Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What? A Big Ego? Moi?

My own dear Bishop said to me, albeit kindly, that I have a big ego.  What?  How do I begin to process THAT!?  First of all, is he even right?  Well, Pioneer Woman, if that is your first question, there may be something in what he said.  I know very well that he is usually right when it comes to shepherding my spiritual formation.  Well, then, PW, you'd better give this some serious consideration.

As we learned in exegesis, first pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  Next, in this instance anyway, ask Jesus to stand by, close by, in case this gets too painful.  There is no need to invite God.  He is here already, with his heart-penetrating, laser vision.  Back to the Holy Spirit and pray for courage to begin and fortitude to continue.  Then start with a look at the context.  I was sure that someone I work with had been dishonest with me.  After telling me he would not do a certain thing, he did it anyway.  And because he did it, I found myself in an awkward position I would rather not have been in.  That was very upsetting to me, because I had not thought he would do that, so felt betrayed.  The Bishop listened patiently to my confusion, frustration, and anger, then suggested that the person had not so much done something wrong (though admittedly, had waffled a little, probably because he didn't want to do what I said), as he had not done what I had expected and wanted him to do.  Objectively, no one had done anything wrong, but the story had not played out according to my script.  Everyone else in the situation had done what THEY wanted to do, which was not what I had wanted them to do.  Looks like I was subordinating what they wanted to do to what I wanted them to do.  That is definitely a losing battle, and invariably leads to trouble.  It comes of being so certain I am right, that I lose all pliancy and become brittle and vulnerable to getting my feelings hurt.  I was blindsided.  And blind.  This is not the first time something like this has happened to me when I have been so sure I am right that I never even considered that someone else would see things differently.  Why does there always have to be someone right and someone wrong?  A winner and a loser?  I certainly don't want to be the loser!  Why am I even thinking like this?

I see that I have still a very long way to go in my journey toward turning my will over to God's will, learning to be his obedient servant, feeding his sheep and loving my neighbor.  I would never have listened to what my Bishop said if he had not treated me so kindly and lovingly while I was so upset.  I went home thinking that the confession part of Evening Prayer that night was going to be a grim and miserable session; I was afraid because I was expecting to be treated by God as I deserve.  You cannot imagine how astonished I was that during the confession and absolution I was suddenly filled to the brim with joy and praise!  I was filled to the brim and bubbling and running over with happiness and a sense of freedom such as I have never experienced before.  God was treating me with kindness and love, just as the Bishop had done.  What freedom!  I don't have to be in charge, to plan everything so that nobody gets hurt and so that everything goes smoothly.  It's not my responsibility, and it's not possible even if it were my responsibility!


Which it's not.  I've resigned from being in charge of everything in the world!!!


Who would have thought this would happen to me?  What an incredible gift!  Do you think maybe I could learn to be like that?  Loving and kind and understanding, instead of judgmental and inflexible?  Maybe.  Probably not very fast, though.  But I am on the path, and the Holy Spirit is guiding me, Jesus is holding me, and God the Father is changing me.  I just have to keep walking and keep on saying yes.

Art by James Christensen

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Legend of Officer Quick

If you're looking for spirituality today, skip this one...  Look elsewhere.

There is a certain highway patrolman in Barber County who never sleeps.  Little did I know when I left Kiowa, heading northeast that I was headed for trouble.  I needed to go to Cairo for a home visit, and I barely had time to do it if I planned to make it to Cunningham in time for a meeting.  I am beginning to learn the roads among Medicine Lodge, Kiowa, Nashville, Sharon, Isabelle, Sawyer, Pratt, Attica, Hazleton, Cunningham, Anthony, and Kingman -- my new turf!  So I'm thinking, What am I doing?  I'm on the wrong road.  If I want to get to Cairo as quickly as possible, I'm going the wrong way.  I think maybe I should have gone north out of Kiowa and somehow got on the Isabelle road.  But I don't know how to get on the Isabelle road from here.  Where's that road that comes out on Hwy 54 at Cairo?  Don't know, but I'm pretty sure you can't get there on THIS road!  Rats!  Well, maybe I should go back.  No, I'm almost to Hazleton now; if I go all the way back to Kiowa I'd waste more time than I'd save.  Well, how can I get across?  Maybe Ridge Road.  No.  It's all beat up from the wind farm trucks.  I hate driving on that road.  Well, just go to Cunningham and across on 54.  Whatever.  Here's Hazleton.  I have to turn north here.  Hmm, flashing lights in my mirror!  I guess he's on an emergency call and wants me to get out of the way.  It's a pretty narrow road.  OH NO!!  He's pulling me over.  OK, fine.  Get out your driver's license.
"Good afternoon.  How are you doing?"
"Pretty good. Until now, that is."
(I can't find my registration.  Ok, get out the proof of insurance.  Ok.  I can't find that either.  Oh, boy, this is getting worse by the second.)
"Did you know how fast you were driving?"
"Well, no."
"I have you going 80 in a 65 on Highway 2 out of Kiowa."
"Oh."
"Could I see your registration?"
"Ummm.  Hold on.  I can't seem to find it."
"Looks as if your license tabs expired last March.".
"Oh," I intelligently responded. (Oh, right.  I'd forgotten about that.  I didn't have any  money in March, so I put it on the bottom of my pile of bills to pay later on when I had the money.  Now that I remember it, I think I should have done that.)
"Well, let's see the proof of insurance."
"I KNOW I have THAT.  I just can't seem to find it.  I must look pretty disorganized."
"Well, Ma'am, looks can be deceiving."
"Wait.  Here it is."
"That's from last year.  It expired in July.  While you are looking for it, I'll just go back to my car and process this."
(Where the ... is the ... insurance thingy?  Oh. Wait.  I know where it is.  It's in my dining room from when the deer smacked into my car and I had to phone up the insurance people....  He's back.)
"Did you know why you were driving so fast?"
"I was trying to figure out how to get to Cairo.  I think I'm on the wrong road.  I should have gone north out of Kiowa and tried to get on the Isabelle road."
"Probably."
(I'm thinking that it's really not a very good excuse to say I was driving fast because I didn't know where I was going, but since I had already said that, I might as well find out how to get there.)
"So how do I get across?  Ridge Road is too beat up."
"Yeah, it sure is.  I'd take K42."
"Oh, yeah, but how do you get on this end of the Cairo road?"
"Considering you don't know where you're going, you might be better off to just go up to Cunningham and get on 54."
"Yeah, you're probably right."
So I signed the tickets and headed north.  Yes, I said tickets.  It took two for him to write up all my violations.

