Pilgrimage with My Mother

In May 2014, my mother and I walked the last 110km of the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. There have been many wonderful books, blogs and websites published about the pilgrim journey to Santiago, as well as many films, such as The Way with Martin Sheen. I commend all of these resources to you. I could fill pages with stories about the pilgrim route itself, about the wonderful experience of meeting God’s people in all their infinite variety, about what it is like to go on a literal and spiritual journey…but what I really want to reflect on is what it was like making the journey with my mother. Making the journey with my mother is what truly made the pilgrimage a God-filled experience for me.

Spending ten days, walking close to seventy miles, with ones mother may sound like a nightmare to some people. It was wonderful for us! My mother and I have always had a close and loving relationship. We get along; more than that, we actually enjoy and value each other’s company, insight, and conversation. I have especially enjoyed, now that I am officially in my early thirties, getting to know my mother as a fellow adult. She was a wonderful and amazing parent—she is also a wonderful and amazing woman. I feel very blessed to have such a supportive and caring relationship with my mother, knowing especially, that not everyone has such a gift available to them.

My mother and I had an interest in making the pilgrim journey to Santiago for a long time. One day, in the course of a phone conversation, we just decided to do it. We had the time, health, resources, and motivation, so why not make it happen? Until the day we boarded the plane to Spain, we literally could not quite believe what it was that we were about to do.

Previous to making the journey, my mother and I talked some about what we hoped to get out of the pilgrimage to Santiago. I was hoping for time and space for personal, spiritual and professional discernment, especially in my role as a parish priest in the congregation. My mother, who recently retired from a longtime career in clinical social work, was hoping to gain some spiritual insight into her goals and purpose post-retirement. We were both at different places in our personal and professional lives.

We were also at different places in our spiritual lives. I am an Episcopal priest. My mother attends an ELCA Lutheran church, which she joined after an extended period of spiritual seeking. While I serve God as a clergy woman in the church, in the capacity of inviting people into the life of faith, my mother has struggled for a while with the institutional practice of faith. She is a deeply religious and faithful person, but, like many people, has a difficult and sometimes painful past with the organized church, both as a child and adult. What’s more, the question of what to believe and why, is a very present matter for my mother, as it is also sometimes for me. Essentially, we were both seeking some of the same things, but for different reasons, and coming from drastically different personal, professional and spiritual contexts.

To be honest, I was hoping that God would speak to me somehow, and let me know clearly and compellingly, what God wanted me to do with the rest of my life. My mother was essentially hoping for the same thing. That’s not quite what happened.

Here’s what did happen. We had a very long and beautiful walk together, as mother and daughter. We were up at 9am and walked steadily until 6pm, for 6 days straight. Sometimes other people would be beside us on the path, sometimes, for long stretches of time—even, for about eight hours—there would be no one but us. We walked together, at the same pace, the whole time. Sometimes we laughed and talked together. Sometimes we walked in silence, lost in our own thoughts. What was especially wonderful about our walk together is that, when you walk for such a long time and over such distances, everything else falls away. The to-do lists, the professional and personal pressures, even the big spiritual questions—all of it fades away into the background. All we needed to do was put one foot in front of the other. All we needed to do was to be together. All we needed to do was just to be. At no other time in my life, has it been quite as possible or quite as easy to fall into simply being–being so present in the current moment and present also, to the woman beside me.

Not surprisingly, neither of us received a clear and compelling vision from God for our individual futures. There were no straightforward answers. I have a friend and fellow priest who has walked the pilgrim journey in the past, and she believes that answers and insights come over time, after the journey is over. I think she is right. I am sure that I will gain even more from the journey, now that the actual walking has ended. From a practical standpoint, once the trip was over and we went back to our separate homes and lives, I found that I really missed my mother. I had just spent every day with her for ten days straight. I felt the need to call her, to email her, to hear her voice even after the trip had ended—so I did, and have continued doing all those things regularly. But what God did give my mother and me, while on the journey itself, is the ability to be freed for a while, even of the questions and the need to ask them. The questions didn’t matter, and certainly not the answers either, at least not while we were walking together. We were able to simply be together, and I believe that God was with us in that space also.

