Doors

I’m on my fourth day of deep cleaning, working my way around the kitchen and into the side entry hall. All my baking supplies have been taken out and sorted, the cupboard cleaned inside and out, and goods replaced. After I shut the cupboard doors, only the faint scent of peppermint soap and vinegar gives any indication of the changes within. It’s only when I open the doors that the impact of my work can be seen.

It only takes a quick glance to appreciate the cleaning efforts in my side entry hall. Scuff marks are gone from baseboards, fingerprints and dirt removed from light switches. The magnets holding keys, bags, sunglasses, and mail are bright and shiny, as is the metal board that holds them to the wall. These are the things that anyone coming into the house might see. But it’s what most of us don’t notice that captured my attention today: doors.

There are three in my entry hall: separating the outdoors from the inside, leading to the cellar, and a usually hidden recessed door marking the entry to the kitchen. The two I can see mark and maintain the transitions from one space to another, keeping cold winds and rain from coming in and people from taking a tumble down the basement stairs. The one that’s usually hidden in the wall can keep my two cats away from people allergic or afraid of them, and provides an extra barrier to the cold if a snowstorm knocks out the power. The ability to connect and separate, to protect and invite, standing silently within arm’s reach – this belongs to these rectangular creations of wood and glass.

Hiding and revealing, connecting and separating, opening and closing. Keeping watch over the space that goes from one place to another. Marking transition from one reality to another: it’s often said that silence, prayer practices, and worship are doors to the great mystery of God. Through them the Spirit draws me into a love far deeper than I can see or imagine. Perhaps I should pay attention to these doors as well. Who knows where I might find myself when one opens and I walk on through.

Same Old, Same Old…Everything’s Renewed

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is no new thing under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new?” It has already been, in the ages before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 (NRSV)

 

In less than two weeks, 20+ people will come for dinner – an edible thank-you from my husband and me for their leadership in the faith community that we’ve done since 2003. Every year, we enjoy choosing the main course, setting out appetizers and tasty beverages, and lighting the house with just enough candles to create a friendly glow. The pattern is the same, the routine virtually unchanged these past fifteen years. Yet, every one is completely different: new people come while others leave, everyone ages a year, and the weather and conversations are unique to the evening. It’s a routine event and something new and unrepeatable every single year – a living, breathing paradox right in my own home.

One of the ways I prepare for this same old, same old, never before, never again event is by giving most rooms in the house a thorough cleaning. Yesterday, I began this yearly scrubbing in the kitchen. The walls got a wipe-down with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and vinegar, and the woodwork got a Murphy’s Oil Soap treatment. My Electrolux inhaled a truly amazing amount of dust from the refrigerator coils, and the cupboard over the fridge got its twice-yearly once-through. A few leftover Christmas mugs found there way into storage, and I rearranged the cups and plates on the open shelves. Today and tomorrow, I’ll continue this work, cleaning and sorting and rearranging canned goods and baking pans; I won’t make drastic changes, but I’ll rearrange a few things. When the kitchen is done, I’ll move on to the next room, leaving it cleaner and more functional for my efforts.

I’ve come to appreciate and even enjoy this cleaning process. It’s a way for me to acknowledge and accept the evolving needs and patterns of my family life, and the chance to alter my living space to accommodate them. In 2003, my sons were pre-schoolers and my house child-proofed; today, one son is away at college and the other is in high school. The insignificant yearly changes I’ve made in my annual dinner cleaning have created a vastly different configuration in every single room of the house.

If I hadn’t put in the time to clean and update, would I have made the changes that honor my family’s new reality? In the same old, same old of every day life, would I see and be thankful for the transformation and renewal off all things? I wonder…

Nursery Plans

They came just after Christmas, but I put them aside. Mid-January is the time for lingering over Burpee’s new offerings and deciding which kind of heirloom gourd to order from John Scheeper’s. Johnny’s Selected Seeds came along with the other two, sporting a beautiful display of vegetables on its cover and seeds sold by the pound as well as by the packet. I don’t have nearly enough space to buy seeds by the pound, but it’s good to know that local farmers have the option to get their seeds from local nurseries (Jack Scheeper’s and Johnny’s are in New England, Burpee in Pennsylvania). Saturday night, I put my Burpee’s order in; My John Scheeper’s order will go in next week. A few days beyond that, the seeds will arrive on my doorstep; the plants will come just in time for putting them in the ground. With a wind chill in the air and ice on the driveway, it’s a blessing to remember that the green and growing season will arrive soon enough.

