Freedom, But Not Too Much



Cardinals Abound Here-And That Is Still Amazing To Me!

When Krista Tippett interviewed Michael Longley, one of the great poets of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, they had a fascinating exchange about “the mystery of place.”  Longley and his family have a cottage in County Mayo that they have returned to year, after year, after year since 1970.  It is remote and difficult to get to but he, his wife and their progeny have continued to return to that place, and he expressed his delight that his children are now bringing their children too.

Speaking about travel, he acknowledged that it can ‘broaden the mind’-but he went on to add that it can also “shallow the mind”; for Longley, returning year after year to this cottage, undertaking a journey that includes fording a stream by foot, and crossing a channel before hiking through fairly arduous terrain, has taught him each return “does not exhaust the place”, but rather allows him to go ever deeper into it. (

Earlier this year, Sherod and I began to dream up a trip to Normandy in the late Spring. I felt real joy imagining us in a small Airbnb flat, with a pair of rented bikes and access to the local bus system to get around. I wanted to taste Calvados, an apple brandy of that region, in a small local cafe, having seen where the apples grew that were used to make it.  I knew my husband would find great meaning, standing in the American Cemetery.  But since those dreams began to take shape, some tough realities and new possibilities have emerged and I don’t think we will ever get there and we certainly won’t in 2017.

In fact, I am no longer certain how much travel we will ever do, except the trips that take us to our girl, or help us bring her to be with us, the shorter trips we’ll take to see the people we love in Indiana, in Kentucky, in Georgia, sometime soon, in Louisiana.  I think each of us will be called to make the changes they can to help our fragile Earth survive a period of massive environmental deregulation and disbelief in climate change.  Air travel has enormous impact on our carbon foot print; I can make a difference by staying home.  I am more serious now about being self-sustaining.  I don’t know how much difference it will make to put more money in savings, but I can’t shake the sense that doing that has become even more important than ever.

Over dinner tonight, Sherod and I talked about the ways in which the weeds and weather defeated our gardening last year, and what we might do differently this year.  There was also something thrilling about realizing we’re going to make a really big pot of gumbo later in the week, and the tomatoes the recipe calls for were put up midsummer, freshly picked from  our garden. The thyme to season it with will also come from my little herb patch. I am drooling over pictures of the flowers in the seed catalogs starting to come in the mail.  You just don’t leave a farm, even a small one, at the height of the growing season.

But most of all, there is the fact that living in this little corner of the world, I totally understand what Longley means when he talks about how each return to his cottage is a going deeper into the wonder of it.  Each time I drive into the farm after work, I discover something new to marvel about. There are so many small and large dreams I have for living here.  I have travelled a lot in my life.  Were circumstances different, I would want to keep traveling.  I am content, though, to be where I am.

Early this morning, I let my chicken girls out to range, and because our office was closed at Ascension and I knew I’d be here most of the day, I planned for them to be out for several hours. After the encounter with an eagle in the spring, that resulted in the death of one of my Buffs we got very cautious and only allowed them out of their coop when we could supervise the hens.  I’d decided a few weeks back to be less obsessed with keeping them safe and more concerned with letting them dig and roam and be real chickens.  I’ve been trying to let them out for longer and longer periods, though Mo, the 85-lb Canine Torpedo, is mightily interested in them, so after a time, they have to go back inside when he needs to go outside to take care of business.

About three hours after I let the girls out, I went out to check on them. I started at the end of the garden that’s the farthest from Fort Yolk.  No chickens.  They know my voice well and when I want them to come to me, I always say “Hello Ladies, how’s it going? Y’all ready for some nice worms ?”(I keep 5-lb bags of mealy worms as a treat for them).  I began the conversation as I headed back towards the coop. Nothing. (Except a tendril of anxiety).  When I could see the periwinkle outline of the coop, I breathed a sigh of relief.  They were all back inside, on the perch, on the roof and one with her little head tilted back, chug-a-lugging a nice drink of water.

Freedom. But not too much.

While Shepherds Kept Their Watch



                                                Huh? Huh? What? What? What’s That? What Is It?

