Dear Folks,

It’s been a long time since the blessing “God be with you” disappeared into the word “Good-bye,” but every now and then some note of it echoes through us.

On opening day, a mom with a scarf tied around her neck hoists her six-year-old up on the first step of the school bus.  “Good-bye,” she says.  A dad on the phone with his freshman son takes him to task for poor grades and a party gone bad.  After his harangue, there is only silence on the other end of the line.  “Well, good-bye,” the father finally says.  When the young woman at the airport hears the announcement that her plane is starting to board, she turns to the friend who is seeing her off.  “I guess this is good-bye,” she offers.  The elderly fellow tries to look vigorous and resourceful as he holds out his hand to his school chum, now white-headed, too.  The noise of the traffic threatens to drown out the voices that once bellowed across playing fields or up and down hallways.  “Good-bye,” they each say, so nearly in unison that it makes them both smile.  (inspired by Frederick Buechner)  You hear it whenever we gather to pray.  A version of “God be with you,” begins most services, the preacher paradoxically preparing us to say “Good-bye” even as we say “Hello.”

I’ve been thinking about all of that, since the day Caroline told me that she would soon complete her time at Redeemer.  I’m mostly sad, to lose the daily-ness of our interactions, the nearly constant laughter shouted up and down hallways, the plans hatched at staff meetings, the bubbling ideas, the naughty comments, the confidences shared at the close of business and sometimes through the evening.  I’ll miss her courage.  Caroline is very good at drawing boundaries, but when one or more of us suggested some new way to reach out, or to lead worship, or to gather the community, or to nurture the flock, she never responded with “Why?”  Caroline always said, “Why not!” and we were off and running.  I’ll miss her humility.  Caroline prepares methodically, does her research, charts a road map, but she holds her plans lightly, ready to head in a new direction if the spirit calls.  Frequently, as we debriefed a class or a sermon, Caroline would say, “Well, I thought I was going to Pittsburgh, and we ended up in Philadelphia, but I think that’s o.k.”  I’ll miss her honesty.  With counselees, with colleagues, with friends, even with a bishop, it is not unusual for Caroline to say, “I’m going to speak some truth.”  She takes her lumps if others disagree with her, claims her insights as her own, and listens carefully for the wisdom of others.

I believe Caroline was set free by coming to her vocation as a priest as a second or third chapter in her life—after important work at Garrison Forrest, after degrees in counseling, after raising two children.  She was genuinely surprised by the invitation to be ordained, and that spirit of playfulness has served her and us and the Church so well.  She has had nothing to lose in her priesthood, nothing to prove, and so, almost anything has been possible.  Her legacy, then, is an echo of the blessing she continues to be: openness, freedom, possibility, play.  The joy of those lasing gifts is laid alongside my sense of loss and redeems it.

I spoke with another wise woman yesterday as we planned a memorial service.  Speaking about her loved ones, she said, “At this point I understand there are five more things to say: Forgive me, I forgive you, Thank you, I love you, Good-bye,” and she went on.  “I have taken care of the forgiveness work, and I am writing a thank you note to every person I’ve encountered in some significant way.  I’m saying ‘I love you.’  All that’s left is for me to say is “Good-bye.”  Me too.

Thank you, good and faithful friend.  My gratitude for working beside you gives me such joy, even as I navigate your departure and its inevitable losses.  God be with you.

Love,

David

P.S. Please join us on January 27 at the 10:00 service and a special coffee hour afterwards, as we celebrate Caroline!

The markers of completing my time at Redeemer are now fully on the horizon, no longer obscured by Advent and Christmas. Even Epiphany has come and gone. As I look ahead, my calendar is filled with pastoral appointments with parishioners, 3 mental health workshop trainings, a funeral, 2 preaching assignments along with the other ‘normal’ routines of parish life. The end is now measured in weeks, soon to be days. And the passage of time is only accelerating. I am feeling sad. I am grieving.

Clergy deal with grief on a routine basis. That is a ‘normal’ part of living even though there is not a normal pattern to the process. Everyone grieves differently.  It is hard work to grieve ‘well’ so the emotions are not masked or ignored. It takes time and patience. I am reminding myself of those elements now.

One of the most valuable lay ministries of Redeemer is our Sacred Space for Grace; an offering for those who have experienced loss, not necessarily of a person. We grieve the loss of a job, a relationship, a pet, a dream, a disappointment. Our society does not always hold up such losses as significant or having emotional/spiritual/ physical consequences, yet the reality is we each can suffer from such wounds.

Sacred Space for Grace is a 6 week small group program facilitated by Ruthie Cromwell and Nancy Bowen both trained in grief work. It is offered in the fall, winter and spring.The ‘curriculum’ includes such topics as What Does Grief Feel Like; Stress Reduction; Experiences of Grief; a Grief Counselor from Gilchrist; How Grief Transforms. The next session begins on Saturday, January 26 from 10-11:30. Email cstewart@baltimoreredeemer.org to sign up. This is a community offering so if you know a non-Redeemer member, please encourage them to contact us.

I appreciate the quote below as I think it holds such wisdom….and is a valuable reminder that my own ability to grieve will hold blessings ahead.

“It has been my distinct experience that our capacity for joy is in direct proportion to our capacity for grief.  The more we do the honest work of allowing our emotions free movement within us, the greater the possibility that joy will be one of those feelings that comes to visit or reside in us.”  Christine Valters Painter

Caroline

Dear Folks,

The wise men were trying to unravel the mystery of life.  They had studied the ancient books and searched the stars.  They had plotted their journey using the best techniques available to them and planned for a lavish reception at its conclusion, yet they almost missed the news unfolding before their eyes.  The magi were probably high-ranking political advisors to the rulers of their countries, modern day Iraq and Iran, so it makes sense that they would travel to Jerusalem, the capital city, and confer with the leader there, King Herod.  But the answer they were seeking turned out to be nine miles away, in a backwater town named Bethlehem.  When their wandering led them to a poor baby, born of parents in questionable circumstances, they probably bickered about taking a wrong turn somewhere.  What child is this?

Their everyday world was parochial and given to violence, so it must have been bracing to encounter this small tribe of people whose prophets spoke of beating their swords into ploughshares and welcoming the stranger as a holy visitor. In W.H. Auden’s poem, “For the Time Being,” the wise men say it this way: “To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.”  Who was the first to kneel in his sumptuous clothes at that impossibly humble manger?

Given their revelation, it comes as no surprise that the magi “left for their own country by another way,” according to Matthew’s gospel.  On a certain level the wise men were simply being careful as they traveled.  One or more of them had had an unsettling dream that suggested they better not retrace their steps or come into contact with Herod again, so they took an alternate route home.

But consider further who they are and how far they have traveled.  These counselors are learned philosophers from the so-called fertile crescent, whose libraries and religions are much older than that of the Hebrew people they have met.  They have followed a star for many months through a dark desert, carrying symbolic gifts for the one who would be king, and they probably had a pretty good idea of who and what they would find.  I imagine they expected the king to embody some version of “might makes right” or “only the strong survive.”  But the king they discover is vulnerable and arguably powerless, born in a borrowed room with animals nosing around him.  Of course these wise men will go home by another way—everything they were counting on has been turned on its head.  What will home be when they get there?

The star they are following illumines the deepest mystery of life: each fragile human person embodies the power to topple kingdoms of greed and violence.  Love is born at Christmas.

Happy Epiphany.

David