I wish I could offer you wise words or a great insight at the close of this reflection. I really can’t. All I can say is that being present to someone you love, taking the time and the space to do it, is absolutely worth doing. I believe God is present with us in any loving relationship–in the conversations, the laughter, the weighty matters, the long walks, and the tired feet. Yet God is present in the silences too, when no one is talking, or laughing, or asking questions, but just connected by loving presence beyond words. When we talk about being surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses, I believe those witnesses are the god-filled relationships in our life—like my relationship with my mother, and all the people who I care about. I truly am blessed; I truly am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, people to love and who love me, and to know that God is in the midst of the relationships we share. That is so good to know again in my heart and my body and to remember into my future – whatever the journey holds.


Job Hunting for the Two Career Couple: When the Right Call Is Not the Church

fargoneI sat on the bed, listening to the shower. At my feet there was a massive pile of laundry, mostly my husband’s clothes. He was packing a large suitcase and moving to the East coast for a job. For the second time in 12 months, we were going to be separated.

When we first met, we were graduate students. In our blind optimism, we assumed that we would work hard, get good grades, and find work anywhere. We had no idea that the Great Recession was months away from crashing down upon us, and we had no inkling that a prestigious, demanding school which is well-recognized in the East would carry zero weight in the West. He graduated with distinction in Connecticut. Two years later, his job hunt has been fruitless in Oregon. In desperation, he accepted a position in Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park, and we separated for the first time a little over a year ago.

A two career couple has been a very difficult thing in ministry. I find it has been a constant dance of discernment, opportunity, and choice. On one hand, I love that he has different, non-church work. He keeps me real. Sometimes I wish that he was a nurse or a dentist or some other highly transportable profession, but the reality is that he is gifted with artifacts. But one of us (me) believes that God is in charge of my career path. And it was dawning on me that Oregon, the beautiful breezy place where I thought we had found our dream, left him with a choice between living  here and taking a job cleaning out dog kennels, or living apart and having a professional job. I couldn’t ask my spouse to make that sacrifice. But I also couldn’t believe that God would bring two people together, only to split them up. How could God ask that, even of a priest?

There have been ways to cope. We prioritized face-to-face communication. We Skype every night and have “happy hour dates”. (We each make a drink and call each other.) We text constantly – his early morning messages arrive while I sleep.  But we spent Thanksgiving apart, he eating oysters with his brother in Maryland, me sharing stuffing with a coworker in Eugene. Every night, we sleep alone. I snuggle his pillow and negotiate space with his cats, who spent last week sulking in his closet, buried under the clothes he left behind. We used an app called Couple to share secrets.

Unbidden, negative emotions have roiled. I became jealous that he could spend Sundays watching football on his best friend’s couch, knowing I would come home to a dirty cat box and a cold kitchen after a grueling day. I panicked when I couldn’t reach him, so we decided to install “Find My Friends” app which we call “iPhone Stalker” so we can tell if the non-answering person is on the road. He gets frustrated when I email a dozen articles overnight during my frequent insomnia bouts. Trash talking via text message leads to fast misunderstandings when he threatens to pick up Tom Brady as his fantasy quarterback against my strident objections. Sometimes, it feels like we spend most of our time apologizing to each other.

Good friends saved my bacon. Time after time, friends talked me off my ledge when I had convinced myself it was the end.  They shared so many stories of breakups, separations, reconciliations. They told me of the bruises in their own loves, and reminded me to see the best in my spouse. Friends convinced me to see a counselor at my lowest point.

Deciding whether love or career won out was agony. As a priest, my life is so public. Parishioners worried, knowing he was gone. Why had such a happy couple split up? One person suggested that, since we had no children, a divorce would be easy. What kind of couple would choose to live apart? I can point to Gabrielle Giffords and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly, or to military couples, but the reality is that those couples have resources and innate support systems than I did.  We honestly questioned: was this really the end? Did God call me here to show me that my calling as a priest was more important than any relationship out there – spouse, family, friends? For one horrible week, we talked about divorce.

I loved my job, my people, my town. I thought this was my dream. Yet the dream hadn’t accounted for distance from family and friends. I missed major East Coast milestones. My dream was killing my spouse’s spirit. I couldn’t bear to disappoint or hurt anyone – I imagined waves of anger and disappointment flooding towards me no matter what.

The reality is that church work is tight. The reality is that it’s difficult for women. Changing jobs can be a political dance. Was it the right time to leave? Would it be a bad career move?  Would a future church look down on my moving? Could I take the time to seek a job I truly felt called to, or should I just choose the first option that would bring me back? Logically, I knew we weren’t alone. During this year, at least five other couples in my circle of friends moved away from our small town. Who was being the selfish one in our little twosome – him for taking fellowship offers, or me for sitting on our deck looking out over the rolling hills and not wanting to move? Was I just paralyzed by fear of disappointing people?