Less and less is Christmas about holly, jolly—or even spectacular and beautiful—for me. I understand the shepherds, doing the unglamorous work of keeping watch, of tending, even to what is no longer lovely or exciting. During the regular evening Eucharist on Wednesday, we did a modified version of the “Blue Christmas Liturgy” that recognizes how complicated the holidays can become for many of us. As I prepared the liturgy, I ran across this piece by Ann Weems (Kneeling in Bethlehem) that spoke to my heart:

Into this silent night
As we make our weary way
We know not where,
Just when the night becomes its darkest
And we cannot see our path,
Just then
Is when the angels rush in,
Their hands full of stars.

On my watch, the visits have all been made for now. By their very nature, these were visits to the most vulnerable amongst us. Those with dementia. People struggling with life threatening illnesses. The very old. The widowed. Some who are not able to hide their heartbreak. Yesterday was a bit harder, with a funeral and at the end of it, the devastating news that the daughter of one of the people attending the funeral had died unexpectedly as we were entrusting C into our Lord’s arms. Then, an unplanned trip to the hospital, only to find out the person I had understood was in the hospital and very sick, was home and doing relatively well. I took the back roads home, with the night so very dark and bones aching in the chill.

There are family responsibilities to tend to now; later, some simple cooking for a simple meal with my husband and father tomorrow evening after services, a sermon to finish, and some more quiet. On my way home a while ago, I came by one of the farms with sheep. I try to carry my camera most days now and I was amused, watching ewes grazing and their little lambs literally frolicking about, on this day before Christmas Eve. It is good work, the work of keeping watch.  My hope for all of us is that we too may see the angels rush in with hands full of stars in the nights ahead. When the unexpected call comes, may we be, as Daniel Ladinsky suggests,  “the midwife of God. Each of us.”

Sectarianism and Hope

I got off the plane on Saturday, in my usual worried hurry, knowing I’d need to find my car in that enormous space known as the Atlanta Airport parking lot. Each time I park at Hartsfield, I feel like Hansel and Gretel—not so much dropping crumbs as picking up fragments of sight and sound that I will use to find my way back to my car when I return because I am always so convinced if I don’t, I’ll be lost in the parking lot for hours, rush hour will being, it will be dark, and I’ll never make it back home—my own small version of the apocalypse.

My harried, worried self also took note that I should make a restroom stop; this would make it easier to get home with no stops and minimal delay on a day when I desperately needed to feel my husband’s arms around me. For that same reason, perhaps I should make an exception to my usual walks through the underground passage-ways from Concourse C to Baggage Claim and take the train instead. Yet even with such focus and determination, I could not miss how all around me, people were on the move with a look of expectation that you only see in airports at Christmas, when everyone’s finding their way home, already one flight closer, and we allow ourselves to think,

“ Maybe the weather will hold up and next leg of the journey will be uneventful.”
“ I bet my luggage makes it this time.”
“ It sounds like we’ll actually have a white Christmas,” and,
“Maybe, just maybe, this will be the year when we all click, we all like each other, we all find some joy together—maybe this is the year of the most perfect Christmas of all.”

It’s etched on so many of the faces with eyes straining to look into the future: all those enormous expectations, inarticulate hopes, the magical thinking that causes us to soldier on from one terminal to the next.

Soon after I deplaned, a young soldier walked towards the gate I’d just left. He was young and white and reading something on his smartphone, when the woman right in front of me, an elderly, African American woman, reached out, touched his arm with her hand, said “thank you”. He literally bucked to a stop, looking stunned, before muttering a thanks without looking at her, his cheeks bright read; he quickly picked up pace again. My eyes stung.

When I reached the women’s restroom on my concourse, there was a bit of a mess. Perhaps a toilet had overflowed, or someone had dropped a bottle of water that spilled across the floor under two stalls; a very slight young woman dressed in janitor clothes, was leaning over, mopping the floor while women in a hurry sighed and muttered and waited. This young woman, African American too, was so thin, no more than 5’1” with an industrial mop and mop bucket that should have been way too big for her to manage. Her face was drawn and you could see her hands were chapped. Again, my eyes stung, this time worse than before because I don’t think anyone actually saw her or the hard work she was doing. My quick thank you and well-wishes for a happy holiday season sounded so very hollow to me.

