My wife bore three sons. That was 27 months of pregnancy. Each time, about month 4, the urpy-slurpy morning-sickness stage was over, the baby-bump was beginning to stretch clothes, and a future joy was being anticipated, but the due date wasn’t much more than a date on the calendar. We knew we’d get there eventually, but nobody was crossing days off yet. We spent the days tending to the growing life, taking care of mother, and preparing the home.

It has been said that the Coronavirus will change American society, and somehow, I believe it. We faced SARS and MERS, but both of them pale in comparison to the magnitude of COVID-19. This one has us all running for cover, washing our hands, yearning to touch but knowing better than, suspending all but essential activities. Somehow communal prayer is not considered an essential activity by the government, so we for whom such activities are life-giving are inventing ways to do it virtually, through the cleansing distance of the internet. It’s a strange new world, and I don’t like it. And I can’t see the end.

Oh, we know that Wuhan is on the down-slope now after two months of horror. We know we, too, will peak, and the unseen enemy will slip into the underworld into which SARS disappeared, or become one of the harder-hitting childhood colds everyone gets and gets over. We know we will be allowed to get out and about again, to congregate, to hug one another without being afraid. The time between now and then is fuzzy, making it hard, especially at the beginning. But maybe we are birthing something.

I hope we are birthing a grass-roots appreciation for one another, the more heart-felt need for community, greater capacity to build public trust, and gratitude for the gift of common life. In my druthers, all of those would lead also to a holy wonder at the great dance of Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer and Life-Giver* from which the gift of life comes, along with all our siblings in this world, human and otherwise, and the wide, wise earth we share with everyone.

Maybe we can’t mark the due date on the calendar, but it will surely come. We must spend the days tending the growing grass-roots community life, caring for the mothering of which we are all capable, and preparing our homes for the new normal.

*language borrowed from a rendition of the Our Father from the New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 181.

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Shifting Soils

The third-of-a-moon was sailing westward toward her morning sleep over Little Mountain, just as the dawn was cracking the blackness of night open for another day. I couldn’t help thinking about all who have written poetic lines about the moon over the millennia, praising her from her beauty to her mystical significance. Over and over again, millions of times, she has traced her routes through the sky—but this time was different.

Everything shifts when someone you love slips into the Eternal Now. Nothing is quite the same. My mother-in-law was one I learned to love deeply over the decades I have been married to her daughter. She was of very different persuasions on a number of issues—all of which seem somehow rather unimportant now. Suffice it to know that she knew we loved her and we knew she loved us. The world shifts and turns. Our world’s soil has shifted.

COVID-19 is shifting our social soil. I dropped off dry-cleaning this morning and the little Pilipino proprietor sadly told her I was only her fourth customer today. She is normally bustling around, attending to this and that, but not today. On the way out the door she thanked me for my business—not a standard sort of line, but heartfelt, as if to say, “Thank you that at least you have come to be with me, even for a moment.” We are all wary of contact, and yet we yearn for it as human beings.

It’s nice to know that the moon will continue her journey even though my mother-in-law has passed. It’s nice to know that relationships endure during a pandemic. It’s nice to know there’s bedrock beneath the shifting soils.

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Stately Passing

This morning the clouds are stately passing between the town’s houses and Little Mountain to the south, moving evenly in their uneven way, leaving no wake behind them, up from behind the neighbor’s roof, off to the east where they drift from view.

On Wednesday, my mother-in-law drifted from view.  She had stately passed through life, between Africa and the U.S., Kansas and Missouri and Indiana, between early illness and late health, between two husbands, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, always poised, moving evenly in her own uneven way, leaving much more of a wake than the clouds.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.


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Views in Prayer

Today for my silent sitting time I opened a window and looked out. When I lived in New Mexico I spent this time looking out a window every morning. Here in Washington it’s not so easy, and for several months it has been dark while I sat. Today I looked out and found that I pray best with my eyes open and focused. What I saw was the tree in the corner of my yard, edging on wanting to bloom, swaying gently in the wind against the side of Little Mountain, a big rock south of town that juts up several hundred feet, coated with a dense mat of trees. Behind her, the night’s left-over clouds hung in shreds. Clouds, Mountains and Trees. How do you better sum up the Pacific Northwest, unless you are going to add the gleaming white bodies of Trumpeter Swans wafting by, headed for the Sound. But even at the Sound, clouds, mountains and trees dominate the horizons.

