Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Tuesday morning I was up and on my way to a hospital in the wine country.  My journey there was relatively uneventful, but my visit was serious enough that I felt the need to don a collar. I also felt some time pressure, as I wanted to make certain I would be on time to meet with the medical staff and the family.   As I drove, I knew I was in the wine country, and it was fall, but that was about the extent of my celebration of the season.  My mind and heart were preoccupied.  

As the doctor addressed concerns and answered our questions, I had to give thanks for the medical team.  They had stabilized the heart, made a passage for the breathing, and stopped an infection.  Nonetheless, the prognosis was not good.  Yet, the family is not ready to give up.  After the meeting we went back into ICU and I was quite moved by how tenderly the wife talked to her husband who had not spoken a word in three weeks.  How she stroked his face, and offered encouragement.  Even as she left, she assured him she would return the next day.   

I left the hospital, thinking of the balance between medicine and love.  Hospitals can do much, but often it is the extra touch of love that coaxes a human back to life.  Not always, of course.  But enough that we all find courage. 
As I drove down the hill, prepared to take the same way back home, I spotted a sign:  "Heirloom Tomatoes."  I pulled into the dirt parking lot where pumpkins of all sizes were placed.   I felt oddly drawn to a large pumpkin, not bright orange, but of various hues of pale orange, grayish, blueish green, and yellowish white.  It was then I begin to notice the fall colors all around me and how fresh the air was. I asked where the tomatoes were grown, and was directed to the back of the stand, where there was at least an acre,maybe more, of shaggy tomato plants still bearing fruit.  I paid for my very fine pumpkin and dark red and green tomatoes, and decided that rather than take the same road back, I would turn left.

The countryside was magnificent - golds, greens, and reds glittered in the sun.   I drove in silence, and memories of other visits to the wine country came to mind.   I delighted in remembering incredible meals, and the taste of one particular Alsatian style wine that caused me to exclaim, "I am drinking flowers!".  I smiled as I heard again the laughter of friends as we shared a bottle of champagne on a terrace overlooking a vineyard and celebrated a weekend off. I felt no need to stop, but rather to simply drive and savor the beauty of the day, the beauty of the past and present coming together.     
God beckons us ever on, and this encouragement we can trust.  Let us breathe deeply, and live.  

Friday, October 25, 2013


Last week, I had the good pleasure of spending days in good conversation with friends.  Our ages vary  from late 50s to mid seventies.  We spoke at length of the various comings and goings in our lives. Some of the changes were troubling, of course, but many were quite positive: letting go of old fears, taking on new opportunities, and experiencing profound gratitude, among others.  Every once in awhile, someone would say, "I wonder why this did not happen earlier in my life."    
I thought of those conversations yesterday when I received an email that closed with the opening lines of this poem.  Yes, life will unfold when and as it will.  I give thanks that it does not unfold all at once, for in the rush and frustrations of my younger years, I am not certain I would have been grateful enough, or even open enough to celebrate the wonder of it all.  Before, I have tried to pry open too many doors.  I stand at the threshold and open more gently now.     
Wishing you all the gift of time today.  It is there for us all.  Blessed be.     
Late Ripeness
by Czeslaw Milosz
English version by Robert Hass
Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.
One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.
For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.
We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.
Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago -
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.   

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Wind Still Blows

I woke this morning while it was still dark and the wind was blowing.  It was not our usual wind blowing from the sea, but was coming over the east bay hills.   Inland winds are mysterious, gusting and swirling from who knows where.   I am sure my just planted tarragon, thyme, and lemon grass are wondering what strange force plucked them up from the safety of the nursery and my window sill and dropped them to a bed in my front yard where they have been subjected to rummaging racoons, and now this gusting dry wind.  Perhaps if I were an intuitive farmer, I would have sensed some change, and waited to plant, rather than making use of a few free hours on a Tuesday afternoon.    
That particular morning found me perusing the newspaper and grousing about the government.  I know just about everyone is grousing about the government for one reason or another, but on the first day of the shutdown, my grouse factor was heightened.  I knew that the volunteer whom I would be picking up in a short while would be grousing as well, and she certainly was.  When she was a young woman, she had to flee a violent and corrupt regime, so she is particularly wary of governments who do not tend to their people. We gave our grousing free reign for a few minutes, and then I gently reminded both of us that we were on our way to worship, and the gentle folks we would be worshiping with did not need to experience our unhappiness about the government, but rather our happiness in friendship and faith. She agreed, and accepted the change of direction (not always easy for her). She replied with stoic resolution, “Yes, we must be in a good mood.”    We had made a pact and our course was set.  
Yet, as I pulled into the parking lot, a vision came to me.  That vision was my folder of music lying, not in the trunk of my car, but on my dining room table.    I explained my dilemma to the volunteer.  Her newly found resolve of good cheerwavered a bit (she takes her role as song sheet distributor quite seriously), but I assured her that in my trunk I could find something.   The pickings were a bit thin, as I had been cleaning my trunk out the day before, which is how my folder came to rest on the dining room table.  However, I found song sheets and three of the four sheets of accompanying music.  I figured that we could sing the last hymn a capella.  We walked in and quickly explained the change of plans to the pianist.  She laughed heartily and looked through her binder.   I had no idea that she keeps her binder organized, not alphabetically, but by the month and year we sing them.  “Ah, yes.  These hymns are from July of this year.”  She had the fourth hymn so we were set.   It was then that I realized we would be singing patriotic hymns.  
Consequently, in just over an hour I was moved from grumbling over the newspaper to singing about the beauty of this land of spacious skies, amber waves, and fruited plains.  Our complaints and laments were turned into sung prayers that communally asked that our flaws be mended and that freedom would ring from every mountainside.  I felt God’s healing touch, and I was grateful.   Afterwards, the pianist said, “I believe we have done our duty today.”
The Spirit picks us up and moves us about in surprising ways.   Blessed be.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.   John 3:8

The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning to its course. 
Ecclesiastes 1:6