Inauguration Day

Yesterday, according to our local weathermen, the sun came out for the first time since December 26. When Jeff got home from work, we went for a walk. I’ve been having some trouble with my back, so I couldn’t make it very far without discomfort.  When I’d had enough, Jeff went on without me and I made my way back home alone.  The sky was a fair companion and the wind shifted daubs of cumulus clouds about, rearranging the geography of heaven as I walked. Patches of azure opened and closed here and there, like pupil-less irises in the cloud sclera of sky.

I passed a row of white pines and absentmindedly plucked some needles from a bough. I lifted them to my nose and breathed in their faint scent. It was diminished by the season—tired, old. I pressed the flimsy greens between my teeth and bit down: earthy, grassy, dry.

I walked on, mouthing the needles, wondering at the day. Further along I came across an evergreen I did not recognize. It looked out of place amidst all those white pines and I was pleased to meet it.

“Hello,” I said, to be polite. “How did you end up here?” I felt a kinship with this lonely traveler on this day of days. She was a testament to my heart, a splash of truth in all the pretense.

I bent and buried my nose in a cluster of her needles. Sweet and citrusy, she offered herself to me. Her needles were long, about four inches, and in clusters—like a pine—sprayed out abundantly from the twiggy branch. The cone was open, about three inches. I plucked a cluster of needles from her upstretched arm. No sooner were they in my grasp when my fingers were sticky with the scent of orange. I bit down on acidic brightness—a fruit basket in two small stalks of green. I chewed on the resiny goodness all the way home.

This morning, in my quiet time, I read part of Luke 4. The reading took me through the temptation of Jesus (1-13), to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee (14-15), to his rejection in his home town of Nazareth (16-30). I’m reading through an old lectionary commentary, and the writer had this to say about these passages:

Today marks the midpoint of the Epiphany season, a season in which we celebrate the revelation, the manifestation (epiphania)—of God. Primarily, we celebrate how Jesus is made known—revealed to us as God’s Messiah. But something else is also revealed in this season. In this text, we, too, are made known. And we, like the congregation in Nazareth, are revealed to be a people who like to draw lines in the sand—a people with a persistent ‘we-they’ mind-set. … We can easily turn all of life into a competition—who is better than whom. …
Sometimes we would like to peg God with a certain nationality, a political party, an income level. Yet in the second half of Luke’s work, we read especially about the impartiality of God. When Peter preached about the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles through Christ, he proclaimed, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34). Literally, this reads: ‘God makes no distinction between faces.’ God does not differentiate between peoples.
No, God is not interested in faces; God is interested in hearts. Not beautiful hearts, not pure hearts, nor perfect hearts, but hearts that know their need of God …”

This morning, the sun is still shining. And I’m trying to remember to stand like my new friend—beautiful in her distinctiveness, full of grace. The freshness of such a friend can make one almost forget the pain from a tired old back, and remind to look upon this tired world with eyes of love.

Freedom: Some Thoughts on the Jumping Tandem Retreat

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I notice anew that this is the season the Maples let go of their seeds. When we walk lately, it is in a whirling, twirling ticker-tape of spinning helicopter seeds. Bonnie tries to catch them in her mouth and I cannot shake the feeling of a parade. Somehow the walk becomes a celebration.

I’m still thinking about the Jumping Tandem Retreat. Before I flew to Nebraska, I spent a few days weeding out my flowers, mulching over wild violets and honeysuckle, planting the garden, dreaming of color. The lilac bush was in full bloom, leaving the air heavy with its heady scent. And I was tired.

I landed in Nebraska to open arms, strong and tender shoulders, and grace. Words cannot capture the sound of a room full of women lifting their voices in praise; words cannot capture the way tears cleanse, how a slow-spreading smile lights up a face.

We are made to be in the presence of one another.

We began with the story of brokenness. Our first keynote speaker was a Willow, bending before us, giving herself in offering and making the space we shared an altar. Grace. Her name is Grace. And she is beautiful.

The first workshop I attended was called “The Art of Truth Telling: How Grace Unmakes Bitter Fruit.” Listening to Alia Joy speak of meeting God in suffering was the best place to start. She spoke of how the hard circumstances strip you bare, leave nothing but honesty and an acute awareness of God with us. She said she felt ill-prepared, due to more unforeseen circumstances, but this is a safe place to fail, she said. She didn’t.

My Bible study sisters and I have been reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. This morning I read this:

In Christ Jesus the freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we are.”

Yes. This is grace. This is what I felt at the retreat: freedom to move freely in the mystery I am.

I listened to Kim Hyland, that Winsome Woman, speak about freedom. About how a quest for perfection can suffocate a life. I listened to her and loved her and felt a love for every woman who is doing the best she can in this broken world.

Dr. Helen Fagan shared her story in the second keynote. This woman’s heart is so brave and beautiful. “We grow the most when we are around people who are different than us,” she said. And her story is one of constantly growing, always seeking truth, endless curiosity.

I listened to the poet John Blase speak about “Bearing the Burden of Nouns,” his good words transcending poetry and encompassing all of life—gently prodding me to tend the nouns in my life better. I would pay John to read me poetry all the daylong.

And then there was Michelle, whose humility and grace and self-deprecating humor moved us all to such a warm place of communion I thought my heart might swell out of my chest.

Words cannot capture, friends.

I returned home under moonlight to find the lilac blooms on the wane and I told my boys all the stories I gathered in my head with words, all the stories gathered in my heart.

“Don’t you love God’s people?” I said to them. “Don’t you just?”

The Maple seeds spin and blow in the breeze and this aging woman feels the freedom of a new sowing; and everything old is new again.

Move freely in the Mystery, Beloved. There is always grace.