Through A Glass, Dimly


The windows in the office area of Ascension don’t open and they are made of a glass that looks like it might be leaded—I don’t even know what it’s called but I do know it is not completely transparent so when I look out my windows everything’s blurred. I chafe a bit at that—I like looking out; even more, on cool (or at least cooler) days, I wish I could open my windows.

Fall in the River Region here in Central Alabama is not as spectacular as other places. Driving around in the past few days I noticed that after the heavy rains and wind of week before last, we’ve pretty much gone straight into the winter landscape of denuded, grey trees and shriveled up and brown kudzu with only a few exceptions here and there. Fall is not about a whole landscape but individual trees dressed in fall foliage that are simply stunning.

Yesterday, as I gathered my things after church, I looked out one of our windows and realized that for all its opacity, the window offered me one perfect glimpse of autumn. It seemed appropriate to be able to stop and look through the glass, ever so dimly, as Thanksgiving Weekend wrapped up, as the first Sunday in Advent settled into me and my thoughts turned to the reflections I will write this week in preparation for the Advent retreat I am leading next Saturday. We’re supposed to get more rain this week and I suspect by week’s end, the color will be gone.

The harvest is done and now come the months of slowing down, even in the midst of a lot of busy-ness, of letting eyes rest a bit from the wonder of so much color, life and gift all around me. My dad will arrive to visit in a couple of weeks and, God willing, so will Maria, a couple of days before Christmas. This is the inside time of winter, so different from what we experienced in Southeast Florida.  I like the sense of gathering in, gathering together. I am glad for the fallow season.

The Intersection of Need and Technology

It is a long way from Lowndesboro to Fort Lauderdale when you have to drive.  A long way.  Our dear travelers have been on the road for 12 hours already with another 2 to go.  My sweet daughter started texting with anxiety a while ago.  It was tempting to get concerned for our wonderful friends as well as the girl and to feel helpless.

The thing is, she has her smart phone (not an iPhone, but good enough). Instead of getting any more concerned, I started making short videos of me singing songs we’ve used at bedtime for years.  Some of them we both learned for the Eucharists at El Centro.  One was the only Spanish Christmas carol she knew when she came to be our daughter.  And the last one was “You’d better watch out”. I am no singer and I’m a little mortified that the other two people in the car have been subjected to my warbling. But her text in response said this:  “It is great and will Com for cristmiss on distemper 22 second.”  (We are beginning to make plans for a second visit starting 12/22).

We keep finding our way…


A Girl and Her New Friend


Maria is with us today and tomorrow.  Earlier, she and I drove into town singing along to Juanes and Shakira and laughed till our stomach hurt. Then she and her new best friend, Mo, had some cuddle time.  Sunshine, love, joy.  To all of you who celebrate this holiday, Happy Thanksgiving…


I have just come back into the house from cutting the last of the roses that are still blooming, the sage I will need to make the dressing on Thanksgiving day, the cilantro that won’t survive the first real freeze heading our way. Later this evening, some of our oldest, dearest friends will arrive for a couple of days and after that, it will be two other friends; if all continues as things are right now, they will bring our daughter.

This year, Thanksgiving has a new meaning for me. We’ve worked the land this year, and continue to feast from its bounty—last night we had broccoli and carrots from our garden, there’s a big cabbage and turnips and turnip greens for the days ahead. Earlier this morning, I heard an incredible racket out in the chicken coop and was blessed to open the nest boxes to find two eggs: one, a perfect light green egg, the other, a little smaller, of an equally stunning pink-brown hue. I have cans of our produce in my pantry and freezer, so this place I call home now has roots I have never experienced before.

Reflecting on my life these days pushed me to go back and look at pictures of this year and after a long time without doing any of my little videos, I realized I had one taking shape so I worked on it between gardening, doing my chicken work, making soup and writing a sermon.

I will spend most of the afternoon on the translation project that I am about to wrap up, maybe as early as next weekend. That project keeps me connected to a far bigger world than my own and ways of looking at the world very different than mine. On Monday, I have to officiate at another Pauper’s funeral, a bleak reminder of the depth of brokenness and need for redemption in the world. A clergy woman and writer I respect enormously, MaryAnn McKibben Dana keeps me learning about “the theology of improvisation” and as we find our way into Thanksgiving, what I am most grateful for is the God who continues to dwell in this most broken of worlds and says to us in the midst of even of horror, “yes, and….”




