I was the celebrant and preacher at a big church in Montgomery yesterday. I was there solely on the basis of my own work in ministry, not in the shadow of my husband’s ministry. Nor was I there, as I have been at St. Paul’s, with a connection in through another clergy person. I was an unknown quantity as were they to me. It wasn’t that I was apprehensive as much I had a sense of testing myself, figuring out some more about what it means to me to be a priest these days.
I had worked on my sermon most of the week and at 4:30 yesterday morning was very dissatisfied with what I had. I started over and by six, had something I thought could preach. In both services, I used my text to get started. In both services, that thing that sometimes happens, happened. I knew the message I had heard in the readings and how I thought I could share it. I was equally aware that I was at worship with a community and it wasn’t nearly as important to use every carefully crafted sentence as it was to be there–to be present and to allow those folks into my life as I preached. Even a script can become a barrier, a security blanket that insulates me from the people I am with. So I let it go and simply talked to the congregation.
A young man in coat and tie came up to me at the end of the first service and told me I had given him a new way to think about the Ten Commandments, that he’d have a lot to consider this week. A preacher can ask for no better response than that. Other people were very gracious as they stopped to talk to me after the service. And my sense even up in the pulpit was that I had connected with the community.
Ascension has a long, relatively narrow nave. The choir stalls are directly behind the pulpit and lectern and the altar behind them, several steps up on a bema. It is literally the “high altar”. I think it was the first time I celebrated the Eucharist so far from the congregation that I could not make eye contact with anyone. I wanted to push everything closer, close that distance and especially, come off that high altar. And then, it was time for communion and all of a sudden it seemed like everyone was right there—so many beautiful children, so many people of all sizes and shapes. The immensity of the need and hope of the human heart that brings us to our knees with hands outstretched.
Today, I shifted gears, worked almost without interruption on the courseware I am designing and developing for ECF. Sherod and I are doing really well, it seems to me, sharing a household 24-7. We rarely even have time to have lunch with each other during the day, each of us intent on our own projects. We did stop mid afternoon to run an errand in Selma and then, when I was getting settled back in my work, he asked me to come help him pick pecans in our small pecan grove.
With a tin bucket, we went out and came back to the house with a bunch of them. We will find something to watch on TV together later in the week and crack and pick pecans out of their shells. In this part of the world that is a perfectly quotidian thing to do. For me, it is still a source of wonder. After a few minutes picking the pecans, listening to them hit against the bottom of the bucket, realizing they have a softer outside hull that covers the shell, I was overwhelmed by the memory of Julian of Norwich’s reflection on a hazel nut. In her Shewings of Divine Love she says,
He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it (1st Revelation)
I am being shown so much these days—how here and there, and now and then, I still get to serve as a priest. How I am able to contribute to the larger church and provide financially for my own household in such a different way than I had hoped and imagined when I was ordained. How our land sustains Sherod and me, how we can be together in a new way that leaves room for real laughter and space for each of us to be true to ourselves as separate and distinct people and priests. I am also being shown that answers don’t come all at once. The kind of certainty I had with my fulltime job as a parish priest is just not available to me and yet I am able to find deep satisfaction in piece-meal, patched-together work.
It all comes down to those three things contained in a small pecan in my hand: God has made us and all that is. God has and always will love what is—not what might have been. God keeps it all in God’s palm, under the shadow of a wing.