It's a little nerve-jangling to get a ticket (or tickets) so I stopped at the co-op in Nashville for a cup of coffee.  For those of you readers not from the American Midwest, a co-op is a grain elevator and an office by the scale where the trucks weigh in and out before and after dumping the grain, and where guys hang out and drink coffee.  Pat Taylor, sort of retired from the Kingman County Sheriff's department, wrote about the Nashville co-op in his column in the Leader-Courier.  That's how I found out they have such good coffee.  So I filled up my cup.  Technically, it's free, but in actual practice if you fill up your cup there, you are expected to contribute to the entertainment.  So I told them I got a ticket.  First comment:
"Was it Quick?"
"Well, yeah, it was pretty fast."
"No.  I mean was it Officer Quick?"
"I dunno.  Who's Officer Quick?"
"He's the State Patrol."
"Oh.  Now that you mention it, I think it was a stater."
"Well, he never lets anybody off.  He's fair, but he never lets you off."
"So who all here has been caught by Officer Quick?"
(They all raise their hands.)
"He let me off once, though."
"How come?"
"I had a bleeding dog in my truck, going to the vet."
"Oh, well."  (Everybody agreed that any decent human being in rural Kansas would understand THAT.)

Next day I was in Medicine Lodge at the grade school, and the conversation took a turn toward the local  newspaper.  You have to know that in small-town newspapers they publish everything anybody does, including all that transpires at the County Courthouse, including notices of all arrests.  Including your age.  EVERYBODY reads these, with great glee.  So I said, "I guess you'll be seeing my name in the paper."
"Quick get you?"
"What?  How did you know?"
"He got me last winter.  I was on my way to a girls' basketball game.  My daughter was going to do the tip-off, and I promised her I'd be there to see it.  Two other people passed me while I was getting my ticket, and when I got there, everybody thanked me for keeping him busy so they could get to the game on time."
Turning to me, "So were you speeding?"
"I never looked at my speedometer, but it was a fair catch.  I told him I was driving faster because I didn't know where I was going.  I just hadn't put on the cruise control yet."
"Oh, well, you'd think THAT excuse should have worked!! Hahahaha!"
"Yeah, I'm surprised he didn't let you off with that one.   Hahaha."
"Well.  Fine.  Just go ahead and laugh at me."

There's an old guy from Hardtner that got caught.  Must be in his eighties.  He called Quick a s..o.a.b.....  Then he said, "I'm not supposed to say that to you, am I?"
Quick said, "No, Sir, you're not."
"But I can THINK it, can't I?"
"I have nothing to say about what you think."
"Well, I'm thinking you're a s..-o.-a-b....."
Story has it that there was no response from Quick.  Everyone there thinks this is a funny story, and they are all proud that Quick is fair and unflappable.  Kind of makes you feel safe, somehow.

So, friends, mark this:  If you're ever driving in Barber County, set your cruise control.  Watch out for the man who never sleeps...the ubiquitous and implacable Officer Quick.

Please click on blue (number of) comments and add yours. Love to hear from you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Medicine Lodge

Medicine Lodge is in cattle country.  The native grasslands cannot be cut by the plow, because when the rain does come, it washes away the unprotected soil.    The red sandstone of the high ridges is cut into deep arroyos, mesas, and strange rock formations.

The ranchers who live here are tough.   Their humor, like the land, is dry, and their friendships are firm as the rocks.  Their faith in God is quiet and deep.  The churches have roots that penetrate clear down to the living waters.

People here call things what they are, and have the patience to face their troubles with an enduring competence that will outlast setbacks and losses.  Everyone suffers hardships.  Nobody is special or above anybody else.  There is little patience for whiners, dissemblers, shirkers, or for those whose carelessness causes risk or harm to others.

 A mistake can have serious consequences when one is living through howling, white-out blizzards, or blistering summers of triple digits day after day.  When it rains, it floods; when it snows, it drifts; when the wind blows, it raises a dust-storm.  Cattle, horses, and heavy machinery are unforgiving to those who mishandle them.  People are expected to pay attention and to take care of themselves and others.

Under these harsh conditions tenderness and compassion stand above everything else.  It is our neighbors who are our only earthly defense when our own human competency and strength fail us, as sooner or later, they will.  Nothing stands between ourselves and our pain, humiliation, sorrow, and death except for our neighbors and friends.  People here don't talk about this much, but we all know it.







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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Bright and Morning Star

Working all day, then studying all night and every weekend, certainly does cut into one's blogging time!  However yesterday was so beautiful in every way that I must make time to share.  Two days before yesterday I arrived home from my weekend in Topeka to find the official letter from my Bishop, saying, "...it is with joy that I tell you that you were admitted as a Candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Western Kansas on October 1, 2012."  I had already been told that I had been approved by the Bishop, the Standing Committee, and the Commission on Ministry to become a Candidate, so it wasn't as if I didn't already know.  However, seeing it in writing on a sheet of good paper with the diocesan seal made all the difference in the world!  I was almost as elated as I was the day I understood that God truly was calling me to be a priest.  By today the elation has settled into a kind of quiet contentment that makes me the happiest I have ever been in my life.

