started to come up again in my prayers seemingly on its own, and what I heard God saying to me with increasing clarity was not that he wanted me in the Episcopal church, but that it was OK with him if that's where I felt I needed to be. Which I did, because over the past few months I have been seeing myself more and more as a serious misfit in the Catholic church. I felt God was telling me that if I joined the Episcopal church, "I won't change, and you won't change, and that other door will always be open to you. This is what I've been telling you for a long time, but either you think you're better than me and are refusing to hear what I'm saying, or you're considerably more dense than I've been giving you credit for."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

If you've read anything I've written here previously you'll know that I'm fond of looking for meaning hidden in things that happen to me, or at least of using things that happen to me as keys to understanding the meaning hidden in life. I'm still trying to figure this one out, though:

Inspired by my recent musings about Benedictine oblates, I decided yesterday that the time had come to go and visit my nearest Benedictines, who are (or should be) a little over an hour's drive away. This is something I've thought about doing in the past but it's hard to justify taking three hours away from your family for a jaunt like this, and hard to convince them they'd want to come along. It was a beautiful day for a drive, and with no one home but me and the dog, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The first thing that happened was I went to the Internet (source of all knowledge) to find the details of the schedule and the address, and I couldn't reach any page of the Benedictines' main website. My browser would do its thing and eventually announce it was "done" but it yielded only blank pages. Undaunted, I persevered and eventually found what I wanted through another site.

In the afternoon, showered after a day of housecleaning and yard work and armed with the time of vespers and my my trusty GPS, I headed north. I should have had 20 or 30 minutes to find my way around once I got there, but 40 minutes into the trip, I ran into a line of traffic that wasn't going anywhere, with blinking police lights far ahead.

Figuring I'd never make it if I stayed this course, I turned off onto a side road and followed a couple of cars whose drivers obviously had the same idea through a sprawling office complex and out the other side. I ignored the GPS program's first few attempts to reroute me because I suspected it was trying to send me back into the traffic jam. I finally accepted the proposed route and meandered through some lovely countryside, but I wasn't exactly making great time when I hit more traffic, and this time I pretty much had to endure my way through it.

By now I could see that I was certain to be a little late, but what to do? I had come all this way and figured I might as well forge ahead and at least see where the place was, in case I ever decided to come back. Next, I missed the first and second driveways. I finally found my way in and drove all around the property looking for the church, which I assumed would be fairly traditional in appearance, missing it twice because it is in fact quite a modern pile of bricks. Now I was really late, but damn it, I was there and I wasn't going to quit. Just my luck, the church was at the top of two long, long flights of stairs up a hill from where you were supposed to park. By the time I reached the door, I was not only completely winded but also a good twenty minutes late.

I was afraid it might be over but as soon as I pulled the door open I knew I wasn't. I could hear the monks singing, their voices surprisingly sweet and light. The church turned out to be quite unusual and interesting and even, in its own way, quite beautiful. I had to make a few turns inside before I could actually enter the nave, and I don't know what I expected but what I found there was a bunch of old guys in black habits that struck me as somewhat sinister (the Franciscans may look like demented UPS drivers but there's something warm and homespun about the brown, whereas this black just seemed stark and unfriendly). I was the only one there beside the monks and the organist, and it felt strange to sit and watch them as if it were a performance, and it was weird also because I felt they were all looking at me, though I might have imagined that.

Still, it did really grab me. I wished so much that I'd been able to get there on time because it ended all too soon, though I thought the monks were probably thinking of dinner and glad to move on. I wanted to stay and I did for a while, as they filed solemnly out and the candles were extinguished. I sat while one of the monks stayed and spoke with the organist, but eventually I thought I ought to move on before they told me I had to leave, or someone asked me what I was doing there--which seemed like an even worse possibility. The place was really a huge spread with a school, playing fields, what looked like an orchard, a cemetery, and a retreat center in addition to the monastery, though other than one car that passed me on one of the many drives, I didn't see another human being anywhere outside.

And then this morning I told the priest at my Episcopal church that I wanted to belong there, and I realized he had probably been a Benedictine himself back when he was still RC, and I wondered if he missed it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hermit time

I fell asleep last night to the music of singing crickets. This might seem unremarkable, but for me it's a special treat. Because of my husband's allergies we live in a sealed environment most of the year, but he's gone for a week on a business trip, so I get to do daring things like sleep with the windows open, eat what I want when I want, and revel in solitude.

Don't get me wrong; I love him and I'm looking forward to having him back, but in the meantime I'm going to enjoy some solid hermit time. There's so much I need to process--to think about, not think about, pray about, read about, write about--and a week by myself should provide some space for that.

I've been finding so much great stuff to read on the Internet: blogs, essays about Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality, articles, and etc. etc. Blogs especially. I wonder if God surfs the web; there's so much that's being sent his way via that medium. Rachel over at The Big Dunk wrote this past week:

"Sometimes I feel a little bittersweet about the fact that I can share that with so few people in my life. If a friend (even a close one) were to ask how I was, or what I was up to, I would say all the things that I am up to, but probably wouldn't say that I was struggling with my prayer practice, or loving the liturgy each week, or dreaming of the day when I can pray the hours on retreat."

And I know just how this is. There practically no one I can discuss this stuff with here in what I've seen referred to as "the meat world." Well, let's be accurate: there is exactly one person. It's exciting to find so many like souls out there, yet at the same time, there's something missing in that we can't all get together somewhere and have this conversation in real time. One thing I found that interests me is a Benedictine monastery in South Dakota with an online oblate chapter. I've been curious about the Benedictine oblates since I first heard of them a few years back, but the nearest Benedictines I know of are more than an hour away and time is short (and gas is expensive!).

