Monday, July 21, 2014

The Life We Write Together

This was inspired by and written as a wedding gift for our most excellent friends, Kelly and Martin. Keep two-stepping!

I walk into the house dropping bag and keys and other detritus of my day, making my way from street into home. I make it all the way to the kitchen before I am arrested. I stand perfectly still. The house swaths me in exquisite quiet. Breathe. Listen. Linger. I hold my place in the subtext: ticking clock, hum of the refrigerator, muted street traffic, an unexpected sweep of wind tightened into a gust by the narrow ally, chimes knocked into cascading tone. Vibrations outside of my own personal cone of silence.

I savor the sweet solitude that will be short-lived, preparing for the onslaught of beloved bodies to come.

It is in stopping, listening, lingering, that I stumble into the sacred while standing at the kitchen sink. I used to try to force my way into such moments with mystic incantations of sentimental bosh. I have learned instead to recognize them with gratitude as they graciously come upon me. In the lingering caress of early morning tenderness. In the goofy antics of a father in adoration of his newborn daughter.  In the xoxo texted into my day.

If I try to collect such moments and press them into beads to string into a necklace, they evaporate. Ubiquitous, sacred moments shapeshift like water droplets—liquid, vaporous, crystalline in rapid or eternally slow succession. It depends on where you stand. Or if you are standing still. Or whether you can linger.

We make things holy by setting them apart.  By choosing the one over the others, and making that choice over and over again. I choose you. In this moment I choose you. And again I choose you.

And so I also choose coming home to this home. I choose the argument over the rug, or the milk, or the efficacy of replacement windows. I choose the art-making. I choose complicated entanglement and the yearning of distance. I choose confession and absolution. I choose the broken latch on the front door and the family photos and the children who think we are wise, funny, exasperating. I choose the stability and the risk. I choose the adventure.

I choose to linger by the kitchen sink, waiting for the arrival of your arms around me on your way to making dinner.

Copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2014
photo credit: Sophie Kitch-Peck

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lingering Amongst the Weeds

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch
at St. Brigid's Church, Nazareth, PA
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 20, 2014

Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:12-25;   Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The interlopers had been bothering me for days. Weeds.  Or at least plants that did not belong. After all, that is the definition of a weed: a plant in the wrong place. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

Whenever I see some plant that does not belong, that has invaded some other plant’s territory, I have this urge to pull it out. I have this fantasy about cleaning out all the hedges I see as I drive along the road, I often imagine that I could have some special mower attachment to my car that would reach out and pull out all the offending vegetative trespassers from every passing hedge or artistic landscaping. Now mind you, I don’t actually do much weeding or gardening. One look at my backyard and you will see that I do not follow through. But I did weed the plot in front of Diocesan House this past week. On my way into work one morning I stopped in my path, dropped by bag, and without any preparation pulled out the offenders…and I paid for it with poison.

I am extremely allergic to poison ivy, and so I am very careful about it. I always garden with gloves, watch what I touch, and wash up afterwards. Except this time I didn’t. I didn’t see any poison ivy in there, but nevertheless…. This is the problem with wanting to fix things, or weed out what seems out of place, or set right what is obviously wrong—it isn’t always the right choice and can have unpleasant consequences.

I like to fix things. I am good at fixing things. I especially enjoy small home repair projects.  But my small skill of fixing also opens me up to a rather large temptation.  I can be seduced into trying to fix things that are not mine to fix. Experience has taught me some questions I ought to ask before I get in over my head. These include: is this mine to fix—do I have the skills and the needed tools—do I need assistance—might I do harm—is it worth the cost. I can get into a lot of trouble trying to fix things, especially if I am led astray into thinking I can fix people or situations.

And so how appropriate that today we are gifted with Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds. What do you make of it? Take a minute to look at the passage again quietly, and see what you see…

This is what I noticed:

  • the kingdom of heaven is like the someone who sowed, in other words, like the sower
  • there is an enemy. Satan is real, and at work
  • the weeds are entangled with the wheat. In fact, the Greek word is zizanion, a plant that looks a lot like wheat.
  • the sower does not want the weeds pulled now, in case any of the good wheat be harmed. There is no harm in letting them grow side by side. It is more important for the sower to nourish and protect the wheat, than to eradicate the weeds right away.
  • there is a time for sorting the good and the bad, and it is at the harvest.
  • there is a person in charge of the harvest.  It is the sower, not the workers, or the wheat, or any of us.
  • then there is the part left out of this passage in the reading this morning (did you notice missing verses?). Jesus give them two other parables. The kingdom of heaven is like mustard seed and the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.
  • the scripture says that Jesus “placed these parables before them.” I love that image, “placed before them.”like something precious. We are also told he “only spoke to them in parables,” so parables must be important. And one thing that is true about parables is that they are not clear cut. They rely on metaphor and imagination. They tell us what something “is like.”

