I don’t look out much in the morning. I am usually writing, or talking to Sherod, or reading. In fact, this morning, Sherod and I were having a pretty intense conversation when I happened to look out the French doors that line the back of our house. I did a double take, asked his forgiveness for interrupting and grabbed my camera. I could have missed this so easily. And this I will miss…
Yesterday was Sherod’s birthday. I spent most of the morning assembling a raised plant bed, my gift to him. That involved taking his truck to bring the kit home from my office where I had kept it to make this a surprise, reading instructions, figuring out what tools I needed and gathering them up, hefting bags of dirt and large wooden parts from one place to another. I was hot and sweaty and pretty grimy by the time I got through. I had hoped to surprise Sherod with the bed already fully assembled but fairly quickly, realized I would do the job better with some guidance from him. Sherod sat like a Pasha out on our deck and gave instructions, letting out sighs and huffs of frustration because I may be somewhat strong and somewhat smart but I am still pretty clutzy about this kind of stuff.
Still. I assembled the plant bed and before too long we will have fancy lettuce and heirloom tomatoes growing. Even more, it will be a daily reminder of where we are heading. Increasingly, it becomes clear to us how much we want to be in a small patch of land with a simple, well designed, house. Some of the possibilities we are discussing include working with the folks from the Auburn Rural Studio project. Or putting together a house using modules from Kithaus. Sherod talks about wanting a goat,a pair of geese to chase people who come visit, giving him cheap and endless amusement from the front porch. And he wants him some biddies. For me, it’s the possibility of the kind of darkness that’s filled with starlight, that’s real and alive. The experience of working in a garden or in the kitchen or on a house project so at the end of the day I am maybe more than a little sore but also tired and able to see what I accomplished, able to stand back and say, “I got that done”. Incarnation. It’s all about incarnation and not the endless mind games I was stuck in for so long.
We are getting increasingly serious about moving back to Alabama, somewhere out in the country around Selma. I don’t have any illusions about what that means—the conservatism, the bigotry, the poverty—in other words, a place with sharp edges and little in the way of comfort for this progressive, feminist, non-traditional Swedish-Colombian woman. I also know this. Alabama has enacted the toughest, meanest anti-immigrant laws in the country—and there are still Latinos in Alabama, including many who are invisible and marginalized. I am still a priest…
I am usually beyond wiped out on Christmas Day. Along with the Christmas Eve services, there’s the Eucharist and breakfast at Vila’s. On all the other years, I woke up close to dawn to get the Posole heating on the stove and to gather everything we needed for the breakfast. María in particular was short-changed—presents got opened in a hurry and my eye was on my watch through most of that early morning, preocupied to get things started for the Vila’s service. Last year, with our daughter gone and no Christmas decorations out except a small tree on one table, it didn’t even matter—Christmas was one more day I simply needed to get through.
This year, a particularly kind person from All Saints volunteered to get things started early in the morning for me. And my girl. My beautiful, funny, silly girl. She has been doing so well for the past 10 days that her support team and we agreed that she could be with us not just for Christmas and sleep over until today—we all agreed that she was in good enough shape to spend Christmas Eve and last night at our house. She went with her daddy to the 4 o’clock service at All Saints, where she got to be an angel in the pageant. She was with me for Midnight Mass. Our choir director allowed her to lead us in the old Spanish hymn, “Peces en el Río”. María has been singing this song since I first met her in México in 1998 and to sit in my little church, with lights twinkling and so much beauty all around, getting to hear her clear, sweet voice, was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
Yesterday morning, I had the unheard of luxury of sleeping until 8:15, when María’s hand on my shoulder, gently shaking me, finally woke me up. We opened gifts slowly and happily. She said, “I know you were Santa Claus for me. Since you are looking for a new job, maybe you can go to the North Pole and be the real Santa Claus. That would be a good job!” Indeed, María. W. from All Saints as well as the other volunteers ensured the morning service at Vila’s went beautifully. When it was all done, I got home and got to have a long, wonderful nap and lazy afternoon.
