We should have an eclipse every day. In the midst of a season of truly awful words and actions filling the news daily, yesterday’s eclipse was like a secular Easter. I was part of a huge crowd that gathered near Watertown Public Library to take in the event. The mood was festive and anticipatory. I saw folks I hadn’t seen all summer. I met new people who were gracious enough to explain their home-make eclipse viewing gadgets to me. Everyone looked equally goofy in their eclipse-watching goggles. Not being in the Path of Totality, as the afternoon continued there were equal parts looking-up-at-the-sky and wandering around gabbing with people. it was awesome.
And by awesome I mean both “a really fun time,” and “full of awe.” An eclipse puts everything in perspective. While we humans have been making a hash of our corporate life and threatening all things nuclear, the planets, galaxies, universe (multiverse?) keep on holding us in being and operating on a timescale outrageously longer than an election cycle.
Maybe if we looked up more it would change our decisions and deepen our gratitude. The prayer we use to bless bread and wine at my church every Lent gives thanks for the “vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.” This prayer is often dismissed as the “Star Wars prayer.” But I’m always thankful for it. We are part of systems and forces way beyond our daily awareness, not just on the days we gather to watch eclipses, but every day. Let’s not wait till 2024 for get together in celebration of that.
Difference is holy.
This photo shows campers and staff from our Vacation Garden School yesterday doing something counter-cultural. They are holding hands and listening to one another. They are Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, African-American, white, Pakistani, Chinese, Armenian. They bring their variety together with gentle touch and open hearts to make a sacred place.
They are giving thanks for one another. Everyone says something different, each in his or her own voice. We are stronger for our diversity.
It pains my heart that this photo was taken on the same day that a white supremacist rally was gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia. It pains my heart that these children, and the children of Charlottesville, and children everywhere are growing up at a time when our nation’s leader can’t do better than call for the end of “violence on many sides” in the face of horrific threat to life and liberty for citizens of color, and cars crashing into silent, non-violent groups.
The children at our VGS learned about the gift of diversity in crops, in gardens, in fish populations, and in humanity. I pray fervently for a world that can nurture the sacred and unique beauty in each one of them. I rededicate myself to bringing that about.
I am at Russo’s, staring at the cut flowers. This is the first time I have found myself overwhelmed by the task of choosing flowers. Shoppers are coming and going, elbows out, determined to get their fresh pasta and head home in time for whatever is Very Important tonight. A Russo’s employee, in contrast, slowly and carefully places fresh carrots onto a shelf. I just keep staring at the flowers.
I am buying flowers for the church altar, in honor of the first anniversary of my mother’s passing from this life to the next. Mom loved flowers, and she was very good at choosing just the right ones for any occasion. She ran a fundraiser for years featuring florists making gorgeous arrangements that were auctioned off at the end of the event. She favored floral prints for wallpaper and fabric. And she was a great gardener.
My friend Bruce believes that everyone reflects God’s Being with a focus on one of three things: truth, beauty, or justice. My Mom was all about beauty.
My aesthetic is different from my Mom’s, and I don’t know flowers nearly as well as she did. Standing here blocking traffic in the aisle at Russo’s, the simple task of making a decision brings up memories, thanksgivings, grief, unresolved mother-daughter stuff, and more. What to do? I defer to the liturgical calendar: we’re celebrating the Transfiguration of Christ tomorrow, so white it is. White roses. I’ll add some rosemary from our garden at home (Mom was a great cook, too), and place it all in a vase I inherited from her. My modest offering won’t win any floral competitions, but it’s from the heart. Now for that fresh pasta….
The photo here captures the quiet bliss of creation and recreation on a New England pond. It was not taken in Watertown. I’ve not been in Watertown for a while.
I’ve just returned from a three-month sabbatical. When I left for sabbatical, I felt like a balloon that had been overfilled: no room for anything more to get in, emotionally, logistically, spiritually. Sabbatical was not so much about adding fun experiences to my life as it was about exhaling enough that I could recover my spirit and make room for what is beautiful, good, and necessary now.