Finally, the financial stress was unbelievable. We have always been a fairly frugal couple. But after years of grad school, then a major car repair, then a year of unemployment, followed by another car crisis, my once-healthy emergency fund was screaming for relief. We needed more money, money that wasn’t going to be found in my paralysis.

Making the choice to leave the parish has been the hardest one I have ever made. How could I get so involved in people’s lives, only to leave when my own got tough? People were in love; I wanted to watch them get married. People were pregnant with babies or waiting for adoption matches; I wanted to be there when the babies were baptized. We were getting ready to remodel our kitchen and parish hall; I wanted to walk the new labyrinth and sit in the center.

At the end of the day, I hadn’t actually taken vows to the parish, yet I was treating it as though it had more claim on my love and care than the actual husband. We had always said that the place that was right for one of us was the place that was right for both of us. My heart broke as I finally admitted my parish wasn’t it.

After I dropped him off at the airport and returned home, I opened up the Transition Ministry Newsletters and began emailing my information to open churches. For the sake of love, it was time to leave.


Two New Hymns: We Have Often Called You “Father” and Christ According To Your Measure

medium_8329857232Before I began the ordination process, I wanted to be a writer.  I also come from a musical background and am a life-long choral singer.  So when I discovered the art of hymn-writing, it seemed like the perfect intersection of three things I love: words, music, and worshiping God.

I wrote both of these hymn texts as part of my coursework at Yale Divinity School.  “We have often called you Father” was my final project for a course called “Hymnody as a Resource for Preaching and Worship.”  It was inspired by the challenges involved in trying to use more inclusive language in worship, particularly when it comes to describing and addressing God.  Rather than simply writing a hymn that used inclusive language, I wanted to engage the medium of hymn-singing itself (which is often heavily dominated by patriarchal imagery) to help congregations explore the whole question of how we name and picture God.

The second hymn, “Christ, according to your measure”, was written for an assignment in my New Testament course.  In addition to a traditional exegesis paper, we were instructed to come up with a creative response to the passage we had chosen to write about.  This hymn text is based on Ephesians 4:1-16 and is especially appropriate for ordinations, confirmations, celebrations of new ministries, and any other time when the members of a faith community and their many gifts are being celebrated.

Both hymn texts are written in the meter 87.87 Double, which means that each verse consists of eight lines that alternate between eight and seven syllables in length.  Many great hymn tunes use this meter, so the texts could easily be sung to a number of different tunes, in addition to those I’ve suggested.

We Have Often Called You “Father”

Suggested Tune: NETTLETON


We have often called You “Father.”

We have often called You “Lord.”

We have spoken of Your “kingdom,”

and of “mankind’s” rich reward.

We have sung a thousand praises

to the holy Trinity—

Father, Son and Holy Spirit—

to a God we know as “He.”



Yes, our theologians tell us

You transcend all gendering,

but we paint a diff’rent picture

with the words we say and sing.

We place human limits on You,

granting You both sex and race,

even though we know Your image

can be seen in every face.



If we seek to change our language,

taking out what might offend,

making worship gender neutral,

following the current trend,

then instead of “God the Father,”

we will praise “Creator God.”

And in place of any pronoun

simply say, “God, God, God, God.”



Yet with worship safely altered

to include all humankind,

still we feel the strangest longing

for the language left behind.

Gone the richness of tradition.

Gone the ancient imag’ry.

Gone the words we learned as children,

words that set our spirits free.



Some say we should call you “Mother.”

Others like the old way best.

Some are terrified of changing.

Some can never let things rest.

But we know that You are greater

than our words can ever tell.

Teach us how we best can name you.

Teach us how to praise you well.


Christ According To Your Measure

Suggested Tune: AUSTRIAN HYMN


Christ, according to your measure

you have given each one grace.

Once, for us to earth descended,

now you fill all time and space.

And to this, your humble body

you have given gifts indeed.

So today we thank and praise you

for the gift of those who lead.



Some are prophets, some apostles.

Some are preachers of good news.

Some are pastors, some are teachers.

All are gifted as you choose.

To equip God’s chosen people

for the work of ministry:

Building up your holy body

till we come to unity.



Christ, who led us to this calling

make us worthy of the call.

One in faith and one in spirit,

one in God who is in all.

