I saved the most challenging hike in Acadia for my last morning there. It isn’t like a couple of other trails called “The Precipice,” and “The Beehive;” but it is a steep climb with a fair amount of scrambling over big boulders. I was super careful, not only during that climb, but during all my hikes. I was doing this solo, with a cellphone, yes, but with very intermittent connectivity. I was not going to do something stupid and get hurt. When I reached the So Bubble summit, there was dense fog rolling in but I got enough of a view of Jordan Pond to feel exhilaration and pride. There were quite a few other hikers and I was way much the oldest coot in their midst.
My trip home was marred only by a whole bunch of turbulence so, instead of getting to read, I had to keep asking God to please pay attention. And then I was home crawling into my very excellent bed.
This morning, Tux was up early, draped across me, licking my face, her little tail wagging so hard the bed shook. I had my wonderful coffee, began to unpack and settle in. And then, as I was walking by the dining room table, the rug slipped away, I lost my footing and literally, in almost cartoon-like slow motion I fell flat on my back. After I got my breath back, I realized I was basically ok, but the area around my bionic hip was hurting enough bring me to tears. Hurting enough that we left immediately to get me checked out.
The good news is nothing is broken, everything is properly aligned in there. But I have pulled and bruised muscles around my hip and it all hurts quite fiercely. I was so excited about all the things I was going to do in these last few days of my vacation! Now it is all about taking it easy so I can walk straight on Sunday morning . The good thing is, I’ll have way more time to prepare a sermon…
I am sitting in the airport in Portland, waiting for my flight to Baltimore and then Birmingham. In about 12 hours, I should be putting down my bags at home. My month-long vacation will end in two days and Sunday morning will find me back at church.
This has been extra-ordinary time. Not so much ‘time out of time’ as ordinary time I could look for and see. I’ve already written some about the earlier part of the month, when Sherod and I on the chicken coop. On a rainy day here in Maine, I started a piece for our church newsletter next week based on a hike I’d just taken the day before. Otherwise, I largely avoided writing and that was intentional. Writing allows me to reflect on my experiences and this time, I didn’t really want the distancing I have to find when I write. What mattered was that I was here, now.
The days unfolded with a strange and beautiful order that had little to do with planning or preparations. Each day felt like a page with nothing written on it yet, gleaming with possibilities within some well-defined contours. There were several days when the weather was bad—either rainy or, on Saturday, very overcast, and cold, with gale-force winds caused by Hurricane Fiona. My original intent had been to hike, and hike, and then hike some more. On the days when bad weather met my rising, I allowed them to show me the way into the day. If I sat quietly, considering what I might do, the options were exactly right for what I had yearned for on this trip.
One day, I couldn’t walk outside, but I could go to the Farnsworth Museum in Belfast. This small museum has a remarkable collection of paintings by 3 generations of Wyeths: N.C., his son, Andrew, and Jamie, Andrew’s son. The collection is stunning, and it was all the richer for me after my visit to Monhegan Island where all three Wyeths often painted. In another piece, I’ve written about how the ordinary is made holy by our work. The reverse is equally true. I have to remember that luminous, holy, paintings, so beautiful they are surely pleasing to God, are possible because of ordinary materials, like paper, and the egg tempera paints Andrew Wyeth made himself with egg yolks, vinegar, water, and pigments from vegetables and minerals.
This past Saturday, as the edges of Fiona made the trees shudder, I turned to a new friend, Tim, for advice because I knew there was no way in heck to try to hike. He pointed me to the West Quoody Lighthouse, on the eastern-most point in the United States. When I got there, I realized the islands I saw across the water from Quoody were in Nova Scotia and my watch automatically moved forward one hour to Atlantic Time, the time zone farthest east in Canada.
I am grateful that the beauty and grace of this trip were revealed as much by the days that might have been disappointing, as by the days when the water was a million stars shimmering on a crisp fall day in Maine. The question still lingered for me: why had I made this quest/pilgrimage/sabbath time? I found an answer, or at least a partial one.