The house is sort-of a wreck and though this year, I managed to muster the energy to get a real Christmas tree, I had not put out any other decorations. When Sherod began to move towards fixing the first real meal of the day in the early evening, something went very quietly joyful in me. I pulled out the corn husk Nativity set one of my mom’s dear friends gave me shortly after we married. And a pair of Swedish candle sticks and candles that had been my mom’s. I polished some silverware and set the table. A Christmas table.
When we sat down to eat, I started the blessing and prayed for Marta Isabel, Ann and Juanita, our three mothers, all of them in heaven this year. We prayed a bit more, said amen and started eating. Until María stopped us, grabbed our hands and said she had one more prayer. She thanked God for several of the staff members at BARC by name and asked God to be with all the people who live with her in A House.
Amidst so much else, love and hope made flesh.
For a seventh year we gathered at the parking lot in Vilas. At first, it looked like only a handful of day laborers would come for the Christmas service and breakfast we had prepared. ICE has been very aggressive–there have been lots of deportations from that spot in the past few weeks. And then the men started showing up, little by little, lots of familiar faces, the hugs and the sense that together we make Christmas.
For my grandparents who are both 102 this year and live in Guatemala.
For the son I had not seen in ten years who died 3 months ago.
For my family in Honduras. They are fighting and I ask God to help them stop killing each other.
For my mamacita, Juana, in Cuba
This year, the bags of food we shared had fresh carrots, onions and potatoes. Thanks to a gift of rice and beans, we could add oil and hot sauce to the staples of Maseca, rice and beans we’ve always included. Larry J., a kind, generous man from All Saints prepared zip lock bags of socks and a candy cane and good folks of All Saints bought bows and angel present labels, enough to allow us to give each man a calling card.
Another Christmas celebrated. I am tired. Deeply moved by generosity, equally saddened by the relentlessness of need. There is grief and a deep, quiet joy for a Christmas blessing that has lasted all these years. Glory to God in the highest…
I imagine the shepherds had stared up at the stars hundreds and hundreds of times, fighting sleep, trying to stay alert as they watched their flocks. Some of those times they had to have been bored out of their minds. Surely one or another of them ocassionally saw star light refracted through tears—maybe of sorrow, maybe of relief, maybe of despair. They had the hard work of getting through the hours of watch with all the sheep safe and the reward for success was more work the next night. I wonder if, from time to time, the immensity of the sky got to them, made them feel as small and insigificant as a speck of dust on the back of a flea.
That night there was a different kind of star but probably only those who had come to know a lot about the night skies noticed anything different.. There were voices, the voices of angels, heralds of astounding news. But it seems it was only these shepherds, keepers of boredom, silence and the vastness of space, who could hear the whispers of joy that most others did not.
You and I have had inklings of that song of joy through the years, fleetingly thought we saw a star different than the others, one that stirred our curiosity, invited us to journey outside of the things we already knew. But I suspect that we, like the shepherds have discovered that the signs of God at work are usually quite small, so very careful, slow and gentle. God at work is so easy to overlook, and we so easily distracted.
We want the big splash, the migthy acts that dazzle, overwhelm and define with utmost clarity and finality. Of course it isn’t that God is not able, nor that there aren’t spectactular, breakthrough moments when everything seems to have been made new and better, more bright and more shiny. But it is in those small, quiet, tender moments, where perhaps we can best see as the shepherds saw.
For days we have scrambled and scurried to get everything just right, brought out the best and loveliest of our finery, decked our halls and gussied ourselves up. The sanctuary is as lovely as ever with twinkling lights, and flowers and garlands. The coming of the Christ child into the world happens in such an unexpected, unanticipated moment, and we gather ourselves in this more formal, more colorful, more everything celebration because we struggle to understand that a mother delivering a child can be the portend of those mighty acts we hope our God will do for us. We want all the beautiful, ‘kicked up a notch’ ornamentation because that might help keep us awake to watch for a moment exquisitely fleeting that it is here and gone in an eyeblink.
Now the work is done. We are invited to stop. To listen. To look beyond the immediacy of the cares we may have brought tonight. And after we have cradled the body of Christ in our hands, all those beautiful hands of so many different sizes and shapes, each receiving Him gently into our lives, we will hush, and dim the lights to sing Silent Night together. For a brief moment we will be as alert and aware as the shepherds. Our voices will be the voices of angels in the darkness. We will allow ourselves to embrace the possibility that God made flesh would come and dwell with us here, and now. And thus, love is born again.
