Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mary of the Heavens

After a Sunday afternoon cortado at a new coffee shop here in town, I walked down to the river simply to enjoy the day. I went down the few steps to the walkway at the river’s edge, passed a woman looking at her phone while smoking, waved at a father and daughter canoeing, exchanged smiles with a young couple, and then I saw her standing a bit further on. An older woman, she stood quite still looking across the river. As I neared, she looked at me and we met with smiles.

“It’s so beautiful and peaceful, isn’t it,” I ventured. She nodded and said she thought so as well. I asked if she came there often. “I used to,” she said, “until I got sick. Now when my husband is walking the dogs, he will bring me down sometimes.” Her voice had remnants of a stately eloquence that had been wracked by her illness, but it was clear that her mind still held a keen edge.

She showed me what she best liked to watch, white-barked skeletal trees amid all the fully green-leafed ones. She pointed out two in particular. At sunset, eagles would fly into the one on the right, while buzzards would assume their position in one further down to the left, both swooping down to the water to fish. As she spoke, I could see an artist’s vision and passion in her soul. I said so. Nodding, she talked of being in foster care in Montgomery, Alabama, as a child during the school year. Her hands made aggressive slapping and pushing motions illustrating her words of abuse. During the summers she was able to go spend time with her grandfather who had a tall house at the edge of the Everglades. In an upstairs window, she would paint what she saw with crayons. This was evidently a nurturing memory for her.

After I stepped to the edge of the walkway to take a picture, I asked if she minded telling me her first name. “Mary,” she said. “That’s my first name as well, though I have always gone by my middle name-- Mochel.” As usual, I needed to explain the origin of my name. It’s my great-grandmother’s maiden name. She was from Dalhunden in Alsace, France, but she ended up in North Alabama. Mary exclaimed about how much we had in common. The woman assisting at her birth had traveled frequently to France with her employers. She gave Mary the middle name of “Ciel.” “Like the sky,” I said. “The heavens,” she again illustrated with her hands.

In taking leave, I reached for her hands. We blessed each other with words, as our meeting had blessed each others’ lives—four hands together, two dark and two merely tan, making a benediction.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Charlene Ruth Beethoven

On Thursday, we celebrated the life of Charlene Ruth Beethoven as we proclaimed the hope of resurrection. Char and I first met at the beginning of our second semester at UVA. I had not yet become a part of the Wesley Foundation or Wesley Memorial UMC. I was still actively engaged with conference youth activities. I wanted to go to a retreat on Christian ministry as a career at Blackstone but didn’t have a ride. Another friend—Mike Campbell at R-MC in Ashland--put me in touch with Steve Turner, who was getting a ride to the retreat from Charlene. Steve introduced us and we discovered we were both in Dan Via’s Intro to the New Testament class. Riding to the retreat and back was an amazing experience. We sang practically the whole roundtrip. In fact, I was committed to join the choir at WMUMC before I had ever attended. This led naturally to being a part of the Wesley Foundation, a significant turning point in my life.

At the service, one of the three non-clergy to speak in witness spoke of Char as a “restorer.” She had welcomed him in to the fold of her sons’ friends which meant for all intents and purposes being welcomed into her family. He spoke of how she helped mend the crack in his foundation largely by being herself which meant to embrace people and receive them joyously no matter what they might have done in life. This is grace in action.

We all know of Char’s eloquence in the pulpit, of the beautiful weddings she celebrated, of the magnificent and almost unending table she spread, and so much more. I also know of the depth of her spirit. While decades-long friends, Char and I also served as pastors to one another. Even when the miles on I-95 were too tough to travel, we spoke on the phone, listening to one another, asking the questions that helped lead to discernment, offering challenges from different perspectives. We heard each other’s grief and pain. We celebrated together. In gatherings, I often sat at the edge of the circle—as I often do—observing the breadth of her embrace of everyone. I watched as I also knew her insecurities and fears which only made the whole of Charlene more beautiful. She was, and is, a deeply complicated woman with so many rich textures and tones in the folds of her life. I see in her an intricate patterned weaving where the yarns are varied in hue and texture. I hear her in a glorious melody enhanced with haunting harmonies. I look into the pools of her brown eyes and see love.

That love will never leave me. She is a part not only of the fabric of my life; she is part of the dance of our God who is ever moving in the give and take of grace—pure concern for the other. We will continue to dance together.

From dust we have come; to dust we shall return. And in that dust we are with God with is the very ground of our being.

Friday, June 9, 2017

In the Fullness of Time...

In the fullness of time…

Have you ever had a desire to do something and you wanted to do it now, or there was something you wanted and you wanted it now, however for whatever reasons, known or unknown, now was not the time? I have certainly experienced the frustration that can go with the thwarting of my desires. I have also faced questions when something seemed the perfect answer or direction, yet I could not go there at the time. It then comes as a surprise almost when it does open up in the fullness of time.

I have thought about this in terms of both my sons. Jeff and I were thwarted for so long in our desire for children. After twelve years of marriage, and nine years of trying, suddenly we were gifted with Andrew. Another six years went by, no longer trying, when we were completely surprised by the advent of Max. In the fullness of time, our miracle sons were gifted to us.

Over the past couple of years, I have been sensing that a new adventure was just out of my sight. Anytime, I tried to see what it was, I could not. I was being drawn forward without knowing where or when. I continue to be invited into a mystery that is being unveiled. In the fullness of time, I will know more. In the meantime, I know that I am held in the awesome web of belonging in God’s grace.

Ephesians 1:8b-10
With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Godself, things in heaven and things on earth. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Random Thought in the Midst of Transition

Random thought in the midst of transition:

My sister-in-law Barbara and I were close to finishing our journey with Frodo and Sam to the fires of Mordor where the ring of power could be unmade. As they stood overlooking the valley which they had to traverse, orc encampments with their fires nearly filled the space. The two hobbits were daunted by the sight, wondering how they could possibly make it to Mount Doom, when Sam said simply, “Let’s start by going down this hill.”  Every journey, no matter how long or hard, starts with a single step. I was reminded of a piece of sage advice from 12-step programs—“one day at a time.”

As I stand at the beginning of this next phase of my pilgrimage, I find myself peering ahead with Frodo and Sam wondering how I am going to make it through all the changes which loom before me. Like them, and those who have gone before me, all I can do is take one step, one day at a time, trusting that the One who is the Ground of my being will accompany me.