In Between

Banner with cardinalTransitions create a liminal time, a time on the threshold between old and new, between past and future, a sacred time, perhaps a dangerous time.  Yesterday, I turned in my keys to the congregation where I had ministered for 13 years.  My retirement is official.  But who am I now?

It is not that I didn’t have any ideas about what I might like to be doing after I finished that work.  I imagine I will still be on A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community, what this blog is all about.  But what I notice, and have been noticing the last few weeks, is a sense of floating or flying, a sense of directionless.  I haven’t been able to put it into words.  But artist Cathryn Falwell captured it in this beautiful banner she created for me as a retirement gift.  (Thank you Cathryn!) The red cardinal is flying over the terrain of earth, hills, trees, clouds, water.  The landing is not yet in sight.

It is not a fearful time, nor sad really, though I have moments of sadness about letting go. It is not really excited or joyful either. I am not doing a happy dance.  It is “in between” everything. I remember that I wanted to have a sense of spaciousness, an empty space before I filled it with new things.  So perhaps it is a spacious time, though it doesn’t quite feel spacious yet.

I realized a few days ago that summer in Maine always carries a sense of urgency. There is such a short growing season, and the garden clamors for attention. We have reached the solar festival of Lammas, the early harvest celebration.  The garden is full of harvestables–huge kale plants, and basil; the oregano and thyme herb clusters have expanded and gone to flower to the delight of all bees; volunteer blackberries are starting to ripen in the back of the yard and down the street at a vacant lot.  We are also overgrown with crabgrass and could never finish all the weeding that one might do. Plus there are always practical things to attend to–meals, dishes, bills, household maintenance.  Not to mention that the beach also calls us to swimming during these hot sunny days that end so quickly.

So what is spaciousness? How do I float along in this empty and full terrain?  Perhaps I just float along.  Perhaps I just float along, until the next sacred thing emerges.

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Quietude

Evergreen Pond Dead Tree

Yesterday I finally walked to the ponds at Evergreen Cemetery, after not being there for over a year. It is a longer walk for me—half an hour there and half an hour back. But I never come right back. I go to the place where the dead tree fell into the water, becoming the center of pond life for the critters there.

So I sat at the base of the log, and I found myself growing quiet. Just paying attention to the life around me. I saw a brown frog in the water close by, and later, a green and yellow bigger one off to my right. A small turtle was sunning on the log. Once, the green and yellow frog slowly moved forward about a foot and then stopped again, eyes and mouth above the water. The turtle slipped into the water. A mother duck with two youngsters swam past, and then circled around and climbed up onto the log where she and her babies attended to their feathers.

Last week was encumbered with many projects, and lists of more projects. Ever since I cleaned out my office, I’ve been trying to catch up on household maintenance and fixing things. The biggest project that I actually accomplished was fixing the ice dispenser on our refrigerator. This involved two phone calls, moving ten boxes and a table to reach the freezer in the basement and turn it on; hauling food downstairs, two coolers, defrosting and cleaning the whole fridge, and starting it up again.  Three days. But it worked.

Anyway, once I sat next to the pond, the burden of unfinished projects just disappeared.  Not the projects of course, but the burden.  My soul got quiet and peaceful.  Another turtle climbed onto the log.  I saw another brown frog.  I saw a winged insect struggling on the surface of the water, until a dark turtle-shaped shadow swam near and suddenly the insect disappeared. On my walk home, the quietude stayed with me.

This has been a year of a lot of work in our yard, creating a garden of fruit trees and perennials and bushes. Working with growing things is one way to learn to connect to the earth. But being silent next to a pond brings a deeper sense of unity.  I am grateful.

Keeping Stories

Last week, while cleaning out my files in the office at church, I was remembering so many wonderful stories of the work of this congregation on behalf of social justice.  I found myself wondering, “Who will keep these stories after I am gone?”  After 13 years of ministry here, I have become too much the keeper of institutional memory.  It was hard to recycle or shred old meeting notes and flyers and public witness statements.

Today, though, I am remembering that many of these stories of justice-making found their way into our Annual Reports.  Funny thing, Annual Reports.  I bet for most people, they are glanced at during an annual meeting, and then filed away, or even tossed away.  But they can be a useful tool for keeping stories.  After I had been serving this congregation for about a year, I took a week just to read the annual reports from 1980 up to 2006.  It helped me to understand the journey that the people had traveled, the stories from before I arrived.

So today–probably my last day of cleaning in the office–I am taking some moments to look at old Annual Reports–and share a few tidbits of some of the great activism I have witnessed and participated in here.  In 2005-6, we were part of a “No on One” referendum to prevent a repeal attempt of the state’s new anti-discrimination legislation for GLBTQ people.  Our Social Action committee made 2500 bumper stickers-My Church Believes in Civil Rights for All, and distributed them around the state.  (Thank you, Jim!) Not to mention rallies and forums and so much more–the repeal attempt was defeated!