I am very aware that sabbaticals are a luxury. Few people have jobs that allow them such a gracious season of renewal. Nonetheless, my hope for you is that this summer you find (or create) enough margin to “deflate” your overfilled balloon. Step away from your gmail. Put down your phone. Walk through a park you’ve never visited. Send a letter to an old friend. Engage in that “holy waste of time” that is prayer.
My guess is that no one will tell you to do these things. You’ll have to intentionally carve out time and space for them.
For encouragement, I leave you with this “prayer for leisure” from the Book of Common Prayer, which guided me in my sabbatical:
O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What a winter. I’ve not posted here for sooo long. My kitchen is sooo messy. My inbox is soooo full. My heart is soooo full, too.
So let me summarize the last 6 weeks of my life out and about in Watertown: Lots of conversations with lots of thoughtful people about how to support those in the greatest need. People are chatting loudly about the news of the day at Starbucks. Middle schoolers are reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” and letting it inform what they hear on the news. People are meeting in church basements to learn about the sanctuary movement. Friends are meeting in homes to write postcards to the President. Residents from Russia, Iran, Syria, and Peru are putting prayer requests on the prayer board for loved ones who had hopes to travel here but cannot.
This photo is from an afternoon that gave me some spiritual strength. Hundreds of people gathered in Watertown Square and later in a church sanctuary to affirm the goodness, dignity, and gift of all people, including immigrants. It felt right to me to be doing this as I was preparing for Lent, a season when we “repent,” which means “turn and face.” We turn and face one another, turn and face the God who made every single one of us in God’s image, and turn and face the ways in which we participate in brokenness. Sometimes, repentance happens on our knees in a pew. Sometimes it happens holding a sign in a town square. Where are you called to this practice now?
One thing I love about winter is that I get to offer this blessing every Sunday: May the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path.
This blessing has been handed down to me to offer from generations past. But when I offer it, it truly comes from my heart. Darkness is all around. I can see in the faces of the people I serve that it is a real presence in their lives. This winter has been a new kind of dark, as we brace ourselves each morning for headlines that make us feel like we’ve lost all our bearings. We pray, we protest, we take our vitamins, but it’s still pretty dark out there.
In such a season, gestures of care matter so much. Smiles in the aisles at Russo’s, an unexpected email from a friend offering a word of care, a small loaf of home-made cranberry bread, carefully packaged and left on my desk.
Just before Christmas I found myself at the Watertown Post Office with boxes of donations intended for hurricane victims in Haiti. It’s a long story, but the upshot is that I couldn’t mail them, and I needed to get them back in my car and take them back to the church. A man jumped out of the long line to help me. He didn’t have to do it. But he was moved to help the Rev. Frustrated Pastor in her moment of need. He scattered a little darkness for me, and it gave me enough spiritual adrenaline to make it through the day.
The darkness that needs scattering in our world is bigger than any one of us can handle. But I believe that God works through both the big and the small efforts of all of us, scattering enough darkness to keep us going so that we can be part of the larger efforts ahead. Thank you, guy who carried the boxes for me. Thank you, everyone who will chose today to bind and heal and help.
It’s Black Friday. Mall parking lots are crowded. But there’s plenty a room in the parking lot at Sister Thrift. My son and I spent 20 minutes browsing through all manner of unexpected items, chatting with the sales people, and collecting treasures we didn’t know we needed. At no point did I experience stress. I was delighted when my son selected a Walkman cassette player, and found some cassettes to go in it.
Our experience was an extension of Thanksgiving rather than a rush towards Christmas. It was an invitation to be connected to people and stories in the material world in a manner you just can’t get at Macy’s.
I bet some of you are spending this weekend cleaning up and cleaning out your homes. A blessing on all of you; it’s hard and holy work. Why not bring some things over to Sister Thrift and extend a blessing? And linger for a while when you make your drop-off. There’s a second-hand Santa in there with your name on it.