How it is

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I started writing this as my girl lay napping next to me on her bed in BARC in the late morning.  I suspect the meds play a part in making her sleepy, though she said she was too excited to sleep last night, waiting to see me.

I came into Fort Lauderdale yesterday but it’s different these days—we do what’s necessary for her body and those around her to be safe, which means I visit with her at BARC, for a block of time in the morning and another block  this afternoon, not taking her out, especially not keeping her out with me overnight like I used to.  I fly back home tomorrow.

With Maria, there have been so many lessons and each time with her is another. Instead of getting to shed restrictions and do more things with her, for now at least, it’s back to basics. We watched part of a movie on my iPad and we held hands. She asked me to run my fingers through her hair as she fell asleep. Her hand rested on my arm as she slept. For now at least, this much must suffice.

I realized how tightly I’ve bound and put away the grief of those days when she visited us in April.  I let go of that kind of sadness in carefully measured, small bits, because to take it out and look at how much pain was contained in those days is overwhelming. I get to function that way.  But it means I am wrapped up pretty tight.  And when  I see her again,  the only thing that counts is, this is my daughter.  She  breaks open my heart all over again.

The new way is hard. Seeing her at BARC, we can color, watch a Netflix movie, take some short walks. I can watch her nap, as I did this morning. But this afternoon, I sensed that her schedule is really important right now and I have so very little I can give her in its place. So the time was brief and the leave-taking simply devastating for me. I got in the car and drove away; I did what I’ve learned to do: the next thing.  I went to IKEA and got my dad herring and Marabou choclade, and salmon roe spread. And then came back to my friends’ house.

They have a dog named Duke, a dog I wrote about years ago, who still remembers me from when we used to live in SoFla, who loves me enough to bring out his blankie and go round and round me enough to wrap it around my ankles when I come in.  After a while, he and I went out and played fetch, his happy self bounding back to me each time he caught the ball, just happy to have caught it, so extraordinarily willing to be with me, not with artifice or pretense or expectation, just pure playfulness. He was my comfort.

My daughter. Oh my daughter.

 

Straddling the urban and the rural

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Recently, I had a lovely conversation with a friend about what it means to have a life that straddles what goes with an urban existence and what is woven into life in the country.  Sherod and I certainly live in the country and as I walk these days, my friends the cows, always gather to stare at me, sometimes to follow along with me, surely because they hope they’ll get some food from me.

So today, I am at Ascension after the services are all over, preparing to give a class called Safeguarding God’s Children which aims to prevent child sexual abuse in our churches.  I am setting up my fancy equipment in a lovely church in the heart of Montgomery, when I get a text from a parishioner who has a cattle farm not far from where I live in Lowndes County.  I have transcribed it below with permission.  This is what it looks like to live in my particular “both/and” life, a life so much more fun and so much funnier than seems permissible. Sometime soon, I suspect we’ll have us a good cookout at Church of the Ascension. And God bless the bull.

“Hey Rosa. Frank wanted you to know he is bringing a lot of hamburger meat to church tomorrow. He has coordinated with Will and Octavio so all will be well. A huge bull had to go. Hattie Boo”

A Lowndesboro kind of Sabbath time

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This Sunday’s Scripture lessons in the Revised Common Lectionary are about observing the Sabbath. I preach on Sunday so I have been reading about the different preparations, the prayers, the ways in which our Jewish brothers and sisters observe the Sabbath, though today is technically, kinda, sorta a day off.  Just that little bit of looking in on the holiness of Shabbat brings quiet with it.

I took my dad to his physical therapy appointment in Prattville today, and drank coffee at Panera’s and worked on my sermon.  Then I came home and picked back up on the cross stitch project I’m working on.  It had been a while since I’d done this kind of work. In the heat of an Alabama summer (98 today, with heat index) that feels like it started too soon, the slow, careful work of sewing fits just right. When it had cooled down in the late afternoon, I set out for one of my walks, listening to Benedict Cumberbatch read Carlo Rovelli’s new book, The Order of Time.  Four miles and 1 ½ hours later, I walked back into the house just as the sun was setting, the beginning of the Sabbath.

