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It was fifteen below zero January 25 — thirty years ago tonight –  and after an intense two years of preparation, I was going to be ordained a deacon at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

Just three weeks earlier, my husband had moved out, unilaterally terminating our twelve-year marriage.Memory has filtered what I remember of that freezing cold winter night: my darling little girls, four and six years old, sitting with my dazed parents; Bishop Robert Anderson and his kind spirit; “I Bind Unto My Heart Today,” a red stole, a collar, and an internal battle against the deep sadness and embarrassment that threatened to take over if I let it. 

The poet Emily Dickenson describes such moments: 

“This is the Hour of Lead— Remembered if outlived,

 As Freezing persons recollect the Snow—

First—Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go—“

Of course, the letting go part didn’t happen for a long time.In the subsequent years, I forged a form of ministry that worked for me and, usually, for the church.  For the sake of my kids, I tried to “model resilience”.  In therapy and in other ways, I “did the work”.  Like all of us, I did the best I could.  And like all of us, I was not to get off with just one crisis.
Today, I dug out the invitation to my ordination. Never missing a chance to make a statement, I remember that for the front of it, I wanted an image that was feminine as well as Christian.  I searched the art books and found a picture like the one above.  It decorates the ornate tomb of Galla Placida, Christian half-sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius, 420 A.D.  The eight-pointed figures pay tribute to the eight Beatitudes and to the eighth day of creation: the Resurrection.I could find out little about Galla Placida except the information above, so I put that on the back of the invitation and the snow-flake images above on the front. The beautiful design, the blue color, all spoke to me and somehow I wanted a connection with this woman as I began my official life in the Church. I wanted to affirm her and  I wanted her on my side.  I didn’t realize the connection was more than I thought.

Given the miracle of Google, I thought I’d check on Galla today.  I found a treasure-trove of information about her, including this sentence: “Justina, Galla Placida and Pulcheria are three women who were trying to keep their heads above water while under the influence of men.”

Laughter is healing.

Over the years, it is often in retrospect that I see

God’s handprints, and the ways I have been held up, so very many times.

As usual, the poets say it best.  This is from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Heavy”:
                              “That time

                             I thought I could not

                             go any closer to grief

                             without dying                            

                            I went closer,                            

                            and I did not die.

                             Surely God

                             had His hand in this

                             as well as friends…” 

It is a privilege to be with all of you, taking this part of our amazing journeys together.

See you in church.
Barbara

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Two of the best things in my life occurred because I was not given a choice: growing up in the Fifties, and living for eighteen years as a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran.

To understate in massive terms, there were downsides to each of these.  The Fifties were a relatively innocent, cozy, family-gathered-around-the-black-and-white-television time – at least on the surface — when I felt safe walking around town alone, when  “drugs” meant penicillin or aspirin, and when having beer at a high school party was only for the very wildest kids (we called them “the Hoods” (rhymes with woods) — I’m still not sure what the reference was but I know I wasn’t one of them.) This was also a time of repression, sexism and racism but I truly didn’t get that then.

I wasn’t given a choice about going to church and church activities. My mom dropped me off most Sundays, and the fact is, my life wasn’t so saturated with other activities that I minded.

During services, I sat by my best friend Pam and we passed notes or played Hangman during most of the service, but I’m pretty sure I absorbed something.

I was way into Sunday School and then Confirmation classes. The major challenge here was to memorize stuff and I was good at that so got lots of gold stars (literally).

Youth group was a social event for me.  I wouldn’t have gotten to go on hayrides otherwise, or meet kids from other schools.  In our formal meetings, we talked about the Bible, certainly about nothing racy or directly “relevant” to the massive longings and confusion brewing in the heads of most of us.  (The Hoods didn’t come to St. James Lutheran.  To be honest, almost all of them were Catholic – I’m just saying – which increased their Dangerousness Factor even more and, for the boys, their attractiveness).

In terms of the musical “Grease,” I remained an eternal Sandy – the blonde, Olivia Newton-John character — a sundress-wearing, bow-in-hair, innocent.  (By the way, “Grease” was not produced until 1971 – it would have been pornography in the late ‘50s’s and early ‘60’s!)

