Thoughts While Weeding in a Collar

Even in one-hundred-degree heat, the weeds grow. I’m pretty sure there is a hybrid of Bermuda and crabgrass growing in the bed by the front drive. Rather, it was growing until I donned my new gloves and pulled the weed. It might be considered a grass, but in the wrong place, it’s a weed to me.

Photo by Carl Lewis under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

I was anxious to plant the two lamb’s ear sprigs I obtained from a clump at the church garden (that looked like it could use thinning). Some might consider lamb’s ear a weed, too, but at least it has some curb appeal. It also has some drought tolerance and is low-maintenance: my kind of plant!

I was so anxious that I took the time to bring the dog outdoors with me, but I did not change my clothes nor remove my collar, the newest addition to my wardrobe and sign of my office. I had the band around my neck, the dog near my feet, and my hands at the spade, digging in the rocks, when I recalled the morning’s readings–the parable of the sower.

This was rocky ground. I wasn’t planting seeds. I was pulling weeds and planting new plants, but it was rocky ground. And life is hard. The busy door to the church, opening to the many in need, could testify to that. Despite the rocky soil, some things grew. The boxwood grows. My so-called hybrid, pointy nuisance of grass was growing. As a would-be gardener, I was transfiguring the landscape a bit to introduce a softer plant, one with antiseptic qualities, I was told, should I need it. Maybe it will take, maybe not. I’ll have to keep tending and watering, and I’ll have to wait. The conditions are not ideal, but maybe something better will come of my efforts; maybe there is fertile soil there after all.

There will be more weeds, more unwanted foliage, and attempts to change things for the better. There will be neighbors driving by wondering what the lady in a collar with the big yellow dog is doing in the rocks when it’s a hundred degrees outside. There will also be the realization that what matters more than anything is the time and care given to another, to any aspect of Creation. Wearing a collar or not, this is work I am bound to do . . . work I love to do . . . and will continue to do with determination, perseverance, and hope.

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Good Friday, 2015

The Triduum–the three days in the church that try to capture the great mystery of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (the Paschal mystery)–will break open our hearts and pry open our eyes if we are strong enough to turn toward God.

These three days come every year.  They are part of the church calendar, a cycle predictable enough to be printed like any other desk or pocket calendar. But like the seasons of the year, there can be times of tumult. A perfect storm arises when conditions are just right.  Weather fronts collide, funneling chaos onto the land, and I cannot help but feel that this is what happens on these Holy Days.

If we dare, we look toward God and invite the past to reenact itself.  As a congregation, we participate in the retelling of the story. We come together to wash each other’s feet and to share a meal.  We walk the Stations of the Cross, and we sit in silence . . . and wait.

Simultaneously, we imagine ourselves among the disciples or in the crowd.  Maybe even just a fly beside one who is choosing to betray or another struggling to do what should be done . . . or near the One choosing to forgive and breathing his last. Can we steel our strength to be the Mother watching her child be crucified? Can we handle the thunder and the silence?

It is easily too much.

Carrying the Sacrament to the side chapel after the Maundy Thursday service, the glass flagon was heavy and full. The liquid within sloshed with my steps through the darkness.  There was enough light to glint from the glass and to illuminate the wine, the blood.  My throat caught, and my stomach turned in the briefest of moments. The blood of our Lord and Savior.  This was but a drop, and if it spilled, if I were to drop this fragile vessel, I imagined it would spill for miles. But there we were, walking softly, reverently placing the reserves onto the altar.  The candlelight hushed the room and twinkled in everyone’s eyes.

Walking home, the nearly full moon was shrouded by clouds.  The evening continued normally, marked by the “Open” sign at the coffee shop and the frat boys’ shouts at their houses. So many feet to wash.  So many people to love.