Yesterday morning I had a meeting at 8:00 in Kiowa, which required me to leave the house by 6:30.  When I stepped outside, I beheld the sky absolutely ablaze with the stars.  There must have been something about the atmosphere that past night that caused clarity and magnification; others say they saw it, too, at different times throughout that night.  I drove away from Kingman's lights, into the countryside where the stars shone even more brilliantly.  Gradually the sky changed from black to indigo, and the stars began to fade.  There were no other cars on the highway--nothing to distract me from the glory that was set before my eyes.  As the stars faded, a tinge of orange lined the eastern horizon, and the indigo washed into gray-blue.  By now, nearly all the stars had disappeared, except for one:  the bright and morning star.  It seemed to grow brighter and brighter as the others receded from eyesight.  This photograph is the one I found online that is closest to what I saw:

Isaiah 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
2 Peter 1:19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Revelation 2:26-28   To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end, I will give him authority and power over the nations; 27 And he shall rule them with a sceptre (rod) of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, and his power over them shall be like that which I Myself have received from My Father; 28 And I will give him the Morning Star.
Isaiah 60:1-3  Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 

Who could not go to work with a joyful and thankful heart after such a revelation?  Here's the funny part: When I walked into Kiowa High School and asked, "Where is the meeting?"  they looked at me as if I had two heads, and said, "Oh, well, the school counselor will know.  Let me talk to her."  In other words, there was no meeting there.  It turned out that I had my days mixed up.  The Kiowa meeting is Thursday morning, at 7:30 (yes, you got that right!  I have to go even earlier!  Sheesh!) and the meeting yesterday morning was in Cunningham, an hour away.  Who would have thought such beauty would arise from a silly mistake?  God be praised.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Time of Transition

In the late summer the light changes.  The shadows are deeper, and the colors more somber.  The mornings often are foggy, though still it is warm and sunny during the midday.  And even though I am back at work as a school psychologist, and back to my studies at Kansas School for Ministry, there is something about time that has slowed down.  The turning of the seasons brings up once again the writing of an Ember Letter to my bishop, in which I tell him how I have been progressing in my spiritual development, what I have been learning in my studies, and how I have been living out my calling to be one who serves.

Until now the letters have been about falling in love.  My first answer to my calling was, "What?  Who, me?"  I was filled with mostly joy, though a little terror, in being called by God to be one of his priests.  My Bishop told me it would be difficult, but wonderful, and that the spiritual development was much more difficult and important than the acquisition of the material taught in seminary.  I began the lifelong discipline of Morning and Evening Prayer, and set forth on the path of trying to learn Holy Obedience.  Soon I was falling starry-eyed in love with God.  Every week brought a new lesson in loving God. Many of these lessons were very difficult and painful, but through them my self-confidence and joy have grown.  The response to the calling had become, "I was created to serve God, and I am happiest when I am following God's will for me."

After the week-long retreat in August I found my life turning topsy-turvy.  Now the lessons are about accepting that God loves me.  And with that acceptance comes the sure and certain knowledge that I am utterly undeserving of that love.  It is far more painful than the first set of lessons, but so wonderful to be loved in such a way!  I could not have tolerated looking inside myself if I had not been  encouraged by the Holy Spirit, held tightly by Christ as One who loves me, and had not at the same time subjected my self-will to the relentless, incisive laser beam of God's vision into my inmost thoughts.  Good thing we have the Holy Trinity!

Tomorrow afternoon I will stand before my Diocesan Standing Committee and the Commission on Ministry in a joint meeting, to request advancement from Postulancy to Candidacy.  After interviewing me,  the members of those committees will determine whether or not to allow me the advancement I seek.  I have examined myself, written my ember letter to the Bishop, and met with my spiritual director.  I am as prepared for the interview as I can be at this time.  I am very cognizant of my unworthiness, but also know that now my answer to the calling has become, "I ache and long for it with all my heart."  I hope and pray that by this time tomorrow, whether I have been told yet or not, that I will be one step closer to having the yoke of Christ placed upon my shoulders.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to Kansas School for Ministry

The new school year has begun.  Once a month I will be travelling to Topeka to spend the weekend attending classes at the Kansas School for Ministry.  Hard to believe I've been following my calling to ordained ministry for over two years now -- the first was a year of discernment within my parish church, and the second one was my first year at KSM.  Just last year I drove to Topeka to begin my first year of studying for the priesthood, not knowing what to expect, knowing only that I was there because God had called me, it looked like the best education I could find that was within possibility for me, and my Bishop had agreed.  The Bishop of Kansas and the director of KSM also agreed to allow a student from outside their diocese to attend the school.  It wasn't too hard to find Grace Cathedral, and after that, not too hard to find Bethany House where we were to eat, sleep, study, and worship with our faculty and fellow students.  It is a lovely, homelike native limestone residence on the Cathedral grounds.  I walked in with my overnight bag, found myself a bed in the women's dorm, and sat down on it to wonder what was going to happen.

Two women walked in.  I didn't know it then, but they were going to be two of my best friends ever.  We went downstairs for our first dinner together and met the rest of the students. We found among them a man who turned out to be the fourth member of our class, and met a lot of other people who already knew one another and had already established friendships and routine ways of being together.

For the first time in my life I was among a group of people who talked about God.  We studied harder than we have ever studied in our lives, and fell in love with everything we were learning.  We could hardly believe that we all had been called to be there, to be spiritually stretched, intellectually challenged, psychologically growing in ways that we could not have imagined.  It was a magic time, a Camelot, an Avalon; it was the wardrobe of C.S. Lewis, a place where we bathed in the Holy Spirit, danced in the light of Christ.  We were sheltered in a place where we could trust we were safe while we tried on and began to learn a new version of who we are.

As the year wore on, we suffered an inevitable series of disillusionments, for we had to re-learn what we really had known all along:  that this side of heaven there really is no safe place.  We are pilgrims, each charged with discovering and walking our unique way into the heart of God.  Certainly this journey includes the charge to love and help one another, especially through times of pain and suffering, but ultimately, each of us walks alone.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pawnee Rock

There are places where time is suspended.  Pawnee Rock is one of them.  After four days of driving to continuing education at Larned Hospital, listening to descriptions of violent and assaultive behaviors, learning how to assess them, examining statistical studies of discriminatory factors, treatments, and outcomes, it was time to for me take a different road home.  At first it looked like a mistake, since I spent the first half hour of my alternate route suffering through the road construction zone from hell, but after leaving that I came upon the town of Pawnee Rock.  I had been there with my family as a child, both in the town to buy gas and purchase a bottle of pop (orange or grape were the favorites at that time), and to the landmark to read all the plaques and to climb all over the rock.    The town looks just the same, except that they don't use all the buildings any more.  Many of them are standing empty.  But they have not been torn down or replaced by something else, so you can half-close your eyes and imagine it is 1952 and you are seven years old.  The weather had cooled off a little; it had stayed below 100 all afternoon.  A prairie breeze, fragrant with cedar and sunflower resins, stirred the cottonwood and elm leaves.  A lone mourning dove began its evening cry.  Not a person was in sight.  (The above photo is from the Pawnee Rock website's photo gallery.  The rest are mine.)

