Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I spent the afternoon and evening yesterday with friends in Ithaca. After having lunch at Diamond's, a wonderful Indian restaurant on the commons in Ithaca, with Andy, Jane, and their daughter Rebekah, I met up with my friend Gibson and we went up to Ithaca College so that I could visit my old stomping grounds. Our first stop was Muller Chapel. As we walked through the dimly lit corridors and into the bright and spacious sanctuary I was reminded of the beauty of the space and of my four years of spiritual growth and development. At the same time, as I noted to Gibson while leading against the altar table in the sanctuary, gazing out over the pond toward the island with the peace pole and the geese prancing about, I thought I would miss it more. The Muller Chapel space is stunning, but it is the people that pray and fellowship together there that make it truly special. The chapel was deserted, as it usually is during the summer months, so there was a pronounced absence of that personal element.

Gibson got me a copy of the new glossy brochures she had designed for the Protestant Community at Ithaca College (ICPC), the campus ministry organization I dedicated four years to during undergrad. It has a wonderful picture of the chapel and the pond on the cover and details about the work and worship life of the ICPC. I noticed that the mission statement that a number of us had worked hard to craft during my time at Ithaca College had been rather drastically changed, most notably the first sentence which now reads: "The Protestant Community is a witness to the reformation ideals that focus on Holy Scripture and "the Priesthood of all believers." I am a bit confused as to how this statement emphasizing ideas that split the church can be reconciled with the nature of the ICPC as a "fellowship of ecumenical Christians," but the good news is that it is not my problem any more.

We walked up to the music building to poke around the practice rooms, see if any of my former professors were around, and listen for any of the wonderful music that the Ithaca College School of Music is so well known for. Like the chapel, the music building was pretty much deserted, being run on a skeleton crew for the summer. As we walked back across the campus to the campus center so that we could go find something else to do, I confirmed for myself that I have indeed moved on. My life is now in Boston and there are new and exciting adventures to be had there. It is not good to live in the past, although we must never forget it lest we be doomed to repeating it, but to look forward toward the goal.

Gibson and I decided to go hike the rim trail of Taughannick Falls gorge, something we had done with a group of friends just before I left Ithaca last summer. It was rather warm but not too hot for a hike along the mostly wooded trail. As we walked we talked about just about everything while we absorbed the abiding spirit of the place, surely the Spirit of God. The water cascaded many stories over the falls and crashed uproariously into the river below, flowing on into Cayuga Lake. The trail was rather wet in many places from the thunderstorm earlier in the afternoon and we picked up our fair share of mud. There is really nowhere like it to walk in Boston. I love the city and all of the opportunities living in the city provides, but city life is not nearly as "complete" as many would have it. There are joys in life that simply cannot be had in the city. And this I do miss. I miss being able to go just a few minutes away and observe, up close and personal, the majesty of creation unmarred by the human hubris to believe that we know better how to arrange our environs, leveling mountains, raising valleys, draining bogs, and digging canals. There is a purity to the pristine splendor of the coursing river as it bursts forth over the edge of the falls to crash against the rocks below and then flow onward only a few hundred more yards to the lake. There is a raw exhilaration to observing literally tons of water flow with the grace of an eagle's flight. There is something in this experience that prefigures the unmediated experience of divine life that is so central to the spiritual quest.

When we finished our hike we returned to Ithaca and went to Viva Taqueria for dinner, each having a large meal and a margarita. After that we ran a few errands and then joined some other friends, Matt and Corey, at Madeline's for dessert and drinks. It has always amazed me that a city as small as Ithaca can have such diverse cuisine. Viva is a wonderful Mexican restaurant, an equal of which I have yet to find in Boston. Madeline's is a French-Thai fusion restaurant with a dessert bar that must be cleaned regularly of the drool patrons deposit on it while selecting from a constantly changing array of scrumptious pastries, pies, torts, tiramisus, and other assorted confections, and a drink list that runs for twelve pages. I already mentioned Diamonds (Indian) and there is fare to be found from around the globe, probably drawn by the presence of two schools of higher education in town, Cornell University and Ithaca College. At Madeline's I had the passionfruit tart and an extremely dry Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up with a lime twist. Speaking of heaven on earth!

At that point we retired to my friend Matt's apartment to engage in the other activity that several of us were nightly engaged in last summer when I was in Ithaca, a game of \Hearts. I brought along a liquor that I had been given in Mexico by a friend I made down there on the trip when I experienced my most direct call to ministry, and it was given with the understanding that it would be drunk after my ordination. I had my first taste of the drink made with it on an island in the middle of a lake near Morelia, Mexico. It uses the soft drink Fresca as its base and adds diced oranges and lemons along with chili powder, salt, and the liquor, and is served in a glass rimmed with salt and chili powder. It's fantastic! We played cards and drank fairly late into the night, something I really had not done since I left Ithaca. The only thing missing was my friend Cory, (not to be confused with Corey), with whom I attended middle school all the way through college, and who was my partner in merrymaking last summer. I guess you cannot have everything.

This morning Andy, Jane and I celebrated morning prayer outside on the back patio. I packed up my bags and just after noon my friends Willard and Dorothy arrived to take me to lunch and then the airport. They are some of the most amazing people I have ever met, Willard being a retired German professor at IC and Dorothy having been a research librarian there. They have travelled around the world and hosted a varied but notable assortment of dignitaries and performers during their many years in Ithaca. They have the most wonderful stories and serve as the institutional memory for a good deal of Ithaca College, certainly the ICPC, and probably most of Ithaca as well. We became good friends when Willard and I were on the ICPC board of directors together, serving on some of the same committees. They hosted me for a week one summer when I was back in Ithaca to participate in the Northwest Wind Symposium and they hosted a bunch of my stuff the summer between my junior and senior years. They keep track of me now that I am off in seminary in Boston, which they know well since Willard graduated from Harvard and Dorothy is from Boston, and they offer sage advise borne out of years of experience and dedication to their community. They have a profoundly cosmopolitan spirit, taking the whole world as the locus for their concern, a quality I admire and hope to emulate. We had a wonderful lunch at the Moosewood Restaurant, probably the most famous restaurant in Ithaca, and then, after running into Alice in the park, another ICPC board member, they took me to the Ithaca airport to fly to Austin, TX for the Fund for Theological Education Excellence in Ministry Conference. Willard and Dorothy are so loyal as to wait with me for my plane to be called and then wave goodbye to me through the window between the lobby and the boarding area. They are wonderful people who have deigned to grace me with their friendship, something I will always treasure.

As I sit here on my flight from Detroit to Austin writing this, I can see fields and farms, houses and roads stretched out across the vast landscape that is America. It is amazing to think that God is deeply and personally concerned with every blade of grass in all of those fields, with every animal on every farm, with every person in every house and driving on every road. The people God has placed in my life to mediate grace to me are persons of depth and substance as well as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. They overflow with the fruits of the Spirit and I am blessed. And I find myself alive in a world that cannot but be the product of a benevolent sovereign who is personally concerned with its, and my, well-being. My soul is filled to overflowing and I give thanks.

Glory to the Father-Mother and to the Child and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. Amen. Alleluia.

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