The many-colored transformations of autumn plants remind me of the beauty in the spiritual practice of letting go. As the leaves let go of their green chlorophyl, so their deep colors are revealed. When I feel encumbered by heavy memories, mistakes, failures. When I feel regret for things undone, unsung, I pray in this way. I take all the feelings and memories and release them into the loving hands of Spirit. Ego desires for acknowledgement, success. I let go. Ego wounds from rejections, betrayals. I let go. Loneliness, weariness, I let go.
Spirit, here I am, all imperfect, yet gifted, all hungering for justice, yet broken with this land and country. I sit alone, yet I feel your presence, and I turn to you, again and again. I let go. I am small, but I am surrounded by and filled with your Love. There is a time for action, and there is also a time for surrender. I surrender to the River flowing. In this surrender there is trust and peace.
Someday, I will let go into the mystery of eternity, the mystery that is death. Each night, I let go into the mystery that is sleep. Each morning, I let go of what is not mine for this day, and I open to what blessings and what actions are here for me to take up. I am too small to try to carry the world. And yet, in this surrender, I am at one with all of the beings who surround me, people, animals, plants, spirits. We are all flowing in the River of Love.
I was stretched out, lying in the hammock, with my feet up, listening to an audio version of “Olive, Again.” Suddenly a chickadee landed on my black sneaker, and started pecking inquisitively around the seams. I wish I could have snapped a photo, but he was gone again in just a minute. I guess I must have seemed like a part of the landscape then. I can’t imagine a better way of being perceived!
Or maybe I might be seen as a friendly or annoying neighbor? The other day, a chipmunk was stuffing her cheeks at the bird feeder, and I decided to chase her away so the birds could get some too. I walked toward the feeder, and she just stayed put. I actually reached out and gently touched her back–at which point, she flew off the feeder and took off toward the pitch pine tree. Then, yesterday, I was lying in the hammock, and a chipmunk was perched on the trunk of the pitch pine, chattering at me. I wondered if it might be the same one.
Or maybe it was the one that a few weeks ago was walking across the patio in what seemed like a drunken haze–she would go a few feet and than fall over on her side. I thought perhaps she was injured, and wondered about taking her to a wildlife center. I set a small box into her pathway and she ran right into it. But after doing a bit of research, the recommendation seemed to be to generally let them take care of themselves, so I released her and she ran into a nearby chipmunk hole. I hope she recovered!
I’ve also been doing a few small projects in the yard. The biggest project was to change the level of the outflow channel for the pond. I removed the stones covering the channel near the edge of the pond, and lifted up the linings, and raised the opening a couple inches. I was thinking that perhaps having a couple more inches of water depth in the pond might help it over-winter better. Last year several plants didn’t survive. I filled it to the new level with water from two rain barrels and then put back stones over the channel top again. Probably no one else would notice the difference, but I am glad that I did it. I also went around and cut off dead leaves from the pond plants, and pulled out some more algae. I was sorry to disturb the frogs’ familiar habitat, but they seem to be doing fine now.
Today, I harvested some more thyme, rinsed it, and put it into the herb dryer. I’ve harvested kale and broccoli for cooking, chives to cut up and freeze. Last week I harvested licorice roots. I scrubbed them well, cut them up into tiny pieces and put them in the herb dryer too.
Today was a lovely warm day, so good to be outside, to be part of the landscape. Tomorrow it will be colder, and that is harder for me. But I am trying to enjoy this season of autumn, not just as a time of preparing for winter, but a graceful time of its own, all the golden leaves, harvest time. Harvest time for so many of the creatures all around us.
I am happy to be starting a new experimental adventure. After four years away following my retirement, I am venturing back into involvement with my former congregation, Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church. In our faith community, a retiring minister traditionally stays away for a few years, to make room for a new minister to bond with the congregation, and to make real the fact that I am no longer their minister. If or when we return, we create a covenant with the current minister to clarify our relationship and offer our mutual support. I have done that with Rev. Tara Humphries who is now serving the congregation.
But it is still a delicate balance to negotiate. When I go back, I am not their minister, but I am also not just any other member of the church. I am still their Minister Emerita, an honorary designation expressing our mutual affection and connection. But with or without that designation, I still carry those thirteen years of affection and connection, and it gives me an influence different from other members. So for me, the experiment is measuring whether and how I might be a member of this community in that in-between zone. I am drawn back by a desire for the kind of community that church offers, I am drawn to that little village of care and support. Is it possible? Will it work for me, and for them?
Some parts of this feel very clear-cut. Dealing with chronic illness has made it impossible for me to carry out many ministry functions, like weddings, memorials, and leading worship, so I won’t even be tempted to be doing any of those. Another aspect clarified in our covenant recognizes that “since my position still carries some weight, I will decline to participate in the governance of the congregation, or take sides on any issue.” And both Tara and I will “decline to participate in, and will remove ourselves from, any conversations with church constituents which might try to evaluate each other’s ministries or contributions to church life.” All of that feels very down-to-earth and solid.
But more experimental are the personal interactions and connections. The first event I attended was an in-person, outdoor celebration of our 200th anniversary on September 10th. I am still being super cautious about COVID, so I wore a mask even though we were outside, though most others did not. This was the largest event to which I have gone at all since COVID. I would have loved to hug everyone, but I did air-hugs instead. It was wonderful to see people I knew, and meet a few I did not know. Heart-warming. It was also rather exhausting, and I had to rest afterward. Is that my chronic illness, or introversion, or somehow feeling once again all those threads of connection?
Worship services are now hybrid on Sundays–some people attend in person and others on Zoom, so I have attended a couple via Zoom, but I haven’t yet stayed for “zoom coffee-time.”
I went to the monthly “Elder Salon” and that felt really good. The structure made it easy for me to participate as others did, with a few minutes of check-in for each person, and a discussion following that. I like the reciprocity I felt in that group. The topics of concern to elders match many of the topics of concern in my own life right now. So it feels like I can join in as any other member might join in, and benefit from the collective wisdom in the group. I guess I am learning to be an elder. I like it.
All in all, I am taking it slow, and observing what comes up for me.