It is Christmas. Look up into the immensity of the sky for a star that beckons. Listen, listen—whispers of great joy dance and twirl through the firmament. The thin, reedy voice of a new born pierces the night.
For the past three years, the solace, hope and strength of grace was offered in my night rambles. In several posts in this time, I have talked about my encounters with owls. The last two occurred in Nevada, when I was visiting my friend and colleague, Joe Duggan and his wife, and then last November, when Sherod and I spent time on Thanksgiving day with our dear friends Marsha and Cosby. On our drive back to the hotel in Selma, an enormous owl swooped by us on a deep, dark night out in the Alabama countryside. My friends here in Fort Lauderdale had been of the small, burrowing species. The times our paths crossed, I was in deep grief and their presence was of great consolation. I came to believe that the unexpected encounters with the two far larger owls in some way represented a portend and presence far bigger and more significant.
Last night, Sherod announced to the joint vestries that comprise the New River Regional Ministry that I am resigning my position as priest-in-charge of St Ambrose and as lead clergy for the combined ministres of El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos, St Ambrose and what is now the New River Academy. We are still working out the exact date of my departure, though as of now, I don’t expect to be with NRRM longer than January 31st.
In three years, I have faced into three very significant losses and though comparisons are odious, resigning from my ministry with NRRM has required of me more health, clarity and strength than any of the others because it had to be a choice I made, a choice that involved letting go of a ministry I have loved beyond words. I had to be willing to recognize that there were enormous ambiguities in my role. I have a record in this ministry I am fiercely proud of. And I am also the rector of All Saints’ wife. Especially as NRRM began a transition with Sherod’s announced retirement, it was too much to ask the leadership team to sort out the complexity I brought to the position in that “both-and” of Sherod’s wife and priest-in-charge of the more vulnerable community.
The Episcopal Church continues to struggle to figure out the ways to make vulnerable communities–parishes that have been in a downward spiral, like St Ambrose, and emerging congregations in marginalized communities–viable. During my tenure, a group of amazing people found the way to provide transformational ministries that were of a caliber that earned us the opportunity to become a United Way agency. That’s a big deal. But I was not able to put all the financial pieces in place to relieve the pressure on All Saints, our resource parish, and in these precarious times, that was a big deal too. One that could not be ignored.
Finally, like any “mama”–and in some sense, I birthed this new ministry on the ragged edges of the Episcopal Church–I had to face into the truth that what was best for the ministries I am a part of had to come first, even if it felt like I was letting go prematurely (and don’t all parents end up thinking they’ve had to let go of their babies too soon?). To embrace health and wholeness–NRRM’s and mine–meant not clinging to magical thinking or what had been.
Yesterday, in an interview in New York City I got to hear myself and what I have learned about being a priest and professional (and I was both proud and a bit surprised to realize, again, just how much FedEx and my time with FedEx helped me become the priest I am today). I have a lot of ministry left in me, whether it is in the position I interviewed for or another.
I got back to LaGuardia to find my original flight home was cancelled. I was rebooked on another flight that left NYC in the wee hours of this morning . During my long wait at LGA, I phoned in to participate in what is probably my last vestry meeting with NRRM and heard Sherod announce my resignation. After I hung up, I went looking for a place to sit and had to settle for an empty baggage cart. I leaned against one of its sides and found myself weeping about this new huge loss I must integrate into myself along with the others of these past few years. I have kept praying for more simplicity in my life and I am being offered the gift. It was a good and right and joyful thing, it turns out, to find a place to rest on an empty baggage cart.
I pulled into our driveway at 3:47 AM–ten minutes short of 24 hours after I started the day. I slept till sunrise and am sitting writing this with the back doors of my home flung open to let in the light and mild breeze of a gorgeous South Florida morning. On Jan 1, I go on a part-time schedule and it occurs to me that I am going to make sure at least some of my rambles start happening during the day. That’s the walking I did in Tahoe and now it is time to discover what day brings in my everyday life.