It starts with the reflection by Julian of Norwich, about the hazel nut she held in her hand as the Bubonic Plague raged in Europe: “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.”(Revelations of Divine Love). It isn’t just that in the hollow of God’s hands, all creation is so tiny, and I am even tinier, and there is wonder in that. It isn’t just that all of creation is held in God’s hands. What shatters so many of my defenses, my false sense of control and autonomy, is a deeper understanding that in this small space, all creation is one, gathered together in love.
I was well rested. Every day, I listened to Julian’s wisdom as I prayed using this form of the Anglican Rosary created by All Saints, Omaha. I had so little to clutter my time that I noticed much more about God’s world around me. The captain of the ferry to Mohegan Island suddenly used the PA to announce a bald eagle was flying towards us. I’d never seen one and my heart just raced! I was delighted at Barred Island, when, for a little while, a robin hopped and skipped along, in front of me, on the trail I was hiking. Another time, I had to slow way down even though I was eager to get to my destination, because a gull was walking very placidly ahead of me, ignoring the sporty, bright blue lummox of a car behind her. There was one moment, when I was driving towards one of the more isolated areas of Acadia National Park, Schoodic Point, that brought this all into focus for me. Came around a curve and saw a deer standing facing in my direction by the side of the road. I stopped immediately. The deer and I made eye contact like I never had with a wild creature before; after a several breaths, the deer started walking towards me without ever looking away.
It is possible that this is a deer accustomed to being fed by park visitors; who knows, and who cares. The deer never came right up to my car and eventually, turned around and bounded away. That day, as I continued on my ride to the lighthouse far further north, I wondered why I had felt so oddly reassured by that encounter. I think it comes down to this: all my life I have been a boundary person, always wondering if I belonged. There have been times when I have felt utterly alone and lonely. That deer gifted me with a precious pearl—maybe the most precious pearl of all in God’s “kin-dom”—we don’t just share space, or, even a brief moment of eye contact, we are connected to each other in ways too deep to fathom. We are all kin. We all belong.
In just a bit, they will call us to board the flight out of Portland. I am joyful knowing I get to go back to the rest of my kin—my chicken and dog friends, my spouseman, my church, all kinds of other bits and pieces, that help make up that “tiny thing, the quantity of a hazel nut,” that Julian gazed upon with such wonder.
My most amazing friend and college roommate, C., introduced me to George Moustaki when she returned from her Junior Year Abroad in France, way back in ‘81. One of his songs, “Le Temps de Vivre” captured my angst, my hope—my innocence—as I looked ahead to the life I’d been given, that was just beginning to unfold.
It spoke reverently of time, and our capacity to seize hold of it, for the sake of living and love. I grew up in Colombia with parents who insisted we know world events. When I heard Moustaki sing about the words written on “the walls of the month of May,” I knew immediately that it was a reference to May of 1968 in France, a time of great upheaval and unrest. There are any number of ways to understand what happened in those days. I, a university student when I first heard him, believed passionately, that ‘68 was a year of profound hope that took hold in the hearts of university students there and all over the world, including Colombia.
In “Temps de Vivre,” Moustaki insists, “that change can come one day, that everything is possible, everything is allowed.” Even 12 years after ’68, I believed change could come in the social order. Not only that: this new beginning would be a mirror of the young love I so eagerly awaited and just knew would come for me as well. When it arrived, it would be endlessly available, endlessly open, endlessly focused on my beloved.
That kind of time Moustaki sings about came, and of course so much else did too: The loss of innocence. The willingness to accept more and more complexity in politics, in relationships, in just about everything around me. Love has ebbed and flowed in my marriage. So has the clarity about my vocation and work. As a mother, I have found myself on my knees begging for God’s mercy more than once, not knowing how to get through the next hour.
Now, standing on what is the ‘other side’ of the arc of my life, I am reaching the halfway point of my month-long time of vacation. As much as has been dismantled by life itself, these days have revealed a core, something so fundamental and strong, that I can look back on that song and those hopes with affection, even knowing as I do now, how often life gets “disassembled, rearranged.” They have been days remarkably free of regrets, nostalgia, planning, or anxiety about what lies ahead. They have been an invitation to inhabit now—not yesterday, not tomorrow—and to do so without the burdens of expectation and anticipation.
