Hurry Up ‘N Wait Some More

DSCN1161The tomatoes are growing.  This is the one that’s further along.  There are quite a few more.  I go out and water and look and wait daily.  The lettuce grew swift and sure and for some reason, has all tasted far more bitter than I had anticipated.  I am wondering about the tomatoes now, not projecting, not able to do anything at all but let them grow and become whatever it is they are going to become.

Likewise, my girl’s slow journey continues.  Along with serious self-injury two weeks ago, she has been making other bad choices at school so it is two weekends now without being able to have her home.  She came down with a bad cold this weekend so last evening, we went over to see her.  Sherod stayed in the truck and she and I sat on porch swing they have in front of A House, where she lives.  I put my arm around her and she put her head on my shoulder. I sang her the lullaby I invented for her when we got custody of her, now 13 years ago.  Then we just swung in silence for a while, I aching to scoop my baby girl and bring her home.  I cannot project, I am not able to do anything but let her continue to grow into who she is able to be.

My work is done for the day, later I will walk. For now I can knit.

 

Awake

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There continue to be major and minor shifts and tremors in the ground beneath my feet and I wake up in the dead of night just about always now.  Some nights I find easy silence.  A lot of nights, the anxiety monsters are out roaming, stomping and storming.  This morning when I checked Facebook, I found that Emily Mellott, a lovely priest in the Diocese of Chicago had shared a link to another priest, this one a suburban vicar, Heidi Havercamp, who unexpectedly blessed me with a new definition of adulthood.

Vigils or Lying Awake in the Middle of the Night

Vigils, from the Latin vigilia, ”wakefulness”: a period of purposeful sleeplessness, an occasion for devotional watching, the monastic night office.

Part of adulthood, it seems
is waking up at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.
and spending some time
in involuntary (often anxious)
contemplation.
Is this really the weakness
of an aging body and mind,
or in fact, a growing awareness
of the eternal?

At 2 a.m., our side of the earth
faces outward, away from the sun,
into the infinite darkness of the universe.
Eternity, I think, is what wakes us up,
asking us to look it in the face
with wonder and dread.

Asking us to listen to the silence,
but also, the heart beating,
children sleeping, and the night wind.

Or to hear the police and fire sirens,
ambulances screaming.
Asking us, I think, to pray
for those who work while others sleep.

For those who the night keeps hidden,
prostitutes, runaways, and drunks.
For the injured, the sick, the dying,
the alone. 

Asking us to remember
that we’re not alone
when we’re awake
in the middle of the night.

Asking us to contemplate
a crack in the ceiling,
an infinite cosmos.

Asking us to ponder God’s glory
and our finitude.

This is the work of adults.

On This Day: Sermon for the 6th Sunday After Epiphany

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I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days (Deuteronomy 30)

This skein of wool is part of the last gift I received from my mom.  She had a beautiful old chest in her living room, a chest full of projects—sewing, knitting, all kinds of crafts my mom enjoyed doing all her life.  Already very feeble, mom could still be all kinds of bossy, so she instructed me to open the chest and look for a big bag full of skeins of alpaca wool and a knitting project.  She had started knitting a sweater that was really complicated and you could tell it would be breath-taking when she finished it. Mom had been knitting the sweater for me.  She couldn’t bring herself to say that she knew time was running out for her, so instead she said she thought it was time I learned to follow more complicated knitting patterns.

I have set before you life and death…choose life.

I look at a single skein and I see any number of possibilities.  So many different ways I could use it.  I suspect my mom bought this wool at least 10 years ago and nothing has changed—what I hold is my hands is just a possibility waiting to be realized.  As many possibilities as it contains, there are also limits.  This is a single, loosely wound strand of yarn.  It has a beginning and it has end.  I can stand here and unwind this skein and it will pile up on the floor until eventually, there is nothing left in my hands and a big mess on the floor.

I have set before you life and death…choose life.

I simply accepted the gift my mom was entrusting to me.  After she died, I brought it  home and put it away in my own version of that chest.  The bag sat there for almost three years until late this fall when I suddenly remembered it.  I didn’t have to look at the pattern long to realize it was way more complicated than I had the energy or desire to commit.  But the skeins of wool were extraordinarily beautiful.  And as I held the partly knint sweater in my hands I felt my mom so close by—what was there, even unfinished, nonetheless contained the love, skill, hopes and possibilities that she had envisioned.