Soon we’ll walk along the road of our small town, between a parish and chapel. People will carry a huge and heavy cross, and the fullness of time will push all bounds, trying to break into our consciousness. From Golgotha of the past to Syria of the present to the oppressed and invisible neighbor–all out of sight but very much here and now. All the pain and all the love sucked into one vortex that if we are willing will tap into the conduit of our lives. Nothing more than we can stand but enough to break us open, awake us from our numbness, set us free to love as we are commanded.

On the other side of the suffering and silence, our greatest joy awaits. Only true Love can take us there and back again, year after year, moment after moment.

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Calendar Lust

The past couple of weeks I have been looking at new calendars/appointment books.  The inkling coincided with back-to-school shopping, and I’m as bad as anyone else about wanting to get something new to mark the transition into another school year.

Having decided on one, though, I wonder what is wrong with the current one that I have which will get me into the first week of January–surely plenty of time to find the next one (or actually to get proficient at using my phone calendar!).  In my current well-worn book, dates are marked for the upcoming semester for the three different school calendars; helpful notes are in the back pages.  I have a good thing going.

It was during an early afternoon walk in the woods, in a moment’s rest and dreaming, that I wondered if it might be that I want another chance to manage my time more wisely.  Maybe a new calendar will help me bring order to the coming chaos that is my last year in seminary and the ongoing juggle of having four active children.  That sounds like me, doesn’t it?  Thinking that something that might bring a little more control, a little more order will surely help.

Yes, it sounds like me, but, no, it’s not likely to make anything any better.  It’s just a book with calendar pages, after all, inanimate, void of all engagement.

These thoughts coincide with another thought: I’m working on a week of gratitude on Facebook.  I’m to list three things I’m grateful for each day, and I’m supposed to tag three friends whom I think will/might participate.  I’ve already given up on the tagging bit, but I’m totally in for being grateful.

Once you’re knee deep in gratitude, it begins to surround you.

“I’m not certain that there are such things as measures of our spirituality, but if there are, then gratitude is probably the best one.  It indicates that we are paying attention.” — M. Craig Barnes in The Pastor as Minor Poet (2009)

Barnes reminds me of my old friend Mindfulness, and I realize that I do not need a new calendar.  Temptation knows how to get to us every time. Marking my days with gratitude as so many wise folks encourage has a way of prioritizing one’s life.  The more I am aware of what I am so grateful for, the more I see where and how God is busy at work in my life, guiding me ever-so-subtly while ultimately allowing me to make the decision in every moment.

Am I paying attention?

This life I have chosen to follow still gives me many choices, plenty of opportunities to mess up like anyone else.  Barnes’ little book is full of the rich reminder of the responsibilities I am taking on . . . and seemingly more and more each day.

I will be getting a new calendar in January, if I find I still need a paper one when my current one expires.  In the meantime, it is perfectly worthwhile to remember that a sense of order in my life isn’t found within the pages of the best-intentioned calendar.  A sense of presence and awareness go a long way to creating the best days and a life well-lived.

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Unseasonally Seasonal

It is July, truly, but the unseasonally cooler temperature might incline one to think it’s May.  I’m not hearing many complaints except from the ones coming from me directed toward the children for not taking advantage of the beautiful weather to wander outside, to flex their outdoor creativity muscles.  Surely they still have them, right?

I might be a little jealous.  It’s perfect weather for a bike ride, for a hike, to walk and wander and climb trees and . . . dream.  I happen to be rather indi

sposed to biking or long-distance exertion of any kind as I’m still in recovery mode (post-surgery, nothing critical but major nonetheless).  So I’m to rest as much as possible.  I’ve done as much laundry and reading as I can do, and fortunately the supply for both is endless.

This is the summer before my last year of seminary, the only time when I saw myself having two months to allow for rest and recuperation, which is what this season is supposed to be for me.  I’m not surprised to find myself a little contrary to the slower pace.  All the more apparent is how little I let myself simply be, to take the time to daydream out the window, and somewhere in these past many years, I’ve lost my tolerance for outdoor pests, particularly the three-leafed kind or the ones that bite or sting.

spring sun

The outdoor breeze does something, though.  Like a dog holding its head out the window, letting the wind catch its breath, there comes a reminder that we are alive.  Our senses being stimulated remind us that we have a life to live, a life to lose.