Pepita, my Americana’s, first egg

We drove through rain all day, headed back home. Sometimes, the rain was blinding. When we got to the farm, we found a flooded garage and shop—since late morning today, Lowndesboro had received 4 inches of rain.  I also found out that Ascension has lost another one of its deeply faithful, beloved parishioners.

The small gift of the week really is small, especially against the backdrop of so much else that is painful, broken, lost and afraid. Perhaps it is the very size and exquisite beauty of its simplicity that makes this freshly laid egg even more of a miracle.

Here and Home


The Smokies on an overcast fall day


A few stubborn leaves refusing to let go


And rivers that run fast…

A quick visit to our wonderful friends in North Carolina that has included some time for photography.  In the meantime, back home, one of our girls laid an egg today…

Not Really A Farmer


Adios Bad Boy Bruce

This week was very much like many other weeks I’ve had as a priest, though maybe at a more fevered pitch beginning on Wednesday.  That day my boss had surgery–we all waited anxiously to hear how it had gone because it was either going to be something simple with a short recovery time or something a lot more complicated.  The night before his surgery, I learned that another person in the parish was also going in for a surgical procedure to determine the gravity of life-threatening illness.  And then, early on Wednesday morning, after I had made my plans for hospital visits, I found out that a beloved parishioner and retired federal judge had died in the night.  We were going to have 48 hours to plan a very large, very visible funeral.

All the news we were waiting for turned out to be good–better than any of us had dared hope. The funeral was what a funeral should be, even though it was big enough to require us to have a spillover room where people who did not fit in the nave got a live feed of the service (though we settled for an audio feed because time was so short). The members of the parish were so generous in their response and got so much done fast. I got to see a really fine clergy person in action–the former rector of Ascension came in to help in Andy’s absence. And because there was so much going on, it was ever so tempting simply to submit to what is largely the self-imposed relentlessness of parish ministry, the compulsion I think many clergy folks struggle with, because we don’t want to disappoint.

Fortunately, I have found my way a little further into what I hope is more health and wholeness than I had in the past. I realized I had to go home on Thursday at a reasonable hour, though I coulda, shoulda, woulda easily put in a 12 hour+ day to attend a social function of the church, a party I had been looking forward to.  After the funeral, the family was most gracious about inviting me to have lunch with them. Instead, I went around and visited for a bit before I got in my car and came home to the farm.  I had things I had to take care of here–a husband who had been alone a lot this week, my dogs, my cats, my roses, my chickens.

Both afternoons, I got to spend time watching chicken life unfold.  Bruce the Roo has grown up in a totally cisgender kind of way. Quite honestly, I was appalled to see how he treated the hens.  The worst part was how he’d come up to one and peck the heck out of her, pull several feathers from her back and make her holler in pain before sauntering off with nary a care in the world.  I realized I am most certainly not a farmer, though I dabble in this world. I simply have no stomach for watching him hurt the hens; I understand these are patterns of behavior that go back thousands and thousands of years. They just serve no purpose in this particular household.

We thought about banishing Bruce from the coop, leaving him to fend for himself outside.  On both nights we started to put the plan in place but when I saw how frantically he tried to get back into the coop as night fell, I did not have the heart to follow through.  Today, we tried leaving him out but our boy Mo and our girl Daisy too quickly had too much fun chasing after him.  Nothing good could come of that.

We’d already put out the word that we were trying to find alternatives for Bruce when Fee, the owner of Highway 80 Cafe, where you can have a fried bologna plate with grits and egg for breakfast, sent word that her Grandmama would take him.  Sherod was masterful catching him up without doing harm and Bruce went into Daisy’s crate for the short ride down to the Cafe.  Fee told us her grandmama is 84 years old and loves to sit on her porch with little biddies, watching the older, larger chickens out in her yard.  Hopefully, Bruce will have a good life in his new home and I will miss his crowing–it was a delight to wake up to that sound in the morning thinking, that’s my rooster Bruce!  But this is what I can manage: six hens living a pretty placid life.