A trug of vegetables, onions, new Yukon Gold potatoes, and fruits, including our first peaches, were sitting on my kitchen counter—Sherod’s harvest for the day. Some of the bounty is roasting in the oven, some will get blanched and put up, some I look forward to eating raw and juicy and delicious.  This is actually just a little bit of Lowndesboro kind of Sabbath time. May peace enfold us all this night.

The body doesn’t lie

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It wasn’t much in the beginning but it nagged. Twinges I ignored while I walked and prepared my homily for one of three funerals. It was there as I served during our Sunday services, then a little more insistent on Monday; by Tuesday, during the funeral, I had to focus on my breathing to carry me through throbbing, seeing stars, kind of pain.

On Wednesday, I finally made it to the dentist who took one look at the x-ray of my mouth and said, “I’m sending you to an endodontist. Here are some pain meds and antibiotics—he’ll see you tomorrow for a root canal.” Another office, another gentle person and Southern gentleman who took a different kind of x-ray and said, “you have too much infection—I need you to go home and stay on antibiotics for a week before I can do the root canal. But with the antibiotics, you will turn a corner and the pain will diminish by Saturday.”

Saturday came and went with no relief. It was my turn to do the early service on Sunday and I got through that but the antibiotics were already playing havoc with my stomach and I headed back home early, in double misery now. Monday, the same. Tuesday, a little bit louder and a little bit worse. I rescheduled my appointment with the endodontist for Wednesday instead of Thursday and got in to see him mid morning. Another x-ray and this time, really bad news. My infection had not responded to the massive amoxicillin I’d been taking and it looked to him like the root was fractured. The verdict: “I’m sending you back to your dentist because he will be able to get you into see an oral surgeon for an extraction. It needs to happen today.” Schlepp back to another office with more reasonable music, wait, tell, wait some more. Get an appointment, but not for that day; “Dr. P will see you tomorrow (Thursday).

Go in on Thursday, wait a long time and finally get to see Dr. P who is part of a swank, highly efficient oral surgery center. A quick conversation about going ahead and getting an implant—”it’s only going to take a few extra minutes, I’ll have you out of here in 45 minutes.” All the while my tingly pain runs up and down my face and neck—ok, I’ll do it—and then he asks, “you haven’t had anything to eat or drink for the last six hours, right?” Uh. No. Nobody told me I shouldn’t. Outta luck then—they only do extractions and implants under sedation in this office. Get through another night of pain and come back tomorrow morning.

So finally, finally, yesterday, I got the relief. It is nice not feeling the shots in your mouth—I’ll take the little bee sting of the IV needle going in to deliver the sedation any day. It all happens a lot faster that way too. But after having gone for so long with that infection, when I woke up, I had worse pain than I ever remember experiencing. I quite literally wailed as my sweet husband rushed me to the drugstore to get the pain medicines I needed—I even scared myself. The pain subsided. I slept a lot yesterday. Today, I’ve only needed over-the-counter pain killers, spaced further apart; life and energy are coming back. And with all that the sober reminder—it’s way easier for me to take care of everyone else than myself. But the body tells it like it is, the body isn’t fooled by that lie that “I’ll be fine, I just have to get through this funeral.”

I walked out this afternoon and marveled at the calla lilies that are blooming in my front yard.

Facebook, privacy, utility

I have loved being off Facebook for a number of reasons.  So much gets amplified to the point of distortion there.  I have to manage my private/public boundaries carefully as a priest which means I was always on tenterhooks about having things misconstrued. Facebook too easily makes me reactive,  too easily offends me. There has been great gift getting to avoid all that noise.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a former member of the FCC who described Facebook as a ‘social utility’—a new kind of utility, in many ways like water and electricity. He pointed out that utility companies are viewed as important enough to the life and function of individuals and communities that they are quite regulated in order to make them available to the most people with the greatest ease possible. Utility companies are not known for being bright stars of capitalism with huge growth and profit potential, and instead, as solid performers of some pretty vital functions of communal life.  Part of the dilemma related to privacy on Facebook derives from the fact that the business model for Facebook is as opposite of a utility model as is possible.  Too much of their model depends on transgressing privacy needs for the sake of stellar profits.