With humility and patience,

help us keep the bond of peace,

bearing with each other’s failings,

so that hope and love increase.



Christ, we are your living body,

knit together, each to each,

growing up into your stature

till maturity we reach.

As we seek a deeper knowledge

of the One whose name we bear,

Give the gifts that are most needed.

Lead us in the work we share.

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Stepping Out

like buttonI came out recently on facebook.  Not as gay.  That would have been no big deal to the vast majority of my friends.  I came out as a religious Christian.

I didn’t really mean to come out.  I just got the email saying I was invited to the candidacy site of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.  I’d been waiting for that email for months.  I’d considered asking for it for years.  At long last the slow cogs of my heart and church beauracracy clicked into place, and I was so excited I just wanted to celebrate.

“I’m officially a candidate!” I posted.

“For?” was the first response.  Then silence.

I decided I had to answer.  I thought about how much I wanted to say.  I have lots of friends who are spiritual but not religious.  I have some friends who have been hurt by the church.  I have a few friends who are downright hostile towards what they consider to be the idiocy of organized religion.  A herd of fears thundered by, and my excitement fled into the nearest bushes to hide.

“Ministry in the United Methodist Church,” I typed with trepidation.  The words looked clear and confident on the screen.  Post.

I should explain.  As the click echoed off into the void of cyberland, I felt possessed with the need to explain.  I should explain that I might become a pastor, but I still believe in science.  And a woman’s right to choose.  And the full equality of marriage.  I should explain that God calls me, but I haven’t started hearing voices at night.  I’m not going to start asking people if they’re saved.  I haven’t forgotten my screw-ups.  I don’t think I’m better than you.

I should explain that I’m still me.

I decided not to.  I decided my friends, the good ones anyway – the ones who have seen me morph from starry-eyed teenager, to nerdy college girl, to idealistic-to-cynical-then-back-again Peace Corps volunteer, to working actresss, to English teacher – could probably figure that out.

I came back to the computer at the end of the day and was humbled by all the “Congratulations!” and “I’m so excited for you!”  My fears, in their thunderous roar, had underestimated my friends.  Many in my circle have their well-earned doubts about what the church can offer.  But they could tell I was happy, and so they were happy for me.

So I’m out.  Sort of.  I still wrestle, really wrestle, daily, with this new identity I’m trying on for size.  (Do I say I’m working on applications for “grad school” or for “seminary”? Do I say I’m planning on “studying to become a pastor” or “studying theology”?)  Often I wait and see, hedge my bets, depending on who I’m talking to, and go vague rather than face the explanation urges.

It’s getting easier, though.  I don’t see candidacy for ministry as a radical departure from who I’ve always been, but a thrilling synthesis of everything that has always been at the heart of who I am.  The less I explain, the more I come out, the easier I think it will be for my friends to see that too.

photo credit: iluvcocacola via photopin cc

“The Reverend Doctor”

  • My competitive nature.  I am the youngest of five children and three of my siblings are doctors (two medical and one academic).  The one without his doctorate is the smartest of all, but he didn’t finish college (though we all thought he had) and he just quit his job at Wal-Mart. My mom loves saying that four of her five children are doctors.
  • Why not organize all those continuing education credits (time and money that goes with said credits) so that they count towards something more tangible and goal oriented?

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A Ministry of Authenticity

As a child, I wanted to be everything. I often told my family and friends that I would grow up and become an opera singer, doctor, lawyer, florist and hairdresser. Yep, all at once. My family wholeheartedly endorsed my decision to be an attorney and some even suggested that I become a news anchor. However, at the age of 14, everything changed. After attending a few Christian summer camps and openly professing my faith in high school, I felt a strong calling to enter ministry. In my heart and soul, I knew what this “calling” felt like, but I did not have the vocabulary to articulate it. So I did what most teenagers do: I stuck with the original “family plan” and prepared myself to go to college. I majored in pre-med.

As you might have already guessed, I took the scenic route to seminary. I changed my major three times, interned at an investment firm, wrote grants for an environmental organization and took the LSAT, all before entering seminary. Like most other people, (remember Jonah?) I just could not seem to avoid God. It was not so much that I wanted to skip out on God’s call – I just did not know how to live out the call. As an African-American, Baptist woman from Southern Mississippi I had limited examples of what ministry for a woman actually looked like. I had no clue what would become of me with my Master’s of Divinity degree. However, I knew deep down inside that I was equipped, called and indeed enough.

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