So the kingdom of heaven is like…a sower who knows when and how to root out evil, a tiny seed that grows into a large plant, a substance that makes more of what it touches. And Jesus leaves the people with that. I wonder what they made of it?

The disciples, it seems, did not want to spend too much time contemplating these parables, particularly the one about the wheat and the weeds. Because as soon as they get Jesus away from the crowds, they want an explanation.  So Jesus gives them one: the sower is the Son of Man, who sows good seed. The enemy is the devil. And at the harvest, the end of the age, it is the job of the angels to collect all causes of sin and all evil doers. In other words, not our job.

This has led me to contemplate what are the weeds and wheat in my own life and what kind of trouble do I get into when I think I know the difference and mistakenly take it upon myself to fix what is not within my purview. I know I am too prone to take things into my own hands, to take credit for God’s work, and to forget that I am the created.  So what would it look like if I lingered among what I take to be the weeds? What might happen if I spent some time in contemplation rather than action, and looked for God’s presence?

Artist and minister Jan Richardson talks about the blessing to be found by spending time amongst the weeds:

blessing does not live in the wheat alone, but in the process of sifting and sorting through what’s present in the landscape of our days, and in finding—amidst whatever seeks to distract or disturb or damage us—the sustenance that is always there. A blessing that requires movement on our part, and giving ourselves to the kind of growth that happens as we seek clarity and purpose in the presence of challenges and resistance and complications. [ The Painted Prayerbook]

Part of the blessing for me in a face full of poison ivy was the need to stay home and focus on healing. There was work I had to set aside. I had to acknowledge my vulnerability, and pray that I would be well enough to be with you today.  But I was also able to use the tome to sit, pray, reflect, and attend to items that take more thoughtfulness than I can always accomplish in a busy office. I also had time to think about other things I uproot without thought. As Jesus reminds us, the action of uprooting can actually cause more harm than leaving the weeds be.  I have had to ask myself in the past few days what make me so certain that I know the difference. As William Loader, minister and theologian from the Uniting Church in Australia, writes: "Never uproot people in your mind or attitude by treating them as no longer of any worth!"       []

God’s creation, God’s kingdom, the world in which we live everyday, and all who occupy it deserve a healthy respect from us. We need to remember that we are God’s creatures. God is the fountain of all wisdom. God has compassion on our weaknesses. God love us at our best and at our worst.

What would it look like, what might we discover, what of God’s outrageous love might be revealed to us if we took the time to stop and smell the weeds.

photo credit: Anne E. Kitch

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Coming & Going

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,
   from this time forth for evermore.  Psalm 121:8

“Can you also do something about this door?” 

“What do you want?” The contractor who has come to measure the windows in my house for replacements looks critically at our front screen door.  It is aluminum, a couple of decades old, and somewhat battered. Among other issues, the latch is broken so it no longer remains closed when challenged by a strong wind. Remnants of broken glass that still make themselves known on our front stoop are proof of an unfortunate encounter between a winter gale and the storm window of that door.

“Well, we like having it. But I know it is a custom fit, so I’m sure replacing it will be costly.”

“Why don’t you just fix it?”

Well, there’s a thought. The kind gentleman points out that the latch, closer, and chain (the one that keeps the door from swinging wildly with the wind) can all be easily replaced with parts purchased at the local hardware store. How about that.

I actually enjoy fixing things. So on a free day I look forward to my encounter with the door. Five hours and two trips to the hardware store later, the task is accomplished. Apparently my ancient door exists in a different universe from the replacement parts that are universal in size. In the process, I have also applied a bucket of soapy water to the screen door, wooden front door, and the stoop. The aluminum boasts stains beyond the reach of scrubbing. The wood remains old and pocked. The paint on the stoop is beginning to peel in places. Nevertheless, my attentions make a visible difference and the front of the house seems to breathe more easily.

Our house is old. Old and beloved.  With a constant list of repairs, it has been easy to neglect that screen door. Yet, it is the way we enter and exit our house on a daily basis. Multiple times a day. Running off to work and school. Bringing in groceries and backpacks and sports equipment. Welcoming friends and politely discouraging sellers of energy plans. Checking on the weather, or a late night noise in the street, or for the morning paper. Chatting with a neighbor with the door ajar.

Entrances and exits are important. And the doorway, the liminal space, the threshold, is a place both ubiquitous and unique. What would it be like to linger at the threshold? To breathe there, and recognize it as a holy zone? It occurs to me I might pay more attention to my coming and going. After all, God does.

photo credit: Anne E. Kitch