Everything I ever needed to know I learned from a rottweiler. Really.

I got over to the Chapel Center early this morning to meet up with an air conditioner service guy.  Our AC units are working but not efficiently, and in Florida that is a serious– and inevitably costly–issue.

One of our student residents was heading out as I made my way in.  I could hear some scratching and whining coming from the door to the residence area.  She warned me that one of the other students was (temporarily) watching her family dog at the Center.

“It’s OK.  It’s a very friendly dog.”

“What type is it?” I asked.  “Big?  Little?”

“Sorta big.  One of those types that is supposed to be really mean.  But it’s not.  It’s really friendly.”

“Pit bull?”  I ventured.

“Yeah, I think so.  That’s it!”

“Great!”  I thought, heading to the residence area.  I happen to like dogs.  I have two large dogs at home myself.  I, however, have learned that the concept of “friendliness”–especially in meeting visitors first time–can be kinda unpredictable and a bit iffy.

I opened the hall door.  It was not a pit bull.  It was a  rottweiler.

It was, however, a rottweiler who was indeed VERY friendly and deliriously happy to see me.

And the AC repair guy.

And our chaplain, who arrived a few minutes later.

And his owner, who arrived a bit after that.

It turned out to be a great morning.  The Librarian in me loved the fact that I was able to clean out the chaplain’s office space, organize the storage closet, and pull out a buncha stuff to donate to Good Will, the Salvation Army, or anyone who would be willing to cart it away.

On the other hand, the List-maker/Organizer/Git-R-Done gal in me also was starting to freak out a bit, considering that (according to our new AC guy) we need: window tinting, new awnings, a bunch of good quality vertical blinds, and just maybe some trees added to our landscaping to make the Chapel Center energy efficient and comfortable.

Ka-ching….

Add that to new exterior doors, plumbing repairs, new furniture in the study area.

And wouldn’t it be nice to finally have something up on the walls too and just a little decorative details to “warm up” the place?

How about something as simple as fixing the damper pedal on the piano in the Chapel Center, which doesn’t work in spite of the fact that we now have new songbooks and we’d actually like to sing on Sunday nights?

It’s easy to start seeing  a price tag on everything–either for replacement or repair.  At this time of the year, with graduation rapidly approaching, it is especially frustrating to measure what you hoped to accomplish against the realization that there is still so very much left to do with little time and no money.

However, perhaps that rottweiler has got it right.  (My German shepherd and Golden retriever at home have the same philosophy):

Life is an amazing journey.

People are infinitely entertaining.

Enthusiasm is the best gift we can offer.

We will get where we need to be eventually.  It will all be OK.

Wag more, bark less, right?

Really.  What more could anyone want?

St Anselm: Faith Seeking Understanding

Our university chapel is named for Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), a particularly apt choice for an academic setting since Anselm is usually remembered as the “Father of Scholasticism.”  Anselm was born in Aosta, Italy, the son of a Lombard nobleman.  At the age of 15, he felt called to join a monastery but after an initial examination was rejected by the abbot.  Ten years later, after living the “frivolous” life of a young nobleman, his sense of call sent him back to the monastery.  This time he was admitted.  In three years, his fellow monks elected him to the position of prior.  Fifteen years later, he became the abbot.

Anselm wrote many influential works in the areas of philosophy and theology, approaching these subjects with rational, intellectual argument tempered by a generous and sensitive spirit.  His writing is perhaps best known for this balance of reason and faith, which he characterized as “faith seeking understanding”:

I want to understand something of the truth which my heart believes and loves.  I do not seek thus to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.

His public life was marked by ongoing power struggles with the state (i.e. ruling King William and later Henry I) but it was at home in the monastery that he was at his best.  He was remembered for encouraging questioning rather than blind obedience from the monks under his charge, a philosophy that seems a timely reminder for today’s educational system:

If you plant a tree and bind it on all sides so that the branches will not spread out, what sort of tree will it be when in later years you give it room to spread?  Yet that is how children are often treated in their learning, debarring them from the enjoyment of freedom.

In Paradiso, Dante names Anselm as one of the spirits of light and power and it is this spirit of generosity and compassion that best characterizes Anselm.  A story is told that he once came upon a boy who had tied a string to a bird’s leg to keep it from flying away.  Anselm cut the string and said:

The bird flies away;

the boy cries;

God is glad.”

Forward Day by Day is a wonderful little quarterly devotional publication of Forward Movement, an official non-profit agency of the Episcopal church.  The current edition concludes with the following prayers from St Anselm:

MY PRAYER IS A COLD LITTLE THING, LORD, because it burns with so faint a flame. But you are rich in mercy. As your kindness is above all human love, so let your eagerness to hear be greater than what I feel when I pray.