That year, we also participated in the Giving Winds Campaign, a capital campaign of the Maine Council of Churches for Four Directions Development Corporation, which provides small business and home-owner loans to people on Wabanaki reservations in Maine.  We visited two reservations, hosted Wabanaki representatives during worship, and held a forum on Indian Affairs.  We donated over $2000, and members made loans through the church totalling $12000 that were matched by the UUA and the Federal Government.  Some of that loan money is still being used by FDDC!

In 2006-7, some of our members were on the advisory board for a new Portland Freedom Trail, celebrating the Underground Railroad in Portland, and other sites of importance to African American history in our city.  Other members created a quilt to be used in the unveiling of the first pedestal, and over a dozen people participated as docents for the grand opening event. You can find a self-guided walking tour online.

From 2007-2009, we were involved with work on a campaign for the Freedom to Marry for same-sex couples. We were part of creating the interfaith Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine, (later it became the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination), and many people testified at a huge public hearing.  The bill was successfully passed by our legislature, a first in the country, but then immediately went to a people’s veto referendum.  Sadly, despite the active involvement of so many, the veto campaign prevailed and marriage rights were not achieved.

But people did not give up, and our church was part of the long attempt to pass the Freedom to Marry by referendum.  Our members were among the many volunteers going door-to-door having conversations with undecided voters, they were phone-bank callers, and they created another great bumper sticker.  Finally, victory was achieved on November 6, 2012.

I like to keep my blog posts to about 600 words, so I am running out of room to add more stories. And I haven’t even mentioned the campaign for Health Care for All, which percolated within our doors, and is now a statewide organization, Maine All Care.  I haven’t mentioned our three-year Environmental Focus, our participation in protesting oil from Tar Sands (see the photo below), work on climate change, and our Permaculture Design course.  And what about work on peace issues, homelessness, anti-racism, immigration, and the latest project, Greater Portland Family Promise?

It will be up to the members of Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church to keep their own stories now.  I hope they will peek into old Annual Reports if they need to remember the old stories, and I hope they will make many new stories as well.Tar Sands Rally

Surrender

They say that life endings and transitions are in some ways a preparation for that greatest of transitions, dying.  So I am noticing some things about the ending of my ministry.  I have not been able to do everything I would have wished to do, or imagined I would do.  For example, I wanted to have more final visits with people, more moments of personal gratitude and farewell.  I wanted to give gifts, I wanted to express more appreciation.  I wanted to pass along more details of how things work at my church–why do I know so many details? Who will they ask when I am no longer there?

Is that how it might be with dying, as well?  That we finally come to realize we can’t finish anything?  That we can’t express enough appreciation?  That we can’t pass along enough of the knowledge we so carefully gathered?

Meanwhile, I am trudging along with the sheer volume of work to do to clean out my office.  I am asking, What should be saved to pass along, and what should be recycled or shredded?  I am remembering meaningful activities, caught in old file folders, that I had forgotten we had done together.  I am asking, What do I want to keep for this unknown future life called retirement?  Right now, I don’t feel connected to the magic, to the flow of the River.  I feel as if I am in the dark about what the future might hold and where I am going.

Is that how it is with dying, as well?  That we feel overwhelmed with the minutiae of our daily existence?  That we are too weary to feel the magic?  That we are fully in the dark about the mystery beyond death?

Meanwhile, our country is descending deeper and deeper into fascism.  Social support systems are being gutted, even as I am wading through the bureaucracy of signing up for Medicare, Parts A, and B, and D, and supplemental.  Migrant children are being detained in cages, while their parents suffer, also caged, not knowing where they are.  Discriminatory exclusions are ruled legal.  Courageous people are protesting in the streets, making a loud noise, saying don’t go gentle into that dark night.  And I am at home in this liminal space, unable to participate in resistance, exhausted and weary, and all I can do is pray, and that, not very well.

So I come to this morning, this morning of my birthday of all things, and I finally write in my journal after several days neglect.  I set it all down, by setting it in words on paper. And that is my prayer, setting it all down, while I sit outside in the backyard.  I feel as if I am in labor, but to what purpose?  Someday, too, I will enter the labor of dying, and what will be the purpose of that?

Finally, I realize, we cannot finish everything that needs doing. All we can do is surrender into the Mystery.  And so I do.  I surrender to you, dear Creator, dear Goddess, dear Mystery. I surrender to you, dear River, dear Ocean, dear Love.  You have been my source and strength since before I was born, you have led me through dark valleys into transformation.  So I trust you, and I surrender once again, into the Unknown, into the Mystery.  Have mercy on us all.