When I first heard Facebook described as a utility, it helped me understand the issue with the business model and why I had such a visceral reaction against the cavalier way in which my privacy was used for financial gain.  Now, having lived without Facebook for over a month, I understand it is a utility in a deeper sense.  It is a really important means of communication and connection with the community I serve, the people who are far away, who are busy and who matter to me, people who I lose without Facebook

Admittedly with considerable reservations, with a new determination to set up the tightest privacy constraints possible, with the awareness that there are no free lunches, I am headed back to that space.  Along with the anger and trepidation I feel about this particular tradeoff, I am also aware that connection matters to me, enough to say, I’m going back on Facebook and there will be folks I’ll be glad to catch up with because I have missed them all these weeks.

Four

Four—that’s the number of miles I am walking three or four times a week now.  It’s like reclaiming a better version of myself, renewing a connection with the land that’s different than what I experience working in the garden. Sleep comes easier and deeper at night, my mind gets clear, and on hard weeks like the one that’s just ending, I am able to sort through between what matters and what doesn’t.

Today, for part of the way, I dwelt with the words and thoughts that are beginning to take shape as I prepare the homily for one of the three members of our parish who died in a 48 hour span.  I had my phone with me and decent reception so I used YouTube to get to some music I haven’t heard in a while—on the way back on these treks on Old Selma Road, I have to walk up a moderately steep hill and I find the music gives me a rhythm that overcomes all that complaining and resistance my body wants to unleash, about half-way up the hill: “it hurts too much, it’s too hard hard, it’s too long, I’m so hot, why am I doing this?”

After the first couple of times I took these walks, I gathered up a walking stick and some pepper spray. Around the curve from the farm, heading east, there’s a Rottweiler who came flying toward me, teeth bared and spittle flying. Scared the sweet bejesus out of me. Recently, though, I happened to hear his human friend call him Rocky. Now as he comes bounding in my direction, I stop and calmly say, “Hi, there Rocky—look at you being such a good dog and taking care of your homestead.”  Mostly, that catches him by surprise and you see that pea brain of his trying to process these strange data.  “She knows my name and she is a stranger and I am totally confused.” Sometimes he just flops down, sometimes he stays on the property and walks along, with me across the street and he growling, but not messing with me.  I am always cautious and I’d use the pepper spray and walking stick if I had to, but I believe we have some kind of truce going.

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There’s a little creek that runs alongside the road a little further down, and thick woods on either side.  When I first started started walking down the road, I wore jackets and sometimes even gloves, and the wind could blow something fierce. One day, it was so windy, I heard trees literally clacking against each other as they bowed and bent in the wind.  There was only the palest green sheen as you looked at the woods down the road, tiny new leaves little more than a glowing promise.

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Now, the shade is dense, the heat and humidity are rolling in, and in the past two weeks, when I’ve been thirsty, I’ve been able to pick juicy, ripe, wild blackberries to slake my thirst. A bank of wild roses is in full bloom and I’ve watched nettles, poppies, crimson clover, and these incredible little purple flowers bloom and fade. The black-eyed Susans are also beginning to bloom.

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I walk next to a couple of pastures that have a fair number of cattle.  I am deliciously amused by the way in which the cows stop what they are doing and turn to watch me as I approach. I always greet them which, in turn, makes them think I might have some food with me (or at least that’s what I think is going on), because darned if they don’t all start walking along with me, they and I on either side of the fence, until they reach the end of the pasture; they then watch me and moo as I continue my trek. I’ve seen deer, raccoons, a small bunny who was beyond terrified by me, hawks, an owl and a small turtle crawling across the road.

