Friday, May 29, 2015

Praying on the Camino

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Today, I begin my pilgrimage to the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.


The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic
(The 1st word of the prayer is the whole prayer;
The rest is simply other ways of saying the 1st word.)
        One breath breathing
        May I contain the essence of this One
        May I exist for this One
        Grant me the delight that is your delight
                    In oneness and uniqueness
        I receive what is necessary and give to my
                    Other self what is necessary for we are all One
        I forgive by breathing through to release
        Let me not forget who I am,
                    Made in your image and likeness.

Breathing: one breath, one step, one day at a time.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Momma Bears and Fire Hydrants

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
One of my cousins-in-law recently posted a picture on FaceBook. There was a huge grizzly bear chasing four men. One man had a tripod and camera and the other three were running slightly ahead of him. “The guy with the camera said, ‘Reckon we can outrun this bear?’ The guy with the beard said, ‘Not a chance.’ The guy with the camera asked,  ‘ So what’s the point of trying?’ The guy with the beard responded, ‘I just gotta outrun you.’”  It reminded me of a poster on the wall of the executive director of Youth Services in Newtown. There was a picture of two bears caught in the cross hairs of a rifle. One bear is grinning and pointing his finger at the other bear. Shoot him not me, the bear suggested. Eat him, not me, the man replied.
What does this have to do with Momma bears and fire hydrants? I’ve been called both things in my lifetime; and they remind me of two Sundays in May: Mother’s Day (May 10) and Pentecost (May 24). In case you aren’t a church-type, Pentecost is the liturgical feast day when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and little tongues of fire appear on each of their heads. It’s the day that we celebrate the Power we receive from on High and the power that each of us possesses alone. As for Mother’s Day, it’s the feast day of all feast days. It also holds a lot of power!
I like my name Momma Bear because I will fight like a grizzly when it comes to my children. In general, I like to think that I will chase down untruths and injustices, even when that little voice in my head says, “What’s the point of trying?” I will growl at people who have hurt me and others; but I like to think that I won’t shoot the messenger or the enemy. I can be a fierce animal when trying to protect the rights, dignity, equality, and freedom of anyone; Momma Bear is one of my personal, feminist, and Christian calling cards. Don’t mess with Momma Bear.
The fire hydrant metaphor was given to me by a member of a congregation in which I served. I had offered a six week course on prayer and discernment, and at the end of our very fruitful time together, I asked for feedback. She said, “You’re like a fire hydrant. Sometimes the volume of the water is too much to absorb.” Guilty. The truth is, I get excited about certain people and things. I love to share what I know; and sometimes I offer too much information, even way too much information. My daughter describes me as “feisty;” and yet, in my fire-hydrant enthusiasm, I don’t want to put out your little flames of fire either!
So, instead of trying to outrun our fellow human beings, or point the finger or the gun at others, or even question whether it’s worth the fight, let’s first embrace our inner Momma bears and our own little fire hydrants. God is our Momma Bear and we are all God’s beloved cubs. Let’s pour out our spirits with the volume of a fire hydrant on a hot summer’s day, and cool the flames of hatred and violence with words of peace and acts of love. We’re in this race together and God has given us the Power.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Homeless Jesus and Homelessness

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

I’ve been on the periphery of the homeless community for 30 years now. As the outreach chair of the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, I became involved with Amos House, a transitional living facility for homeless families. This house was an ecumenical and civic response to women and children who needed a place and programs to help them live a more stable life. Named after the Old Testament/Hebrew prophet, Amos House dropped its plumb line down into our society and found some walls in need of straightening.
            Speaking of walls, I’ve encountered a few in my vocation as a priest in the Church. Whereas walls are intended to protect us from the elements, and from people and animals who may do us harm, walls can also block us from seeing what’s going on outside. This is one reason I liked being part of the Church by the Pond in Bushnell Park. You can see the natural world. You run into homeless men and women. Outside the walls of the Church, the barriers are lowered between the homeless and the housed, between people and animals, between rich and poor, between the natural world and the created world, between the human and the divine. We share the same space; we share the same grace, without anything being said or done. And that’s a good start.
            There has been a lot of publicity recently about sculptures called “The Homeless Jesus.” Variations have him lying on a bench or crouched over and sitting on the ground. Frankly, I’m beginning to wonder about them; and so, I risk sharing some questions.

  • What actually was the life of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples really like?
  • What is the point of having these sculptures on our church property?
  • Does the location of the church make a difference?
  • If any responses are elicited, what are they?
            Since moving to Cambridge, I’ve been on the periphery of the homeless community once again. I’ve had lunch with them and joined them for Eucharist inside the church on Mondays. I’ve written my blogs and prayed with them on Tuesdays. I’ve walked with them to raise money for Project Bread. And I’ve encountered them on the grass, on the park benches, and yes even on the church steps. I’ve also spoken with leaders about homelessness. Real Life. Real Church. I’ve learned a lot from my conversations.
            While I believe that glass ceilings need to be broken, and certain church walls need to come tumbling down, I also think we need more boots on the ground. While many people talk about Jesus’ preferential option for the poor, Jesus preferred a variety of disciples. Like the homeless, Jesus could find shelter, food, and clothing; and sometimes he even chose “no place” to call his home. Like you and me, like them and us, we all have insecurities. We also all have real desires for love, friendship, safety, dignity, opportunities to give as well as receive, and a sense of belonging.
             Mental illness, addictions, autism, generational poverty, poor education and ignorance not to mention injustice, prejudice, and flawed systems continue to contribute to homelessness. The real Jesus has moved from the park bench to his heavenly Father’s home, where there are many rooms for all of  us. Addressing the issues that Jesus cared about is up to us, and while I appreciate the art and the sentiment in the sculptures of homeless Jesus, I just don’t think that’s what he would be doing if he were still here. And I’m still not sure what I can do.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Remembering My Dad