The rock itself is about a quarter of a mile north of town.  In its heyday it was a famous landmark on the Santa Fe Trail, marking the halfway point between Independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Unfortunately it was shortened considerably by people quarrying the
red sandstone to build the Santa Fe Railroad and to construct buildings. I had read that the red building on the left in the (above) picture of the town is constructed of rock cut from Pawnee Rock, but I have since learned from resident, historian, and blogger Leon Unruh (see "Too Long in the Wind" on the Pawnee Rock website) that it is brick.

I do love to read every marker on every state monument.  The name Pawnee Rock is derived from either the fact that the Pawnee used to meet for council on top of the rock, or from the involvement of Kit Carson in a skirmish with the Pawnee.  The site was an excellent place for wagon trains to stop to replenish supplies and and rest the livestock.  Being near the Arkansas River, the area was replete with water, grass, and game.  It also was a favorite place for the Pawnee to attack the wagon trains.  Story has it that Kit Carson was so edgy one night that he shot his own mule, thinking it might be a Pawnee.

It is easy to imagine the infinite expanse of grasses with no trees except those marking the line of the Arkansas.  Wheat fields don't look that different from the rest of the prairie, this time of the year.  Where the highway is, you can visualize the ruts of the wagon wheels.  Sunflowers grew alongside the ruts, where the prairie grasses had been disturbed.  I was pretty sure that if I looked in the eroded areas, I would find some arrowheads.  I didn't see any, but I enjoyed looking.  In that little vacation from time I was seven years old, stopping to rest with the wagon train, eagerly scrambling down the wheel to run and play in the grasses, and to climb the rock.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Retreat in the Drought

The first day of my silent retreat I walked out into the blazing afternoon heat to see the labyrinth.  It was too hot to stay in the sun long enough to properly walk the labyrinth, so I stepped over the paths to enter directly into the center to ask God's will for me during this retreat.  Listening there, I heard, "Rest in me."  I went back to the guest house to rest.  By the time I had reached the shelter of the house I was overheated, so applied a cold, wet washcloth to my forehead, and began to rest.  I slept most of the first two days, going out only early in the mornings to walk the labyrinth and to paint.  You see that the sky and the ground of the flower and herb garden were bleached white by the bright sunlight.

The shadows were so deep that they were darker than the objects projecting the shade.  Here is an ancient and favorite tree casting its shadow by the dry creek.

Following daily morning prayer, Sister Marilyn led a spiritual exercise in which we each reached into a bag of pebbles inscribed with names of gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The first day I drew the gift of "change."  After a day of much sleep, prayer, painting, and healing, the next day I drew "faith."  I have to tell you that it is an amazing experience to walk the labyrinth in faith.  You do not know where it is leading you, but you follow it until you reach the center, the heart of the experience, the heart of yourself and of God, both together, and there you experience whatever God wants you to experience at that time and in that place.  And on the walk back out, you take with you whatever has been given you to know and remember.

The next day I was given the gift of "light."  Rested and renewed, I took a much longer walk that morning, and in the terrible heat and brilliant light I noticed intertwined among the dead grasses one plant that was continuing to thrive:  the buffalo gourd.

 I think that perhaps God is making me like the buffalo gourd.  It is a child of the Western Kansas prairie, sturdy and strong, and able to withstand the drought.  Its roots go deep down to where the water is.  It seems to have leaves of leather, resistant to every kind of attack.  It lifts beautiful golden flowers up toward the blazing light, and produces fruits that offer water and nourishment to sustain the lives of the animals that otherwise would perish in the heat and drought.  I pray this may be so.


Over the next two days I was able to spend time with Sr. Joan admiring and talking over the flowers and herbs in the garden.  Sr. Marilyn helped me open into conscious awareness the symbolism of the buffalo gourd.  Sr. Mary Ellen spoiled me silly with her many quietly loving kindnesses.  Sr. Jane's overflowing abundance of humor and wisdom warmed my heart, and Sr. Terry gave of her time to listen and share her considerable experience concerning some of my questions and difficulties with spiritual growth.

The ministry of the sisters of Heartland Farm gave me the shelter and protection I needed to experience intimate closeness with God in solitary silence as much as I knew how to assimilate, and ample space for my exploration of creative response, but also the freedom to participate in the shared companionship of the community as we each journey in our own way toward the heart of God.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Friendship and Solitude

Friendship is the pathway toward solitude, and solitude is the path to friendship.  I'm not certain what this means, but I am certain that it is true.  Since I was called by God to enter into deeper spiritual formation and study for the priesthood, I have experienced friendship at a level I never could have imagined before.  I have rediscovered old friends and renewed those friendships with greater appreciation, I have noticed that people who were once acquaintances have become true friends, and I have met new friends who share very deeply in the journey toward our God.

Being able for the first time to talk openly about God, about the temptations and struggles against the powers of evil, to share in discussing the things I am learning through study of the Holy Scriptures -- This reflection in friendship has been a wonderful and powerful help in my journey toward living into my true self.  All of us have hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, faults and fears.  We can lighten our burdens and increase our joy simply by opening ourselves to one another within trusting friendships.  We learn to love more openly and more unquestioningly.  Love in friendship helps us understand and heal wounds from the past -- it's a chance to "do over" and get it right.  True affection despite our shortcomings brings us closer to the love of God.  Receiving undeserved kindnesses from others shows us the generous heart of God and teaches us to respond in trust and love.  Talking over our disappointments, setbacks, and the pain we experience when others hurt us helps us to join Christ in his suffering and to understand that ultimately, these things cannot harm us.