I made the decision to unravel the whole thing, and cried doing so. You see, I had figured out that I could use the wool for what I was capable of knitting, something a lot less complicated. I would knit scarves for my brothers and a pair of socks for my dad.  There was enough wool for all three projects.  And so I started.  There have been decisions to make.  Commitments.  If you look at my work on this particular scarf, there are a couple of places where it is obvious I made a small mistake and have corrected it.  I’m glad I did—if you drop a stitch and don’t pick it back up, eventually, the garment will no longer be usuable—it will unravel.

A few weeks ago, when Sherod had his surgery, I took my knitting and sat in the waiting room, each stitch a prayer:  Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.

As you can also see, there’s plenty of work left on this scarf and then there will be my dad’s socks to make as well.  It is only when I have given each of my brothers and dad his gift that the skeins of wool will truly matter, will have meaning, and purpose.

I have set before you life and death…choose life.

You may be sitting there scratching your head wondering what in heavens name this story is all about.  Like the skein of wool, the time we have been given has a start and an end.  I suspect at least some of you may remember me having quoted one of my favorite poets, W.H. Auden, before: “Time is our choice of How to love and Why”.  To choose life is to have to make the choice over and over again, it is to live and pray, and decide for ourselves, one stitch at a time.  If we are attentive, is we are mindful, if we allow ourselves to imagine and to dream, a pattern emerges.  Out of things that aren’t particularly special, or new or unusual, a new, hopefully beautiful, creation emerges.

But we can also make death-dealing choices.

In this last year, I have become almost agonizingly aware of the small victories of death that come with magical thinking.   We tell ourselves, “somehow, things will be alright”.  That others will take care of what needs to be taken care of.  That we can depend on others and still have autonomy.   I myself constantly struggle against magical thinking—I will indulge in this treat and tomorrow will go back to taking care of my blood sugar.  If I can just find the right words to say, if I can be nice enough, diplomatic enough, careful enough, I can say my truths, some of them hard-edged, and no one will be upset and things will also change.  Magical thinking, this business of wanting to have it both ways.

It isn’t just individuals who indulge in magical thinking.  Communities do too and it is equally death dealing for them.  I was in New York this week and was taken aback by the sense of walking into a bunker at 815 2nd Avenue, the ‘headquarters’ of the Episcopal Church.  Security is tight, tight, tight, and there’s an air of defensiveness—and yet from that posture, we dream of having meaningful, life-changing ministries as the Episcopal Church.  Magical thinking, pure and simple.

And right here.  This community has been spectacular this year in the stewardship campaign.  Bill talked about that last week.  And then, Bill asked for all hands on deck for a workday yesterday.  A handful of people from the English speaking part of the community showed up.  There was a similar handful of people from the Spanish speaking part of the community.

We want it both ways—I want things looking nice and I am too tired, too busy, too old, been the one who did it too many times before, it’s those people’s turn now.  That kind of magical thinking will bring about the death of our community and it will be death without dignity.  Someone will make the decision for us and summarily close down the ministry or it will simply peter out, no one will be around to mark the ending or to thank God for the gift of life that resided here for over 50 years.

I have set before you life and death…choose life.

If we are too tired.  If the complexities of being a church community in the world as it is today have overwhelmed us, if there simply is nothing left to give—let’s have that conversation.  Together, let’s plan the funeral and celebration of the life that was here and model to the entire diocese what happens when people of courage reach the end of the line.  There is nothing undignified in death if faced with courage, grace and humor.  It is through denial, and magical thinking, and expediency  and procrastination that we experience death with no promise of resurrection.

But if we want life, if we want to go on living, if there is still  ministry to do here in the Riverland area, there are a zillion small stitches, small prayers, small actions, small stretches the community has to keep making.  The good news is that these are the very actions that draw us close to God so that God’s grace can help us live and have life abundant.  But we, like those in every age before us, must make those choices.  Today.

I have set before you life and death…choose life.

The Lottery

DSCN1144I got a lovely bouquet of roses for Valentines Day.  Sherod got them through WLRN, our local public radio station. Unbeknownst to him, his name was included in a raffle of two prime tickets to go to an Andrea Bocelli concert tonight. His name was chosen.  Still recovering from his hip surgery, Sherod turned them down.  He will watch the Olympics and I will walk tonight.

