Friday, October 18, 2019

Butterfly Garden Gratitude Lessons

I don't want to keep starting blog posts by talking about how weary I am.  But I am so weary.  Let me also record some gratitude.

--I have been writing a bit in these days of weariness.  I have also been reading a bit.

--Yesterday I wrote this Facebook post:

"The milkweed is blooming this week--these are plants that have been eaten back to bare stalks several times since I bought them in July. They are hardy souls.

We are too.

The monarchs have returned to the milkweed to enjoy the new growth. Even the non-poets can see the metaphor."

--I have been taking very small breaks at school to enjoy the colors of the flowers in the butterfly garden.  Yesterday I took my camera.  And lo and behold, a monarch butterfly came, and I captured this great shot:

--I am in the process of finishing my application for the certificate program in spiritual direction--by which I mean that I've gotten the paperwork to the people who will write letters of recommendation.  I will write my essay over the next 2 week-ends, and have the application in the mail by Oct. 28.

--Let me remember the gratitude lessons from the butterfly garden.  Shriveled plants can regenerate.  What looks like abandonment might not be.  Concrete vistas can be transformed.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Resurrection Lessons from the Butterfly Garden

At school, for the past several weeks, I have been racing from pillar to post (what an interesting phrase!) getting ready for the upcoming accreditation visit (Monday--gulp!).  I've worried a bit about the effect of it all on the folks who aren't as much a part of the preparations.  I've tried to be present and stop whatever I've been doing when a non-accreditation task needed attention.  But I know that some of the intensity can't help but be felt by my colleagues and the students.

Yesterday one of my colleagues stopped by to say, "I thought you'd want to know that the monarchs have returned to the milkweed plants."  And we had a short conversation about how we hadn't seen the butterflies lately and how great it was to have them return.

It was a small moment, but it reminds me of how people have cared for me during these intense weeks.  There have been numerous conversations where people helped me process conversations, plans, and directives, where we came together to figure out the best approach.  You might argue that those people are just doing their jobs when we put our heads together.  I would argue that they are going above and beyond.

Similarly, the cleaning crew came in and got the accreditation room cleaned up once the drywall repair was done.  Just doing their job?  In one way--but in an important way, their thorough work meant that I had one less task.  A week ago, the decision was made to change the room, which meant that time to get it ready has been running out.

There was a point yesterday when I wasn't sure I would be home in time for my online Mepkin contemplative group.  There was talk of a complete revision of binders, but they weren't as off-kilter as an e-mail made us fear.  By the end of the day, I got home with time to spare.

We settled into our contemplative time together by describing our psychic space.  I mentioned that I was deeply tired.  I didn't plan to say this, but I did:  "We have an accreditation visit on Monday and Tuesday, so I'd appreciate prayers if you've got some to spare."

They all nodded and said they'd pray.  I was surprised by how comforted I felt.  I was also surprised that I was able to ask for prayers.  Why is it so hard for me to ask for help?  And asking contemplative Mepkin types to pray--that really isn't a burden.  Hmmmm.  Let me sit with this awhile.

The milkweed is blooming this week--these are plants that have been eaten back to bare stalks several times since I bought them in July.  They are hardy souls.

We are too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, October 20, 2019:

First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 31:27-34

Psalm: Psalm 121

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 119:97-104

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14--4:5

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

For many years, this Gospel lesson troubled me. I tend to approach Jesus' parables as teaching us something about the nature of God, so I always look for the character who is supposed to resemble God. In this parable, of course, I immediately assume that the Judge is the God stand-in. But what does that say about the nature of God? Do we really worship a God that is so distracted that he'll only respond if we beat the door down several times?

What does it say about us that we are so quick to see God as the male, corrupt judge?

Maybe God in this story is the widow. How would this change our view of God, our view of religion, if we saw God as the more helpless characters in Scripture, as opposed to an authority figure?

It's a scarier view of God, to be sure. Most of us, if we're honest, would say that we prefer God the smiter to God the helpless widow. Even viewing God as a parent allows us to abdicate some responsibility. We’re 3 year olds, after all, praying to our parent God; we’re allowed to have temper tantrums and to refuse to do the right thing.