We have made real progress on the chicken coop and have made a few mistakes that required do-overs. Drilling into wood with 3 ½ inch screws takes way more effort than it looked like when it was Sherod holding the drill. I’ve immersed myself in learning more about keeping a larger flock of chicken and we are now creating a space that will accommodate a pair of geese to help keep the chickens safe. When the weather has permitted, Sherod and I have knocked off work early to jump in the pool for a while and I have gotten to visit a couple of friends I was missing. Stuff on my ‘to do list’ has gotten done after months of postponement.
This morning, I watched Sherod maneuver his tractor with great dexterity and skill; my heart melted, not just because of him or what he was doing so well, but because he, and he and I, are still able to do something silly, fun, and good, really good. I knew I couldn’t take for granted that we’ll have other opportunities like this, and I also had the certainty that I simply couldn’t stop, worry, grieve in anticipation, or strain to see the what and wherefore of time not yet received. All I had to do was inhabit this moment, this place, this love.
Today is half-way over and then we will have tomorrow. Early on Friday morning, Sherod will open the doors of his truck and Mo, Tux, and I, will head up to Birmingham so I can fly out to Portland. I have to allow all that to sort itself out on Friday, though. Today, we are taking Sunny to the vet to get her shots, and we’ll stop at the Ace Hardware store in Hayneville to get ‘barn red’ wood stain and the paint I need for the inside of the coop. There’s a lot of painting now.
All this allows me to say in response to Moustaki’s song: “Nous avons pris le temps d’aimer, d’être libre, mon amour.” We have taken the time to love, to be free, my love.
We are really doing this thing! It’s hard and hot and dusty, and the coop construction is off to a great start. What to wear in the heat and humidity of early September, when I’m using a trimmer, raking, carrying stuff, crowbarring and climbing up and down ladders most of the day and breaking in a new pair of hiking books, amuses the heck out of me. I tried wearing the boots with just ankle socks that are light and cool, only to have the top of the boots about rub off the skin above my ankles. Today, I grabbed the first pair of regular socks I could find. I decided the combination was perfect! This is what a city slicker trying to be country looks like…
For the first few days, I struggled to accept how tired I really was. By Tuesday, though, Sherod and I got into the rhythm of working togethe. How we tackle a project like this is as different as night and day and we work best when I will simply stop asking questions or try to figure out what happens next. I’d describe my spouseman’s project style as ‘organic and emergent.’ He takes one step and it helps define the next one for him Usually there’s something I can do at each step but when there isn’t, I have a little list of to-do’s I go back to. If it were me? Give me that detailed flowchart right now! It takes me a bit to remember I can trust this guy is so amazing with this kind of work!
We have finished doing most of the ‘demo’ part of the project (yep–I’m getting to watch HGTV!) and the roof is up. This afternoon I’ll sand down the only wall we are keeping. Tomorrow I expect to receive the solar-panel driven electric fencing everyone swears I can put up by myself and I may be able to go get the paints for the interior of the coop.
A deep dive into chicken stuff on YouTube has given us the idea of building a “roosting etagere”
and we’ve found a set of nesting boxes that use space very efficiently. There’s still plenty else to figure out and we may not finish the project completely before I head out to Maine, but we are well on our way and good golly, this is fun!
We’ve stripped off everything that wouldn’t hold up for a new chicken coop–roof, walls, one of the shelves.
It took two trips to the big box hardware stores and a good bit of muttering and complaining, and an equal amount of negotiating but we now also have what we need to rebuild. There’s more coming in the mail. The interior designer of the coop, I’ve also settled on a color scheme for the inside, based on colors chickens like.
Today, the work gets interrupted while I run a couple of errands and Sherodsito works on his boat trailer. I don’t think we’ll have the coop finished up before I leave, but in the last couple of days before I go back to work, we should be able to wrap it all up.
The pace is slow enough, the mornings quiet enough, to enjoy a lot else.
There is much about a garden I understand far better now. I can see how the weather subtly (and sometimes, not so subtly) affects how a plant will grow, how well it will bloom. And there are still vast parts of the wilderness contained in the garden we try to keep, I have no clue about, and offer an endless stream of surprises.
