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The pilgrimage – a story of sore feet, an aching back, and giddy joy. Part 3

It doesn’t last.

That giddy joy I experienced my first day in the garden? It was gone the next day. In its place was a contented serenity and an eagerness to get back to my simple work of washing tiles, drying tiles, and packing tiles. In two books I was reading at the time and am still reading, the authors warned not to try to prolong a spiritual consolation or bring it back when it’s gone, as this would turn the gift into something artificial and can even be the beginning of an addiction to spiritual highs. It reminded me of the story in Exodus when the Israelites were saved from starvation by the appearance of manna, the miraculous bread of heaven. The people were directed to harvest it every day and not to horde for the next, but some did and it turned wormy and inedible. That’s not how this deal works, apparently. And I find that difficult as I seek security in “putting things by.” But recently, a still small voice in my heart keeps saying, “Keep your hands open – no grasping, no clinging.” Just an openness, as Tosha Silver says, to let whatever wants to go, go, and whatever wants to come, come.

The Mister looked thoughtful the next morning when I told him all this.

“Are you still going to need to hug me at various times during the day?” he asked.

“Oh, you betcha!” I replied.

“Good!” he said standing, straightening his clothes and holding out his arms. “Proceed!”

:-)

One of the books is by Joyce Rupp, called Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino. It’s about her pilgrimage along the El Camino in Spain, a 37 day, nearly 500 mile excursion. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the book at first, but it became a kind of conduit of uncannily timed answers, advice and encouragement for my own pilgrimage in the garden. For instance, when I decided to take on this project of dismantling the grotto, I wondered when I’d find time to write. That afternoon, as I started into her book, I read that she resigned herself to the unavoidable truth that sometimes in life we must sacrifice one good for another, and in this instance her sacrifice was, you guessed it, writing. It was such a great relief to say, “For the next ten days, I’m putting writing aside to work in the garden.” There was no guilt about setting my mind and heart on a work that was not writing-related. To my bemusement on day six, I think it was, I woke up with a short piece of fiction almost completely written in my head, and actually found time that day (though I wasn’t looking for it) to write it down! And this burst of creativity is continuing – so yay!

Each succeeding day, Joyce had something to say about what I had experienced that morning. When I came in on the second day, footsore and weary, I read her comments on how unfriendly we are towards our bodies, especially our feet, how we demand so much but give so little. Thereafter, I toasted my tootsies in an Epsom salt bath whenever I could followed by a loving massage with Burts Bees Coconut foot lotion. Ah! the luxury!

I found that whenever The Mister called me in for lunch, I was most reluctant to go. “I just have a few more tiles!” I’d plead like a little kid begging for five more minutes before bedtime. He’d say nothing but narrow his eyes and purse his lips. “Ooops! I know what that look means,” I’d mumble to myself and come in immediately. And Joyce constantly struggled with her competitive spirit to walk beyond the limit she and her companion had set for themselves or try to pass other pilgrims. She realized that for the sake of efficiency she could well miss the spiritual lessons that were waiting to reveal themselves to her along the road. Like her, I found it a great temptation to speed up and get more done, but with time and practise I was able to catch myself more often and remind myself of the real reason I was doing this work.

My labours in the garden and the insights of Joyce’s book came together in a rare, wonderful, unexpected melding of the physical and the spiritual that made every day of my short pilgrimage a lesson and an adventure. I am grateful beyond words for the whole exercise. Every lesson made me more willing to be taught, and every synchronicity prompted me to be ever more alert to the signs and little messages left along the way.

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The pilgrimage – a story of sore feet, an aching back, and giddy joy. Part 2

The Mister built me a wagon over the winter to use in my gardening. When it was completed, he took me for a ride around the basement in it. I don’t think I’ve hooted and hollered that much since I was six, and he offered to repeat the experience down our avenue once the snow cleared.

I demurred.

BUT it’s been an absolute godsend for gardening! It was waiting for me by the picnic table early Monday morning, filled with tiles I’d picked up over the weekend. I tried hard not to look at the plethora of tiles still lying on the ground as I fetched a basin of water from the hose and a bit of soap, rolled up my sleeves, donned a pair of latex gloves, and dived in.

I mentioned in my previous post that the weather was supposed to turn mild over that week. It didn’t. It turned gorgeous! The constant whisper of leaves overhead, the morning coolness giving way to a gentle warmth, the peaceable rhythm of washing the tiles, stacking them in drying racks (something else The Mister made for me – that guy is SO handy!), dumping the dirty water in the composter (couldn’t bear to waste it by throwing it on the lawn) and starting all over again, all of this gentled me into a meditative state of mind. But a happy state of mind. An absurdly happy state of mind.

Which is generally when my inner grouch likes to put in an appearance.

“Whatcha smilin’ at?”

“Grouchy Pants! I was wondering when you’d show up. Where you been?”

“Same place as always, Princess, right behind your eyeballs.”

“What brings ya by?”

“I want to know why you’re smiling.”

