I have spent a good part of my morning tending to issues and needs related to the buildings and grounds of my parish. It has never stopped amazing me, how many different things a parish priest needs to know about. This week I am learning about alternatives to repair stained glass windows, how to do a cost benefit analysis for replacing wood trim with Hardie Boards as an alternative to a more traditional project to repair of the wood that has rotted. Yesterday, I found out how you provide emergency assistance with rent when person is in a weekly-stay motel (don’t try to go the credit card route—they require front and back copies of your driver’s license and your credit card, and would you give that to folks who work behind bullet-proof windows in the seediest kinds of places imaginable?), and how narrative criticism is a fascinating way to engage the Gospel of Mark. Oh, and how complicated it is to try to improve the safety and security of your buildings at a church when there are 50 kajillion copies of the master key floating around and just about the entire congregation needs access to the buildings during non-business hours.
It may sound a bit twisted and perverse, but this is one of the things I absolutely love about my work. It’s not particularly glamorous or epic—it is just the ordinariness of how a community gets through from day to day. But the variety and scope of the work I do makes it nearly impossible to ever be bored. In this growing season, the parish I serve is working very hard and intentionally on letting go of clutter that has accumulated for decades; it is looking at every single one of our spaces and asking, “Does this space communicate welcome, a sense of the future we are daring ourselves to build towards?” Each decision about what we hold on to, and what we let go of, is another invitation to ask ourselves, “who are we and why are we here?” Some of the answers are quite astoundingly wonderful.
Early in the life of this blog, I felt deep grief, realizing I was entering a time in my life when I would be defined more by loss than gain, by subtraction and not addition. Losing my mom and exactly one year later, having to institutionalize María, made it feel like death and loss and nothingness were all the same. It’s not quite that cut and dry, is it? I don’t experience as much grief any longer, and in fact, it is rather the opposite: I become more and more awestruck by what is the simplest and most essential around me, by how little we actually need, and how small bits and pieces are also infinities in their own right.
And even as I am hard at work doing what I can to help us let go of, pare down, simplify, our shared life at church, I unexpectedly receive a picture from my spouseman who was out in the garden doing some harvesting after I left for work. On Monday, I used 4 pounds of our blackberries to can blackberry jam. We have put up almost 2 gallons of blueberries, the jalapeños are ready for picking, and the tomatoes are starting to ripen with the figs not far behind.
Ebb and flow, loss and gain all the time.