Preparing for this year’s gardens, the one in my yard and the children’s learning garden at my local library, is an exercise in memory, imagination, and planning. I review last year’s garden beds, remembering what grew well and what got eaten by local critters. I choose a theme for the largest garden bed: a Three Sister’s Garden adapted from Sharon Lovejoy’s Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots. I picture in my mind the colors and shapes that will emerge from the ground of this year’s gardens, and what simple snacks and salads will be savored every week. Work projects and shopping lists appear on scrap paper, meetings with learning garden leaders crop up on my calendar, and this year’s garden begins to take shape. Soon these garden plans will create a green and growing part of the library’s summer reading program – dovetailing garden activities to the state-wide summer literacy theme. From ordering seeds in January to putting it all to bed in October, this year’s garden moves from possibility and dreams to a blessed reality. It has begun on a January day of ice and wind, with the ground frozen and the earth asleep: nursery to beds to harvest.

But these plans don’t happen in isolation. A baby is due any day now, and library garden work is on hold: it’s more important for a grandmother to greet her new grandchild than to make summer program plans. Calendars and activities will be revised, timetables adjusted. That’s as it should be – a gentle, tangible reminder that life comes in its own blessed time. Life first, plans for life second.

Book Details: Lovejoy, Sharon; Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Activities to to do in the garden (New York: Workman Publishing, 1999)

Gifted

My birthday arrives a few days after the new year, extending the season of opening presents a bit beyond what’s usual for most families. When I was a child, it was a challenge for people to find anything for me that hadn’t already appeared under the Christmas tree or hadn’t already disappeared from store shelves. With the advent of online shopping and dependable delivery, the technical difficulties have lessened. I don’t  know that it’s any easier to overcome the post-Christmas gift selecting fatigue, though. It’s why I’m impressed with the creativity and energy that goes into my birthday every year. This year was no exception. It’s not so much the gifts per se, as it is the world-expanding nature of each one – either something to deepen my own inner spiritual journey or something that reveals the mystery and wonder of the world that surrounds me…

Tickets to a local movie theater and musical theater in Boston plunge me into the arts, giving me a glimpse into how someone else sees the world.

Books, books, books. Some I asked for, and surprisingly wonderful ones I didn’t. A grieving widower irritated by his neighbors enough to begin living again (A Man Called Ove), Malala’s story in words and pictures (For the Right to Learn), two spiritual gurus in conversation (The Book of Joy) and a cynically humorous take on work and life, and a daily reading of ancient philosophy (The Daily Stoic).

A collection of things to help me find joy in every day, including scratch-a-mandala papers for use as a meditation. A hand towel that makes a usually thoughtless action an act of remembrance and thanks.

Gift cards and money, providing an opportunity for me to enjoy a walk around a lovely New England town and a chance to catch a glimpse into the heart and mind of my son over lunch – and enough to do the same with my other son sometime soon.

Cards with beautiful images and words, bearing the writing of beloved friends and relatives.

But it’s not really about the gifts; it’s about the love that binds me to their givers. To be in this world with them is an immeasurable blessing and an honor that humbles me. They are precious gifts to me and to the world. I am so grateful.

Happy, Pharrell Williams ( Despicable Me 2, 2013; Girl, Circle House Studios, Florida, Back Lot Music, Released November 21, 2013) Purchased on iTunes

308 miles, 27 hours, and $125.64

Wareham to Rochester (with a stop in Portsmouth) to New Durham, New Durham to Wareham: 308 miles altogether. My older son and I made the first part of the journey on Friday, and the return trip on Saturday. Measured by clock and receipts, these 308 miles took twenty-seven hours (five behind the wheel) and $30 for gas and tolls to make it up and back. $1.15 went to a parking meter, $12.47 to a market, $42 to a restaurant, and $40.02 off a specialty store gift card – expenses along the way. This trip adds up to 27 hours, $125.64, and 308 miles.

But if you asked me about it, I wouldn’t tell you any of these things. Instead, I’d say:

What fun it was to walk with my son through my old neighborhood in Portsmouth, and to eat scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and peas at the Friendly Toast. How interesting to listen to Colin’s stories about walking around Philadelphia.