Today it was this: a red spider lily beginning to bloom in the unlikeliest of places. I was out on frog patrol around our pool, looking for the hapless little amphibians who are lured into the water, can’t get out, and die of exhaustion. Just three days ag, there were four of them, a bear to catch and release. The routine doesn’t change: with scoop net in hand, I walk all the way around the pool, scanning both the bottom and the surface of the water, right next to the edges.
Today, something caught my eye where the pool skirt ends. I stopped and looked more closely. A very small red spider lily about to bloom. In the first couple of years after we moved to Lowndesboro, I’d forget about these beauties, another one of the magical harbingers of fall. Then, one morning, on my way to work, or on my way home, I’d see a flash of red. More often than not, I’d either stop and hit reverse or turn around and return to get out and look at the spider lily blooming on the side of the road. I’ve always gotten a little ‘flash forward’ of grey and chilly days, of sitting by the fireplace early in the morning the first time I see one. On and off, I’ve also thought I’d like a couple of patches of these lovely flowers in my garden; I’ve never done anything about it.
I certainly didn’t plant this one by our pool. I don’t know if I just never noticed it before, or it hasn’t pushed up through the ground since 2014. Perhaps, it’s come out each year but gotten mowed down by the Spouseman who loves him a really neat lawn with well-trimmed edges. I will accept this as a small gift of a Sunday morning free of a sermon I’ve been shaping all week and keeps me on a small adrenaline jag that intensifies in the couple of hours before church. I have been able to see this small miracle of beauty because I’m not engrossed in the silent prayers I raise, for enough people to come church, or propelled on by the need to press the blouse I’m planning to wear. That thing about the “tyranny of Sunday” for a priest–it is real.
Today I don’t have to hurry through my frog patrol to get on with my day. Not only were there no frogs to rescue. There was a spider lily waiting to be discovered. I got to walk in the midst of a quiet, rather cool, morning, in a liminal space that made the seeing the prayer.
I slept in this morning, on the first day of my vacation. But by 6:18, my girl Tux just couldn’t stand it any longer and draped herself over me, her tail wagging so fast the whole bed shook. GET UP, GET UP, GET UP! How could I resist the happiness of that greeting!
This evening, the Mallowman and I are hosting a small dinner for some new neighbors and Sherod’s best friend and his wife. I am finding it quite wonderful to do a bit of heavier than usual cleaning and some cooking. But I am working slowly and stopping, like now, to attend to other little bits and pieces of life that are so enjoyable with fewer constraints on my time.
About “THE PROJECT”: Yesterday, Sherod and our friend, Kelvin, began to do the very first of the work for the new chicken coop. Tomorrow, it will be me helping pull up the roof stuff that’s going to be replaced with a new tin roof.
The space we’re renovating was so cluttered and complicated when we bought this property that, truth be told, neither Sherod nor I ever really ventured in to take a good look at it. Turns out we have some shelving that will be great for roosting and to hold the nesting boxes we’ll need to purchase when we go to my beloved Tractor Supply.
The current Fort Yolk has a small enclosure that hardly qualifies as a true chicken yard. If I had it my way, I’d run the chicken run/yard all the way to the end of the property. Knowing my spouse, more than likely, I will have to settle for half that much. The way we manage these joint efforts is to keep working out the details once the work starts. If I won’t get all uptight and outta sight, we will figure something out that works for both of us. For now, the goal is to have removed all the rest of the roofing by tomorrow afternoon.
I have a meeting to attend at 2 this afternoon. I need to do some final tidying up on my desk and an email to send out. Then, I am truly and officially on vacation. First up is the chicken coop. We won’t actually start working on it until Friday but last night, I placed the order to receive 10 little peeps on October 24th. Most of them are brown egg layers but two will lay blue eggs and two, olive green eggs. My little heart does a happy dance thinking of the morning when the postoffice calls me at abut six am to come pick up the tiny box full of the most beauteous little fluff ball chicks…
I like planning and organizing sequences a lot. My freshman year in college, I took a course in BASIC, an old programming language from fairly early in the age of computers. What I remember loving was the flow charts we had to create as the first step in writing code. I loved the crispness and clarity they provided, the specificity of alternatives paths that opened based on yes/no decisions. That a task could be broken down to these exceedingly well-understood steps was both surprising and obvious. I still want to organize life, projects, all kinds of things, around a flowchart. And if I can put date and time and place and person in front of each step, even better.
