Friday, August 28, 2015

Remembering Mom

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

To speak the truth with love requires both truth and love. Truth without love is anger unbridled. Truth-speaking without love suggests judgment, unresolved issues, and a lack of empathy for one’s self and others. It lacks compassion and understanding of the human condition, and the basic human needs that we all share. On the other hand, love without truth is sentimentality and denies the depth and reality of true love and real life. Such loving is naive, sometimes even dangerous.

My mother died on August 1st. Today is the anniversary of her birthday, some 93 years ago. I try to remember my mother by speaking the truth with love about our Life Together. I know full well that I have unresolved issues and more to learn about the human condition. We all know only pieces of each other’s stories.

Louise, affectionately called “Weez”, was the third child of three girls who were born in New York City to Florence and Walter Lambert. I knew little of my maternal grandmother who seemed distant and “stuffy” to me as a child; and yet she was the reason I chose the college I attended. I never knew my maternal grandfather, who was a stockbroker and died suddenly in his early 60’s after the market crash. At the time, my mother was in her 1st year of college, and underwent major surgery; both of these events shaped her later years. Among her special possessions were the stitches removed from her surgery, and a diagram of her internal organs. Despite her grief at the loss of her father, and her need for physical recuperation from major surgery, she persevered faithfully with both her education and her health. That was my mother.

We were never particularly close. I suspect my mother’s and my Myers-Briggs personality types were different in every category. When my brother arrived at the hospital, the nurse’s first comment was how much he “took after” my mother. I have been told that I “take after” my father, and my younger sister proclaims her status as the “mutt” of the family. We are three different siblings. What I initially interpreted as a lack of interest in my life by my mother, I later came to appreciate as the freedom to “do my own thing”, for better and worse. Understanding our family dynamics has always been an opportunity for learning and growth. My mother liked petrie dishes too.

As I recollected our lives together, I mostly remember childhood and adult disappointments. As much as I try to forget those memories and let them go, or seek to put a positive spin on them, I can’t. I’m sure my mother has different memories too; I’m sure she saw life from a different angle and perspective. We both hold truths. We both had real human needs for love, value, and attention. We both made choices to have those needs met; sometimes they were at odds with each other, and our best selves.

She liked financial and scientific matters; I like psychology and religion. She liked eating fish, fruits, and vegetables. I like lamb shanks and roasted potatoes with gravy. Her manner of operating was different than mine. She was quick to deny pain; perhaps I linger too long. She took her time deliberating next steps; I occasionally rush in where fools tend to go. She was often clear about what she wanted regardless of its effects on others; I wasn’t. She could cut off relationships; I can’t. My mother was fiercely independent, indeed socially awkward, and often preferred being alone; I wanted people around me and to be part of a team.

Despite her size, she was one “tough cookie” who endured many challenges throughout her life. As a friend quipped, “You don’t live that long without being a “tough cookie.” Quite frankly, I might have folded; and so I’m grateful for her model of perseverance. “Things always have a way of working out,” she would say. Sometimes, I’m just not sure she was aware of the cost to those around her.

One of her greatest gifts was the “famous white binder.” In it she had all of her paperwork in order: her last will and testaments, her trust, and copies of everything from birth certificates and marriage licenses to jewelry distribution and religious ceremonies. Unfortunately and understandably, she could not divest herself of the contents of her Cape Cod home, leaving a mess of memories and materials for her children to discard or sell. Disposing the contents of her single room in the assisted living facility was painful enough; I can’t imagine what this next process will be like. Just seeing the clutter and chaos in a home that is filled with decades of memories is hard, especially now that we’re adding grief to the process. She wanted to make things easier for us, and yet sometimes she made things harder.

She was a teacher and an avid student. We do have some things in common! With a twinkle in her eye, she could tease you, knowing full well that what she was saying was “unacceptable.” We had to take her car away, and when she told me a year later that she was “thinking about getting a small used car”, I looked at her and shook my head. She replied, “I said, I was thinking about it.” She always found ways to show you that she could “carry on” despite the changes in her life. Encouraging her to “let go” of her own life, when the end was near, was a battle of the wills. God and we were ready; my mother, strong-willed woman that she was, was not leaving until she was good and ready.

In the last year of her life, I had the opportunity to say “goodbye” to her. I told her, and she told me, “I love you” more times than I can remember saying or hearing in all my life. During my visits, we shared some good memories. We spoke some needed truths. We held hands. We kissed goodby. I told her how much I had learned from her and thanked her for being my Mom. She told me that “I was always good at transitions.”

I shall always be grateful for my mother. She gave me my life, and she did the best she could as a mother; I did the best I could as a daughter. Not perfect, but good enough. I am grateful for her dogged perseverance, for her speaking her truths, for her care of the environment and for her love of biology and her garden. I loved her inquiring mind, her commitment to exercise, and her love of travel. I appreciated her “detachment with love” that allowed each of us to go our own ways, as she went hers. I know she loved me even when she said and did things that made me wonder.