Then comes the time when we have to let go of one another and look only within ourselves.  We have to listen to our Lord and Savior however he comes to us, as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and respond in answering love, trust, and awe.  We recognize that this is what we have been looking for and needing all the whole time before.  I think that if I relinquish the support system of my friends and fling myself into God's arms, I will find something I have never known before.  It seems disloyal, somehow, as if I were going on without them, but I realize that that is a self-centered anxiety.  Each of them also has his or her own journey to go on without me, and I need to unselfishly release them to follow their own hearts.  (Once again, it's not all about moi!)  They will move ahead and without me whether or not I release them, because they are not mine to release or keep.

According to Henri Nouwen, in Reaching Out (Doubleday:  NY, 1975), loneliness, in the hands of the working of the Holy Spirit, is gradually converted to creative solitude.  And creative solitude increases our capacity for deeper friendship.  I am looking forward to learning more about this.  Pray for me, brothers and sisters, as I enter a week of solitary retreat.  Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit, and the souls of those whom I love.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Requiem in High Summer

Everyone knows that we need to get our outside work done early in the day, because by noon it will be up to a hundred, and will go up from there the rest of the afternoon.  We know to be sure the animals have plenty of water, and to water our gardens twice.  It's so hot the tomatoes and cucumbers won't make flowers or set on new fruit.  People are more relaxed and informal with one another, since after all, we can't wear nylons or slips or layered jackets.  We have less to hide, though of course we still preserve decency.  There is almost a sense of suspension from time.


Yesterday I went to a funeral in Dodge City.  It was for a priest in our Diocese of Western Kansas who had suddenly died after what had appeared to be a successful fight against cancer.  He had undergone a bone marrow transplant and all that that entails, and had seemed to be in remission.  But within one day he went to hospital, hospice, and was gone.  Another seminarian and I and his wife went together.  Since we are neither clergy nor laity, our place is to be there, quiet, and in the back row, participating silently, listening to what the Holy Spirit has to teach us and attending to those we see who need help but whose clergy cannot help them right now because they are weeping for the loss of their friend and brother.  I found myself with my arms around a young woman who had been a stranger to me, but who now is a sister.  There was a quiet and deeply moving outpouring of love for this man who had given his life to God's service, and of trust in our Lord who has taken him into his arms.  People in this family of Christ were united in love, grief and faith.  This requiem was truly an occasion for giving ourselves unquestioningly into the mystery of God's plan, while being sustained by the love of the faithful we know in this world.  I am truly blessed to part of this family.

Driving home, the light was so bright that the sky was bleached.  The cattle were black lumps in the deep shade, and the road ahead shimmered with mirages.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Intercessory Prayer Isn't So Easy

Dear friends, today I am going to share with you one of my failures.  My friend Shelby has a close friend whose husband is undergoing a medical procedure which is very dangerous, but which may very well save his life.  She has asked everyone she knows to pray for him and his family every day for the next three weeks.  She has constructed a schedule so that if people commit to pray during specific fifteen-minute time periods, it would be possible for him to be prayed for constantly throughout the most dangerous part of his recovery.  Of course I signed up for a time slot in the evening, and when I saw that the schedule was not yet full, also took on a morning time slot.  Both are right next to my usual morning and evening prayer times, so should be a piece of cake.  So far, so good!

I started last night and quickly discovered that it is one thing to pray through a prayer list, asking God to help each one on the list, picturing each one in turn and praying for each one's needs, and for whatever else God knows they need; however, it is a different thing altogether to keep on praying for fifteen minutes straight for one person.  Take it from me, my friends, this is REALLY HARD!

So I started out with naming them, saying what the problem is, then suddenly thinking how do I know this is what God wants for them?  What if I am praying for the wrong thing?  This is where I had to start getting honest, because I could see that I did not have a prayer of making it through the whole fifteen minutes, let  alone helping anyone else.  I reminded God that he promised that the Holy Spirit would help us if we didn't know what to pray for or how to do it.  YOU SAID!  Well, now is the time, because I really need the help right now.  All right.  Jesus did say that we should pray in his name for people's healing, so I guess this isn't too presumptuous.  Okay, now the prayer is all about me instead of the people I'm supposed to be praying for.  Great!  How do I fix this?  I must be the worst pray-er in the world!  (I see that you have to keep talking out loud, or else you totally lose focus and forget to pray at all!)  OK, Lord, I'm just going to keep on talking, and hope that you can stick this out with me.  I'll just keep saying their names, and whatever else occurs to me, trusting that you get it, and will know what to do with this mess.  I did, in fact, make it through the whole fifteen minutes, using this "technique."

Next decision:  do I set my alarm to be sure I wake up in time for praying in the morning?  I probably need the sleep, if I sleep through.  Wait a minute.  This has all the earmarks of a temptation.  I said I would do this, so I will.  ("I will, with God's help" is maybe the most helpful phrase in the whole Book of Common Prayer.)  I set the alarm.  Sure enough, the alarm woke me from a deep sleep, though I usually wake up easily to the dawn chorus.  I'm groggy, I make coffee, I look at the clock -- fifteen minutes before starting time.  I check my email and see Rohr's meditation for today.  Yes, you guessed it!  Next time I checked the clock, I had to start the prayer with, "Oh, Dearest Heart, I am already two minutes late!"  I knew that the Holy Spirit had started on time and was waiting for me to join in.  That is a blessed relief, so I started with naming the people, and thanking God for his faithfulness in filling in for me until I got there.  Good thing Rohr said that God teaches us more in our failures than in our successes, because I think God will teach me to pray if I can just keep on spending fifteen minutes with him every morning and night working on this at the same time we are praying for the young man and his wife and family.  Oddly enough, at the end of the fifteen minutes this morning I knew I had been brought closer to God.  I guess it's like anyone you know -- if you work together on a difficult project, it brings you closer together.
If any of you dear readers have tips on how to do this, please please comment, as obviously I do not have a clue.  We Christians need the companionship and support of the Community of the Faithful to help us sustain our efforts along the way of our spiritual journey.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Eighth Day Books: An Allegory

Philippians 4:8
King James Version (KJV)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.


