Exsultet, Redux

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about scrunching up my ‘turned down self’ and applying again to attend one of the writing workshops at Collegeville Institute.  It was hard to overcome having been turned down before and harder because I had to submit a far more extensive writing sample.  Last week, I got word that I had not been accepted but that they hoped I would consider being an alternate in case one of the selected participants was not able to attend. I said no because the last time I had the same situation and kept my hopes up ‘in vain’ so I felt doubly disappointed.  A while ago, I got a call–though the person knew I had turned down the possibility, she wanted me to know that I had been at the top of the list of alternates and a person had dropped out so she wanted to offer me the slot, just in case I might change my mind.  I’m going.  From July 18-27, I will participate in a workshop led by Lauren Winner, a well-known and respected writer and Episcopal priest. The name of the workshop is Christian Spirituality and the Writing Life.  Those really hard things we do and the ways we draw ourselves up to a stature we don’t quite believe we are capable of attaining? Totally worth doing. AMDG.

Exsultet

On Easter Sunday, I heard again, for the first time, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ wonderful phrase about resurrection: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.” (The Wreck of the Deutschland). Andy Thayer, the Rector at Ascension, the church where I serve, preached about the meaning of Easter as a verb, not an event to be a spectator for, not something that happened a long time ago, to a single person.

I began to “Easter” yesterday, wide hat on my head, old beat-up clothes on and gardening gloves–as I hauled edging rocks, planted, shoveled, watered, cleaned out a chicken coop, pruned and marveled at the first roses blooming in my garden, this after a Holy Week filled to overflowing. Who could ever have imagined this is what the day after Easter Sunday would look like for me!

Holy Week two years ago was about little more than survival. I already had behind me three years marked by much loss. Ahead of me was more loss, in some ways, worse loss. I already knew that my last day in the NRRM/St Ambrose/El Centro ministries was the 14th of June and we were moving to Alabama. I got through the days, even found a way to preach resurrection, and then continued the work of putting one foot down in front of the other, steeling myself for the goodbyes that lay ahead.

In some respects, last year was the culmination of that process not just of loss but surrender. I was helping out at the small church in Lowndesboro. However, the work there was mainly about staying out of the way of a community that learned to be self-sufficient long ago, that didn’t need an over-eager priest coming in to stir things up and change what had worked well for years and years. I was also working with ECF in a job that simply did not fit. I already knew I was leaving the position at the end of the first phase of the project I’d helped get started. Sherod and I knew we could make it financially if I continued to hold the very part-time position in Lowndesboro and picked up the occasional supply work as well. It’s just that I had to quit thinking there’d be more of a place for me in the Episcopal Church.

But my horizon had narrowed and focused into the days immediately in front of me. I lived in a present with a past too painful to think about, and a future that required me to be at peace with no clear path, no well-defined trajectory, just a gathering of days. There was abundance in that new normal, for sure. I was rediscovering spring. I was planting a my first-ever vegetable garden. My husband and I were tending to each other and to a marriage that had been tattered and torn by the incredible pressure of trying to serve as priests together in a single ministry. All of that was wonderful. But I think one way of understanding death is to see it as an endless present. I did not go willingly into that night.

And then, instead of death being followed by disintegration into nothingness, what followed was a second chance. I find myself back as the parish priest that I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined possible when I went on retreat to Lake Tahoe in the Fall of 2013. With the help of my mentor and friend Joe, during those 30 days of retreat, I sought and found the kind of indifference that allowed me to release my death-grip on the ministry I had started in Fort Lauderdale.  It sounds romantic on this side of the story. The work of surrender, the determination to let go, had to be a stripping down to a very simple version of me. I had to stop planning, projecting or anticipating myself into the next place, the next job, the next possibility. I had to be willing to let go with no safety net and be in free-fall without any clarity about how long that might take or where I would land.

The experience was harrowing. And as harrowing as it was, the reality of what it means to Easter this year is even more powerful, even more filled with goodness and joy than I could have dreamed of. I heard an interview given by my friend Michelle about claiming the joy of Easter,  where she talked about all the ways we observe the season of Lent and how little we do to observe the season of Resurrection. This year, I am Eastering. I am getting to be the parish priest I was called to be. I am proclaiming without shame or hesitation that death did not have the last word and joy and gratitude are a gift to be shared. Exsultet!