I wised up in college.

While I am, frankly, astounded at the theology of the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans now, it didn’t matter until I was older.  The Church served me well as a kid and young person.  Like the era itself, it was safe, bland, and a great community for a lonely kid.  (Plus, I learned a lot about the Bible – a great legacy I continue to appreciate).

I was baptized at St. James when I was one.  Twenty-nine years later, away from any church for many years, I only came back because my mother wouldn’t let up on me until I had my kids baptized.  The initial impetus was to get her off my back. When I relented, I said it wasn’t going to be at St. James Lutheran!

The Baptisms ended up being at an Episcopal church I had “stumbled into” in Minneapolis.  The rector said that we couldn’t just get the kids “done” but had to be part of the community first and see if we wanted to buy into it. His refusal to give us a choice on this requirement for Baptism formed my reentry into the Church and became the foundation for my ordination some years later.

My entry and re-entry into the Church were both marked by Baptism – my own and my kids’.  My mom followed through on the commitment she made at my Baptism to support me in the faith.  Going to church and Bible study weren’t presented as a choice, and she pestered me into Baptism for my kids.

I failed in my commitment with my own daughters.  I was divorced, “alone,” and serving at the altar myself many Sundays.  At the church I served, the Sunday School was little more than daycare; there was no youth group; and by the time my girls were teenagers I had given up and they just stayed home, as they wanted to.

Ironically, it was the ELCA Lutherans who gave them their main church experience.  Many of their friends went to nearby Mount Olivet and my girls joined them and went to a weekly youth group and to Cathedral of the Pines camp in the summer.  They loved it.

My story proves nothing if not that the Spirit of God can work despite the hindrances we place in its way.  But some times, too much choice can be one of them – for our kids and even for ourselves.

See you in church.

Barbara

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During my entire childhood in the yellow house on West Curtice Street, putting up the Christmas tree was a miserable experience. 

It never seemed to fit into the stand without a battle involving saws, sawdust and spilled water on the living room carpet; the large-bulb multi-colored lights took forever to untangle; my brother and I were frantic with excitement and fighting about who got to do what first, and my dad had had a few beers.

Knowing how things always turned out, my hovering mother was nervous, waiting for the first explosion.  It usually came when my dad started the lecture about who the heck had put the lights away like this.  Never a patient man, it only got worse as burned-out bulbs were discovered: “I bought a ton of these last year—where the hell are they?” he would bellow.  “They’re in the box right in front of you,” my mom sighed, in the defeated voice that hurt me inside. 

After the lights were on the tree (each bulb anchored to the evergreen with its own piece of string – “You do a job right”), my dad stomped off to bed, for he was a working man who was up each day at five.  The rest of us, subdued and joyless now, quietly hung the ornaments. 

For a long time, I was embarrassed that our tree –trimming ritual was not like that of other families I imagined.  But one of the worst things we can do is engage in constant comparison.  Not only comparing our unsatisfactory life to the seemingly enviable lives of others, but also measuring present circumstances to how we imagine things should be or could have been, and of course, wondering if we are “living up to our potential”

Our comparisons are faulty because we seldom have the whole picture.  Wildly rich celebrities crash and burn; successful men reach a certain age and regret the decisions that made them successful; brilliant artists jump off bridges.  My neighborhood in West St. Paul was far from a tranquil Mayberry.  My whiskey-loving neighbor sent my brother and me running for cover when he roared at us across the back fence, and my mother’s beloved neighbor Violet died at age 50 of a disease that, had she lived now, could have been treated — the same disease struck me four years ago.

The thing is, comparing deflects gratitude for what we have now, in this moment.  Envy, failure, not measuring up to one standard or another, worry about the uncontrollable future – all clog up our minds and hearts, and dull our vision for what is in staring us in the face.

Pondering things in the bright light of the Christmas Star  – sometimes over many years – can bring us a more complete picture and, subsequently, one of the greatest of Christmas gifts: the beginning of forgiveness — of each other, of our families, of ourselves, maybe even of God. 

         God bless us, every one, with overwhelming gratitude, for what is, what was, and what is yet to be.

Barbara

 For more on forgiveness please see this fabulous poem: www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175758

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