There are certain places where there is a piercing between heaven and earth, like the wardrobe entrance to Narnia, where you can sense that you are standing in a holy place, on the threshold of something beyond earthly knowledge.  Some have been holy since time immemorial, as El Sanctuario de Chimayo, and other places have become sanctified by the people who gather there, through their prayers and actions over time.  The Eighth Day Bookstore is an example of sanctification by the gathering there of people dedicated to growth into God's will, people who have turned themselves over to the working of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives, and who are quietly and steadfastly allied with God in the process of holy creation.


Sometimes when you walk into Eighth Day, you perceive something tangible and sensory:  music, a faint hint of incense, a visual attraction to a certain icon, the sound of an honest and serious discussion about something that matters.  Joshua (pictured), Victoria, or Warren will give all the time in the world to help you find what you are looking for, even when you don't know what that is.  You can sit quietly and read, or study, or think, allowing yourself to enter into the intangible, which at Eighth Day is very nearby and easily accessible.  


I love to go there.  Eighth Day is a haven of peace in a world addicted to sensory overload.  The powers of evil are very much at work today keeping us distracted and numb, giving us the illusion that we are multitasking, when really we are only living in "fast forward," a state in which we cannot think or feel or caringly listen to other people.  We are being fed "information" instead of taking the time and making the effort to become who we are.  We must intentionally choose and have the courage to be countercultural if we are to find our true selves in right relationship with God and in love with our neighbors.  The name Eighth Day means (among other things) a time and a place to rest.  It is a time and a place to enter more fully into being, to immerse yourself into whatever things are true and honest, good and pure and beautiful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Solstice

Today the earth is at a tipping-point.  We are as close to the sun as we will ever be this year, and this day will be the longest one of the year.  Today we turn away from the sun to begin our journey into the dark and cold of winter.  All night long the wind that gave our state its name was singing and swaying through the boughs of the trees.  The Native Americans who lived here called themselves the Kansa, meaning "People of the South Wind."  The air is alive with the summer wind, the wheat is in, and this morning the birds' dawn chorus was dominated by the cardinals, singing "birrr-chee, birrr-chee, birrrr-chee, chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp."

The first (human) message I received this morning was from my dear friend Jacke.  I was surprised she  was up so early, until I remembered that she lives in Nova Scotia.  They all get up early there.  She sent me the Richard Rohr meditation, which today is on the solstice.  He said that the way we understand another person or another thing is that there is a little bit of it already in you.  "Like knows like....So God planted a little bit of God inside of us -- and all things.  It seduces us into even more universal love and life."  We can recognize within ourselves a response to everything in God's creation, but above all we can recognize God as he pulls at the God within us.

God doesn't just pull us toward himself.  Our spiritual growth waxes and wanes like the seasons.  First God pulls us toward himself, then he lets us go, so that we can have a turn at seeking him.  After all, love is reciprocal.  God wants us to love him back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Attack of the Animals

A week or so ago, as I was driving home to Kingman on the country road from Haysville, I soon learned that I had made a mistake.  It was just after dark, and the roads were swarming with wildlife.  I deftly avoided five or six deer, a skunk, and a turtle.  When I reached Highway 54 at Midway, still I scanned the ditches for whatever might emerge from the shadows.  Finally I approached Kingman.  Ah, here's the sign to slow down to 40 mph.  Home free!  At that moment a deer came at me from behind, and smacked into my rear fender.  Great. Oh rats.  I got my name in the Leader-Courier for filing a police report, so next day everybody in town was asking me if I was all right, and laughing at me for "going deer-hunting after dark."

Sooo... a couple of days ago I went out to start my car for church.  I had parked it across the street because Roy Erdman was riding his giant mower around my so-called "lawn."  He does a beautiful job, but still, he is a charter member of that great fraternity of "guys with tools."  I was carrying flowers for the altar, and the wind was blowing, so I thought I would drive, rather than walk.  When I started the engine, it made an unusual noise, "Thunk!" and the engine died.  I started it again, and found that there was something wrong with the steering.  Halfway up the block, a red engine warning light came on.  Oh, terrific!  Now my car is broken, and I can't afford to fix it.  After church I looked up that warning light on the internet and found out that it is the generator light, and you absolutely cannot drive with it on, because your engine will be cooked.  Unless it's really the generator, in which case you can't drive because your battery will croak.

My cousin Carl came by to bring me some new potatoes, and offered to take a look at it to see if the belt was broken.  He looked, did a double-take, pulled a flashlight out of his pocket (Yes, he has a flashlight in his pocket.  He's an amazing person!) and looked again.  He told me to look in and see if I could see a cat.  What???  I couldn't see anything in there.  Then I saw it -- a patch of fur deep down amongst the machinery.  He said one belt was broken and another was twisted upside-down.  Ewwww!  Yuck!  One less feral cat in downtown Kingman!  Nightmares all night.  At least I have the comfort of knowing it didn't make a sound -- never knew what hit it.  But still....

Next morning Ed Meis towed the car and its problems to the Volkswagen dealer in Wichita.  I've spent the last two days talking to insurance people and car repairmen.  They're going to take it to the body shop to get an estimate for the deer part after they finish fixing the cat part. Between phone calls, I've been finishing my big final paper for one of my classes -- an exegesis on Ezekiel's dry bones, and trying to get my garden and house in order.  I have to get that Christmas stuff sorted, washed, and put away before my dinner guests come on Sunday.  This was going to be the paycheck when I would finally catch up on all my bills, and maybe have enough left for a pair of new shoes.  If the weather hadn't been so gloriously beautiful these past few days, I might be depressed right now.  But I'm not.  I'm just tired.  And financially worried.  Here's something to listen to at the end of the day when you feel tired and somewhat discouraged.  It lifts your soul and opens your heart for Evening Prayer.







Saturday, June 9, 2012

Small Disappointments and Simple Pleasures

On bakery mornings, I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning, because most things just HAVE to be baked the morning they are sold.  The best way to wake up is with a song in your heart that answers what you prayed about when you went to sleep, or else with praise on your lips, such as, "O God, Thou art my God; therefore early will I seek Thee."  Well, that didn't happen this morning.  Despite all my best efforts yesterday the house was not immaculate today as I had envisioned it would be.  Nor was the running of the bakery a smooth and well-oiled machine.  I ran out of butter, the milk was sour, and I was short on coffee.

