Monday, September 30, 2013

Deposing the Bishop

My friend Alice Sea was really something. She lived to be 99 and had a lot of fun doing it. She was much loved by everyone and a power to be reckoned with in the Episcopal Diocese of California. Not wealthy, not a society woman, not a clergy member, but so charming and so much loved that people really listened to her.

Alice was especially fond of the Franciscan friars and she adored Bishop C. Kilmer Myers. Me, too, and like everybody else, I adored Alice. She and I were besties and we had a lot of fun and shared adventures. This one was the best one of all.

Alice and I used to go to a retreat center every summer, the Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg, California, for something the Diocese of California put on called The Adult Conference. It was a week long summer camp for grownups, with indoor plumbing and a cocktail hour. I ran the arts and crafts program. Alice was the social center. Every year we had one night when people put on skits and displayed their talents of one kind or another, just for fun, and the year the Episcopal Church decided it was OK to ordain women as priests, Alice decided she was going to go General Convention one better and declare herself to be the first lady bishop of California. This would include firing the sitting bishop, her good friend Kilmer Myers. We had a lot of fun setting it up -- she wore her long purple dress, I made her a paper miter and we used her cane to make a kind of crosier, which I, as her chaplain, carried, preceding her. Someone else went ahead of us carrying a paper thurible, pretending to spread clouds of incense ahead of her as she majestically entered the room.   When we entered, someone read a proclamation, announcing her as first lady bishop and deposing Myers. It was great silly fun.

What we didn't know was that Kilmer Myers was actually at the ranch at the time and got wind of  her plan. Just at the critical minute, he appeared from an anteroom in full episcopal vestments with his real chaplain and real crozier and real incense, and deposed her on the spot. It was hilarious. Couldn't have gone better if we had planned it that way. As a gift, he presented her with a real bishop's miter.

Fast forward a few months. The bishop had to go to NY on business and left instructions for his staff not to change anything while he was gone. As luck would have it, all the Cathedral House locks were about to be changed for whatever reason, and the staff thought it would be fun to also turn his entire office around - move the bookcases and the desk and everything else, as a joke. His real chaplain, Br. John George, one of the Franciscan friars, had an even better idea. He called Alice.

The evening Bishop Myers returned from NY, his chaplain picked him up at the airport and drove him back to Cathedral House, where he lived and had his office. They pulled up in the parking lot and parked in a different spot than usual. The bishop's reserved spot had a new sign taped to it that read "Bishop Sea." What? They went inside and John George told him, "I'll take your luggage to your room. You go ahead to your office and check your mail."

When the bishop got to his office, he found his key didn't work. That couldn't be right! He fumbled around with it for a minute, and noticed there was an envelope taped to the door, addressed to "Mr. Myers". He removed it and as he was opening it, the office door opened and the "secretary" greeted him. Not his real secretary, Binnie, but a young man! "Oh, hello, Mr. Myers. Would you like to see the bishop?"

He was totally disoriented by then and nodded agreeably, wondering just what had happened in his absence. What he knew and we didn't, was that he was having real problems with the powers that be in the diocese and wasn't at all sure these sudden changes weren't real.

When he entered the totally re-arranged office, he found Alice in her purple dress, wearing the lovely white miter he had given her, her family pictures on the desk and his gone, the air perfumed with her favorite fragrance, and me beside her in a cassock, holding her "crozier." The phone rang and it was the diocesan officer, also a good friend, calling to congratulate her.

What could he do? It was a clear coup. He walked over to her, went down on one knee and kissed her ring.

All the while, our parish priest, whose best friend was playing the secretary role, was quaking in the drapes -- he wasn't sure if he would still have a job after this, but of course he did.

The letter that had been on the door informed him that he had been replaced and his new office could be found in the cathedral undercroft, to the left of the stairway. (in the men's room...)

We all laughed until we cried, Bishop Myers as loudly and freely as anyone, in great relief that it had all been a joke. Truly a night to remember. We all had a drink of very good scotch.

I miss those two a lot.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thoughts on the eve of my 75th birthday

I opened my email last night and there was a beautifully made e-card from our friend Sandra. A lovely bouquet of flowers held the caption: Happy 75th Birthday!

Shock. I felt slightly disoriented for a second -- what! Seventy-fifth birthday? Me?

Yes. The old broad has been on the earth for 75 years, raising hell and exploring all the edges.  Balancing on the knife edge for three quarters of a century, and only lost my balance and fell flat a few times.

In the picture, taken via Photo Booth just as I began writing this, I am wearing my new red silk birthday scarf, a gift from Sundance. They sent me a $50 gift card for no particular reason except thatI hadn't bought anything from them for a while. That's the kind of customer appreciation I like -- send me money.  So I got this scarf and a pair of lapis lazuli earrings. Only went a tiny bit over. I'm a good shopper. I'm saving the earrings for tomorrow, my real birthday.

My beloved asked me this morning how I wanted to spend the day. It was early, before I had my coffee or did my morning practice of 20 sit-ups, an energy exercise or two and some chanting.  Now that I have all that out of the way, I'm ready to come up with a rundown of how I would really love to spend the day.