The fog coming off the snow was so dense that my mother’s road couldn’t be seen through it. 

Seeing my mother in person is so much more fun than talking with her on the phone. 

Laughter comes easily to all of us at our yearly family get-together. There is a precious ease and familiarity to it – a gift that not all families receive.

I missed seeing my Aunt. I hope I get to spend time with her the next time I’m in New Hampshire. I hope my brother, mother, husband, and younger son make the next family event, too. They were missed.

The gifts and the food were fun, but without the people they wouldn’t be worth much.

It’s been a blessing and a privilege to spend my life’s time with these particular people. I wouldn’t trade my relatives for anything or anyone else.

There’s a richness that can’t be found in receipts and odometer readings. The length of time spent isn’t the measure of its worth. Beyond today, I won’t remember the 308 miles, the 27 hours, or the $125.64 I spent. But I will hold in my heart and memory the immeasurable goodness they brought.

 

Epiphany

Today is the day for remembering the astronomers/astrologers who followed a star to find the Christ Child. Contrary to Christmas pageant tradition, the Magi didn’t show up on Christmas day or any day soon after: enough time had passed for them to reach Bethlehem by way of Jerusalem and for Jesus to grow from a baby to a child (Matthew 2:1-12). While tradition holds that there were three of them (Casper, Melchior, Balthazar), it doesn’t mention their names or numbers in the Bible. It seems that there are a lot of things that have been read into this story over the past two thousand years, and it isn’t easy to read this sacred story without all the additions and assumptions.

Epiphany in the capital E church sense is a revelation or manifestation of the divine, in this case the revealing of the Christ child to holy travelers outside the Jewish faith. My visual for an Epiphany is a brilliant shaft of light parting the clouds. It’s a beautiful image, even if it’s a cliche.

In the lower case sense, epiphany can mean an illumination, a sudden grasp of truth, and the revelation of something essential revealed or understood. I guess the light-bulb-over-the-head is the cliche image, but it’s not one I can claim. I don’t really have a static picture for it, but I do have a couple of moving ones. The first is looking through a kaleidoscope – seeing the fractured colors become identifiable flowers or figures with a quick aligning turn. What made no sense seconds earlier falls into place and I see its structure and beauty. Two others: adjusting telescopes and microscopes to see what is too big or far away and what is too small or too much a part of me to grasp. In all cases, it’s a change of perspective – a new look at reality that allows me to grasp an essential truth or be grasped by an essential truth.

Like the Magi, I won’t see God-with-Us without leaving behind the comforts and assumptions of home. Epiphany and epiphanies only come when I’m willing to journey beyond my present understandings of God, world, self, and neighbor. Today is as good a day as any to hit the road…

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. C.S. Lewis

(quoted in Daily Peace: Photos and Wisdom to Nourish Your Spirit, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2015, January 1)

Welcome, New Year

It’s not quite ten hours into 2018. It’s only a degree or two above zero, a degree or two below with the wind chill factor factored in. Birds are flying to and from my bird feeder, squirrels are picking bread crusts and seeds off the frozen ground, and the sun shines down from a brilliant blue sky. There’s just enough snow on the ground and shrubs to make the view out my window an almost perfect vision of a New England winter. Looking out on this downtown Wareham beauty, I wonder what this new year will bring.

I’ve been reading Coates’ We Were Eight Years In Power, a collection of essays written over eight years prefaced with personal notes from the author before each one. In the fifth essay introduction, Coates writes about his joy in seeing his wife, Kenyatta, taking up a new course of study and growing in unexpected ways. Where some would see disruption and the loss of comfortable life patterns and goals, he sees wonder and adventure – a new way to grow together rather than an inevitable (or at least likely) cause of growing apart. What a wonderful way to experience the changes brought to daily life when a beloved leaves behind the old and familiar pursuits.

I don’t think it’s easy, growing together through new directions and stages. It’s easy to become so attached to a specific version of friends and relatives that significant change and growth feels like loss and death rather than gain and new life. There’s something important here for me to learn. With this new year just a few hours old, perhaps I’ve been given my first life lesson of 2018: foster and appreciate the changes and growth of everyone I care about. Love the person, not a particular age or stage. If I can learn how to do this, there’s no telling what delight and adventure I’ll find.

Welcome, New Year. Welcome, New Life Lesson.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years In Power (New York: One World Publishing, 2017)