“Let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” (BCP 528)
That is part of the collect at the beginning of the rite of ordination in the Episcopal Church. Funny, how life adds layers and layers of meaning to something that when I first heard it didn’t seem to be capable of holding more meaning and beauty to me because at my ordination to the priesthood, I was so overwhelmed by the gift and responsibility I was being entrusted with.
I have not stopped unpacking boxes all week. My body is a bit sore (though less so than earlier in the week) and I am getting very close to the end of the work, at least until Sherod gets here in early September. Once I had the basics I needed–a few things to prepare meals with, sheets for the bed, a place to sit, I did not set out to do my unpacking in any particular order. I just went from room to room, basically in a counter-clockwise direction. I’ve been aware, as I unpacked, that I could have done a better job “directing traffic” when the movers got here with our stuff. There has been a certain randomness to the order in which I opened boxes and frankly, after a few boxes you forget what is still left–all you see is how much more work lies ahead.
I wrote a friend yesterday that along with the repetitive motions involved in unpacking, there has been a similar discipline I had to observe internally as well. So many thoughts, so many memories, so many questions–so many feelings–about the ministry I left behind keep showing up in the silent space I find myself in right now. There is no desire to return, no sense of wanting to get re-engaged. Each day, our paths diverge more and more and that is as it should be. It’s just that a lot happened with great intensity, especially in the last 18 months and I am still catching up with myself. The discipline I needed to observe was one of surrender and ‘gift’. I’ve done my best to neither suppress nor get stuck obsessing about it all. Rather, my days have been about letting whatever presented itself to slip through me.
At the Eucharist we both call the Holy Spirit upon the gifts we bring to the table and offer them back to God. I have tried to hold on to that metaphor as I did my work this week–“all things come of thee, Oh Lord, and of thine own have I given thee”. It hasn’t been easy. There have been times of grief, regret, anger, and all those other perfectly human responses that come in a time like this. But just as I have been aware that my muscles were getting stronger with each box I lifted and all those steps I took, somehow, it has felt like my heart and spirit were being strengthened as well.
As it happens, today, I made it into the last space with lots of boxes left to open: the living room. And as it happens, this is the room where the boxes that came out of St Ambrose landed exactly a week ago. So earlier this morning, I unpacked and hung up my albs, stoles, chasubles, all the the vestments of my order. Along with opening boxes that had heart worm and flea meds for the dogs (see what I mean about randomness?), I opened a box that had gifts I’ve received in my ministry through the years–a Dr Who screwdriver, an Action Figure Jesus (he rolls on wheels and his arms can go up and down–special,!) a pewter cross with a vine on it that’s framed with an inscription about the True Vine. Bittersweet does not even begin to describe what that was like because although the sadness of seeing my vestments was real and intense, the joy of retracing the steps I have taken through the gifts people have given me was pure and sweet and charming.
A while ago, I got a call from my friend Anne, who’s husband Joe, is the priest who serves at St. Paul’s, Lowndesboro. Joe had knee surgery a few weeks ago and is still in intense pain. With permission from one of the Bishops of the Diocese of Alabama, I am going to be the celebrant at tomorrow’s Eucharist at St Paul’s. It’s just this one time. It’s a very small gift, though small, like I imagine the precious pearl was small. And it is a gift that gives me some new meaning as well.
Things that had been cast down are being raised up, things which had grown old are being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection. Thanks be to God…
Sherod is back in Fort Lauderdale. The dogs and cat are adjusting to a new place–Spot, who, in Lauderdale, had become an increasingly independent cat and wanted nothing to do with human companions has become my new best friend. She sleeps against me at night, she is on my lap whenever she gets a chance, she makes biscuits and purrs often. Boo and Daisy follow me around anxiously and if they could talk I wonder if they’d ask when they get to go home.
We are all displaced, dislocated and disoriented and that is quite a good thing. My days right now are about very basic motion–lean down, unwrap, put up, add wrapping paper to the growing pile, break down boxes. Take the dogs out to wander around the pastures that are part of our home, skim the pool, prepare simple meals made of abundant fresh produce, work on ECF projects, go back to the boxes. Go to bed. As dawn is breaking, grind and brew fresh coffee, say the Daily Office, start a new day. I can count the number of cars that go by my house in a day on one hand. I have hardly heard airplanes since I arrived. Mainly, it is the crickets and the birds, and the soft rustling of other small creatures. Last night I fell asleep to the sound of rain coming down on our metal roof and thunder clapping all around me.
How do you say yes to another chance? Right now, it is this basic. I have to get my home in order and that means continuing to unpack and declutter though Lord knows, I thought we’d really pared things way down when we got ready to move. I am settling into some routines that give my day order. In such silence and solitude, those routines become really important. Out here in Lowndes county, there is no such thing as recycling so I got online and found the closest recycling center in Montgomery. It isn’t far from where I will be doing my grocery shopping and to get to either place I drive for 30 miles without seeing more than 1 or 2 tractors and maybe a car. Already I am back in the practice of lifting my index finger from the steering wheel to greet any vehicle I drive by. The way winds and climbs and goes down gentle hills and over the Alabama river and several creeks. In one section it is open, red Alabama dirt and gravel, the intense green of the trees and farmland a mystical encounter all on its own.
The weaving into the community has also begun. I have volunteered to work with a new non-profit getting started in Selma called Grow Selma which will teach people how to grow food in more sustainable ways and sponsor a large organic community garden. I got in touch with the Bishops of the Diocese of Alabama to offer my services in the area. On Sunday, two longtime friends of Sherod’s took us to lunch at the Southern Sportsman’s Lounge. Today, three different women–a neighbor and two members of the small Episcopal church came bearing gifts–a lovely plant, a watermelon, and homemade zucchini bread. I’ll go to church Sunday. I’ll spend the 4th of July at Lake Martin with our friends.
None of this is fast-paced. I am grateful for slow, patient days that allow me to move with care and intention and small steps.
Driving up the peninsula that is Florida is long, monotonous and in some ways difficult, especially driving alone with a cat who is miserable and a dog who is restless and a sobering sense of the irrevocableness of this particular drive. Someone had suggested I listen to an audiobook. Someone else who is a particularly incisive book critic had written an intriguing piece about John Green and The Fault In Our Stars. On Wednesday afternoon, I downloaded the audiobook and started listening on Thursday. I heard the end of the book about 30 miles away from our new new home.
I agree that it is a well written book and it was well read. There are many funny, poignant, sort of excruciating moments of insight. In the end, as one of the protagonists is dying, he asks his girlfriend and best friend to give him a preview of the eulogies they will give at his funeral. Hazel, his girlfriend says this:
I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities . A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” Green, John (2012-01-10). The Fault in Our Stars (Kindle Locations 2700-2703). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
Sherod and I got to go out to dinner with our friends Marsha and Cosby who have so graciously and patiently received us and our dogs several times as we began this move. We slept here last night as well. The drive along the beautiful road that leads to our new home was moving and in many ways thrilling and in about 2 hours, the van with our furniture will arrive and from there: oof–there will be a heck of a lot to do. I also have a bunch of stuff to do for ECF and I am excited to get to give it my undivided attention.
But when I heard this passage as I drove through the gentle hills of west-central Alabama, I was grateful because it was also a eulogy for a ministry that I willingly and ever-so-sorrowfully let go of. A little infinity. That was what I experienced in my ministry on the West Campus of the New River Regional Ministry and so this one last time, early in the morning in Selma, Alabama, I give thanks…