On an ideal day before my birthday, I would be surprised out of my wits by all my kids and grandkids showing up to celebrate with me.  They would whisk Laura and me away to a green park with a beautiful creek and we would have a huge picnic with my mother's fried chicken and potato salad and a big apple pie my grandmother baked. My aunt Lucy would have brought several jars of her best bread and butter pickles. Uncle Dale and Aunt Mary would be there with a big pan of Grandma's enchiladas. My best childhood friend, Marylou English, would be there, and we would draw pictures and giggle together. My best teenage friend Joan Menzemer would be there, and my other college roommates, Nancy Crystal and Jeanette Allen, would show up and we would act silly and be outrageous and have a blast remembering our nonsense. Ernest Alexander and all our old buddies from the Coexistence Bagel Shop would be there. My first husband, Bob Marchesi, would show up with his bass and a pick-up band, maybe with Johnny Baker on piano, and they would play the best jazz you ever heard and we would all dance to it. My friend Nichoe would be there. My old friends Lois and Judith and Alice and Jeremy and Harley would show up and Alice and I would tell them yet again how we deposed the Episcopal Bishop of California, Kilmer Myers, and took over his office, scaring the wits out of our parish priest who was afraid he would lose his job. Nina Alexander would be there and we could swap stories about how wonderfully well each of our single-parented families of 5 kids turned out even though they must have felt nearly abandoned while we were in nursing school together. Steve Swadesh would be there and bring his amazing paella, and sangria made with California wine. Winston Ching would drop by and bring dim sum. Harley would do a brilliant Tarot reading for me, and Winston would call me "sexy" and throw the I Ching to predict how my year would go -- which is even more fun because both of them are Episcopal priests and really do that stuff. Art Weinberg, the psychiatrist I worked with at the maintenance clinic, would be there and he would say, out of the blue, "and that goes double for your dog!" and we would go into fits of laughter. Linda, the nurse I worked with at the Detox clinic, would come and we would have a drink and tell funny dope nurse war stores.  Alden Whitney would show up, lovely man, and I would hug him and we would laugh about the time the pirate ship unexpectedly sailed into the Port Jefferson harbor with all its cannons firing while we ate ice cream cones and clam rolls and laughed hysterically at the absurdity of it, and the time we misbehaved at the New Mexico state crafts fair in Albuquerque or the time we met at the Dallas airport Sheraton and ate chicken fried steak three times a day and the maid stole my lipstick red Christian Dior pumps. Dee Dobson would be there, and we would bicker about everything and laugh and giggle like school girls and gossip about the friars. Our friends Diane and Dottie Sue would come and bring their choir to sing happy birthday. All the people that came to our wedding at Micah would be there, including Julian Kantor, who we miss terribly. My friend Francine would be there, and she would bring a birthday cake made with the star-of-David pan I gave her yesterday. Many, many other people, including my late husband Richard Jackman, and a whole lot of animals, both living and the dead, would show up and hug and laugh and wag and reminisce and a good time would be had by all.

And there would be See's chocolates for everybody.

Of course, that's not going to happen. My kids are scattered too far away to come. Many of those other people are dead: My mother and grandmother, Aunt Lucy, Uncle Dale and Aunt Mary, Bob, Johnny Baker, Ernest Alexander, Alice, Winston, Steve, Alden, Dee, Julian... some I have lost track of and don't know about.

Thanks to all of them for the memories. For a life full of wonder and joy and music and laughter and endless surprises.  That is party enough for me. I'm full, just thinking about it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Refuah Shelaimah: Chanting the World Back Together.

Tikkun olam. The Great Work. Healing the world. These words express the goal of many religions.  We broke it, now fix it.

A couple of months ago I started taking an 8-week online course called Crafting a Daily Practice. Each week we would add something to a morning practice of breathing, meditating, chanting, physical exercise, writing... to develop a regular habit of taking time to connect with body, soul and deity every day, and to work on knowing and integrating the parts of ourselves. I had tried this alone a year ago, using the book of the same name, but joining with others in this online class made a huge difference. So did having encouragement and guidance from our excellent teacher, Thorn Coyle.  I now have a solid, regular daily practice, and many broken places in my life have healed.

One of the things I tried that really stuck with me from the course was chanting. I had used this technique before, but not for a long time. I have acquired many spiritual tools over a lifetime, but I forget to use them! This time I tried out different chants and found pairs of Hebrew words seemed to work best for me. I found myself settling on two pairs of Hebrew words which I used interchangeably.

The first pair I tried was Eloha Neshama, a feminine variation pulled from the traditional Jewish morning prayer Elohai neshama... (God, the soul you have given me is pure.). I used the feminine because it represents me as a woman made in the image of God. The two words each have three syllables, and the accent in Hebrew is on the final syllable. They rock when you chat them. I rock when I chant them. I can really get into it. It would be even better with a little drumming to go with it,

The second chant I tried is Refuh shelaimah. Refuah means healing in Hebrew, and shelaimah comes from the same Hebrew root as shalom, meaning wholeness, peace, completion. The words together mean complete healing, or as I like to translate it, healing wholeness. I began to see great possibilities for this. I could call out names or situations as I chanted, with the intention of healing them. Refuah shelaimah, refuah shelaimah, refuah shelaimah, Syria. Refuah shelaimah, refuah shelaimah, refuah shelaimah, the world. The possibilities are many. Now, this is the chant I use most.

Chanting is very powerful, and it works. It doesn't matter what your faith or lack of it, it works. My theory is that it changes our own energy in some way that extends outward and brings larger changes. Whatever the reason, it works. There are some cautions in using it. It can turn into an earworm and get obsessive. You have to be disciplined about it. (For a good description of what can happen if you don't set limits, read J.D. Sallinger's Franny and Zooie.)

I am inviting you to join me in chanting to heal our broken world. Just two words, repeated, rhythmically: ref-oo-AH shah-lay-MAH. Make up a little tune to go with it. Rock with it. Let your soul dance with it. Let your body dance with it. Call out your intention for it at intervals -- I probably do it after six or seven repeats, but find your own rhythm: The world. The earth. A political crisis somewhere. Victims of violence. Climate change. Broken relationships. Someone you know that is ill or hurting, or maybe for all the people who have no one to chant for their healing. All the brokenness. Make your own list. Sing it out. Try doing it for about 10 minutes every morning.

Lets heal the world with chanting.

photo image: Google images