LORD, I AM NOT TRYING TO REACH YOUR HEIGHT, for my poor mind could not even approach it. But I do want to understand the little of your truth which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and further, I believe that unless I believe I shall never understand.

I HAVE FOUND A FULLNESS OF JOY that is more than full. This joy fills the whole heart, mind, and soul; it fills the entire person, yet there remains more joy that is beyond measuring. God of truth, I ask that I may receive so that my joy may be full. Meanwhile, may my mind meditate on it, my tongue speak of it, my heart love it, my mouth proclaim it, my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God, triune unity, blessed forever.

YOU ONLY ARE MIGHTY, LORD; you only are merciful. Whatever you cause me to desire for my enemies, give it to them and give the same to me, and if what I ask for them is ever outside the rule of love, whether through weakness, ignorance, or malice, give it neither to them, good Lord, nor to me.

Amen.

Labyrinths: Walking A Right-Brain Spiritual Path

The Chapel Center @ USF has an outdoor labyrinth (pictured left).  It is in the middle of an open field by a busy highway, usually baking under scorching Florida sunshine, unused and virtually ignored except for an occasional mowing to clear stray weeds.  One of my proposed projects for the upcoming school year (assisted by the creativity and manpower of returning students, of course!) is to do something so that our labyrinth becomes more useful and used.

Which of course begs the question: what exactly is a labyrinth, how is it used and why is it useful?

If you look up “labyrinth” as a subject, most commentaries start by referencing King Minos of Crete who, according to Greek historian Herodotus (c. 450 B.C.), commissioned inventor Daedalus to design a labyrinth to house the monster Minotaur.  (Daedalus, you might remember, was also the inventor who designed wax wings for his son Icarus with tragic results.)

Daedalus’ labyrinth was purposefully designed with false turns and dead ends so that those who entered could not escape and would became human sacrifices to the monster.  Daedalus’ labyrinth is actually a misnomer: it was in fact a maze, a multicursal construction with many entrances and many choices, many of which are wrong turns and lead to dead ends.

A labyrinth, on the other hand, is a unicursal design with one entrance, leading in one direction.  The user moves back and forth in a series of curves, arriving at the center and then repeating the process to travel out to the edge.

This unicursal design was used in many ancient cultures, from Egypt and Etruria, where its orderly design was thought to keep evil spirits from tombs, to Rome, where it was used as a test of skill for horseback riders.

The labyrinth used in some churches today is more directly related to those found in cathedrals in the Middle Ages, the most famous of which was built in Chartres Cathedral around 1200.  These labyrinths were embedded in the cathedral floors and served as a devotional substitute for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a journey which was too expensive and difficult for most would-be pilgrims.

By the 17th century many of these cathedral labyrinths had been removed or destroyed.  We aren’t sure exactly why.  Some historians have suggested that the original purpose had been forgotten.  One cathedral canon from the mid 1600’s is quoted as saying that the labyrinth was “a senseless game, a waste of time.” It may have served as a distraction during Mass–sort of an indoor hopscotch for children.  Or perhaps the pervailing atmosphere of Rationalism and Enlightenment caused folks to determine that the symbolism of the labyrinth was no more than a holdover from a superstitious past.

Whatever the reason, labyrinths disappeared for many years, only to be reintroduced in the 1990’s.  They can now be found in churches, retreat centers, community centers, health spas, and tourist resorts.

It is interesting to me that, in researching this post, the most complete and thorough article I located was not from a theological or religious publication but from the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.  “Walking the labyrinth” is believed to have many benefits to the user; the chief of which being that it allows the user to temporarily suspend “left brain” (logical, analytical, fact-based) activity while encouraging “right brain” creativity, imagination, and intuition.  This can result in: finding answers to personal problems, developing a sense of inner peace, reawakening an interest in personal religion, an improved ability to manage pain, and faster healing from injury or surgery.

(I myself would settle for just a small break from monkey brain.)

According to one writer from the National Catholic Reporter: “The labyrinth is a universal symbol for the world, with its complications and difficulties, which we experience on our journey through life.  The entry to the labyrinth is birth; the center is death and eternal life.  In Christian terms, the thread that leads us through life is divine grace.  Like any pilgrimage, the labyrinth represents the inner pilgrimage we are called to make to take us to the center of our being.

Sounds like a college campus is a perfect place for a labyrinth!  I look forward to finding new ways to see the labyrinth at St Anselm’s become more useful to our campus community.