This parable teaches us that we're to cry out for justice day and night. If you're having trouble praying, turn your attention towards the people who are suffering in this world. Pray for whichever population is being slaughtered today. Pray for the survivers of genocide. Pray for those on the run from slaughter chasing at their heels. Pray for the people, whomever they might be this week, who are suffering from a natural disaster. Pray for all who need to have continuing courage to resist dictatorship. Pray for all who sit in prisons throughout the world. Pray for the poor, beleaguered planet as it swelters beneath a merciless sun.

If the stones can cry out for justice (a line from a different Gospel), so can you. And you can take comfort from the fact that God cries out for justice right along beside you.

Remember, the parable promises a positive outcome. Go back to the first verse: "And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." That's the lesson of the parable. Always pray. Don’t lose heart.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Parables from the Pumpkin Patch

I have often wondered about the parables of Jesus.  Most of us church going folk have heard them so often that they've lost their power to shock or surprise.  Most of us forget (or have never been taught) how shockingly bizarre they would have seemed when people first heard them.

As we were offloading pumpkins, I thought about what insight the pumpkins, the patch, and our work together might offer us.  Let me play.

The Kingdom of God is like a patch of pumpkins that have been separated from the true vine.  But as they gather together, they can remember what life was like before the separation.  They can act as if they are still connected to the life giving vine and the earth--and in doing so, they will eventually find the true vine again.

The Kingdom of God is like a patch of pumpkins.  They see themselves as vastly different one from another, and yet they are more alike than they know.

The Kingdom of God is like a patch of pumpkins:  some are big, some are small, some are deep orange, some are white, and some are shades in between.  God delights in this variety, and we should too.

What does the Kingdom of God look like?  A small church that comes together to take pumpkins off a truck.  Some of the members scramble on the truck to get the pumpkins from the back to the front.  Others walk slowly with pumpkins in their hands.  Those who can't walk create a line and hand pumpkins one to another.  Those who can't stand will help with sales.

The Kingdom of God is like a pumpkin.  It can be made into a sweet pie or a savory soup.  It binds disparate ingredients together into a whole.  It grows slowly but surely, in environments that would kill less sturdy plants--and thus, a patch of pumpkins can sustain a tribe in a harsh climate.

The Kingdom of God can be used in many ways:  the purely decorative gourd or ingested from the skin to the seeds.  The Kingdom of God can provide the nutrients and fiber to keep our bodies full.  The Kingdom of God can soothe our aesthetic yearnings.  The Kingdom of God nourishes us in ways we didn't know we needed.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Week-end Retrospective

It was a great week-end.  On Friday, we had planned to have hamburgers with my sister-in-law who is staying in our cottage.  But torrential rains had set in, so we shifted plans.  We made a quick chili mac kind of dish--or was it a spaghetti and meatballs?  It was pasta with little meatballs and several types of cheeses.  I might have put beans in it and some tomatoes.  But it was delicious nonetheless, and we ate our supper on the porch, watching the rains sweep through, catching up with each other.

On Saturday, our once in a blue moon book club met to discuss Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys.  This book club is amazing, even though we're only 4 people total.  They always notice some parts of the book that I overlooked.

Our host made his famous-to-us cinnamon rolls.  Yummmmm.  And we agreed that we will go down to the Arsht Center on Nov. 4 to see Ta-Nehesi Coates.  I need more of those kinds of events in my life.

I spent Saturday afternoon at the pumpkin offload at my church.  I thought it might be too humid or rainy, but the rains held off, a breeze picked up, and we got the pumpkins off the truck.  Saturday night we had our delayed hamburgers, and then we relaxed on the porch for a bit.  The porch now has pumpkins on display.  And even better, we watched the family across the street decorate their house for Halloween.  The older child, who is five, tried on a variety of Halloween costumes.  At one point, he had on a hockey mask and a toy chainsaw, and he greeted the people walking by with a friendly, "Hi!"