Sapphire blue skies with wispy white-gray clouds.  Whispering, glimmering green leaves on all manner of foliage from the ground to the skies, accompanied by chatter of critters and birds unseen (the sounds at night are deafening).  That refreshingly cool air tickling the skin, reaching inside through the nostrils, bringing with it the smell of water from somewhere mixed with asphalt of the relatively newly paved road.

It might be cooler than normal, but the season is perfect as it is.  We are doing what we are supposed to be doing–enjoying the time we have together in this slower pace that summer brings when we have the choice to be indoors or out.

I think I can take the dog for a short walk.

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Poetry

When I agreed to go to a preaching program, I truly had no idea what I was getting into. Bring a sermon, your prayer book, and a Bible, I was told, so I anticipated sermon feedback and worship And hoped there would be helpful, practical workshops.

I was was not disappointed.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the joyous fellowship of getting to meet and visit with others in our Episcopal Church–seminarians, those newly ordained, and those who have been at it a long while. And I didn’t expect all the poetry.

For some, they’re stuffed full of the poetic comments and commentary.  For me, I’d beg for another. Some voices I could listen to all day, and others I would rather read myself.

Most importantly, I found that somewhere between the feedback, the plenaries, the laughter, and the many lines of poetry, I heard God. I heard myself being told that I was here not by accident.  I heard that I was here to see and hear for myself things that otherwise I might have missed or taken for granted, and I heard that I am a wordsmith neglecting my trade by not giving the time to hone my skill.

So I am left with a challenge, but it is also permission.  Going forward I know how important it is to read a variety of material and to live gathering diverse experiences. I am challenged to do these things but also granted the permission to do so. I cannot deny the excitement of the possibilities and the intimidation of taking full advantage of the abundant life God has blessed me with.

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Looking Up

With the weather turning colder and with the sky staying gray more often than not, my eyes tend to chart the path of my feet.  On my way to class the other day, however, I happened to look up.

tree_with_red_top

I see a few leaves holding on with all their might, somehow holding onto the tip-top of the tree.  They are aflame like candlelight, burning brightly in the face of the wind.  What is it they reveal to me this day?  What do I need to know?  That I myself am out on limb, exposed for all to see and watch in my successes and failures?  That I am attached to things that eventually I will have to let go of?  That nature is amazing in its color palette, and I simply need to notice?  Maybe these leaves held on long enough to be seen.

Most of us are trying so hard to do what is right, to do well, and to make the world a little better for our being here.  Sometimes our presence is enough.  Persevere.  Shine brightly.  Know when to let go.

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Seasons of Change

Sewanee Fall - 2013

Once the season shows its full glory of transformation, all sorts of shifts begin, and my mind follows nature’s cues.  The heavy skies have a way of drawing my attention inward, keenly focused not only on what matters but also how deeply it matters and how authentic I am being.

On Facebook, posts of thankfulness populate the news feed, and anticipation of coming holidays fills the air.  But nature and my religious tradition take it a bit slower.  There is much to be grateful for, and naming it is good.  I cannot help but notice, however, the violent winds that scatter the last of the leaves, undoubtedly yanking apart the reluctant ones not yet ready to let go.  I notice, too, the fertile, earthy smell of the rotting leaves after the dreary mists linger long enough to saturate the ground.  Beneath the crushed, no longer crunchy dead leaves, the ground is teeming with life . . . or at least the potential of it.

Amazed at the poignant reflection offered in still water, I allow myself to remain open to hearing what the wind might whisper, what my soul might long to proclaim.  Sometimes I am more full of swirling leaves than brilliant flashing of light; sometimes more crumbled and stuck to the muddy ground than an exciting pile awaiting a leap of faith. Wherever I am, there is the promise of hope for the next season.  Most importantly for now, there is trust that this season now is working in ways that are meant to be.