 Thanks for reading!  As I move out of summer slacker mode I have started updating the other pages on this blog with a slideshow in the Photo Gallery, additional Useful Links and a newly launched Chapel History page.  Please take a look and let me know what you think!

Mountaintop experiences: St Timothy’s Outreach Center, Irvine, KY

Our intrepid mission team left for KY last Monday aboard a brightly colored Hispanic ministry bus.  Such a vehicle at first seemed overly spacious for such a small group; however, we planned to carry some of our groceries.  Plus towels and bed sheets.  Also pillows. And, after a quick peek at the week’s weather forecast, jackets and sweatshirts instead of Florida shorts and tank tops. 

Basically, by the time we left predawn the bus looked like we were scrambling for an emergency evacuation.

Mapquest set the total driving time at 13.5 hours but Mapquest does not take into account a lunch break (Subway), supper break (Cracker Barrel, of course!), and multiple gas&potty stops. It was a long day but as the terrain gradually became mountainous and the temperatures continued to dip cooler, I was excited.  I had lived in south central Kentucky for fourteen years and was seeing more and more that was familiar as we  approached the state border.  I was also hearing more and more that was familiar with each and every conversation at rest stops, to the point that, when we finally pulled into Irvine’s Walmart just before midnight, I walked into the store and thought: “I’m home!”

We actually still had miles to go, of course, even from Walmart.  St Timothy Outreach Center sits high up on Barnes Mountain. The midnight climb up the mountain was somewhat less daunting than the next morning’s ride, when we could see how sheer the drop was below us!  The first building pictured on the right was our home for the week and featured dorm style rooms with bunk beds, a large kitchen and common room.  For our group, it was a comfortable base camp for meals, hot showers and lodging.

The second picture is a newer log cabin, still under construction, located behind the first building.  It promises to be a beautiful house for future visiting teams.

Our host for the week was Fr Bryant Kibler, who is the Priest-In-Charge at St Timothy’s as well as serving a parish of his own and working in diocesan administration.  We found Fr Bryant to be, quite honestly, rather amazing.  Every morning he would gather our crew in a big truck with an even bigger van attached.  After transporting us to a job site (no small feat on narrow muddy roads and driveways!), he would divvy up the various duties, keeping us all busy, teaching the less construction savvy of us the tricks of the trade, and jumping in to do the more skilled jobs as needed.  During our lunch break, our team ate while Fr Bryant gave us a fascinating overview of Kentucky history and culture. 

Work at St Timothy’s varies according to the time of year and the size and skills of the group.  We were fortunate enough to be working inside during a week that was unseasonably rainy and cold.  We were able to continue painting and flooring that had been started in a house currently occupied but without electricity or running water.  We also repaired the floor and painted a room in our new friend Manfred’s house.

A community meal is served at St Timothy’s on Tuesday night.  Local children gathered for games and pizza.  Kids are, of course,  pretty much kids wherever you go, from the vivacious, giggly preteen girls to a pair of young brothers, very shy, who would not play skittles with the rest of us but watched very closely and later went back to play the game on their own.

The trip home went more quickly and efficiently than Monday’s long ride.  The people I’d met and the work we had shared have stayed with me. I carried the joy of the journey with me back into my work place this week. 

“Did you have a good vacation?” I was asked.

The best! 

Be known to us in the cooking of pancakes

Since last fall we have been eating supper together at the Chapel Center after Sunday evening Eucharist. Some times different members of the group will bring in various dishes (salad, main dish, dessert). At other times we have cooked in the Chapel Center kitchen. This is always an adventure. The kitchen was renovated several years ago and is in good shape in terms of major equipment. It is, however, only mostly equipped with the smaller stuff, which means that there’s usually some improvising needed when you are already in the thick of things, food-wise.

Typically you find yourself opening all the cabinets at some point, muttering: “I thought I saw a strainer (measuring cup, salad tongs, etc.) here last week. I’m SURE I did. Where would we have put it?!” We are gradually adding those things that are most needful. Ingenuity can only go so far. A good paring knife, for example, is essential. We have discovered that a rotary pizza cutter is simply not an adequate replacement.

On a recent Sunday night, we celebrated the coming Shrove Tuesday with a pancake supper. While a pan of sausage and bacon warmed in the oven, we…

heated two electric griddles,

set the table,

started a pot of coffee….

And then started a new pot of coffee because the first had bubbled all over the counter.