It’s funny how, when you’re up on the side of the mountain, you get to look into treetops at eye level. In all their verticality, mountains are levelers, even of the most mighty of trees. They are levelers of humanity, splitting peoples apart and joining them together, rendering even the most hearty as knife-edge close to their own mortality as the older and wiser. Clouds are the only thing in the area bigger than mountains, for even the majestic Mount Baker slips in and out of view depending on the clouds. Being in a cloud on a mountaintop is as disorienting as on the plains below.

What is it that you pray best when you look at, listen to, taste, smell or touch? Whatever it is, it is what opens your heart to the depths of things, the wonder of their is-ness.

Picture credit:

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I went to hand therapy this morning. I’ve been going twice weekly as I could since surgery reattached some ruptured ligaments in my thumb. This morning was metrics day. I’ve made good progress. I’m up to maybe 50% of normal use.

I have never been more aware of how strategic the thumb is. Not only does it oppose the other fingers facilitating grip, but it is by far the strongest of the fingers. My weak thumb is getting stronger, but still, the whole hand is weak because of it. The thumb is so important because of the other fingers. It must be strong not for its own sake, but in relation to the rest of the hand.

When the thumbs of the world forget that their strength only has meaning in relationship to all the others that stand over against them, they cripple us all.

The hand is, after all, one hand.

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Filling in the Gaps

I was standing in line at the grocery store when I overheard the woman in front of me reprimand her rambunctious son. “Ni te lo ocurra,” she said in a stern voice. (Don’t even think about it!) She finished checking out, and as she was looking for a credit card, the check-out lady asked her in English if she had a store rewards card. The confusion on the woman’s face was undeniable—and I jumped in. “Tiene una tarjeta de la tienda?” (Do you have a store card?) No, she did not, and when the check-out lady offered her the form to fill out, I instinctively echoed her instructions in Spanish—even as I noted that the woman was, indeed, understanding. After the woman left, the check-out lady apologized—she only speaks a few words of Spanish. I allowed that growing up in a Spanish-speaking context gave me an understandable advantage.

I was vaguely aware of some embarrassment. I didn’t want to be a show-off, and wanted to make my Spanish capacity seem an accident of fate instead of the result of some personal genius. My over-active inner voice then asked why I thought I was showing off. Wasn’t I just helping build bridges like I normally do, between people of different cultures and languages—especially when the two cultures and languages are White-Anglo-Saxon-English and Brown-Latin-American-Spanish? Isn’t that what I do? Isn’t that who I am? Wasn’t I an enormous help, a godsend appearing miraculously in an impossible situation, saving the day in the nick of time? (Voila, a new superhero is born!)

On the way back to my truck I became distinctly aware of my own desire to be needed, to be useful in some way, and that filling in the gaps between English-speakers and Spanish-speakers is one of the biggest things I think I give the world. But maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t quite as essential to the conversation as I would like to imagine. If I am really building bridges, it can’t ultimately be about the bridge, but the people who cross over it.

There are gaps within me that still need filling in.

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I’m finishing up a week in Guadalajara with leaders, actual and potential in the Anglican Diocese of Western México. I have seen many things. I have seen people expound on different themes within the boundaries of Anglican spiritual tradition with erudition and insight. I have seen community in action, gathered around one of our number who lost her closest friend and life partner to a sudden heart attack. These people are rich.

Funny that Mulvaney is reported to have told the British that the US is “desperate” for immigrants, as long as they come legally. Can he not see that creating a path to legal status for the incredibly rich people who are already in the US would be cheaper and easier than bringing new people in? Or am I unable to see that the British look like the President?

Or maybe I should work harder to see why legal status for these people is a problem. Maybe then we can both see a way to address the fall-out of the immigration policies if the current administration.

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