I’m OK with the realization I am not a farmer and probably won’t ever be.  I am also OK with the realization that being a priest these days means respecting my limits and boundaries far more intentionally than I did in the past, even when my impulse is different. I caught myself after I got home on Thursday: I kept wanting to talk Sherod into getting dressed so we could head back into town for the party. I silenced the itty bitty little gotta go voice and I still have bit more to go before I am rid of the sense of “shoulda”.

It is what it is.  We did the best by Bruce that we were capable of and there’s a lot about this week I am proud of.  I very intentionally choose to live a life more bounded and circumscribed by the limits I wish I didn’t have.  Today, driving home after having dropped off Bruce, I saw–I really saw–the beauty of the rolling hills around me.  I was not too tired to notice.  Later, I am going to get to stop by and wish a friend a belated happy birthday and bring her the gift I’ve had in my car all week.  I’ll prepare a sermon and get ready for what the next week brings; even as I write this, I feel a little blip of excitement about what all that may be.

Keeping Our Dead Close By

Altar, Church of the Ascension 2015

Altar, Church of the Ascension 2015

Last night, at about 7 o’clock CDT, I sat next to Sherod at Ascension. I had read from the passage, “Let us now praise famous…” during the choral evensong for All Saints. At two yesterday, I had been the celebrant at a Eucharist in Spanish for Día de los Muertos, and earlier, had been the celebrant for the principle service. I didn’t go to the 8 o’clock service but was there at about that time thinking I had a breakfast meeting to attend. And Sherod and I had been up early cleaning up after Daisy and worrying for her because she was sick—turned out she had pancreatitis after gobbling up Mo’s puppy chow the night before. So, I sat with Sherod at the end of a busy day and the tears just ran down my face. The music was exquisite last night and there’s just something about our nighttime services in the Episcopal Church.   It was the dead, though, their absence so stark in an unexpected way.

One of the things I’ve noticed, living in the rural South, is how many small churches have their own graveyards. On many occasions, as I drive past them, I think, “we like to keep our dead close by”. I first began to get a sense of this truth when a good friend at seminary mourned the unexpected death of her husband. Genie, who was brilliant, was as sophisticated and well read as anyone I knew, talked about the comfort of decorating her husband’s grave through the seasons, about getting to sit with him when she was lonely. Although two of my grandparents were buried in the city where I grew up, we never visited their graves so that kind of closeness with the dead was new to me.

There’s been quite a bit of death in our midst at Ascension this fall. I had done a funeral week before last, have been visiting a couple of people in hospice, helped with a funeral on Friday. We have a little garden in the back of the church where ashes can be interred. Day before yesterday the church had a workday and I was asked to come say a prayer and bless that space once again, before folks began to do some gardening there. As the planning for that work began earlier in the month, people were anxious to be as respectful as possible as they did that work, conscious that there in particular, dust and dust and ashes and love are inseparable.  It seemed right to recognize that by saying special prayers before the work began. that is what it means to keep our dead close by.

What washed over me last night, what had me in tears, had to do with my own dead. I had added the names of several people to the list that was read out loud last night. Two are buried in Cali, Alex and Mario Andrés who were killed in a guerrilla ambush on the night before I graduated from seminary. Marta Isabel, María’s birth mother, is in an unmarked grave in Mexico City—all we know is that she died sometime after giving birth to our girl. My mom’s ashes were washed away in the Caldera River and I like to think of them resting in that eternity called the Pacific Ocean. My friend Michael died in Minnesota but I realized last night that I don’t know where he is buried.

When I celebrated the Eucharist in Spanish earlier in the afternoon and we sang familiar songs a capella, in our wavering voices, there was a deep sense of connection with myself and where I came from. Then, last night, I heard those names read out loud, especially my mother’s, and realized the liturgies of All Saints and the Faithfully Departed are my version of bringing flowers to a grave. Last night was particularly poignant because I was aware that my mom’s name was read at about the time when she gave birth to me on a Sunday night in Colombia, all those years ago. In a flash, her absence was raw and too real again, and grief had come back to visit uninvited.

The beautiful music helped me remember that home for me is where my church is, where in the quiet of night, I am able to hear beloved names read while the choir sings, “Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem, sempiternam requiem” (Blessed Jesus, Lord, grant them rest, eternal rest). I may not be able to draw the comfort and consolation of decorating a grave. Instead, it is the music and prayers that help me keep my dead close. I am so very grateful to have a new church home…