At the end of the week


Light through a pine bough on a summer’s evening

In a sense, today is the last full day of vacation for me. Tomorrow, along with ensuring Hans catches his plane back home, I will write a sermon and sometime around 4:30 or 5:00, the internal shift that happens on the way to Sunday morning services will kick in. Today we will visit Selma and an old abandoned cluster of houses down by the river that make for cool photography. We’ll swim and I will do the last bits of gardening I set myself to do as part of my stay-cation. My big brother has a keen and witty sense of humor, he has kept Sherod and me in stitches all week long—I think the laughter, more than anything, has made this a most wonderful time.

As things wind down, these are the gleanings: no two growing seasons are alike. For all kinds of reasons, both understood and mysterious, the weeds in the garden really bested us this year. I’ve been in charge of harvesting most of the week and most of the week, I’ve found myself tossing one tomato after another because it was mushy and nasty on the bottom—blossom rot, I think they call it. Weeds become fearsome after a certain point—putting my hands down into plants overgrown with weeds, I have been fearful that I’d get bitten by a snake, or some biting kind of bug—not so fearful I wouldn’t do it, but mindful that the risk had increased significantly.

How fruits and vegetables ripen,the timetable for harvesting, continues to be a mystery to me. Every morning this week, I’ve been out picking blueberries, intent on figuring out how to accurately predict which berries would ripen next. Each morning I’ve realized I’m clueless, not able to see patterns of any kind though I remain convinced they’re there. It would make things easier, I would probably be more efficient and effective if I could figure that out, but there is something to be said about not knowing, about the practice of looking carefully, going slowly enough to make sure the berries I’m about to pick are blue all the way around—the ones that aren’t will have a patch of deep garnet red that’s beautiful—and will add a lot of acidity to anything I prepare with them.

It probably sounds more than a little hokey, but not knowing which berries will be ripe for picking in the morning makes me more grateful, as I find each berry that’s ready and carefully put it in the trug I use for my harvesting.

Last year, one of my main jobs was picking the green beans. That hasn’t changed this year. Remembering the large harvest of last year, I got ready to start this year all confident about doing this thing. I had to learn how to see again. The bean pods are so similar to the stems and branches of the bean bushes that it takes very deliberate seeing to find them. I’m finding the rhythm again and have remembered the places on the bushes where I am most likely to find the beans to pick but here too, I have to be careful and attentive.   These are the vegetables that require me to bend over the furthest and each year, I am a year older; I actually feel it, though after a few days, it seems like my back aches a little less and I have more stamina. Even the body forgets, doesn’t it?

And then, there is the absolute delight in watching my brother discover the glory of a real tomato, freshly picked and still warm, and what it tastes like with a bit of good olive oil, some salt and a nice slice of bread. Nothing makes me feel like I am extending real hospitality like being able to offer something we’ve grown ourselves.

My flowers are good, though the heat has meant I have fewer roses blooming and I’ve been experimenting with drip irrigation, determined to be a better steward of water. Today, my last bit of gardening will be to assemble a trellis and start training one of my roses to climb it.

Along with the laughter and visit and good meals, the work has been steady so at night, I’ve crawled into bed dead tired,  asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow. I hold lightly, but thankfully, the sense of safety and belonging that comes from sharing a bed with the man I love, with our cat Spot asleep where I can feel her against my feet, and as I am lulled by the gentle snores of Daisy on the floor on my side of the bed, and Mo on Sherod’s side.



Thursday, I had finished a class for the prevention of child sexual abuse, after a fairly long string of back-to-back work days filled to overflowing –some of the work was very hard, some of it just the warp and woof of ministry: tending to people, baptizing, funeralizing, visiting, listening. I was exhausted and I had a nasty summer cold. If I looked straight ahead, this was my view. Summer weather–thunder bumpers come through with heavy rain and sometimes, amazing lightning shows.  What was more striking this time was the clear boundary, the line of demarcation that reminded me that storms do have a beginning and an end.  That was helpful.  It wasn’t only that I would get to drive out past the storm, but that I was driving straight to my vacay-staycay-“bro”cation.  Hans, my brother, would be flying in from Holland two days later and today, I would get to sit out on our new deck with my dad and brother, drinking coffee late into the morning, laughing and breathing deep.  Shabbat Shalom…

God in all things

Day before yesterday, I got up early and went out to the garden. I had promised L’s mother I would bring her flowers for the house because that evening she would have people coming to visit with her and pay their respects after the death of her son.  I was able to take her quite a lot of different flowers and the colors were beautiful.  It was a fleeting gift–I imagine already lots, if not most, of the flowers have wilted and faded.  It was a drop in an infinity of loss.  And I also was so grateful I could do that little bit to celebrate L’s life.

Yesterday, along with assisting with L’s funeral, I was the celebrant at our regular Wednesday evening Eucharist that was turned into a particularly beautiful and holy moment when the Rector Emeritus of Ascension, his wife, and their children joined our small evening community to celebrate the couple’s 66th anniversary.  One of their sons was a year behind me in seminary and is now a bishop.  Another son is a new friend and peer in the work of ministry in the River Region. Another, a daughter, is an extraordinarily talented fiber artist. Every single member of the family is accomplished and it is something when a family becomes the choir that sings the Gloria, and then, the offertory as I set the Table. They sang Abide In Me, a cappella, with glorious harmonies.  Goose bumps lovely.

All that was pretty spectacular.  But it was what happened during the Prayers of the People that had several of us speechless.  First, an explanation. Our former rector has been slipping into the knots and tangles of age-related cognitive impairment and recently has taken another downward turn so even communicating has become much harder.

