On A Difficult Tuesday Evening

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Sherod and I sat out on the deck Sherod made last year and ate a dinner with food we’ve already been able to harvest from the vegetable garden. It wasn’t fancy fare, but it was fresh and delicious. The light was gorgeous, and the hummingbirds are back from their migration south for the winter.

The beauty and peace of our lovely home was in stark contrast with the news of Comey’s firing as FBI Director on the heels of some pretty frightening testimony yesterday about the connection between Flynn and the Russian government. Most of us will be able to get up tomorrow and life will not be very different from what it was today before the news broke. But we normalize and minimize the seriousness of the attacks on transparency, the press, the judicial, and now the leadership of the FBI, that are critical to our protections as a democracy at our own peril. It will take all of us to make sure that there is a fundamental level of integrity, transparency and honesty at the highest levels of government. Who will we be?

Doing Hard Things

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There’s a backstory. All the years I was in elementary, junior and high school, I had to go to physical therapy in the afternoons, working to keep an extraordinarily fragile and improbable left hip strong and functional. There were a lot of things I didn’t get to do. Of the things I missed out on, a big one was the kind of extracurricular activities that round out and give depth to people’s lives. What I am most aware of all these years later, is having lost out on taking piano lessons. Without any formal musical formation, I considered I lost out on something important. At the same time, I am also aware that I did not take up  plenty of opportunities I have had as an adult to close that gap so I can’t feel too sorry for myself.

Fast forward to now. The heart and anchor of Ascension’s ministries is its music. Our organist/choir director has called out truly superb skills in the community and the music is consistently excellent. Andrew, our Rector, is deeply musically gifted as well. He composes music; he plays the guitar well enough to have considered being a concert guitarist. He’s got a great voice. I sit next to him on Sundays and often stop my own singing to listen to him move effortlessly from singing the melody to going into all kinds of harmonies that are lovely.

Planning for Eastertide, Becky and Andy considered having the celebrant at the 10:15 Eucharist chant the Sursum Corda (the beginning of the Eucharist Prayer that starts with “The Lord be with you), the Easter preface for the Sanctus and Benedictus, and the concluding doxology. That means singing solo, a capella. It’s all on the celebrant.

Andy asked if I’d be OK with that; I gulped and said, “sure!” And immediately wondered what the heck I was thinking to say that! Except that: my liturgics professor at Sewanee, Marion Hatchett, who was a colorful character and a recognized liturgical authority in the church, had insisted over and over again, that anyone could chant and chanting must not be reserved for only those with really good voices. Somewhere along the line, I read, learned and inwardly digested that point of view. So, really, there was no question: I’d do it when it was my turn.  That would be on the last Sunday in April–in other words, yesterday.

I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And practiced one more time. A couple of days last week, I started getting hoarse and had to stop. At red lights, I practiced. Ironing, I practiced. In the shower, I practiced (sounded real good there!). Yesterday morning, I drove to church practicing all the way. When I actually got to church, I found I kept getting these adrenaline rushes where my heart would start to pound and my hands would get cold and clammy. I tried not to sing anything during the liturgy of the word in case I wore out my vocal chords (?!). Then, we sat up around the altar, listening to the Offertory Anthem and I decided I wasn’t going to do it, couldn’t do it. I would mess up, I wouldn’t be able to find the right pitch, I’d make a fool of myself and let down my church. I practiced breathing and tried unsuccessfully to find “my happy place” (not sure it exists). I wondered if the Holy Spirit might be so kind as to work a miracle.

And then, it was time. I guess that competitive streak of mine that says I can do what other people can do, or Marion’s voice, or plain old determination, propelled me forward and off I went with the chant. I hit most of the notes correctly and my voice was not as reedy and wobbly and thin as I had feared. My Madonna microphone helped too.

I’ll do it again this coming week and at least one more time before Pentecost. It’s part of my job. And in a small, relatively unimportant way, I did something that was very, very hard for me. There’s research going around these days that suggests that the best way to keep our minds sharp as we age is to take on tough challenges that push us significantly beyond our comfort zone. For just that reason alone, I’m glad I did this. But there’s something even more fundamental. We do hard things because we should—but even more, we do them because we can.

Progressing in the direction of summer

This year, the biggest part of my spring work has been in the flower beds—that’s where I tend to my roses and continue to add to the collection of perennials I hope will be the biggest part of all those beds. I’m also carefully starting to learn about ornamental grasses and have planted a few in the newest bed. We’ll see how it goes.

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About a month ago, though, I had a pound of wildflower seeds and a quarter pound of mixed sunflower seeds I sowed into the area in our wildflower patch that was nothing but red Alabama dirt. Each year since we’ve been here, we’ve added to the patch, and now, the perennials that were sowed in earlier years are flowering. The hollyhock is especially lovely this year, in two vibrant shades of pink. These are biannual plants that seem to be reseeding themselves so hopefully they are now a more permanent fixture in our garden. By next year, the whole section we had designated as the wild flower patch will have been planted and our job from then on will be an occasional reseeding.  I have come to love the patience of slow work that I measure not in months, but years.

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Sherod has been busy with the vegetable garden. Okra, squash, onions, zucchini, lettuce, eggplant, cabbage, spinach, strawberries, asparagus, basil, peppers, chives, and tomatoes are all in the ground. So far, the strawberries and carrots have been a bust, but everything else is thriving. I asked for two San Marzano tomato plants and one already has fruit on it. We’re hoping to can some serious pickled okra this year.

