A few weeks ago, as part of completing the process of becoming our girl’s guardians, we had to take a 3-hour course on the laws, practices and procedures related to our new responsibilities. One of the expectations is that as guardians, we will maintain a high level of confidentiality about Maria. It makes sense–she is a young adult now, almost 19 . Without being in close proximity, as we had been in the past, I am not able to talk with her about posts I might put up that have to do with her. Although Maria has always wanted to share her story with others, it just seems much more appropriate to not go that route any longer. For today, what I can say is this: I miss my daughter so much it aches. Part of being made of flesh and blood and bone is that love is most complete when we are able to touch, hug, push someone’s hair behind her ear or simply look at her in wonder as she sits across the room absorbed in a video game. While she was here in January, more than once I woke up and simply sat by her bed and listened to her breathe–so present in my life. Our access to the girl is very, very limited at this time. And as sweet as it is to stop and take a look at a picture of her, it simply is not enough, though for today, it has to be. Your prayers for her well-being, for a future filled with hope and joy for Maria as she approaches her 19th birthday are greatly appreciated.
I turned the corner of the house and was facing the pool when I saw this:
I knew. I just knew this was a Sherodsito addition to the pool and I was awash with amusement and delight at my spouseman’s wonderful sense of the absurd. Indeed, this little fellow was his doing. It’s a little water thermometer and yesterday it read 75. Still a little chilly for his taste though getting awfully close to perfect for me. Oh the joy of summer!
On Thursday we went out to old Cahawba. I think I’ve written about this archeological site before—this was the first capital of Alabama but too prone to flooding, located as it is, right next to the Alabama River. Along with remembering the March on Selma, this year also marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. On Thursday, there was a ceremony to lay a wreath at the tomb of an unknown Union Soldier. During the Civil War, Cahawba was the site for a Confederate prision, Castle Morgan. Built to house some 600 prisoners, it ended up housing over 3000. It wasn’t just the prison conditions. As the war ended, a steamship came up from Vicksburg, picked up the prisoners in Cahawba, later stopped in Memphis and then continued up the Mississippi to take the men home. An explosion in one of the boiler rooms led to the death of over 1700 men.
On Thursday, the ceremony included re-enacters, both men and women. They were a rather motley crew and I imagined they didn’t look too different from the real protagonists of that dreadful war. There was a cannon and then a gun salute in honor of the dead. And I just felt so achingly sad. The afternoon was not very warm but very humid, and somehow, both moisture and tragic history hung heavy in the air. A wavering, thin thread of Taps came out of the bugler’s trumpet and somehow, that was what was most real about all this. I have lived in the South before, subscribed to Southern Living, know lines and lines and lines from many of the significant novels of the South and married a man from Selma. Somehow, this time around, the weight of history presses down harder.
And finally, yesterday afternoon, Sherod’s last living uncle and his wife came to visit. We sat and drank iced tea, ate cookies and told stories. My most favorite was about Sherod’s dad, Earl, and his grandmother, whom everyone called Gram. Gram was a tiny woman, slight and well below 5 feet tall. Every year, she bought a turkey and kept it for several weeks, feeding it corn and other goodies in preparation for Thanksgiving. On this particular year, she decided that Earl was going to help her when it came time do the deed in preparation for cooking the turkey. So Earl and Gram grabbed the his great big, old fat self, and Gram instructed Earl to be the one to do the chopping. In turn, he said that Gram needed to get behind the turkey and hold him down. Earl stretched out the poor bird’s neck and chopped his head off. Whereupon, the headless bird tore off and under Gram’s house with Gram holding on for dear life, hollering for help all the way. Uncle Ralph laughed that Gram was so tiny she and that big old turkey cleared the house and came out on the other side.
We live very different lives these days. Living out here, I am becoming increasingly aware of how all of us are connected to all God’s creatures. Last Sunday, during my sermon, my congregation just roared with laughter, hearing me describe Sherod’s and my struggle with the decision to kill the cotton-mouth snake and that was a little disconcerting to me. But there is nothing precious about the stories I hear—just folks working brutally hard through brutally hard times, and still doing the things that families do in ways that allow us to laugh 60 years later. I am glad not just to be closer to the land, but closer to the history as well.