I had asked one of the members of the parish who regularly attends our evening service to lead us in the Prayers of the People, but as she started the first petition, this person who has lost so much of himself, began to read the petition with her, as we all looked on in wonder.  Then it was his voice alone, sometimes a bit hesitant, but for almost all the prayer, strong and sure, that carried us through our petitions.  Sunday after Sunday, year after year–for decades–this priest had said words that became a part of the very core of him, of a part that nothing has been able to steal away.  That may change.  In the end, it all slips away from all of us doesn’t it?  But how glorious to see how all those prayers we say stay with us, carry us through, even as the sun sets.

It continues to be an extremely busy week with unexpected challenges and I will work tomorrow and Saturday, as well as extra hours on Sunday.  I wore my fancy shoes all day yesterday and early this morning I woke up with an awful cramp down the back of my leg, a reminder of my own “no longer a spring chicken-ness”.  That is why I try to make sure I continue to find small infinities to gladden my heart.  These were the small infinities of beauty that lit up my morning before I headed out to work.  We find God in all things…


Stargazer Lilies Blooming in My Garden


The Blueberry Harvest is Beginning


Another Stargazer

Abundance Even In Death


Blackberry Vines, Jamison, Alabama

Dear Mom:

Tomorrow it is 5 years since you died. This is the first time the date has also fallen on a Sunday, the day you died. With Dad next door in La Casita Blanca, it has been both hard and easy to retrace the steps, remember these days, five years ago. Tomorrow evening, though, we will have friends for dinner and I hope so much that Dad will be too entertained to pause to remember the very end. Some of the story you just have to let go of.

In the morning, I will be preaching at Ascension, a church I would have loved for you to see, especially at Christmas time and Easter. The lessons for this Sunday started out to be hard enough: Luke tells the story of Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead. I would have much preferred a parable, especially the one of the Precious Pearl, which over time has become one of my most favorite—I hear it speak of our capacity to understand what is most essential and let go of everything else that clutters and clouds our vision, leaves us clinging to what’s penultimate, and how, in those moments of illumination, we draw closer to the reign of God. But that’s not I choice I was given and so tomorrow, I work with what I have.

What makes it hard is that on Wednesday, I officiated at a pauper’s burial and then went to visit and anoint a man I had come to cherish who was close to death. Yesterday, I got word that this brave, highly educated and travelled man, a member of our parish, had slipped away. I will officiate at his graveside funeral on Monday. Today, I have gotten word that another man—a man my age, an absolutely remarkable person with a different kind of courage and a wonderful sense of humor, has also died. I am relieved for both of them—each in hisown way has finally been freed of the ways in which our bodies get ravaged, worn out, trap us. I will help to bury this person too, a couple of days later, and both times I will be reminded that “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Here’s the most important thing I have learned amidst all the dying, Mom. I have learned to let go some more of fear. As a child I was terrified of so much. As an adult, I tried to learn my fear away,  especially my fear of death, or at least into submission—if I could study enough, understand enough, know enough about this impenetrable mystery, I would not be devastated when it happened to you, or Dad or anybody else close to me. Underneath that impulse to control, the fear still raged. It wasn’t until you actually died that the fear began to ease. Turns out, the way to overcome the fear not only of dying, but of living was simple: live in my body—inhabit it, use it, be aware of it, in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

Last week, I was out with one of my favorite gardening tools—a pole digger. It’s hard to use and I still get blisters on my hands though I also have some calluses now. Sometimes, I also have to haul out a heavy ax from Sherod’s workshop because there are some big old roots that get in the way. But all by myself, I dug a hole deep enough and wide enough to receive a beautiful camellia, a gift I was given a few weeks back. I have felt the spray of water on my face as I watered it almost daily and today, I saw one beautiful pink bloom.

Yesterday, I went up to a place you would also love, and spent over a good part of the morning picking blackberries in the hot and humid sun of an Alabama summer day, with the sweat running down my back and the small thorns on the blackberry bush sticking my fingers and the berries staining my hands.

I’ve been stopping as I write, to stir the blackberry jam that’s simmering on the stove. There’s a stool next to the stove so I can overcome that height challenge of mine, to safely pull out the  jars I’ll fill with the jam and then process in an enormous pot. Tomorrow, when the water has cooled enough, I will pick up that pot and by myself, will carry that heavy thing back to the sink, empty all the gallons of water still in it an put it away. Death is not diminished by this work. But when I stand back and look at all the jewel-colored jars of goodness I get to give away, I am too busy being happy to grieve or fear other deaths to come.

I’ve also become braver. Yesterday I sent off the version of my essay that 12 other people will read and critique with me, during the time I spend at the writer’s workshop in Collegeville. I don’t think I’ve ever worked more carefully and thoroughly on a piece of writing. I realized I am feeling totally insecure—I keep telling myself I’ll probably just discover I can write decent blog posts and parish newsletter articles but nothing else, that everyone else’s work is stellar and mine a ‘has-been’ story. But where before, that would have prevented me from trying, this time I just shush those voices and keep working and editing and being glad and excited about that week of work I’ll get to do. All this time I’ve spent on those twenty pages have helped me prepare what amounts to the outline, by chapter, of the book I want to write. Imagine.

So, yes, Mami—even your death had an amazing gift buried in the desolation. In my stronger muscles, in the resilience and determination and loss of fear, there is a hot and dusty and tired and joyful, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Gracias, mami; te quiero…