An online group would be perfect (and would even allow me to dodge my question about whether I should still be receiving communion in the Roman Catholic church) but I can't help wondering how it could work. It's one thing to talk about this stuff, which is to say to apply your mind to it, but I also need the spirit of community that comes of gathering together in prayer. Even though the people I know locally may not totally understand where I am spiritually, that goes away when we gather to worship because what we have in common is so much more significant than what's different about how we approach God.

Anyway, I have a couple more books on order, though it's not clear if I'll actually use them or add them to my shelf full of other books I purchased with good intentions and never fully explored. I've tried for a while to stay away from acquiring books because of that tendency, but just now there seem to be so many things I want to understand more about that I'm falling back into the habit, and online shopping (hooray again for the Internet!) makes it so easy.

So, waiting for the postman ...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Five things I have enjoyed

The revgalblogpals Friday Five: Name five things you have enjoyed this week.

A great topic. It was good to be reminded to stop and give thanks. There were a lot of good things that happened to me in the past week that I didn’t think twice about until I sat down to make this list.

1) Dinner/discussion with a group of freshmen who arrived a week early to work on a community service project before the official freshmen orientation begins. The topic: a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, the story of a heroic doctor whose dedication to what he calls the “O for the P” (option for the poor; more specifically, preferential option for the poor) drives his life. These kids are smart, demanding, idealistic, and yeah, they have a lot to learn, but that's part of the fun. I enjoyed the discussion, and the spaghetti wasn't too bad, either. (Any mean I don't have to cook and clean up has got to be good.)

2) A really excellent mushroom soup purchased for lunch yesterday in the university food court, a place not normally known for its culinary achievements.

3) Watching the movie The Sixth Sense over again, this time knowing how it ended. I’ve been meaning to do that ever since I watched it for the first time a couple of years ago, but never got around to it until now. Enough time had passed that I’d forgotten many of the details and enjoyed the story as it unfolded, but this time I was on top of all the clues I totally missed the first time around.

4) Having everyone at work back in the office again. Not that I’m glad their vacations are over, but it was just too quiet through most of August while the others were away. I am blessed to work with people I really like, and it’s good to have them around again.

5) Cool, delightful mornings, the kind of weather that makes you really glad to be up and out. I won’t miss the heat and humidity of summer one little bit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It ain't over ...

Lately I seem to have been on a sort of spiritual treasure hunt, searching for clues, figuring each one out, and following it on to the next station--or maybe I should say it's been more like tracing a thin but very strong thread that I'm finding running through so many different things. I feel as if I've been all over the place with this, yet at the same time it all seems very connected.

One stop in this adventure was an article about Ignatian spirituality that led to another article by the same author. Though not as interesting to me as the first, the second contained this statement: "Every so often we are almost overcome by a desire for 'we know not what' and, at the same time, are filled with a sense of well-being." Substitute "most of the time " for "every so often" and you're talking about me. Even though I didn't find the rest of the article particularly helpful, it led me to look for books about Ignatian spirituality, which led to a book called Inner Compass, by Margaret Silf.

It seems pretty interesting, despite some minor annoying quirks, but I've only started reading it, having just finished another book called Discernment and Truth by Mark A. McIntosh. That one I found both exhilarating and maddening, exhilarating because it included some ideas I found tremendously exciting, like the concept of discernment as a way of life and not just a decision-making process, and maddening because it seemed as if every time McIntosh tossed one of these exciting ideas out he immediately went off on a long and not very interesting tangent.

Meanwhile ...

I've been thinking a lot about asking to be formally received into the Episcopal church. And when I say thinking what I mean is something more like holding the idea in prayer. And when I do that I have to say it mostly feels very right. And very scary. And the strange thing is, this started after I, in exasperation, decided I would not think or pray about this subject at all. My Roman Catholic friends may find this alarming, while those in the Anglican camp may be wondering what took so long. All I can say is, stay tuned, folks--cuz it ain't over 'til it's over.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Impressions of Sept. 1 in Boston

Furniture all over the sidewalks, rental trucks doubled parked everywhere, brooms and buckets and cleaning supplies in every shopping cart in the supermarket. It's universal movng day here, the day when every lease begins, and students all over the city are moving in.

In short, it's the day of maximum chaos.

Hard as it is to believe that any sort of order will emerge from this mess, I know it will. We carried loads of bags and boxes to my daughter's fourth-floor (high ceilings, no elevator) apartment yesterday, and last night my daughter could not find any of her clothes, or the flatware, or the sheets for her bed. Piles of cardboard boxes took up most of the floor space.

Furniture--a coffee table, a TV stand--sat in boxes, waiting to be assembled. The couch was the only free surface in the room. Four exhausted parents made sure of that, collapsing onto it in a row after umpteen trips up and down the stairs.

But I know my daughter; I'm sure she found the sheets before she went to bed, located clean clothes to put on this morning, and will be more or less settled by the time classes start on Tuesday. When we come back next month to visit, the place will look as if she and her roommate had been living there for years. (I just hope my aching, aging muscles have recovered by then.)

Slowly, slowly, things are falling into place for me, too. A pattern is emerging in what I take from the daily Scripture readings and my own prayers, and I have to admit that it's scary and yet at the same time there is a kind of calm that comes with seeing a pattern emerge.

I'm reminded of the joke about the priest who turns away all of the rescuers who come for him as the floodwaters rise around his church. He keeps explaining that God will take care of him, right up to the moment when he is finally swept away. When he gets to the Pearly Gates, St. Peter asks what he's doing there, and he replies, "I don't know; I really thought God was going to provide."

"Look, we sent the guys in the firetruck," St. Peter says in exasperation. "Then we sent the guys in the boat, and finally we sent the helicopter. What the heck were you waiting for, anyway?"

So OK, I'm getting it here. Maybe I missed the message a couple of times already, but I'm getting it now.