In my garden beds:
Orange sweet pepper
Arkansas Traveler Tomato
San Marzano Tomato
We are figuring out how to put bird netting over our blueberries because, if we can manage how we share them with the birds, we will have a bumper crop this year.
In bloom in our yard
Miss Daisy, when she sits with Sherod and me while we let the chickens range.
I was anxious about today’s presentation. This was probably the most high profile exposition of our work I’ve been a part of. All my bosses were in the room as well. The participants have seen it all in the church and they aren’t easily impressed. So, yeah, some real anxiety. In the end it all went well and we got what we had hoped for in the way of feedback, and recommendations. The work continues.
Yesterday I had posted in FB that I was headed to Philly. One of the bloggers in the circle that is the revgalblogpals saw my post and wondered if we could get together. Michelle has been an inspiration, she has taught me a lot about resurrection, she is just a beautiful person. She is a professor at Bryn Mawr which, it turns out, is a suburb of Philly (I embarrass myself with my geography gaps).
I don’t leave till after 7 tonight and I got done at 1 so it was easy to hop on a train to come see her. As I rode the train, I was enchanted by the forsythia, the tulip trees, and especially the old, pink cherry trees in full bloom up here. I kept thinking, “I am getting to follow spring” and even though the farm is so far into spring that the heat is giving us glimpses of summer already, seeing all this again, with lots of grey still visible, is a breathtaking experience of joy all over again. Michelle is having a quick meeting while I sit on a bench outside with all this beauty.
I think resurrection is like that. Easter comes and I thrill proclaiming “He is risen” on that first Sunday. Then, Resurrection starts becoming sort of commonplace, or at least, easy to take for granted. How easily the green is just there. The colors around me today, at once so vivid and so kind, alongside the evidence of the harshness of winter, allow me to see again, with new eyes.
It has been a busy time on the farm. The chickens take about 45 minutes of attention each day and we are in full swing putting in our flower and vegetable gardens.
Now. True this: the Mallowman and I do a lot of things together really well. We executed flawlessly in response to the cottonmouth snake. We have learned so enormously much about parenting our special girl Maria. I don’t write about her much these days but she is finding her way and we are finding our way to stay connected, primarily through exceedingly funny and silly text threads. I could not ask for a better parenting partner than my spouseman. We are now at the place where we let the chicken girls come out of their coop and range around for a while each day and it takes both of us to get them back inside. I suspect anyone watching us would fall off their chair laughing. But we get the job done.
There are other aspects of our life when I do well to remind myself of our inner “three-year-olds”. Three year olds and sometimes, Sherod and I, do a lot better when we engage in parallel play rather than trying to play together. We each make coffee in totally different ways. He’s into his Kuerig and I roast and grind my own beans. There’s a fairly significant list like that and we don’t necessarily know how it will go when we start on something new. It has become very apparent that parallel is the way to go when it comes to the garden. So we have HIS part. And HER part. His goes length-wise, mine goes crosswise beside and behind the fig.
I imagine his part is going to be hugely successful. Sherod has so many innate gifts, such a capacity to just do things. Me, what I am good at is reading instructions. Since this gardening is new to me, I have done lots of reading. One thing I learned, that made all the sense in the world to me, was that people of our age do well to consider raised garden beds. Think about it. Sherod and I have got three bionic hips between us and both of us know a thing or two about joint, bone and muscle pain. Makes sense, right? Well. This has been a source of some amusement for the spouseman. Real gardeners put their plants in the dirt.
When I began to make noises about the raised beds, his first line of response was resistance. We went back and forth, with me first caving and then deciding, no, I really wanted to try this. I did some more research, found a kit for an 8 x 4X x 1.5 bed on Amazon I thought I could assemble by myself and informed him I was gonna do this thing. He said, “fine. Calculate how much dirt you need. I really don’t want to get pulled in to haul dirt and a bed that size will need a whole lot of it”. So I did the math. I needed 48 cubic feet. Then I did some more research. I could get organic soil at Home Depot, order and pay for it online and pick it up with a minimum of hassle. Again, Sherodsito was most patient and gracious about driving by the Prattville store on Saturday evening. I had to buy 32 bags and the order was already on a pallet, ready to get loaded into the back of his truck. I also got me a roll of weed blocking fabric.