It was a messy evening in general. I was one of two cooking at the griddles. My fellow cook was turning out fluffy golden brown, Aunt-Jemima-perfect pancakes.  I, on the hand, seemed to be dribbling more batter on the counter than my griddle. I was also doing “add-ons”: blueberries, chocolate chips, and a tasty item called “cinnamon chips.”  My plan was to pour out batter on the griddle and add the goodies as the pancakes cooked. Unfortunately, this was not a simple procedure.  The blueberries tended to roll off the pancake surface, jump the griddle and bounce to the floor. The chips fared better initially but when I flipped the pancakes, the chips would melt to a gummy mess which managed to burn as well as preventing the pancakes from browning well on the bottom. Everything seemed to take longer than it should and every platter of pancakes we sent out came back empty much too quickly.

Just when I had started to wonder if we really would manage to get everyone fed, the call came back that the cookers should “Sit down and eat!” because others had finished and were ready to jump back into the kitchen. And, as it usually is with these things, all was well. We ate much more than reasonable people should but when the leftover pancakes and sausage were gathered up, loaves-and-fishes style, we had more than enough for take-away containers–another essential part of campus cooking.

In the Eucharistic liturgy, we come together to share the bread and wine in remembrance of our risen Lord. I can’t help but think that in the kitchen fellowship of shared pancakes and sausage, celebrated with shared work and mutual service, we also have a glimpse and taste of that heavenly banquet ahead.

Chapel Makeover Pt I: Moving the furniture

St Anselm’s is a lovely little chapel with a very simple altar and furnishings and lots of natural light. Even though I love the space, ever since we started worshiping there I’ve felt that something just wasn’t quite right with our physical setup.  Take a look at this picture and see if you agree:

Chairs, chairs, chairs!

Yes, chairs, chairs, chairs!  Maybe I’m just a bit on the claustrophobic side but I felt generally hemmed in by a liturgical fence of too many chairs and hymnal racks.  We were set up in a U-shaped configuration rather than traditional straight rows but it still seemed too stilted.

Here’s another shot facing the altar:

Still crowded, both in the “pews” and around the altar.

So, we decided to experiment:

  • First, some of those chairs just had to go!  We moved about 15 chairs out.  Instant open space!
  • The altar is massive and appears permanently fixed where it is.  The pulpit on the left of the altar and piano on the right, on the other hand, could be shifted.
  • We moved the piano to the back corner and now have a flexible spot for singers and guest musicians to set up music stands and/or equipment.
  • We moved the pulpit to the opposite end of the room, facing the altar.  Our priest typically does not use the pulpit to preach; however, the pulpit is still available for reading the Gospel or for visiting preachers.  We now have more room to gather at the altar for Eucharist.
  • We moved out all of the connecting book racks.  With the chairs are not hooked together we had the flexibility to form curved rows in a semicircle from the altar to the pulpit.  At first it was TOO big a circle—too much space!  We brought the rows in just a bit and that seemed to fix that issue.

Here’s where we are so far.  See what you think:

Altar view

Pulpit

Piano & Pulpit

There’s more to come (Makeover Pt 2?)  If you have any suggestions, let me know.  Thanks for reading!

Welcome!

Welcome to the Episco-Bulletin!  I am one member of a small group currently working to revitalize the campus ministry activities based at the Chapel Center @ USF, which is the Episcopal presence on the campus of the University of South Florida  (Go, Bulls!) in beautiful Tampa, Florida.  We have a wonderful facility with a long history–unfortunately, its recent history has been mostly inactive! I hope to use this forum to explore the Chapel Center’s story and chronicle the progress we make in the months ahead.

When I first got involved with this project, I polled every priest and Episcopal clergy-type person I knew to ask what online and print resources were available for campus ministry.  The answer seemed to be: not many!  So, my second goal for this blog is to find out how the Episcopal Church (and the Church in general) is present on college campuses today.  I hope to review some books, interview folks with thriving programs, and share whatever “best practices” I discover.

And, about the Episco-Bulletin name…..

When we first reopened the Chapel Center, my priest made the suggestion that,

Since Episocopals at FSU are the “Episco-Noles”

And Episocopals at UF are the “Episco-Gators”,

It made perfect sense that Episcopals at USF should be known as……

Well, I’m sure you get the picture.  (Go, Episco-Bulls!)

St Anselm, the outstanding 11th century theologian for whom our chapel is named, is perhaps best know for his motto fides quarens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.” This refers to something along the lines of: “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”  This is very appropriate for us at St Anselm’s Chapel: we are seeking a deeper knowledge of God through our worship and fellowship together.

Come along!  We have an interesting journey ahead!

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