Tuesday, June 12, 2007

God's newness

One of my seminary professors, Walter Brueggemann, likes to talk about "God's newness." Isaiah 43:19 says, "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." God has made a way in the wilderness for me. I have a new call to ministry. I am back in a parish again. After a long, long time of wandering and wondering, of searching and praying, I have been called to a church in the metro New Orleans area. Not just any church, but the church where I was baptized as an infant and where I went to preschool. God must be laughing. My parents must be laughing. Shoot, I'm laughing too.

We held my installation service on Sunday. It was truly a celebration, for the congregation and for me. Everyone who took part in the service was a friend -- some for many years, some recent. Friends and family members came. The elders of the church were there. The congregation was there. We had a great reception afterward and everybody had a wonderful time.

A couple came in during the service. They were strangers. They needed financial assistance. After the service, I was able to give them some help. Their presence in the service was a reminder to me -- to all of us -- that the work of ministry is beyond the doors of the church, out in the community.

I believe it was T.S. Eliot who said, "The end of all our explorations will be to come back to where we began, and discover the place for the first time." And here I am, back where my faith story began so many years ago. A new adventure begins.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The elusiveness of now

I walk across a pasture in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains. The grass has been mowed, maybe a week or more ago, for it is thick under my feet. The yellowed cuttings lie across the green grass below. Fescue, mostly, with some clover and bermuda mixed in.

It's about one o'clock in the afternoon. A warm sun heats my arms, my face, as I climb up a hill, unlock a gate, then make my way carefully down the hill on the other side of the fence. In spite of a light breeze, I begin to perspire. And as I walk, I ponder the elusiveness of "now." It's here for a moment, and then it's gone. I anticipate, then it's now, then it's past. Step after step. At the bottom of the hill, I turn left and begin walking across the pasture toward a stand of trees that mark the distant fenceline. I can see a spot of freshly turned red clay. It's dry, thanks to a long drought in this part of the state.

When I reach the fresh red clay, I stop. I put down the tote bag I've been carrying. It contains a small leatherbound book and a box of Kleenex.

There are three separate parts to this bare ground. One is hard packed. It's been here awhile. One is fresher. But the one closest to me is new, fresh crumbling earth. The tears roll down my face. I have an insane urge to dig in the clay with my hands until I find what is underneath it. But I don't.

Cinder, my beloved companion on life's trail for the last twenty years, almost twenty-one, is buried here, in this freshly turned North Georgia red clay. And a part of me is buried with him. A huge chunk of who I am is gone. The elusiveness of now. Where did those twenty years go?

And how many hours did I spend brushing that Georgia red clay out of his coat and shampooing it off him when brushes failed? He did so love to roll in it!

I am glad I brought him back here to spend his last years, and I am glad that he is buried here, where he spent so much of his life. He never grazed in this pasture, but he would have enjoyed it. It's a lovely spot, a place where a human being wouldn't mind being buried. He lies next to Sweet Talk, a mare from the farm who died about seven weeks before he did, and Chrissy, a fifty-year-old pony who died around Easter a year ago.

Someone, probably Sweet Talk's owner, laid a stone on top of her grave with words engraved on it that went something like this: "If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I'd go right up to heaven, and bring you back again." Sweet Talk's owner couldn't bear to come out when the vet came to put her down. I was in New Orleans when Cinder died, but I don't think I could have watched it either.

I pulled out the slim black leather book. "I lift up my eyes to the hills -- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121.

Accept, O Lord, I humbly pray, a foal of your own herd, a horse of your own barn, a creature of your own creation.