Sunday, after I got home from Tuskegee, I backed his truck as close as I could to the entrance to the garden. I had a small path I could follow from the truck to where I planned to place the raised bed because we have also planted a ton of wildflower, zinnia and sunflower seeds in the half of the garden that hasn’t been prepared for our vegetables. Our friends Mike and Mary gave Sherod this cool little wagon for his retirement and Sherod is most gracious about sharing stuff like that with me so he let me haul the wagon out of the pole barn. I could load three bags at a time ; eleven trips from the truck later I was done, hot, sweaty and caked in red Alabama mud. It took me about an hour and half to get this part of the project done and on Sunday night, I was in bed by 9 and yesterday, woke up in the exact same place where I had fallen asleep.
Then I had a pretty busy day with my other job. I had to go to Birmingham for a late afternoon meeting and on Thursday I head to Philly to do a major presentation (3 hours, total) for one of the most influential groups of leaders in the Episcopal Church. I’ve been working hard on that prezo. Plus, I was waiting for my kit to arrive. Plus, it was raining cats and dogs.
Today I didn’t have as much work and the rain held off until the middle of the afternoon so I have assembled my bed. If weather permits, I will get those 48 cubic feet of dirt in it tomorrow. Sherod has asked me to cut the bags carefully. He will use them to block weeds. I am especially touched by his willingness to go this organic. There wasn’t a pesticide or herbicide my spouseman didn’t used to love…
My first round of seeding was a wretched failure but I now have squash, cucumber, eggplant, orange bell pepper, melon and watermelon seedling doing really well. I also have several tomato plants ready to go in the ground. I won’t be able to get everything in that one bed—I’ll have some that will need to go in the ground. But still–it is a start.
The good news is that we have found a way of doing this that works and keeps the peace. The bad news is we both like pretty much the same vegetables so there is a whole lot of duplication going on. I figure we will have plenty of produce to share with the local food pantries and our friends. Wish I could send some of it down to Florida!
Oh, and this as well. My roses are thriving and today, the Souvenir de la Malmaison was blooming.
I realized a couple of days ago that one way to say what I do is to tell people I’m an itinerant preacher. That’s powerful work, in some ways. Yesterday, I was invited to be the guest celebrant at St. Andrew’s, Tuskegee. It wasn’t just that even in Colombia, I heard of Tuskegee when I was growing up. It is that I am allowed to cross so many different boundaries in my wanderings. I think the most wonderful moment of the day came when one of the parishioners at St. Andrew’s said, “Reverend Rosa, I hope you know you have a new church home with us.” That I should be so warmly received and have the invitation extended means the world to me. This summer, I will get to go back a few more times to a parish that can no longer afford a full-time rector and is making due with supply priests for now.
A sermon for the Second Sunday in Easter, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Tuskegee, AL
This year, I am acutely aware of just how close we are to the events of Holy Week and Easter. In the past few years, PTSD—Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder—has become a common word in our vocabulary. One of its symptoms is recurrent flashbacks—over and over and over again, the mind replays a particularly traumatic and horrible event. When I read this passage from John, I imagine that at least some of the men and women gathered behind locked doors had those flashbacks, couldn’t shake from their minds the image of their friend, their rabbi, their Savior, hanging lifeless and broken, on the cross.
Today, television serves as our collective mind, and this week, we have been caught in that PTSD kind of flashback. Over and over and over again, we have watched the haunting video of the events that took place in North Charleston. For some of us, that video was a harsh confrontation of our endless capacity for insulation, indifference and brutality. For others, it was the experience of being at the foot of the cross in heartbreaking powerlessness. I imagine that if Mary could sit with Mrs. Scott today, she would say, “I know. I know.” Sometimes the cross is so horribly close to us…
Today’s Gospel brought the events of those days in Jerusalem very close to us in another way. I work with one of the national organizations of the Episcopal Church, helping to launch a new leadership development program. My work has taken me to many churches around the country and I can tell you that what I see in our church today is not unlike what was happening that evening when a group of broken people sat locked in grief and fear.