So random.  There is also such a random quality to ‘Valentines Day’.  It is certainly exploited with a dimension of raw commercialism that I rail against.  But there are too many genuinely sweet, inspiring stories about the ways people have layered it with meaning that I cannot summarily dismiss.  And then there is the most beautiful piece of writing I have found today, penned by Jan Richardson, whose husband died very unexpectedly last year, a short time after their wedding.  Perhaps it has special resonance because another friend, Cindy, buried her beloved brother today.  He had cancer, treatment seemed to have worked and then it came roaring back. Some day, they will be able to tell us why the exact same protocol works for one and not for another.  But we aren’t there yet.  I saw a picture on Facebook of the gathering after Cindy’s brother’s service and the grace and capacity for joy, even in the midst of death, shines through ion her face and the faces of the others in the photo.  Jan’s wrenching grief is on full display in the blessing she wrote for this day, and also her gift for writing and the generosity of her life.  Neither Cindy’s gift or hers is random.

A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
– Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still

as if it trusts
that its own stubborn
and persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

– Jan Richardson

Après…

IMG_0046It is fiercely cold and fiercely beautiful outside this morning.  The news today is all about the storm that’s coming.  I have set up notifications and stuff because I hope to fly home late this evening.  The last time I was here, I sat at LaGuardia for over 6 hours. Me thinks the same fate awaits me this evening.

I worked close to 12 hours yesterday–intense, sometimes illuminating, daunting, as well. And I have figured this out about New York:  It is an incredibly seductive place to visit.  I feel sort-of like Mowgli when Kaa the python is doing her hypnotic thing in the Disney movie Jungle Book.  Both days, I have had breakfast at a place called Le Pain Quotidien which is on the same block as my hotel.  It feels like coming home to walk into that space with a long communal table, amazing irish oatmeal, and warmth and friendly service.  Of course, this being New York, it’s mine for a price–breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, $15.00.

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I had just a bit of time yesterday morning to go to Grand Central Station, right next to my hotel, and there too, there was the sense of rightness.  One thing I can say about this place is, along with being a city with obscenely rich people who create enclaves of privilege that leave me horribly uneasy, it also has incredibly beautiful public spaces that are available to everyone.  I mean, really, to get to complain about a train schedule by going up to this window?

DSCN1108I’m glad I’ve been here.  And now, I hope I get home before the storm.

Cold and Beautiful

DSCN1068I did it! I made a snow angel and it was colder than all get out because right under the snow was a layer of ice. I had been talking to a pair of workers who were shoveling snow in Central Park and they drove by on their golf cart just as I got started crossing over a little fence into an area of perfectly untouched snow.  One of the guys was a Salvadoreño whose daughter is studying cinematography at NYU and offered to take my picture.

I also indulged in the luxury of having lunch at the food mall at the Plaza–fresh ricotta and prosciutto on toasted farmer’s bread with chives and a tiny drizzle of olive oil. YUUUUMMMM

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The colors are so amazing on a sunny day after the snow has stopped.

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And rich people just freak me out sometimes–the window at Bottega Veneta–dolls with enormous heads and tiny, scrawny bodies wearing outfits costing tens of thousands.  Weird sh&t.

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I worked very hard this afternoon and still have a business dinner to attend in a while.  The news from back home is that my girl is back on a self-injuring jag, bad enough that today she had to be taken from school early because she had caused two pretty significant wounds on her arm.

I finally figured something else out about rage, grief, loss and life:  I can’t save her. I can’t redraw the contours of her life. I can love her. And that is enough…

First Fruits and Winter

DSCN1057I went out and picked the first lettuce.  It was delicious with just some lemon juice, olive oil and salt.  I willed the tomato to hurry up and grow and ripen and then came in to begin packing for my trip to New York tomorrow.  It is snowing up there this evening and tomorrow the high will be 28. The low between tomorrow and Tuesday, 10.  Rather a vivid contrast, what’s here and what’s there.  I may yet get to make a snow angel this year.  To pick fresh lettuce one day and two days later make a snow angel–that would be pretty darned cool. I am staying in a hotel very close to Grand Central Station–maybe I’ll get to take lots of pictures early in the morning, before reporting to my job.  How dare I complain about my life?