Now Spring

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The last of the camellias

I hope I never stop being washed over with wonder as spring comes into its own. I imagine I will be learning about it for the rest of my life. Here’s what I’ve learned this year: that no two springs are alike. This spring, there is an abundance of a vine that climbs on trees in this area and has quantities of bright yellow blooms; I don’t remember seeing it last year.  This spring as well, I held my breath, waiting to see if what I had planted last year, tended to, tried to be patient about, thought about when I’d walk out to feed the chickens and see the flower beds looking so bare and lifeless, would actually bloom. Little by little, I am getting the answers.

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My mama would have loved these…

So far, just about everything has started to bloom—foxglove spikes are full of buds that are opening. It isn’t just one hyacinth in bloom now—more have bloomed: purple and white and pink, and deeper pink. Daffodil varieties that looked especially beautiful in the Dutch catalog I got last fall and landed in my “shopping cart” turn out to be surprises—some of them tiny, some of them exotic. One single tulip is flowering among the clover we planted last fall as ground cover. I am sort-of in awe of the two varieties of flowering quince. They are beautiful.

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First the white flowering quince bloomed. Now this..

I am also surprised by the sense of responsibility that keeps growing inside me. This afternoon, I had to do something that made me sad. I had planted some of my bulbs around a pear tree on the side of the house in the front yard. Tomorrow, the builders will start on my dad’s small cottage and the pear tree is almost exactly in the middle of the construction site. Bulbs that had pushed through, that had flowers about to bloom, would be destroyed if I left them there. So I had to dig them up. There too, there was a small and intriguing lesson to learn—although I planted the bulbs with the root side down, now, I found them lying almost sideways in the ground, the leaves extending out in the ground about an inch before curving up into the sunlight. I found new places for all of them, apologized, and now must wait to see if they are resilient enough, and I smart enough in my replanting, for them to live to flower in another year.

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One little tulip and a sea of clover

When I was growing up, it was my mom who had the green thumb. And when we got married, it was Sherod who did most of the gardening. In Memphis, I had 3 rose bushes I planted and watched over, but when we got to Southeast Florida, I didn’t even do that. Sherod and I had a good conversation recently about how I watched my mom always have someone help with the harder work—the digging, the heavy lifting, the weeding.

As much as I love each and every one of these little flowers that are now gracing my garden, what I love the most is the effort it takes, especially the harder physical labor. You work, and in 75 degree weather you sweat and my palms are getting callused; now my muscles don’t ache  at the end of the day like they did a couple of weeks back when I got started. My hands though—they do.  The next project, when time permits, is to paint the new gate into our vegetable and wildflower garden. We’ve had to close that space in because Mo the Molicious, our young new dog member of the family, loves nothing more than to roll in the clover, in the turnip patch, in the cabbages and the broccoli, and the carrots. Sherod has installed a rather handsome gate and it will be my job to paint it. Recommendations for a really good, bodacious color are welcomed. Include the brand and any other specifics!

The gate needing to be painted. All advice considered as long as we're talking alive...And yes--that's Dot on one bench and sugar cane on the other.  The Mallowman too is in this spring adventure...

The gate needing to be painted. All advice considered as long as we’re talking alive…And yes–that’s Dot on one bench and sugar cane on the other. The Mallowman too is in this spring adventure…

I don’t have nearly as much time as I need for all the gardening I’d like to do—and that too is different since last year, when my work was only part-time—but the bits of time I am given, like this afternoon leave me not just tired, but deeply happy.

Remembering Strength

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Flowering Quince In My Backyard

More hyacinths have pushed through the ground, the pear trees are beginning to bloom and Gus, one of our horse guests, is losing his thick winter coat.  Late this morning and later in the afternoon, having gotten a windfall of time, I weeded, I got my roses ready for spring, gave them an extra boost to resist aphids and black spot.  I carried a wheel-barrow full of weeds out to the burn pile and filled a large bag with chicken poop and horse manure, fertilizer a friend has asked for.  Already, I have taken some of that same fertilizer, along with the compost I got from the bottom of our compost bin, to fold into the soil where we will have our vegetable and herb garden.

Today, the Spouseman and I got a cubic yard of mulch in Prattville; my job when we got home was to offload it from the back of Sherod’s truck.  At one point, standing in the truck bed, shovel in hand, while the sweat ran down my back. I looked out and saw the garden stretch far in front of me–the furrows Sherod has already plowed, the crimson clover ground cover we will plow under that has enriched the soil during the winter season, all the things that will require lots from us both as spring gains a foothold and then summer does too.  I took it all in and remembered strength.  My body remembered what it is like to be strong and what it takes.  I made myself go a few extra steps, do one more task, get more on the shovel to heave over the truck, just to open spaces beyond remembrance.  Because being strong not just of mind and spirit, but of body as well is, quite simply, magnificent.