Because the way home by road is long (it takes me half as long to fly to Atlanta from Lauderdale than to drive from Atlanta to Lowndesboro) I queued up one of Krista Tippet’s interviews from her radio program On Being—this one with Michael Longley, a poet of the Troubles in Northern Ireland—and headed down I-85. I found myself listening intently to a conversation about sectarianism, how, as Northern Ireland has been striving, albeit, humanly and imperfectly, to move beyond that scourge since the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998, the past few years have seen the rest of the world move in the opposite direction. Just its definition knocks the breath out of me: “Sectarianism is a form of bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences between subdivisions within a group.” (

This is what I see playing out, day in and day out in our country. I heard from a dear, dear friend how she, her husband and gay son were out walking when a car pulled up next to them, the driver rolled down the window and shouted, “die, faggot”. Another friend tells how someone she knows well, who still has stickers on her car from having campaigned for Hillary, found an equally vicious, more subtly threatening, note on her windshield, that gloated over winners and losers. The weekend after the election, at least two Episcopal churches were vandalized and threatened for being too welcoming, too inclusive. Sectarianism.

I’ve said plenty elsewhere about how unnerved I am with this new normal. I have watched friends all around me commit and start living out a new level of engagement with the political structures and systems of our country. Daily there are reports, and calls for help, for action, for money, on my Facebook page. I have felt guilty that, at best, my response has been in bits and pieces, in fits and starts, with less energy than I had hoped or promised myself I’d offer. Then, I heard this exchange between Tippet and Longley:

TIPPETT: …It seems to me, you became, in a sense, one of the people who people would call one of the poets of The Troubles…

LONGLEY: Yes. The poets of my generation, Heaney and Mahon and Simmons — we were very cautious. There was a kind of pressure. During the Second World War, people said, “Where are the war poets?” And a cry similar to that went up here. And I’ve written somewhere that a poet is not like some super reporter, that the raw material of experience has to settle to a new depth, an imaginative depth where it can then come out as true art.

TIPPETT: It seems to me that the distinctive place that you carved out for a poetic voice, an artistic voice, in the midst of this atrocity, was this quiet insistence on celebrating normalcy, and noting normalcy, and the persistence of human activities in life and all its aspects, including the garlic, right? The enlivening details that remained?

LONGLEY: Well, have you read any concentration camp literature? The greatest book of the last century, for me, is Primo Levi. And in that kind of nightmare, what kept people sane was thinking of the ordinary things back home. And what made things slightly less nightmarish would be securing a toothbrush or a woman’s things for sanitary purposes. And sanity itself depends on these banal, commonplace little things. No doubt about that.

Now, let me be clear. I do not presume to place myself in a league anywhere close to Longley’s. But I do find myself becoming more and more serious about trying to write, not just as a hobby but as a response to vocare—the present, active, infinitive of vocō, which means “to summon”. I write this small piece, not necessarily thinking I will have a huge audience or profound impact, but because in the midst of a new version of the country I swore my loyalty to, a version where an incredibly large number of the people I know and love are seen as inferior and worthy of little more than contempt, I am committed to “celebrating normalcy, and noting normalcy, and the persistence of human activities in life and all its aspects, including the garlic… The enlivening details.”

As much as I dislike them, airports are amazing places, overflowing with those “enlivening details”. I have become more accepting of the sting in my eyes that seems to come frequently right now—it used to make me crazy, I felt like a maudlin, sentimental fool and now, I am not so sure.  I am certain that it is in the details we could too easily overlook that the beginnings of a hope can be found, hope that may lead us back, like the people of Northern Ireland were led, out of sectarianism, into the messy, gorgeous, amazing place that’s only possible when we see our shared humanity, when we help each other, all of us, be more human.

Advent Words


On Sunday morning, as I was vesting for services at Ascension, I looked through the opaque glass of the window in the clergy vesting room, out toward the columbarium where someone had left a poinsettia and the last beautiful colors of autumn had not yet faded. I could have opened the window for a crisper view, but this is how I see these days. At best, dimly.

Words are not coming easily. This isn’t writer’s block; it goes deeper. I have steeled myself against the devastating outcomes of the election where one person won the majority of the votes and another won the presidency. After the crisis our girl went through in October, we will not be able to bring her home to be with us for the holidays; we are too mindful of the risks of her losing control with us out in the country, with limited resources to respond. I write this sitting at the airport with my flight several hours delayed, and wait to get to hug her and be with her for a couple of days, all the Christmas we’ll have with each other this year. We haven’t figured out what’s causing my dad’s intense pain and we’re gearing up for a round of specialist appointments to try to get some answers. When I go into the ‘buck up and shut up’ mode, the words leave.