Sunday morning was a big event at our church.  We had the vote to see if we will sell part of our property.  The motion to sell got a unanimous vote.  I was part of the team counting the votes.  It was a drama free day, and as we all know, it could have been otherwise.

My morning shouldn't have wiped me out--I had gotten a lot of sleep from Saturday to Sunday, but I did take a 2 hour nap yesterday afternoon.  That set me up to have trouble falling asleep.  But I did get a lot of online teaching work done.  I have another class starting tomorrow, and I needed to get all the dates entered into the course shell.

And now it's off to do the bread run and spin class, and a long day at work, visiting classes to let students know that in a week, our accrediting team will be here.

A week.  Wow.  Let me get on with the work of the day.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Pumpkin Offload 2019

Today I am sore.  But it's a good kind of sore.  Yesterday was the annual pumpkin offload at my church.  We buy part of a truckload (the 18 wheeler kind of truck, not the Ford F150 kind of truck) of pumpkins that come to us straight from the fields of New Mexico.  We have to get them out of the truck and into the front grassy area.

Some years, it's taken over 5 hours.  Yesterday we did it in just under 2.  Because it was a Saturday afternoon we had a lot more help--it's been tougher in years when it's a school night.

Because it was a Saturday afternoon, we had some people we didn't know show up:  3 kids on bikes and a homeless guy   We also had teenagers of church members that we hadn't seen in awhile come to help. 

Not everyone can help.  But that's fine.  They can cheer from the sidelines or just enjoy the parade of pumpkins.

This year we got a larger amount of the smaller pumpkins.  Over the past several years, we've noticed that people don't buy the bigger pumpkins like they used to.

Because more of us are using pumpkins and gourds for decorating than for carving or cooking, we got a lovely assortment of those.  Bonus:  the littlest children can set those up, while those of us with bigger muscles can get the bigger pumpkins off the truck.

Here and there we found some rotted pumpkins.  Back to the earth they go.

At the end, we swept the hay out of the truck.  We put it on the pathways between the pumpkins.  Does it protect the grass?  Does it protect our shoes?

Some children further north get to jump in leaves.  Our children jump in hay.

This year, our pumpkin offload was tinged with even more nostalgia than usual.  There's the usual nostalgia--children whom I have known since they were in elementary school are now teenagers.

And then there's the larger nostalgia--our church is in the process of possibly selling the front part of the 4 acre property.  If the sale goes through, we will build a new structure in the back.  Where will we be this time next year?

We may be in exactly the same place, offloading pumpkins, transforming a church yard into a pumpkin patch.  We may not.

Of course, that's our situation every year.  We just aren't always as aware of it.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Noah's Offspring

Although I have been up for hours, I don't have much time left for blogging.  But that's O.K.  I have returned to writing my apocalyptic novel--what joy!  And let me be clear, my lack of writing has had more to do with my lack of time than with being blocked or scared or unsure of where to go next.

I also had an idea for a poem, which has been fun.  I've been thinking about Noah's descendants choosing their majors in college.  Of course they would be influenced by the family stories about the flood.  I'm not done with it yet, but it's been good to feel the poetry juices flowing again.

Last night we had plans to grill burgers, but the weather was rather Noah-like, so we shifted to a chili mac kind of creation.  We ate on the front porch, which was lovely--watching the rain, drinking some wine, enjoying good food.  It was a satisfying end to a tiring week.  I went to bed early, so being up in the wee small hours of the morning (even earlier than those hours, truth be told) has been O.K.

Soon I will head across town to my once in a blue moon book club.  We will discuss Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys.  What an amazing book.  The violence wasn't as graphic as I was afraid it would be.  We will eat amazing cinnamon rolls and enjoy good conversation and good company.

Later today I'll work off some of those calories by offloading pumpkins.  Yes, it's time to help out my church.  One of our big fundraisers is a pumpkin patch.  The pumpkins come to us on a big 18 wheeler, and we have to get them off the truck and into the front of the church.  It's as close as I get to harvest activities this time of year.

And maybe later, we'll grill those burgers.