Still. Life!

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I am trying to remember you
&
Let you go
At
The same time
Nayyirah Waheed

Three years ago, these were the last, somewhat frantic, days of our life in Fort Lauderdale. The movers would be at the house on the 17th and 18th. On the 19th as dawn was breaking, we’d head out, Sherod in his truck, I in my car, with Boo and Spot and Daisy along for the ride. On this date, that year, Maria was on the eve of heading to her new home in Tallahassee.

It is increasingly peculiar, this business of looking back. The dates are so clearly registered in the muscle and sinew and bone of my very body it seems, so I cannot but stop and pay attention. What was once so vivid there was no way I would ever forget a single detail now grows more blurry, while still so present. I was driving home not long ago and out of nowhere, realized my mind was carefully crafting the definitive answer I wished I could give to one of the serious, innuendo-laden concerns raised about the New River Regional Ministry, especially on the St Ambrose campus. I walked myself back from the edge of self-righteous rage. I reminded myself life had gone on. I listened to myself breathe.

We are called to live fruitful lives and these past few days have been filled with reminders that what fruit we bear, we bear where we are. I picked three San Marzano tomatoes and an eggplant last evening, then found another eggplant the Spouseman had forgotten on a bench close to the vegetable garden. The first blackberry of our new blackberry vine was ripe for the picking as well. It looked so good, I ate it as soon as I took this picture, sweet and delicious and the essence of summer.

These next few weeks will find us scrambling to put up, can and freeze such abundance.

Yesterday, during the Bible Study I facilitate weekly, we had a marvelous conversation about call and commission—how apostolic succession is in tension with a Spirit-filled commission that comes from an unexpected place. We are working on the 9th chapter of Acts, and looking at Ananias, who was not an apostle yet issued the prophetic call to Saul. That lead to a discussion of the ordination of Bishop Seabury and the ordination of the Philadelphia 11 and in the conversation, our connection to every bit of the story of God’s work in creation told in the Bible was real and energizing.

Waheed’s brief and eloquent verses give me a sense of my life in these still early days of summer, when the harvest has begun and winter and desolation are still within sight, even as they grow dimmer in memory. Still. Life.

Feelin’ the righteousness…

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This year I have to be a little extra creative to make sure I get in my continuing ed time  before September 1st, when I start on my third year of employment at Ascension. I finally settled on a reading and writing project. On Thursdays for the next 9 or so weeks, I am going to work on a self-study project. I will pick back up on the writing I started last year with Collegeville and have made less progress on than I coulda, shoulda woulda. I am grateful that there is a fine editor in town who I look forward to working with.

I am also adding another layer to my project. Way back in my days as a seminarian, I did a really cool independent study course with a woman called Sue Armentrout, where we had a semester-long discussion about a book by a French philosopher called Paul Ricouer. He had just published the first part of the first volume of a set called Time and Narrative. It was a wonderful discussion and I have wanted to go back to his work for a long time now; I went on a tad of a shopping spree last week. I have no idea if his work will in any way inform my writing, or if in fact, it will be the reverse (though I am not holding my breath that I have anything at all to engage with Ricouer). I should probably count myself lucky if I manage to work my way through the three volumes of Time and Narrative.  It is so well worth the effort, though…

To make this even more official (and in a perverse sorta way, thrilling), I have procured a carrel in an out-of-the-way corner of the library of the Supreme Court of Alabama thanks to the generosity of their librarian, Mr. Tim Lewis, Esq. At least in the morning, but probably for most of my Thursdays, I will be squirreled away doing my readin’n writin’. Totally cool.

Then, this evening I saw something that was truly the icing on the cake or the exclamation point on a particularly well crafted sentence. An online friend, Katherine,  linked an article about Macron and Ricouer. You can read it here. So, in a friend of a friend, existential kind of way, it’s like I get to hang out with Macron as well. Not shabby company. Sweeeeeet!

 

Six Years

She was beautiful. Her eyes could dance with such mischief and merriment. She loved pretty shoes, especially Ferragamos. When I close my eyes I can still hear her comforting me during those hard times at Children’s in Boston: “ya, ya Rosita”.

On a Sunday night like tonight, it was June 5, 2011, my mom died.  I continue to miss her beyond words.