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Walking in the promised land is what this feels like…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anamnesis, April 26

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Memorial for Justice and Peace

The invitation was unexpected and deeply appreciated.  Early on the morning of the 26th, EJI held a service of dedication for the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. We began to gather at about 7 for a service that would begin at 7:30. I ran into fellow Episcopal and Methodist clergy from Montgomery and saw Episcopal clergy of considerable national renown.  And then, a few minutes before we were allowed to enter the Memorial, a soft stir went through those who’d gathered and there was Jesse Jackson. Old. Feeble. Moving very stiffly, walking towards and then past us. Still an imposing figure.  Many find it easy to dismiss his voice, his work on behalf of civil rights.  I can’t do that. Yes, I see the flaws and the messiness of his humanity, but then that’s true for all of us, isn’t it? Waiting to go into the Memorial, those of us who knew each other spoke about Jackson and especially, remembered his speech in 1984. I heard respect for Jackson, and I found that a reason for joy.

The Memorial itself becomes more and more haunting as you find your way through it.   I was almost overwhelmed as I got close to the last part of the exhibit, when weathered steel column after weathered steel column hung overhead.  So many and so close they feel like they press down on us, crush us with the burden of such violence.  So far up though, that it would be easy to think, “there’s no way I can take down the person or people who hung like that column, hold their broken bodies against mine.  What’s done is done.”

There’s a wall fountain that runs the length of that last side of the Memorial, humming that lovely, lilting song that water sings as it runs down and away.   Against that joyful sound of  water, the silence of those columns made of steel, made of the gossamer of memory, the utter silence, hung overhead and cried louder than the keening of all those who mourned the men, the women—children—who died by lynching in our country.  Time and water both carry so much away—our memories, the ugliness we don’t want to see, the blood that has been shed. Enchanted by beauty, like the beauty of that wall of water, it is so easy to forget to see, or hear, or engage what we get wrong as a nation; distracted, we don’t realize how, too easily, justice and mercy get left by the wayside. It was an act of will for me not to let the water lull me or carry me away from what I had accepted to remember by attending this service of dedication.

In the next couple of days, as has become my practice, I went for afternoon walks that kept me next to a small stream that runs parallel to Old Selma Road, that kept me where I could still hear that lilting song. My thoughts kept returning to that wall of water, and what part it might have had to play in the most intensely painful, sobering section of the Memorial.  It occurred to me that it was also a veil of tears, a re-gathering of all the tears that have been shed because of racially-motivated terrorism.  And it was a reminder of the hope that we are capable of being washed clean, as we are washed clean in the waters of baptism.

During the service of dedication, after an opening prayer and introduction by Bryan Stevenson, founder of EJI, the group Sweet Honey in the Rock began to sing and from then until the end of the service, I found my own self in tears. What most struck me was the gratitude that was lifted as prayer in the music that was performed and the reflections and comments that were offered.  There wasn’t demonizing or shaming or denunciations in what I heard. What I did hear was an urgent need for all of us to understand that the threads of fear and hate that weave through the part of America’s story that made lynching acceptable, still weave their way through our story today, and still have the power to  “choke the life out of our democracy.”

The reading for the fifth Sunday in Easter in the Revised Common Lectionary comes from Gospel of John; it is the last of the great I AM statements: Jesus said, “I am the true vine and you are the branches” its message is all about abiding with, and loving one another as the way to bear rich fruit.

People I love deeply in the community I live in have questioned the need, the value of a memorial such as the Memorial for Peace and Justice, have been deeply offended by it.  I struggle to understand that position and I pray for ways to have conversations that will help me understand and will allow us to abide with each other in less silence, less careful walking around things that make our relationships feel brittle and fragile.  For now, what I can see clearly is that part of my love for this country, this state, this little corner of God’s creation consists in remembering, remembering so as to be inspired to work against everything that resides in all humanity and is capable of taking the easy path of lynching, and hating, and destroying, and killing the other on behalf of our own comfort and safety.