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Stirring

The orange-red of the curry powder makes a lovely, rich, autumnal yellow once the milk-water is added, and though the stirring seemed endless, I found myself momentarily entranced in the path of the meandering spoon, releasing the paste to form the smooth, golden sauce.  The sauce would thicken in its own time.  I couldn’t turn the heat up to high because we didn’t want it to boil.  I just had to be patient and wait.

My husband had stirred me a beverage while I stood at the stove.  The orange juice and schnapps nearly matched the sauce in the pan.  Time seemed to be very still as I stood there, enjoying the quiet luxury and noting our abundance.

In this time of year, when nature is quiet at the surface, I feel the busy-ness below the surface in my own being and mind, as I’m sure the earth feels it beneath the soil.  Things aren’t what they seem.  Only if we are truly aware can we know what might be to come.  Only if we are aware can we truly know what is happening right now.

The stirring of the sauce ended with the meal’s preparation complete, and the drink was consumed.  The stirring beneath the earth and within me continues, as does the expectation, the wonder, and the mystery.

 

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Change of Plans

A little perspective goes a long way.  As odd as it sounds, my stresses tend to come from my blessings, my abundance.  Even my seeming lack of financial resources isn’t all that bad; most everything gets paid most of the time and on time.  It’s the excesses we can’t afford, and excess by nature is something we don’t need.  I get stressed because I’m trying too hard to control everything.  That just cannot happen, and I certainly can’t do everything on my own.

It takes one event to set in motion a trajectory downhill.  That spiral that will go as deep as we let it or as deep as it can pull us.  Some may call it natural selection.  Some call it fate.  It is true that darkness is ever-present.  What makes some of us more keenly aware of the light in our lives and some more susceptible to the pull of darkness?  Can it also be the same for positive events, that when good things start happening, they just keep coming?

I don’t mean to oversimplify this.  Life is not either good or bad.  Mostly, it’s gray, and, despite the over-use of the phrase, it is what it is.  I am convinced that our perspective, how we choose to encounter everything along our way, and our choices going forward make all the difference.  I’m also convinced that we cannot do it alone.  If your faith is enough, bless you.  If you’re like most of us, you need community.

As part of a community I love dearly, I’m willing to change my plans for lunch and visit a friend in need.  I let go of my expectations and live into something greater.  We make magic happen every day and can rejoice in the light.  When the darkness comes, we can know we are not alone and that we don’t have to be afraid.

That’s a beautiful thing.

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Bright Cloudy Mystery

The rain might come, and I will likely choose to move inside rather than dilute my coffee, drench my clothes (or even dampen them with discomfort), and smear my ink.  The clouds and sun this morning are not decided on who will have the greatest showing.  Honestly, I don’t mind.  There’s something magical about a bright cloudy morning.  Yes, the gray feels bright, alive with magic and mystery, promising I do not know all but that I might make a discovery or two if I’m willing.  And the glow of the irises, in their myriad of color and hues, rise wisely and courageously above the rest, determined and hopeful in their old-fashioned dress.

I thought of my grandmother moments ago.  This day of the month, I spend in prayerful retreat, listening, tapping into the wisdom within.  There is typically more silence than words.  My grandmother was mostly silent.  Her lips closed, sometimes tightly, I wondered what she was thinking.  She’s been gone many years now, and I can only guess at her thoughts; I cannot know all that she had known in her life.  As I come to my own fullness of being, I wonder if some of my thoughts were like hers.  I wonder what she might think of things I might say or do.  Would she be proud?  Would she cluck her tongue in feigned disapproval and a wink of her eye?  Would she be silent in painful disappointment?  When would she think I was ready to know the Truths she knew?  For I believe she knew much more than she told me, and it seemed she was waiting.  Perhaps she was waiting on me, and I wasn’t ready.  Perhaps the wisdom I’m learning daily partially comes from her.  She does hold a dear place in my heart and soul.

The mystery continues.

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