Mami

Mom (on the right) 

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My parents, probably at one of the Consular Christmas Parties in Cali

Los Quinces de Luz Maria, May 28, 2011

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Maria’s Quinces Birthday Cake

On May 28, 2011, my mother was dying. I had flown to Panama 5 days earlier, when I’d heard over the phone, “Rosita, your mother is not going to make it much longer, you need to come now.” It wasn’t just the sorrow of traveling to walk with my mother through those last days of her life. It was that I had to leave just as I was finishing up all the planning and preparation I had started months earlier to celebrate Maria’s Quinces–the Latino equivalent of Sweet Sixteen, a rite of passage into adulthood.  There is so much my girl will not get to experience of a ‘regular’ life that it is incredibly important to me to find the ways for her to experience every bit as much of the lovely parts of life as she possibly can.

We had settled on a tea-dance for her at the parish hall of the small parish where I served as priest-in-charge. It would be  grown up enough for a DJ and dancing, a beautiful cake, and manageable even for a woman-child who, despite all her strength, is fragile, and needs buffers and breathing spaces from everything that functioning in our society and culture requires of us.

I’d been having a ball with the planning–there was so much I could do to make it both magical and real for this person entrusted to my care whose first name is Luz, Light.  I was so close to putting the finishing details in place, and then, I couldn’t.  Some amazing friends picked up where I had to leave off. The parish hall was packed with folks who loved our girl so much.  That night, after I had helped settle my mother for the night, as I had prayed, as I did every night, “please God, not yet”, I logged into Facebook and started seeing the pictures.  From so far away, I got to see glimpses of how beautiful my girl had been, how special the afternoon turned out, and especially, what a stunning toast her Dad had given.  I think you can see a video of that toast by clicking here.

All these years later, having just celebrated her 21st Birthday week before last, having sat with my dad this evening over dinner, remembering with him that on the 5th of June it will be 6 years since my mom died, it is almost as if I can slip back into that day, and that incredible combination of wonder and horror that lived side by side in me as I listened to my mother’s labored breathing and got to see the pictures and videos of my girl celebrating.  Such a life I have gotten to live…

Sometimes all I can do is sit

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I had to take my dad to the doctor this morning. There was more planned for the day but I just could not do it. I cleared the figurative ‘decks,’ because the events and news of this week had left me spinning. On Monday, my boss, the Rector at Ascension, told me he has been called to a new parish that’s all kinds of wonderful; his last Sunday is June 18. It took the rest of the week for the news to actually be shared publicly and until that happened, I had to act like nothing had changed.

Last night we celebrated our patronal feast, Ascension Day. We are part of a group of churches that participate in a magnificent respite program for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Recently, the people who are served through this program, and the volunteers whom they love, have formed a choir called Side-by-Side. The Side-by-Side Singers performed for us last night and asked the congregation to sing along. Their music selection was so sweet—songs like “The sun will come out tomorrow”—and it was almost excruciatingly ironic for a handful of us, who knew that today’s mail would bring the official announcement of Andy’s new call. Then, when it was time for the feast that so many people helped prepare, I stood and talked to a couple of people who are ever so dear to me, holding my dinner plate in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.  I made some jerky, awkward movement so I poured water and half my dinner on myself. It was time to come home, though only to my sweet animals, because Sherod’s on a trip.

I was tired and fell asleep early, but today I woke up simply overwhelmed. When I got home from taking my daddy to the doctor, I crawled into the most comfortable chair in the house and spent a good part of the day simply staring out at the garden. I kept telling myself to get up and do something but I could not think of what that might be. Sometimes we must simply sit with grief and turmoil and fear; when I finally quit criticizing my inertia, something changed; slowly the fear ebbed out, the anxious little parts of me quieted. The notion that we must carry all work, all ministry, lightly, surrendering fear, so we can open spaces for new possibilities, is one I relearn over, and over, and over again. Today was one of those days.

Last night we sang, “the sun will come out tomorrow” and the scared, petulant child in me snapped silently, “no it won’t, because my world is upside down and the things I was counting on aren’t going to happen!” Well, the thing about sitting in our living room, looking out at the garden was, I had acknowledge that, yup, the sun had, in fact, come out. That the day was beautiful, that as the afternoon sun became less harsh, I could go out and pick some squash for my dinner, and figure out that in a few days, our sunflower patch is going to be pretty spectacular. I could turn and look at our rambling house already filled with so many stories and echoes of laughter. I could start thinking about a ministry project I had put to one side that might yet come to fruition. I had the time and energy to briefly touch base with someone whose wisdom and companionship a few years ago continues to light the way for me, even in the midst of the turbulence of the week, and who now walks with his beloved through far more difficult and dark valleys.  Today I had so much time for prayer, even if some of that prayer was chaotic and childish.