White Pine in summer

Celebrating Ministry

Diarama of Myke – Version 2

On Sunday, June 17, my congregation celebrated my ministry of thirteen years, upon the occasion of my retirement.  (I will still be working behind the scenes in June and on-call through July, but that was my last Sunday service.)  I was overwhelmed with their expressions of love and appreciation.  I will miss everyone so much.

There were so many amazing touches to the celebration, including this tiny (6 inches across) diorama of my life created by Kathy N. with details including my guitar, a stole I wear when I preach, tiny protest signs, the cover of my actual book, our fire circle, cherry tree, rain barrel and garden tools.  The celebration included a reflection from me and testimonials from a few church members, and a poem and a funny song created for me, and more.  There was a gorgeous rendition of Jeremy Geffen’s song “Mystery,” done by the choir and instrumentalists, along with other beautiful music.  They also honored me with the designation of Minister Emerita, and gave me beautiful gifts.  There was a photo slideshow of moments from my ministry.  We danced around the dawn redwood tree.  And ate delicious food, and I received so many hugs, including from the children.

The ministry relationship is so very deep in a particular way.  Not the same as friendship, but filled with intimacy.  During conversations with people during the meal, I kept remembering the significant moments I had shared with them. I remembered their loved ones who had died during my ministry.  I remembered the joyful weddings, and the painful separations.  I remembered our work together in the community that I helped to hold and cherish.  I felt the blessing of our relationships.

In retirement, I am leaving those relationships behind.  That will be the hardest part.  I am relieved to let go of the work.  My body just can’t do it any longer.  This year has been hard with many auto-immune flare-ups, days of exhaustion, and just barely keeping up with everything.  I am ready to lay that down.  But I will miss the people.  Not that I will never see them again.  I will be in the same city, and our paths will likely cross occasionally.  But in our tradition, the retiring minister disappears for a while, to give people a chance to form a ministry relationship with someone new.  The Interim Minister has already been chosen, and will arrive August 1st.

Meanwhile, I am cleaning out my office, and saying goodbye to staff members, and taking care of transitional details.  But I feel absolutely full of gratitude and amazement for these wonderful people, that I was lucky enough to serve and to love during these past thirteen years.  Just wow!

Opossum sighting

Opossum

The photo came out a little blurry, but I was delighted to catch a glimpse of this little opossum neighbor, while I was sitting in the screen tent a few mornings ago. When it saw me, it speeded up its walk near the underbrush at the back corner of our yard. I understand that opossums eat ticks, among many other things, so I was glad to see it our neighborhood.

Reading more about them, I learned that they can also eat food from bird feeders and fruit trees.  They are nocturnal.  It will be an interesting balancing act–we intend to grow food for ourselves, yet we also love the critters that show up in this space we share. But perhaps that is the heart of the question–how do we live as neighbors in this land, rather than colonizers/occupiers/dominators?  How do we care for our own needs, while also caring for the needs of other beings on this earth?

Sunrise Calling

Screen Tent UpThe dawn wakes me up at 5 a.m. even though I went to bed after 11.  Part of me cries, “No! I’m tired!”  I’ve been weary and out of balance since my father died.  But then I remember that the morning is my proper habitat.  I remember that the dawn is full of magic.  So I get up and go outside, and finally set up the screen tent that functions for me in summer as a place of meditation and prayer.

The tent is getting old and faded–this might be the last year before it falls apart.  But it is a place I can come to in rain or shine, protected from mosquitos, a little sanctuary.  This year I set it up near the fire circle, and enjoy the feeling of that area taking shape as a circle of spirit and connection.  On the other side of the fire circle is what will eventually be a pond.  The old white pine is nearby.  And the hammock.

This place grounds me.  I water the vegetables and new plants with water from our rain barrels.  I pray for the mulberry tree which is still a stick–but are there tiny green buds just beginning to show?  It is our question mark tree–will it come to life or not?  I learned from Fedco that mulberries can be late bloomers, so we’ll give it a few more weeks.  I go round to bless the blueberry plants–both of them had had damage to one of their two branches the other day–little animals breaking them off?  It hurt to cut them off below the break, so that the plant could recover.

I water the asparagus plants–which although planted within a foot of each other, emerged at different times, with different strengths, some tiny and weak, others big and bushy–may these fronds give strength to the roots so that they can return year after year.  The other day I transplanted the licorice bush into its spot.  I made a little bed with cardboard over the grass, then compost, some coffee chaff, some soil, wood mulch on top.  It needs to grow for a few years before we can dig up the roots to use in medicinal teas.  I had to think about where to place it, but finally decided on a spot near the sea kale and turkish rocket plants, which are in full bloom right now.  I put a little fence around it to protect it from random water hoses or accidental mishaps.

Dear mother earth, dear trees, dear home, bless our human lives.  Bless this world with its many troubles.  Bless the parents who are being separated from their children, the children being separated from their parents.  Bless those who struggle for justice, for dignity, for the water, for the people, for the planet.Licorice sea kale rocket