Instead, I am doing the work of parish ministry that is far more about listening than saying anything at all. This year, in the middle of considerable busy-ness at church, I have been able to carve time out to go visit the people in our community of faith who have become too frail to attend church. I call my communion kit, ‘meals on wheels’ and some wonderful parishioners have been coming along on these visits. There is a starkness to the rooms where we visit, most of them in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. A stripping down to sturdy furniture capable of holding up from one person to the next, a few things, a picture, a piece of art, a beautiful quilt, that serve as reminders of a life once lived much more expansively and now, more basic, much more quiet.

Yesterday in one such room, a wife and son, two other women, and I sat around a beautiful, withdrawn man who was once at the very center of life at my church. He very seldom talks these days but as his son played “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, Mark perked up, became more attentive and I saw him mouth “glo-oooooo-ooooo-ooooo-ri-a” when we got to the refrain. When gently prodded, he fell into the cadence and rhythms of the “Our Father”, knew exactly how to hold his hands to receive communion. Like the good priest that he still is, he consumed all the wine in the chalice, because that is what a priest does after everyone else has received and there’s some wine left. And finally, as we sang “Oh Come Emmanuel,” we were graced to hear him sing, frail, reedy, somewhat hesitantly. But one who is easily labeled uncommunicative, sang ‘rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel’ with certainty, not having to think, to know the truth of those words.

In the twilight, in what Ronald Reagan described as the sunset of his years, Mark helped me understand Advent. He had spent all his adult years serving in the church, proclaiming, as in the Gospel of Matthew, that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them”–here. Now. In this very place. And yet. We, who were gathered around him, aware of who he had been and how much has been lost to dementia, could also be forgiven for yearning for a time not yet realized, when all that had grown old will be made new.

Mark had few words and perhaps in this in-between time we call Advent, that is as it should be. I see dimly. I see through the window how someone who loved and lost someone, remembered and celebrated with a beautiful fluff of color. I see how, even after some fierce rains and wind, beautifully colored leaves are still on a tree for a few more days. It is a privilege to see and listen. And wait.  Wait for my words. Wait for the Word.



I am doing a lot of writing but not on my blog and little on Facebook.

At other times I have described myself as feeling like even my soul was raw like it had been sandpapered.  Turns out to be a helpful image for me right now.  In a sense, what I am trying to do is strip off new layers of varnish and defense, trying to get to the grain, the grain of my life.  A cursory search of “wood grain” with Google took me to something called “Wood Magazine” and this short piece:

“A craftsman selects a certain type of wood for a project because of a number of reasons. Grain is one. Yet that word has many meanings.

Technically, the word grain refers to the orientation of wood-cell fibers. That’s quite different from figure, which describes the distinctive pattern that frequently results from various grain orientations. To understand this, it may help to think of the word direction following the word grain. All grain types except straight grain can be a blessing or a curse. Because wood with anything other than straight grain may be sawn to produce sometimes exquisite figure, errant grain becomes a blessing. In structural applications, such as home construction, lumber (mostly softwood) with other than straight grain loses some strength. And hardwood boards without straight grain require extra care in machining to avoid tearout and other reactions.”(

Sometimes I loose a sense of the direction of my life and need to keep doing the work of stripping all that keeps me from seeing what is most true about myself.

If the writing and other work I am doing leave me feeling raw and exposed, I am mindful of the rain that finally came this week, after 70 days of drought here in Central Alabama.  The sun is out and it’s cool today, a perfect moment to go out and prune my rose bushes and plant a new bunch of bulbs in the garden–hyacinths, irises and daffodils.  Buddy, our little rescue squirrel, is thriving. He’s weaned himself of puppy dog formula (thank God! it’s almost $30.00/can!), lives out in the cage Sherod built for him and wraps himself in his wonderfully full tail to keep warm through at night, that’s good because some nights have dipped below freezing.  Next week, the cage will go under a big oak tree up front and then a week later, the last step in his reintegration to squirrel land.

Our days on this farm are quite like the pole barn, cluttered but not unbearably so.  Lots of stuff.  The leaves that have fallen are beautiful to look at and the stripped branches are a stark reminder of the season.  I keep writing.