“I’m not smiling.”

“No, you’re right. More like grinning. Idiotically.”

“Nice.”

“So why are ya?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah. That never works with me. I’m not leaving until I get an answer.”

“I have no business smiling,” I admitted.

“Grinning. Idiotically. And you’re right. Up to your elbows in filthy water swarming with who knows what kinds of germs, not to mention feral cat poop…”

I froze.

“Relax, Princess, the latex’ll save ya.”

I started scrubbing again.

“Your bunions are screaming, your back is begging for mercy, and there’s a stitch burning in your side that won’t quit no matter how you change your posture, you can only look forward to days more of this same nonsense ahead, and yet here you are. Grinning. Idiotically. What gives?”

I looked up for a moment and rested my elbows on the edge of the basin.

“Well, it’s like…everything is just so…you weren’t looking for it but…and then you think…”

“You know with your gift with words, ya ever consider becoming a writer?”

“Funny.”

“Just blurt it out, for cryin’ out loud.”

“Nah. I know what you’ll say.”

“No, you don’t. Come on.”

“OK. I’m in love.”

“Shut up!”

“I knew it!”

“You’re in love. With whom, may I ask?”

“Not with. Just in.”

“Huh?”

I scrubbed away thoughtfully.

“It’s this, all of this, the breeze in the trees…”

“The ache in your knees?”

“…the billowing of my clothes…”

“The bugs up your nose?”

“I know it doesn’t make sense, but joy is stealing into my heart, and I didn’t ask for it, and I don’t know why it’s here or how long it will last, and it’s burning brighter and deeper, and I couldn’t turn it off if I wanted to. And I don’t.”

GP was thoughtful for a moment.

“But you’re the Goth, the Dark Poet. I’ve seen you darken up kids’ nursery rhymes. And not just once.”

I laughed.

“Yeah, I got a few of those published. Ah! good times. But you’re right, I’ve always been more comfortable with the dark emotions. And it’s a wee bit disconcerting to be so helpless in the face of such elation.” I placed the last tile from the pile in the drying rack. “But all I want to do right now is find The Mister and hug the stuffing outta him.”

“He’ll like that.”

“I expect he will. So is that it? Any other bon mots for me?”

“Just one. I’m happy for you, Princess.”

“Thanks, GP. See you tomorrow?”

There was no reply.

TO BE CONTINUED

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The pilgrimage – a story of sore feet, an aching back, and giddy joy (Part 1)

Those of you who follow my wee blog know that two years ago I lost my best friend to cancer. I was felled by grief, stunned by the loss. I spoke to a dear friend (a social worker) about how difficult it was to move past the outrage and anger, and she asked, “Have you made a space for your grief?” And from that came the idea of a memorial garden for my friend, only instead of flowers, I’d make it out of tiles I had accumulated over years of yard sales.

The garden has been such a blessing. The designing of it, setting out the different pieces, rearranging, adding to, taking away from, it all gave me a chance to find expression for words I felt would devastate me if I spoke them aloud – I loved you. I miss you. Why?

Healing came slowly, but it did come. And in the years since I lost her, the garden has gone from a project to place of sanctuary and peace. This year I added a few more tiles, a meditation chair, and a gorgeous new birdbath! A graceful pedestal arching up to hold the basin, it looks positively ecclesiastical. The Mister and I have taken to calling it “the font.” Sunday mornings during my hiatus, I would wrap a shawl around my shoulders and flee to my garden. I’d start by standing at the font and make a confession of sorts, placing my faults and failings in the water as the surface rippled in the breeze and the trees swayed and swished over head. I’d watch as the sunlight crept across the ground, illuminating different areas as it progressed in dappled grace. At the end, I’d sit in my meditation chair and breathe and give thanks, and breathe and wonder, and breathe and just look, and breathe and breathe. I was always reluctant to leave, but if I tarried too long Someone would send bees to chase me off. One of them actually lighted on my arm! I called on my Supreme Being.

“Dude!” I said, “What the….?”

“Oh relax, lovey. I’m just playin’ with ya.”

“Playin’, huh?”

The summer was wearing away quickly, and at the end of August the temperature took an abrupt nosedive. We even had to turn the furnace on a couple of mornings to warm up the house. I feared an early Fall and wondered how to prepare the garden for the winter. Last year I took in the more delicate items I thought would not fare well in the cold – some little ceramic houses and plaster cast statues and such, but I left the tiles out. When I checked them in the Spring, every single one of the terracotta tiles had exploded! That’s what they looked like. Shattered from the cold. The others had survived, but I didn’t know if I should chance it again.

“I think I’m going to have to take in all the tiles for the winter,” I told The Mister.

“Yup. I think that would be best.”

I looked around at them despairingly.

“That’s going to be such a big job.”

“Oh yeah.”

“I think I can leave all the river stones out though.”

“Mmmm…”

“What?”

“The squirrels. If they scatter them into the lawn, it could make things a little dicey for Greg (our lawn cutter.)”

