Some people say that a picture is worth a thousand words and that is true but a picture cannot convey the deafening sound of water roaring and racing over the dam crashing to the rocks below and speeding on down the river and how that sound brings back a memory of a grandchild standing at this same place and speaking his fear of what just might happen if he fell into over the fence and down down he went and O Lord he would not be here if that happened and thank God it did not because if that did happen there is no way that I would be standing around years after the fact and taking a picture so here I am today spewing out more words than anyone needs to hear so I can put down the Nana in me memory this picture brings forth and now I thank You for word and picture and sound and grands and finally for the quieting of my heart amen.
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. Ezechiel 34:11-12
I have been pondering, practicing and praying on what it means for the Lord to be my shepherd and for me to be on some days a sheep, on some days the sheep dog and on a rare day a shepherd. When these questions ride with me up the hill to meet sheep in person (they/we all have our own personality) it gets a lot less romantic, which for a pastor is a really good thing. We dig our pitchforks into the manure pile and joke about standing on the pile right in the middle of paradise and the creation stories shine in a different light. We watch the farmer take time discerning what to do about this or that common or complex chore and “tis a gift to be simple” comes round right. After a tender moment of parting we drive home to the parsonage to fortify ourselves with hot coffee and prayers of gratitude for being where and when we are called to be. I don’t know much but I do know that the Lamb of God knew what he was talking about and mainly I do not. That does not stop me from gladly or with great resistance going up the road when called. Amen
Dear God thank you for the hummingbirds
And for the gift of seeing them at this time in our lives.
We know that their lives are shorter than ours –
They live, if they are lucky, as we here are lucky
Three to five years and Lo this is one of those years.
They know how to zoom and to perch
How to sip on the fly and beat off the competition
Their maximum speed while diving is 49 miles an hour
While we just sit here holding our breath watching them.
Help us O God to not only sit and watch this Glory On The Move
But to count them and each other as One
Of the Blessings of our Times.
Help us O God to not overly fixate on what we are seeing
The grief the sorrow the unknown the loss the wait and see
But to take this time together to share a bit of the sweetness
That has come into our lives, even now O God
Even now. Amen
Yesterday one of my neighbors stumbled out of her house to greet me.
Her eyes were wide and hollow with fear and lack of sleep
crying for all that has been lost and for the old dream
of thinking that she knew what is going to happen
and that all is right with the world.
We stood in my yard in our now traditional stance
of six feet apart straining to hear what one masked mouth
could possibly say to the other
and we looked at the goldfinch perched on the feeder
filling his little beak with the day’s offering.
We talked about beauty – how we need it
and how elusive it is
how the hummingbird eats
at the same table as the wasp
making room for each other
and the woodpecker makes do
with shelled and unsalted peanuts
while we cry ourselves to sleep
desperately trying to remember
what beauty felt like today.
There is no wrap up to this poem.
It is not the vaccine we are waiting for.
It is a life hoping to be remembered well.
I miss you at my table
elbow to elbow
easy reach to grab the salad
bread basket passed
from hand to hand.
I miss you at my table
family and friends
neighbors striding up
looking for a place to sit
a grand baby running between us
looking for a lap and a scrap.
I miss you at my table
strangers who I want to know
whose food tastes strange
on my tongue
and whose ways are not my ways.
I miss you at my table.
I wonder about the saying
that distance creates
fondness when the heart
has run away.
I go on faith now
that this space
while not wrought on purpose
(God you would never do that!)
is met and given a place
and a time to sit.
I don’t know if it’s true
that every season has a reason
I miss you at my table.
Things have gotten a bit wild these days in the church garden. While the gardener and her helpers are coming often (maybe to get out of the house and into the fresh air during the pandemic) the plantings are having a life of their own! First the daffodils were spreading like crazy. Now the iris are having a heyday. But what has really taken over are the little wild pansies that as kids we would call Johnny Jump Ups because they have a habit of jumping all over a garden. I love this bit of wildness in our otherwise very tidy church garden and have been delighting in seeing their beautiful faces gleaming out to me on my daily walks.
Yesterday I learned something which made it all the more lovely. A local herbalist pulled me aside. (Yes, we were both wearing face coverings.) She mentioned how she had seen the overflow of the jump ups. She told me that back in her grandmother’s day the wild pansies were called hearts ease. She wonders if we are being gifted with what we need right now as the world’s heart is aching and breaking.
Well, that was enough to put me over in delight. Then I learned that there is another name for this plant. It is also called love-in-idleness.
Love-in-idleness! Many but certainly not all of us are stumbling around during this pandemic with more idle time. Some people are suffering with questions of purpose. What are we supposed to be doing when there is so much we cannot do? How can we “do church” when the heart of the world is aching and we cannot open our doors? What does it mean when we find ourselves drawn to sitting in the garden praying – which looks to the passerby, and feels sometimes to us, like being idle?