I discovered that for some unknown reason, the paper (THE paper means the Kingman Leader-Courier) had not printed the ad I sent in, so nobody knew the bakery was opening, so almost nobody was going to come.  This being Kingman, however, if you say you are going to do something, you'd better do it, or nobody will believe you next time, or maybe ever again!  The Gospel lesson for the daily offices today is about what defiles a man, and the Epistle was one of those "the law blah, blah, blah..." readings.  Just so you know I did not skip Morning Prayer.  So I set forth to produce all the things I had said I would make.  The pies were beautiful, the scones were good enough, the oatmeal bread was absolutely perfect, but I had trouble with that darn potato bread again.  I'm giving up on that recipe for awhile!  Worst of all were the cinnamon rolls.  After I had the dough kneaded to a nice smooth elasticity, I turned around and saw the yeast overflowing the edges of the bowl in which I had started it and set it aside to begin working, AND continuing down the front of the kitchen counter.  That same yeast that was supposed to be already mixed into the dough.  Indeed, that very yeast that is almost impossible to add after the dough has been kneaded.  I got it in there somehow, called my dear cousin Evelyn to beg her to bring butter, milk, and coffee, swept and arranged the front porch, and shoved the Christmas things out of sight.  I vacuumed and dusted the foyer, and put chairs to block the entrance to the living room, then dusted what could be seen from the foyer.  It looked pretty good, as long as you looked in the right places.

The organized and generous-hearted Evelyn materialized with the goods and a hug, and a couple of people I haven't had opportunity to visit with for eons came by. We sat on the porch and drank coffee, time slowed down, and we just enjoyed the companionship and the perfect summer morning.  The leaves were rustling and swaying, birds were singing, and propeller planes were flying overhead (there's some kind of an air show at the airport this morning).  People drove by and waved,some of them came up and joined us, and I sold enough bakery stuff to pay for the ingredients and to buy myself groceries until payday.  The front garden, the porch, and the foyer are clean.  And so, after all and for now, "All's right with the world."

Addendum:  next day, Sunday
I am horrified to read what a bad attitude I had yesterday morning.  Today's Gospel reading was about sins against the Holy Spirit, and it is NOT good news for someone who has been irreverent toward the Holy Scriptures.  Well, I must have been full of myself to write what I did.  All I can say is that this provides a good example of God's grace toward someone who does not deserve it.  And I remind you that I did promise to talk about the ups and downs of growing into God's calling.  That would have been a down.  It also provides an example of how one person's kindness can turn another person's day around.  That would be Evelyn.  You see -- her arrival and selfless ministry provided the turning point in yesterday's story.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Watercoloring

Water-coloring is like life -- you do the best you can, but really, you have almost no control over the outcome. It's pretty much a one-shot deal.  It is the doing of it that is the real thing, not so much the outcome.  Finally, after most of a year, I have time to finish the painting I started late last summer at the Kostner's farm.  I love that Cottonwood tree overlooking the Ninnescah, and Tom and Sharon have been very kind about letting me paint on their farm, ever since I first painted their cows.  Yes, painted their cows -- that's a joke we share.  It's so much fun to say that to people.
I plan to do more painting this summer.  Like singing, it is a thing to do that takes complete absorption and unites body, senses, and soul.  The difference is that in music, a group of people are breathing together, sharing the same inspiration, you might say.  But painting is solitary.

Here is a video of Stella Canfield painting.  She is my Daaaaaahhhliing Bulgarian teacher.



Sunday, June 3, 2012

Valley of the Dry Bones

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones (Eze 37:1-14) is one of the most vivid and fascinating stories of the Bible.  What listener to this story could not see the bones gathering, hear them clicking, feel the goose bumps rising, as the scattered bones began to spin sinews and move to weave themselves together into skeletons?  Who has not loved to sing, “The foot bone’s connected to the (pause) leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the (mmm) hip bone…?”   And who does not love to say the name “Ezekiel”? 

Ezekiel was given this vision by God at a time when God's people were crushed, confused,  and utterly stunned because everything they had believed about their future had been snuffed out.  When Assyria conquered the North Kingdom, the people of Judah still thought they were invincible; they believed God had established his residence in Jerusalem and had promised that the House of David would rule forever.  When the leaders of Jerusalem were exiled to Babylon, they still thought the problem would soon be over, everybody would come home, and everything would be all right.  But after the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and the terrible massacre, everybody understood that things were NOT all right, and would never be the same.

When we are stripped of everything, have lost our homes, our jobs, our children, have been betrayed by our family or friends, when we are stunned and cannot think what to do--these are the times we need God the most.  We are forced to understand that we sons and daughters of man have no power when we are exposed and humiliated, torn apart with grief, and dry as dust, like the bones in the valley.  God asked Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?"

The answer, of course, is that we do not know.  When we mortals finally acknowledge that there is none to trust except God, then he will send us his Holy Spirit to breathe life into us as he did for the man and woman of clay at the Creation of humankind.  There will be a stirring, a refreshing breeze, a renewal of life, creativity, and intelligence.  There will be even the beginnings of joy, knowing we are held in the hands of our Maker.  We will know that he is our Lord, the all-powerful, and will be our God forever.





Thursday, May 31, 2012

Comments and responses

The response to this blog has been wonderful.  People have emailed me to share their thoughts, such as this one:
Okay, I really enjoyed your blog, tried to post a comment, but the novice, rookie, non-blogger that I am didn't know what domain to select and can't get it accepted.  So here it is:
God's will vs. self's will.  Wouldn't it be nice if God used "neon signs". However, as we deepen our relationship with God, we begin to realize that those signs come in subtle, yet profound ways, that could only be divine messages.  Once in God's will, there will still be struggles, but having the power to rely on God and the Holy Spirit's presence can continue to reassure us that God's will rather than self will will give us comfort and further direction for our lives.    
E-mail or give me a call and let's go on a road trip to Sun City sometime soon.