“So I have to put everything away?”

He gave a little “sorry” shrug.

I resolved to start on Monday, the 18th, since our local meteorologists were predicting a blissful turn toward the temperate for that entire week. They were so right! I set my alarm for half and hour earlier so I could exercise, shower, and eat before tackling the garden each day. And I found I was actually anticipating my day’s work with a certain amount of eagerness…

TO BE CONTINUED

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Now that I know what I am

A couple of weeks ago, a longstanding member of our church passed away after a chronic illness. As arrangements were being made for her memorial, her husband called me up and said my name appeared on one of the cards she used to outline her final wishes. He said it must have something to do with the music but there was no other information and did I have any idea what she might have wanted. I didn’t. Well, would I mind co-ordinating the music for her memorial with the minister, the funeral director, and the choir director? No problem!

He sounded so relieved.

Little did I know how much work was going to have to be done in such a short amount of time, but I like this kind of organizational stuff, and I’m good at it. The memorial was lovely, and an eighteen member choir sang her home. Apparently, it’s a rare thing for a choir to sing at the funeral home, but then, we’re quite a rare choir. :-)

Only a few days later another longstanding member of our congregation passed and I received a call from a member of our Session asking if I would perform the service.

I gulped.

“I’ve never done a funeral,” I reminded her.

“Mm hm. But you’ve done lots of services for us. This is not so different. Our Interim Moderator can’t make it, and if we get a minister to take it, he won’t have known A. You did. I think the family would prefer someone who knew him take the service.”

“Well, if it’s OK with the family…alright.”

And I flew into organization mode once again. First, I needed an Order of Service. Our former pastor gave me an ancient Manual of Forms before he retired, which I liked for the language – all “thee’s” and “thou’s”. Surely I could find a good funeral service in its pages. Well, I found the funeral service alright, but… “Mortals born of woman are few of days and full of trouble.” And the final judgement. And sin. And more judgement. And on and on. Yeesh!

“How’s it going,” The Mister wanted to know.

“I need to find an Order of Service that doesn’t make me want to kill myself,” I replied.

“Don’t you have a minister friend in New York? Maybe she could help.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes! And just where were you two hours ago?” I asked, rushing past him to my computer.

“In the kitchen. We’re low on peanuts by the way.”

My minister friend recommended the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship. I didn’t know Presbyterians had a Book of Common Worship, (sounded more like an Anglican thing to me) but just before I put a rush order on it, I checked the internet on the off-chance some good soul had put at least some parts of it online.

Praise be! They did! I flipped to the funeral service – eternal rest, angels surrounding, saints greeting, blessedness, homecoming, joy.

Now you’re talkin’ my language!” I wrote the Order of Service in one sitting, er, maybe two, and the sermon in a scant two days. (New personal record!) Then it was off to the funeral home for the visitation of another friend of ours, the fourth to pass in as many weeks. While I was there, I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask the director a few questions. She wasn’t available, but there were three women staff members, all of a certain age, whom I’m sure their coworkers must refer to as “the Aunties,” at least in secret if not to their faces. Gracious, kindly, and eager to help, I know they were biting their tongues not to call me “dear,” and “darling.” It was all I could do not to hug the stuffing out of them!

Before I left, one of them said, “Would you like to see A’s memorial card? I’ll get you his memorial card. Now wait right there! I’ll be back with his memorial card!”

I opened it and discovered they’d listed me as “Clergy.” But lest I’d become too puffed up over my sudden elevation in ecclesiastical status, I noticed they’d spelled my name wrong.

In two places.

Three, if you count the missing hyphen.

I folded my lips between my teeth to keep from smiling.

“Are you going to mention this tomorrow from the pulpit?” The Mister asked at breakfast the next morning.

“Yeah, I’d better. I don’t want to mislead. I won’t go into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I’m a sometime guest preacher at St. Andrew’s…”

“No you’re not.”

“Beg pardon?”

“You’re not a guest preacher. That’s what we’ve got going now – a different face in the pulpit every week until we find a new pastor. These preachers don’t know us and won’t get to know us. You’re not a guest preacher. You’re a lay preacher and you minister at St. Andrew’s and have for years.”

I sat down slowly.

“A lay preacher,” I repeated. “I’ve never thought of myself that way. I just felt I had the words “In case of emergency,” stamped on my forehead and…”

“Oh, that’s still there. Sure, when there’s a crisis, people are more likely to call on you, but that doesn’t make you a guest in your own church. You’re a lay preacher.”

Huh. Fancy that.

For years I’ve struggled to define my role in the church. “No, I’m not clergy. Yes, I went to theological college but in a different, much different denomination. So just put me down as guest preacher.”

But now, clarity.

A family member came up to me after the service, thanked me, and gave me an envelope. It was addressed, “Minister.” When no one was looking, I crossed that out and wrote, “Lay Preacher. St. Andrew’s Church. Penny-Anne Beaudoin.”

Mind the spelling.

And don’t forget the hyphen. :-)

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