Could this be the time for some of us to practice love in idleness? Can we feel comfortable just calling a friend or acquaintance not for business but to offer love? Can we take the time when the doors are closed to give thanks for the grace of the garden and all the ways (idle and not) that we have to ease each other’s pain? Can a wilder garden nurture our community in new ways? What does our faith have to say about the gifts that the humbler and wilder parts of Creation bring to the world?
When love jumps at you and lodges in your heart you can do one of two things. You can weed it out and get back to business. Or you can welcome it and give thanks. Today I am doing the second option. Maybe tomorrow I will revert to the first. I hope not.
This past Lent, churches in my area were planning our annual Ecumenical Lenten Service. The title of the service was Stations of the Earth and the Cross. The date of the service was March 24th. It was cancelled due to the Covid-19 Pandemic when we were strongly advised to go home and hunker down. Maybe we will pick up the pieces of the service next year. It is hard to predict anything. There are so many pieces to pick up and some of them are pretty well broken.
But I could not drop the idea of stations of the earth and the cross. My broken heart and our shattered world makes every day a little or long journey from Good Friday through Holy Saturday and on some days to Resurrection Sunday. I still cannot gather in close company with my own parishioners, never mind our ecumenical partners. And yet I am called to keep praying, stopping, and weeping alone and along side (6 or more feet apart) others who are passionately disturbed and also overwhelmed with joy as God continues to meet us – in creation, in pandemic, and in physical isolation.
Early on I started sending prayers and photographs to my parishioners. Small ones. Personal ones. Prayers of hope for our world and each other. Prayers of delight in the overwhelming beauty and the quiet. Laments for the sick and dying. Here is one of the early prayers when snow was still on the ground.
O God you have showed us
time and time again that church
is not a building and not one form.
You told our ancestors that you would rather
be found in a tent
than in a temple
so how not surprising it is to see
that we too are now hunkering down.
Walking the streets
and the trails
talking to each other by computer
sinking into the silence and meeting you
in kindness, writ all over the faces
of neighbors around the world.
Bear with us Lord
as we try to bear with each other
and with this disaster of Biblical proportions.
Settle us. Help us to listen and obey
new requests to stop rushing about
and just stay home. May we breathe deeply
this cool air tonight and rest in your love. Amen.
Since those early days we have been grieving even more intensely and continuously as our towns and cities rock in protest over the horrific murder of George Floyd, who called out for his mother while he was choked to death. Jesus on the cross looked for his mother too. The prayers of the earth echo both of these men – tears of anguish, tears of grief.
This week on my prayer walk I went through the elementary school yard – now devoid of children. Only the garden seemed to thrive. I was drawn to a peony, wishing that the kids were there to weed the garden and to notice the ants already covering some of the buds. I wanted to lay down in the garden and listen to the bees humming. I thought of all the children of all races who attend this school and I prayed that someone is with them, holding them in love. This prayer came in the evening.
When I dive into the peony
I surrender all claims
that we are separate
flower and me, bud and bloom.
The sweet fragrance overtakes me
and I know why they say
that women swoon.
As we slide into early summer
one day sweat pouring off our skin
another day frost on the rooftops
peony and I hunker in the garden
our hearts weeping
for the beautiful world
calling out for relief.
My prayer today is a simple one.
Help us to know
that we are One
with you and with each other.
May It Be So. Amen
Today while I was on my walk on a trail leading down to the river, I stopped to take a picture of a cluster of yellow iris and another one of a young warbler who I imagined had fallen out of its nest. I sent one of the pictures to a friend and another to my wife. I know that there is a prayer here waiting to take shape. Meanwhile all I can do is wait.
Every pastor that I know is praying on the question of what it means to pastor in this time of physical distancing. We have ramped up our social media skills including use of Zoom and YouTube and teleconferencing. We are on the phone more than ever while our inboxes are strangely full or empty as people either reach toward us or shy away, closed up as they are in their houses and their fears. We crouch at open windows and sit out on our porches so we can talk to church members and neighbors in need. Some of us are working at food pantries or giving meals or gift cards to go. And we are, as our church sign says this week, praying full time while worshiping on-line.
In many ways it is all wonderful even as it is horrible. We witness love in action daily, and we, like everyone else we know, have no clear idea about what is happening and what we should be doing. When these questions plague us (often in the night but it can be any time and place) we do our best to settle into the cloud of unknowing that hovers around our world and listen closely. Sometimes a small still voice breaks through. Sometimes silence answers. Sometimes a neighbor knocks and we answer with a Word.
Our presence in our churches and communities is not what it used to be. Most of us are guessing that it will never go back to “how it was.” And yet the Presence of God, so familiar with changing times and places, is more vibrant than ever. At least that is what it looks like from my window. I understand now in a different way that our whole lives have brought us to this moment. I am grateful to be here today.