And this one:
I'll be following your blog with interest.  I got a chuckle about the one titled "Don't fence me in" with Gene  Autry.  Our community choir men sang a version of that song with cowboy hats, colored kerchiefs, and tuxes. 
And this one:
Well......not sure how a "blog" works....but the site is nice and easy to follow....and the scenery is a contrast to the mountains of the great Northwest for sure.......

 You will be thrilled to know that Autry is a fine native Texan and descendant of one of the famous Texans who died at the Alamo (bordering on "sacred" to all Texans), so there is more than entertainment, rodeo, raising stock for rodeos, and owning a broadcast station and a baseball team, and being a decent human being all his life,  in his little tree of influence and activity....
 "Don't fence me in" (to the modern mind) is a bit "contrarian" to your premise of obedience but is a nice play on the idea theologically, that there is no freedom without commitment to the source of it....

You see the problem.  I am learning how to blog, and lots of other people who would like to join the discussion don't know how to do it yet, either.  If you know how to comment on a blog, could you please comment and tell us how to do it?  PW

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ah, Kingman!

Out in the "heat and drought tolerant" all Kansas wildflower garden next to the alley, I was battling weeds.  In Kingman you are never alone, and no one needs a GPS device.  You are tracked at all times by the location of your car.  And whenever anyone sees you, they wave, even if they are not sure who you are, because if you  don't know them, you ought to, and they might know you.  So three people I wasn't sure who they were drove down the alley and waved.  (Yes, we drive in the alleys here.)  Then Vonda pulled into my driveway to complain that I have been too busy to talk to her.  She said she waves when I drive by, but I am always so intent on where I'm going that I fail to notice her.  "What do I have to do?  I'm already hanging out of my car window!"  We caught up on what's happening in our lives, and she drove on to do her errands.  Then Joy from the library stopped in the middle of the alley.  She noticed that I had checked in the last two books, and wondered if I wanted her to order another two or three on interlibrary loan from the series I'm reading.  She said she thought so, and will get me three more.  It's good, now that school is out and my work at Kansas School for Ministry is tapering off.  I can pay attention to my neighbors.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Parable of the Potato Bread

Well, my dears, today I tried a new recipe for potato bread, thinking that it might be good enough for the bakery.  This one starts out the old-fashioned way, by peeling and boiling some potatoes--no commercially prepared potato flakes for Pioneer Woman!  Our grandmothers not only used mashed potatoes in the bread, but also used the water the potatoes were boiled in for the liquid.  Nothing was wasted.  The potato starch in the water makes the crust more crunchy and the bread more chewy, and imparts a sweet taste to the bread.  The flour is Hudson Cream bread flour, locally milled from locally-grown wheat.  The honey is from an apiary near Norwich.  (Note to self:  I need to find a local source for butter, cream, and milk.)  It is a good recipe, but I made some mistakes along the way.  I mashed the potatoes with a potato masher, but when I mixed them into the other ingredients, they stayed in little lumps.  Now obviously our grandmothers did not use food processors, or even electric mixers--hmm...they must have used a ricer!  I'm going to  use a mixer next time.  This time I hoped that the potato lumps would absorb into the loaves as they cooked.  As I always do, I made three slashes in the loaves as I placed them in the pan, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.  Thus blessed, the loaves, I pray, will be good for whoever eats them.  But when I heated the oven a little for the last rising, I let it get too hot and sent the poor yeast into shock.  Fortunately, I didn't kill them, so the bread rose, but not correctly.  It rose too quickly at first, then fell a little, then rallied and finished rising.  This can adversely affect the texture, and inhibit the full development of the flavor.      

We are told by our Lord to feed the hungry.  "If you love me, feed my sheep."   Jesus means not only with tangible food, but also with whatever his people need in response to their spiritual hunger.  What we feed them in His name must be wholesome and nourishing.  We must be honest, so that what we give them is truly what we say it is, not some artificial or superficial substitute.  If we say we care, we must really care.  If we can barely dredge up a civil response to someone, we must acknowledge to ourselves and to God that we are acting out of duty and pray that the Holy Spirit will intervene.  We will be imperfect in our ministration -- the potatoes will be lumpy and we will fail to maintain full attention.  It's a given.  However, I can assure you that the lumps were absorbed into the loaves, and the texture and flavor were perhaps not what they could have been, but were, nevertheless, awfully good.  Bread is alive, and works differently each time.  That's what makes feeding Christ's sheep such an interesting experience:  each sheep is different, and each time we interact with a spiritually hungry person, we ourselves are different.  Nevertheless, the feeding itself is a good thing, because we are acting out of love for our Lord, and according to God's plan for us and his other sheep.

    

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pioneer Woman Bakery

Pioneer Woman bakery is to resume this summer, beginning on Saturday June 9.  More News to come!  See ad next week in Kingman Leader Courier.  Once again all those good things will be available:  homemade bread, pies, scones, muffins, cookies, cakes, croissants, danish, and the sticky, gooey cinnamon rolls you love.

Have breakfast on the porch.  Have lunch, or take some home, so you won't have to cook after you finish your Saturday morning errands.  Talk to me about whether you would be interested in homemade ice cream and gelati.

Ember Days Pentecost 2012

Ember Days happen four times a year, once for each season.  Postulants have to write to their bishops about what they have been up to for the last quarter, and explain how their spiritual progress is coming along.  It's a time for thinking about God's will for you, what you have been doing along those lines, and what you need to do to bring yourself into better alignment.

This season, I suppose I would have to take into consideration the working of the Holy Spirit.  First of all, it's a good thing we have the Holy Spirit.  God was certainly wise in providing us some help with our prayer, and with what Ezekiel said about transforming our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

I think you learn to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance by doing what Richard Foster said in his book Prayer, namely, as soon as you sense God telling you to do something, obey immediately.  By trying to obey right away, you learn to hear the Holy Spirit more clearly.  Over time you become more accurate in your responses.

It helps to talk things over with others in the community of the faithful.  People don't talk much about God in normal life, though I don't know why not.  Anyway, I have learned that I must keep myself surrounded with people who understand what I'm talking about when I talk about trying to walk the way of Christ.

That is the reason for the initiation of this blog.  To provide a place where people can think about how they are living out God's will for them within his Plan for the Heavenly Kingdom as we know it here in our earthly lives.