Tomorrow I have a list of all kinds of garden projects. The sun comes up early these days and lingers in such beautiful twilight, filled with lightning bugs. This is “my one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver).

Not Orphaned

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I have some ‘go-to’ sources that usually give me a way to start reflecting on the lessons appointed for a Sunday when I am preaching. In one of those places, I read a very helpful reflection about the passage in John appointed for today, and how we are called to live “Paraklete (Advocate) kinds of lives.” (www.workingpreacher.com) Though the phrase captured my imagination, the rest of the essay felt quite theoretical and disengaged. Nonetheless, today’s reading, and that phrase, “live a Paraklete kind of life” reminded me of something that happened many years ago.

This is the core of my sermon based on John 14:15-21:

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” I don’t know if you have ever felt orphaned. For me, the experience came early in life. I’ve shared before that a birth defect in my left hip made it necessary for me to have significant surgery and medical care through my childhood. It was my fortune and blessing that my parents were able to take me to Boston where I had all my surgeries at Children’s Hospital.

Even as late as 1968, when I was 8 years old and had another surgery at Children’s, the hospital set and strictly enforced visiting hours for parents. My mom could be with me from mid-morning till about 5 in the evening. After that, I was on my own, pretty much trapped in a full-length cast, waiting for sleep to come. We humans have an incredible capacity to adapt so, by and large, I learned to say my goodbyes at the end of the day without making a scene, though the leave-taking never got easy.

 One evening, I was washed over with a tidal wave of fear and loneliness as I watched my mami walk out the door of my hospital room. It kept getting worse and worse, until I lay in my hospital bed, just weeping. My bed was next to a big plate window that looked out into the hallway of the unit, and a woman—not a nurse, but perhaps a volunteer, or a hospital employee—must have walked by my room, seen my distress, and came in to find out why I was so sad. All I could say through sobs was, “I miss my mami”. She managed to get me to tell her where my mami was, then, she unlocked the wheels of my bed and literally rolled it out of the room and, down the hall to the public phone by the elevators. There was a phone book, hanging below the phone, like there used to be at phone booths, and before long, she had managed to get me to tell her that my mom was staying at the Longwood Inn, had taken out a nickel from her purse, had dialed and gotten my mother on the phone. To this day, almost 50 years later, I can still feel the indescribable relief and comfort of hearing my mother’s voice at the other end of the line. We didn’t talk long, but long enough for my mami to reassure me that morning would come quickly and she’d be back with me; then, the woman rolled my bed back into the hospital room and left.  

 The whole encounter could not have lasted longer than 15-20 minutes. It was a small enough moment that it brings to mind Julian of Norwich, who once found something as small as a hazelnut and gazing on it in the palm of her hand, she said, “I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall.” She goes on to add, “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.” 

 That moment on the 6th floor of Children’s on a summer night in 1968 was such that it might have “fallen into nothing for its littleness”. And it meant the difference between life and death for the spirit and heart of a young child. Because she lived, I lived. I’ll never know the woman’s name. I’ll never get to thank her. In the larger span and scope of her life and mine, let alone the arc of human history, that moment was so tiny as to be insignificant. Nonetheless, she abides in me, and I will always abide in the sheer grace and salvation she offered me that evening. This was a Holy Spirit kind of moment, an absolute affirmation of the generous, creative, bold Spirit of Love described by Jesus in this passage.

I only preached at 8:00 this morning. Bishop Kee came for his visit and for Confirmation. He is gentle; there is a lightness of touch in his words, so I laugh and delight in his use of language and attention to detail. Then wham, I look up and he’s brought me right up against that unchanging, incredibly hard call of the Gospel—to live into the commandment given by Jesus: Love God. Love one another as I have loved you. Love not just your family. Not just your tribe. Not just the members of your denomination or religion or nationality or race or political party. Everybody. Everybody. We must love one another.

New Eyes

My husband gave me a new lens for my camera on Mother’s Day. It’s called a Macro Lens and is designed to get very close to that which you want to photograph. I have a funeral this morning, and I continue to struggle with despair—for our country, the world, the beautiful creation God has entrusted to our care. It is my early morning rambles in the garden that restore me. I took a bunch of pictures with my new lens this morning and came back in to load them on my computer. It was like looking through new eyes when the images came up. Sometimes grace is about being given a sharper vision for the beauty right here, right now.

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