I have no regrets, and I’m glad Mom’s earthly journey is done. I asked her to send me a “sign” to help me close out her estate with my brother and sister. She sent me not just one sign but two. True to our relationship, one was a blessing and one was a challenge. Thanks Mom. You’ve taught me alot. I hope you’ll forgive me and I thank you for giving me life and many life lessons. Say hi to Dad. I love you both. I’ll see you again one day in the Garden.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Invitation

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

I was invited to be a prayer partner for the Life Together program in the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts. Being a prayer partner meant that I would meet weekly with a group of young adults who were living in an intentional community and working on issues of social justice. The intentions of this community are simple; the impact on them and others is huge. Their work is contemplative, communal, and prophetic. They engage in actions and reflections, continuously learning and growing.

Orientation for these Life Together fellows was a marathon of eight days. I asked if I could be a part of it because I wanted to learn more; I was welcomed to join them as a witness. First, let me tell you what an awesome group of young adults these fellows are! No less awesome is the staff of the Life Together program and the facilitators who parachuted in for specific training. We learned about community guidelines, contemplative prayer, prophetic voice, transformative teams, mattering and marginalizing, non-violent communication, and how to be welcoming and non-judgmental people in a world that is filled with people who are, including me. We shared some of our stories through public narrative. We laughed and cried, shouted and whispered, and we let the Spirit speak to us in the silence.

I believe God is always present. I believe we can see Jesus in each of us. I believe that the Spirit is constantly speaking to us. We need only pause for a moment in silence to listen.

On the walls of 40 Prescott Street in Brookline, which is home to the Life Together and Leadership Development Institute staffs, as well as some of the 1st year fellows, there are quotes by famous people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day. An invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Indian Elder, also caught my eye.

Perhaps in a moment of silence, you might listen to what the Spirit is saying to you. I invite you to enter into our Life Together.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
If you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own
without moving to hide it or fake it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with JOY, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you in the tips of
your fingers and toes without causing us to be careful, be realistic, or
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day
and if you can source your own life from God’s presence.
I want to know if you can live with failures, yours and mine
and stand still on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “YES!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Friday, August 14, 2015

God as a Deer, a Rose, and the Living Bread

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Life Together Orientation: Opening Worship
Lydia Strand & Rev. Steven Bonsey
August 14, 2015

Opening Prayer
You are
    A shy divine deer
That I cannot cease tracking
 Though only once of late
                                 Did I get so close
                                       To see

My own face and heart
In your wondrous soft eyes
 Only once of late, Beloved,
When I thought that I had You
                                At last cornered

Come to know
The sublime beauty of God’s body

Against my own Hand.


Slowly blooms the rose within
Slowly blooms the rose within

Lectio Divina: Matthew 4:3-4

During that time (the tempter) came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Here are some of the questions that were raised during these past few days during the Life Together orientation:

What tempts you?
What breaks your heart?
What makes your heart sing?

God spoke: Choose life. If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Love Rocks!

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

I just finished part of the walkway to our home on the Cape. It’s been a slow process of collecting stones from the beach and then placing them, much like a puzzle, into place. Collecting the stones was a process in and of itself. Sometimes I would walk down to the beach and pick up the rocks on the hot sand. Other times I grabbed them from under the water or between the huge waves that crashed onto the beach. I discovered that these rocks can hurt your legs when they’re hurled against you by the force of nature. Waves are just being waves; rocks are just being rocks. I was just being…..

I would carry my collection of rocks back to the house in two cloth bags. I felt like a laborer, or a farmer, straining and sweating under the heavy loads that I carried on my shoulders. One day, I was on a mission; I made several trips back and forth from the beach to the house. Another day, I casually tossed a dozen or so rocks into my beach bag, as an afterthought to my afternoon on the beach. Several other days, I drove our old Ford down to the beach specifically to give my tired shoulders a break, and to avoid the path in which I encountered the snake. It’s nice to have options as a “laborer or farmer harvesting rocks from the beach.”  I am aware of my privilege.

I finished the walkway this week, the week after my mother died. I only had a little left to go and Paul and Brian were arriving soon. I wanted the walkway to be complete, to be finished, just like my mother’s earthly life. I wanted my heart stones laid down to rest, paving the way into new life. Love rocks even when our hearts feel like stone.

I was in the Orleans version of a whole foods store looking for the greeting cards which had been made by a local artist, a member of the Episcopal Church in town, and a fellow gym rat. We had been sharing stories about our stone collections and the reasons why we collected them. Naturally, a book called Heart Stones, by Josie Iselin, caught my eye. This author shares pictures of different shapes and colors of rocks and puts them alongside one word: mystery, joy, sincerity, complexity, hope, friendship, wonder, solitude, passion, adventure, home….to name only a few. She writes, “The heart stone is a lovely vessel. When you take it home and set it on your windowsill or dresser, its presence buoys you up. When you give it to a friend or lover, you give what you have filled it with: strength, love, and confidence.”

Love Rocks! “Cracked or blemished, lopsided or imperfect” we love God and others like rocks. Shaped by the forces of nature, and made in the image of Love, we are mysterious, complex, and loving to name only a few adjectives. Sometimes we hurt; sometimes we hurt others. Humans are just being humans, naturally. And Love still Rocks!