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
“Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?” As a grandfather, my father wanted to be called Fuzzy. Although traditional, he wasn’t a traditionalist. He had no hair, and yet he was fuzzy. As the Rev. Greg Jones calls it, my Dad was “Traditioned Innovation.”
My Dad was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 8, 95 years ago; he was born into everlasting life on May 30, 2006. I still miss him. When we lived in Atlanta, he was one of my youth leaders in the Presbyterian church. When we lived in Connecticut, he spoke with the UCC pastor about my upcoming wedding. And when he lived in Massachusetts, and I was in seminary, he was confirmed by the bishop in the Episcopal Church at the age of 80. When I went to visit him at the end of his earthly life, I often found the Book of Common Prayer on his coffee table. When he asked me if I might be his chaplain for hospice, I refused. I was his daughter.
Growing up, my Dad quoted scripture frequently, although I never realized it until my middle age. He would talk about those places in our lives where there was “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Or, when I was complaining, he would remind me how easy it was to love those we love, but how hard it was to love our “enemies” . When he died, surrounded by his wife of 61 years, and his three children, he said, “Thank you for being a part of my life. I love you and goodbye.” Then, as much as I would like to say that he breathed his last and died peacefully, he didn’t. For the next three hours, we witnessed his crucifixion and the labor of his and God’s love into new life.
Why, now, am I missing him, I wondered? It’s not just a chronological thing, or a chronos timing. Rather, I think it’s about kairos or God’s timing. I think of him because my mother is still alive at 92; and when I visit her, I always think of Dad, although we still call him Fuzzy. I think of him because I’m sharing the care of her in Falmouth and their beloved home in Chatham. I think of the memories housed in those “now empty of everything human” rooms in Chatham, and the many memories sometimes present in my Mom. There are generations of furniture and knick-knacks awaiting disposition. Not a happy birthday thought.
As Paul and I face our own transitions, material right-sizing, time stewardship, and plans for future generations, I think of the navigating that my father did. Not a man to share difficult emotions easily, he was always there to listen to mine. He loved food and drink like me; and I always cherished the extended coffee hour with him in the morning, and the bowls of popcorn or cheese that came at “social hour” in the evening. We hiked mountains, watched movies, and played cards together. I could always count on him to fix the “blinking lights” on our machines and to speak the truth in love, even when we didn’t see eye to eye. A witness to the end, he didn’t blink when he stared down death, even as his own light was fading.
God, I thank you for his birthday today. God, I thank you for his life, the memories we shared, and the generations that came before us and will come after us. I miss my father, I miss Fuzzy; and God, please, I hope to see him again some day. But if I end up in that place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, please tell him, “I love you and I thank you for being a part of my life.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Name Changes are Game Changers

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

I was born Anne Louise Eaton, and yet my parents always called me Nancy. It caused confusion in school. When I married Paul, I officially dropped the name Anne Louise and became Nancy Eaton Gossling. Our two families were represented in my new name, and there was no more confusion about what to call me. Except, there were people who gave me nicknames like “Banner Bee” or “Twinkle Toes” or “Mama Goose” and  “NanDizzle.”
For two years now, I’ve been walking as a prayer discipline. I also recently started training for three upcoming walks: ProjectBread (May 3), Be Peace for Jorge (May 10) and the Camino to Santiago de Compostela (June 1). Last week, I was walking in a neighborhood in Cambridge, and passed by an outdoor basketball court. It was school vacation and three boys were playing ball. As I walked by them, I heard one boy shout “B****” (which rhymes with snitch). I kept walking, not sure if he was talking to me or to someone else (although I didn’t see anyone else around.) Again, he shouted “Hey B****”. Since that’s not my name, I kept walking. Finally, a third shout, “Hey F****** B****”. Now, by this time, I think he actually might be calling me; but since that’s not my name, and I didn’t want to dignify that name for anyone else, I didn’t turn my head. Wondering briefly if I were safe, I kept walking. My name hadn’t changed; although I hoped their game did.
Also last week, a close friend sent me a private FB message. She said she didn’t like the name of my blog which I called my “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah Blog.” Speaking the truth in love, she said that she never liked the word “blah” and she thought that my blog name was too negative, sad, and self-deprecating. I appreciated the feedback and I agreed. Names are important. They can reflect images of who we are, what we do, what we think, and how we behave. I decided it was time to change the name of my blog.
When I believed that God was calling me to something other than parish ministry, it was a game-changer for me. I took a leap of faith into a vocational wilderness, which was both freeing and exciting as well as difficult and disorienting. I could no longer self-identify as a priest, nor as the rector of a community of faith. And so I decided to reclaim my name as “beloved child of God” and to rename my vocation as “missionary” (on God’s mission of reconciliation and love) and “evangelist.” (being a messenger of God.) I decided to use different mediums for my message: personal conversation, public speaking, FaceBook, and a blog.
I don’t want to send a message that our words, actions, the spiritual life, or God is unimportant. I don’t want to send a message that Real Life is only sad, negative, and just “blah”. They are also joy-filled, faithful, meaningful, and purposeful. So my old blog has a new name: it’s the “Be.Loved.Of.God. BLOG.” We are all God’s BeLoved, even when we use derogatory names. So, let’s be the BeLoved. Let’s allow ourselves to Be Loved and then love others, as God loves us. Names do matter; and name changes can be game changers for everyone.