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Then there are the volunteers and the left-behinds. Our blueberry crop will not be anywhere near as abundant as last year. Sherod is an exuberant pruner and had at the blueberry bushes the fall. We do well with a smaller harvest this year, especially with the promise that 2018 will return us to the kind of crop we saw last year; we used our last package of frozen blueberries just a few weeks ago and they tasted especially wonderful! Along with the gift of blueberry bushes that was left behind for us, this year we have some unexpected volunteers. Sherod put up a little shelf on one of the big trees in the back yard and stocked it regularly with sunflower seeds for Buddy. Along with him, other squirrels and lots of birds feasted on them. Not all the seeds made it into bellies and instead, fell on the ground. We now have a circle of sunflower volunteers blooming and bringing us great joy.

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Spring is progressing in the direction of summer…

Highlands

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The mountains are so beautiful.  I forget about all the wild and wonderful streams, rivers and waterfalls that shape them until I am back; then, I think I could just stand and watch the water forever.  And I had never seen a miniature iris before–no more than 2-3 inches tall and exquisite. Be still my heart.

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It is Night

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Lord,
it is night.

Today at a Newcomer’s Luncheon at my church, I described my work by saying no two days are ever alike. A while ago, I tried to go back to retrace just this past week: After church on Easter Sunday, I found out I am baptizing 7 children in May and another 9 in June. The next day, which was supposed to be a day off, saw me helping with a serious pastoral crisis.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

From Sunday on, right beneath the surface of my consciousness was the challenge of preaching about Thomas once again. How much more can you find to say about that passage when it comes around every year on the Second Sunday in Easter. Hitting another dead end in the effort to get my dad squared away with hearing aids, followed by a bridal party luncheon I was very late to because of said dead end. Driving, driving and driving some more, almost always squeezing in a phone conversation and maybe even some singing, with Maria while I drive, lunches and listening, wedding leaflets, web page stuff to learn,  a quick run up the road with a good friend and some time to enjoy a place called Petals from the Past, which sells some pretty amazing plants, especially roses.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

Yesterday evening, I watched a radiant bride come down the aisle, a moment of joy for a family that needed such joy and then I came home to get a few more pieces in place for church.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.

Today, a confirmation class to finish preparing for, and no way to stop after celebrating at 8, teaching the confirmation class at 9, and preaching at 10:15. After the service it was time to hurry down to the newcomer’s luncheon. Then back home, planting, weeding, mulching, watering, cleaning out the chicken coop, doing laundry and dishes and paying bills; tying up loose ends because tomorrow, we’re going to the mountains of North Carolina for a couple days.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

All of that is done and now, the night prayer I most love, from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Foolish, Frivolous and Fun

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I adore fountains; in some respects, I am the opposite of a pyromaniac.  Each year, I have tackled one of the flower beds that the owners of our farm, once removed, must have tended to lovingly. The next ones, not at all, so the flowerbeds became mini-jungles, more eyesore than anything else.  This year, I was determined I’d have me a fountain and broached the subject with the Mallowman as the clearing out part of the project began.  His response was, “not no but h^%l no—I am not running out electricity to that bed, I am not hassling with a fountain, just no, no, no, no, no.”  I was the model of self-restraint and did not push back (at least not too much) but I was sorely disappointed.  A couple of weeks later, in the middle of the night, I woke up with a possible solution, got up and googled “solar powered fountains”.  Well, there were quite a number of them. Most of them were very tacky, the few I liked were very expensive.  BUT—you could buy a “solar powered fountain kit” for about $50.00.  A container from Lowe’s and voilà—a little garden fountain for under $80.00 bucks.

As soon as it started working when I set it up this afternoon, I came running into the house to get Sherod to come see. He’d just sat down and with some sighing and rolling of eyes, he finally graciously hauled himself out of his comfortable chair and followed me. As I’d unpacked all the pump gear and assembled it, he’d been mightily unconvinced. Imagine, then, my utter delight, when he cracked a smile big enough I could see his dimple. Life is sweet, sweet, sweet.

Not Empty

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My hands were bright red, they ached, and I had almost-blisters where I’d been holding first the shovel and then the rake. My back ached, my feetsies were grimy and I was dusty enough that there were these deep tracks where the sweat had run down my face.   On this, the third of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, I had needed to get 2 cubic yards of mulch spread out on my flower beds. I got home from work, threw on gardening clothes and a hat and got out there.

As I shoveled mulch into the wheelbarrow, rolled, poured, spread and came back for more, I remembered how 10 years ago, right about now, I had such intense pain in my poor, battered left hip that sometimes I hesitated to even try to stand up, wondering if my hip would simply give out on me. I realized, again, that I literally could not imagine myself doing the gardening I do these days until 3 years ago, when the world as I knew it ended, and instead of taking to my bed and pulling sheets over my head, I moved to a farm in Alabama and spent the better part of a summer mowing grass with a push-mower. I repeated a beautiful line I saw this morning: “Living in the power of resurrection, means refusing to accept that anything that is broken will ultimately remain broken”[Roberta Bondi]. People I serve are dealing with intractable, complicated brokenness; one day at a time, in slow and careful steps, others around them are helping to bring healing. I’m getting to see amazingly creative problem solving. Perseverance with remarkable good humor.

A few days ago, I noticed a deep hollow in one of our trees in the backyard. This evening, as I finished my work, the light was just right. I grabbed my camera and looked in, not knowing what I would find yet aware that in a week when the imagery of tombs looms large, even finding that hollow empty would remind me of resurrection. Not empty. Holding new life.