I started out taking that approach when I finally settled on a trip to Maine next month. I have a basic timeline because I won’t be staying in a single place and had to make some reservations. Somewhere along the way, though, I realized I am a whole lot more comfortable moving through chaos than I used to be, a lot more willing to stay open to what may unfold in totally unexpected ways and places. As I made the decisions to leave most of the 12 days I’ll be in Maine blank, I turned back to a short, beautiful, book by Abraham Heschel called “The Sabbath.”
Heschel draws a distinction I find very helpful between time and space. He makes the argument that our relationship with space has a lot to do with mastery and control—we form and reform and reshape creation; most of our days are spent on those tasks. I don’t think Heschel intends to condemn those days. Certainly, I have known extraordinary joy and wonder on the occasions when I led or worked on a project where, not only were the results as good or better than I had hoped, but the relationships within the team had grown stronger because of the work we did together. Last weekend, I pulled out a recipe handwritten by mom at least 35 years ago, that took me two days to complete. At one point I had 5 bowls I was working with, moving quickly from one to the other. When I plated the dessert at my friend’s house, it felt like I had honored my mama by bringing that Charlotte Russe (the Swedish version) to celebrate two birthdays. I felt such satisfaction on her behalf. A recipe, like a flowchart, had given me a path to that moment and I was grateful.
But Heschel insists that to observing the Sabbath we must stop. Just stop. We cannot allow the next step, the next task, the next item on a to-do list, to hold us hostage. Within the bounds of 24 hours, the Sabbath allows those who observe it to sanctify time, because when we make that full stop, we allow God into our lives in a different way. The Sabbath allows us to “tend to the seeds of eternity planted in our souls,” in Heschel’s words.
Today is the second anniversary of my dad’s death. Stopping often this week to retrace our steps in those last days was probably inevitable. But repeatedly this week, it is another memory that surfaces. In 2012, my dad and I spent almost two weeks in Sweden so my dad could attend a class reunion and celebrate his 85th birthday. It was the height of summer and on our last night in Stockholm, we decided to ride the ferry that goes through the Stockholm archipelago, making many stops where people, going to spend some days in their summer homes, can disembark. We stayed on the ferry all along the route and had a lovely dinner on board. Then at about 9:30 or 10 that night, after feasting our eyes on the beauty that revealed itself all along the path through Baltic waters, we sat on a bench in the twilight of a Swedish summer night.
After a while in silence, my dad started talking. We’d just gone by the island where his parents rented a house in 1937. Already, the rumbles of war could be heard, even out there. But they were still distant enough and my dad was a young enough boy, that those were blissful days of time out of time. It was an exquisitely, heart-breaking-ly, beautiful moment of getting to know my dad as I never had before. I think I got some sense of the meaning of Sabbath as Heschel describes it, sitting on that bench with Dad. Time was sanctified.
My trip to Maine will be different because I will be alone. I have the sense that for Heschel, the Sabbath is deeply communal. My introverted self, who has been intensely engaged in my communal work as a priest, a mom, a wife, a friend, is longing for the open space and time of solitude. I will be able to follow where curiosity and wonder invite me. I have a couple of visits planned, including with my Godchild, whom I am extraordinarily proud of. I look forward to getting to know them as a young adult who has just bought a small market in a town along the coast. I will also blog a fair amount, I suspect. I won’t completely stay away from community.
But I am going to allow this part of the world I don’t know (except to understand it will remind me of Sweden with its granite cliffs facing out to the Atlantic) to tell me new stories. In the words of Parker Palmer, I am going to allow “my life to speak to me.” Sabbath begins, appropriately enough, close to sundown on a Friday, in 3 weeks, when I land in Portland, get my rental car and head out to places I’ve never been.