Some statistics I see suggest that as many as half of the congregations in our church are at significant risk of closing in the next 10-15 years because they are no longer financially viable. Many, many have already closed or have had to slash their budgets and their ministries to the bone to make ends meet. There is a great deal of sorrow, an enormous amount of loss, a deep temptation to give into the worst impulses that tell us it is enough to simply survive through the next day. We know something of that “hunkered down” mentality of Jesus’ friends in the days after his crucifixion.
And then there is this: look at how Jesus has to go about showing his friends, and not just Thomas, that he is truly with them in that room: he shows them his wounds. That’s what we see very easily about ourselves isn’t it? In the past 20 years, the Episcopal Church has had some enormous fights that have left us with torn and jagged edges, with wounds that bleed, with holes in our side and in our hands. We talk about them a whole lot but is that who we really are?
If I know one thing at all about Jesus, it is that his wounds were not what defined him either before or after the cross. He was and is so, so much more than any of that. And if we say that we are the Body of Christ in the world, then we have to believe and we have to live into the certainty that we are infinitely more than the wounds and the brokenness that are so easy to see. Just a few minutes ago, at the beginning of today’s service I proclaimed, “Alleluia, the Lord is risen” and you replied “He is risen indeed, Alleluia”. What we claim and proclaim is this: that we are people of the resurrection. Plain and simple, that is the heart of our witness and our life.
So what do we learn about resurrection from today’s passage?
First, resurrection does not mean a return to the way things were before. There was no denial of the cross—those wounds were a stark confrontation of that truth. In the same way, the work we have to do as a church is not about trying to find a way to go back to how things used to be even if it means having a “church lite” version of the past, where we cut costs to the bone to do a small slice, usually a self-serving small slice, of what we used to do, hoping that’s what it means to be people of the resurrection. No. Our work today is to recognize what is dying and allow ourselves to be led to a new way of being the Church.
Resurrection does not deny the wounds, the horror of the cross. But neither does it mean that the cross has the last word. We have hurt and been hurt a lot in these past years, as a church, as a nation, in so many different ways. And that hurt, disappointment, those wounds, are not the last word. There is more to us than that.
Finally, to be a people of the resurrection is to proclaim that it is possible to find peace without certainty, without clarity, without comfort. Remember, in this glimpse of the post-resurrected Christ, we see him come in where there a group of people are literally fearful for their life after losing everything that had given them meaning. He comes into that and says, “Peace be with you”. Christ comes into our own fear and loss too, offering us peace as well. But if we have peace it is because we have accepted His peace. If there is clarity, it is the clarity that comes from having our tears wash away our blindness to all the big and small ways humankind is still in the business of crucifixion and the God of infinite Love is still in the business of taking all that we have destroyed and crushed, and lifting it up to new life and new possibility. And if there is comfort, it is the comfort we find when we gather at the table, to receive the very same bread, the very same wine, the disciples were offered, gifts that are given to give away. The blessings we have are blessings that call us to be blessing as well.
So what does any of these mean to you here at St. Andrew’s, Tuskegee?
It means that the challenges you are facing, now that you have had to let go of having a full-time rector, now that you are finding your way with a supply priest coming to be with you now and then, those challenges are part of a moment of deep and important change not just for you but for the whole church because so many others are in the same situation. This is your moment to claim fully, to proclaim with boldness and courage, that you are people of the resurrection. You have the opportunity to find a new way to be church for these times.
You are located literally, across the street, from a university. You are surrounded by young people, incredibly beautiful young people, who are getting their start on life in a harsh world. We all know that especially for young Black men, the cross is too close. The young people at Tuskegee need you. They need people who have endured, who have persevered, who have overcome, to walk beside them.
This morning, when I arrived, Miss Velma was waiting to greet me and invite me to a lunch in the parish hall after the service. Mr. J.T. was waiting for me with a bag of gifts. Those gestures of kindness tell me you are a community of grace and hospitality and I bet a lot of other things. You have a unique set of gifts that are far greater than this building, or even your Sunday morning worship service. Do you know what those gifts are? How will you offer them to a world so desperately in need of kindness, hospitality and grace?
It is a privilege and joy to come be with you today and you will remain in my prayers as I ask you to keep me in your prayers. May we all be people of the resurrection. May we all allow the peace of Christ to transcend our fears and our blindness to all the new life that is being offered right here, right now. May we live with courage and boldness and generosity because as we have just said, Alelluia, the Lord is Risen. May we live in the resurrection because we are part of the living Body of Christ. I end these thoughts drawing from the book that gives us so much of our shared identity, the Book of Common Prayer, as it helps us pray for the church:
Oh God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; 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. Amen.
I sat out on our front porch this morning to drink my coffee. The azaleas are in full bloom and the pansies have not yet been done in by the heat. One of my antique roses has started to bloom as well. We’ve had rain most of the day since that early moment of tranquility but as soon as the rain ended, Sherod and I came back out to sit on the glider for a late afternoon visit.
Sherod has just bought a weeder eater that I can handle so after a little while, he encouraged me to try it on the weeds in the bed in front of us. As I was testing it, I noticed a small snake crawl past. At first, I thought it was a small gray rat snake like the one that visited us a few days ago. But as Sherod and I looked at it, we started wondering. I went in and got our new snake stick; Sherod wanted to be the one to pick it up so he did, and then handed it to me. Very quickly, we realized the snake had fangs and was trying to strike. After some quick research, we are pretty sure it was a copperhead. Not as poisonous as others, but still.
We have our relocation plan in place for non-poisonous snakes but the poisonous ones will need to be transported much further from our property. We have not talked through how to do that safely and don’t have a good “transportation container”. So with some real regret, but also clarity, we agreed we would kill it and did so. Afterwards, I picked it back up w the snake stick and took it to an open field away from the farm.
Sherod and I had just been talking about how close to heaven this new life is for both of us. There is not much that allows us to idealize or romanticize it though. And that, in fact, is one reason we love it so much…
Update–seems it’s not a copperhead, but rather, a cottonmouth…
I have not been where Holy Week was filled with pageantry and high drama. I am not exhausted, I don’t have anything new to wear tomorrow, no sermon I carefully prepared for over days and days. If I understand our relationship with the musician at St. Paul’s correctly, there will not even be music at the 9:30 service when we will have a baptism and bid farewell to the current priest-in-charge. There won’t be coffee hour because on this, the 1st Sunday of the month, the 11 o’clock community service is at another one of the churches.
What there has been has been beautiful in its simplicity. Seeing a community that’s been dealing with the life-threating illness of one of the parish elders and lots else, I took the liberty of reading only about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem last Sunday. Over a couple of weeks, I prepared the materials for the presentation of the Last Supper that was introduced to me when I went through training for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Instead of doing the foot washing, we talked about Jesus who tells us he is our friend, and who found the way to help his friends understand how he is with us in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup. I’ve done this on other Maundy Thursdays, but it was always sandwiched in with foot washing (and all the small anxieties that part of the liturgy provokes), Eucharist, and the stripping of the altar. On Thursday night, it was pared down to the essentials.
Yesterday in the late afternoon, about 10 of us gathered back at St. Paul’s and read the passion narrative of the Gospel of Mark. It is a horrible, gut-wrenching story. Unadorned by prayer or rite, bracketed by silence on either end, the simple, spare writing in Mark, the almost matter-of-fact chronology laid out for our reflection, was somehow more devastating than usual.
Today I made a pastoral visit in the morning and on the way back home, stopped along the road to pick flowers—I don’t even know their names, except one: Crimson Clover. I came home and put them, and some of the azaleas growing in our own yard, in Mason jars I will use later this summer to can peaches, plums and figs and arranged them on our mantel.
When I was sorting through stuff in preparation for our move to Lowndesboro, I found some Easter decorations my mom gave me years ago. I had hidden them from my own self and in our bigger house, unpacked and put them in the “holiday closet”—I feel almost guilty owning up to having that kind of closet full of decorations for different holidays. I just had to run upstairs to bring them down. It hit me hard to think about my mom and how she enjoyed Easter. It was incredibly sweet to put her decorations up, as well as others I have received from friends.
Tomorrow, a few friends from Selma will share a meal with us at lunch time, we will laugh and carry on for a while and I suspect I will end the day like I do most days now, sitting with Sherod, watching our chickens. In the absence of the drama and pageantry, the enormity of the mystery we contemplate as we behold the cross and then, find an empty tomb is almost—but not quite—too much. It’s a gently curving, somewhat muddy, and still beautiful, river of joy, like the Alabama River, like the River Jordan.