Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Black bird has spoken
Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the Word!

Sweet the rain’s new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall
On the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
Where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight!
Mine is the morning.
Born of the one light
Eden saw play!
Praise with elation,
Praise ev’ry morning,
God’s recreation
Of the newday!

  –Morning Has Broken, lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon

In forty-seven minutes, it will no longer be my Birth Day. I don’t like that we connect the words into one. The significance is clearer when they speak separately and remind us of what happened two or four or forty-seven or fifty-six years ago: the day our mother opened her womb and we came slipping and sliding into the world, swimming in a sea of air, breathing for the first time. 

My mother reminds me that I almost arrived on St. Patrick’s Day, which would have been pretty cool, as then I would share a birth day with my son. But it was false labor and they sent Mama home. My dad smiles and says, “True to your contrary nature, you didn’t come.” I think he’s kidding.

I started this blog–the first one I’ve written in a week–early this morning, but I got waylaid by life, by celebration, by joy and people. It’s been a really good day and the weather was outstanding! I am thankful for all the rich love and goodness which were showered on me today, and are everyday. It is so easy to forget how many people love us. Facebook helps.

I played with the title this AM, thinking it would be It’s My Party and I’ll Blog If I Want To. I have backed away from the blog for a while to take care of business. The blog does consume an inordinate–and probably ridiculous–amount of time, energy, and thought. I see it as an art form and like to give it my best daily shot, plus I’m slow.

Giving up the blog was a sort of Lenten discipline. Some things in my life are pressing and need more time and attention than I have given them-like getting a job! As much as I want to still believe I have boundless energy, I don’t. The blog drains me in a way that requires a respite after it’s posted. I recall having the same feeling and need after I preached.

What I’d like you to know is how much I enjoy writing the blog. It is pure joy for me, a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. I love writing it. I love reading it. I love your comments. And I love thinking about you out there reading it, amidst the busyness and cares of your life.

So, to give it up has been hard. I have felt led by God to do this and have tried to rise at the same time and work on other things, like a resume. But I miss the act of writing itself, the connection, and the order of beginning each day in the same way.

And now, I am struggling to say what I want to say. I am out of practice. I’ll try and spit it out: Since it was my birthday, I thought that I would like to blog–hence, the original title, “It’s my party and I’ll blog if I want to.” But here’s the thing: It’s not really my party. It is God’s. I am simply a guest.

White-Tailed Squirrels

March 12, 2011

 O taste and see that the Lord is good.

  —Psalm 34. 8

You may have seen a White-tailed Deer or a rabbit’s cottony-white puffball tail as it hops away, but have you ever seen a White-tailed Squirrel?
I doubt it, unless you lived in Marietta in the 1980’s.
My dad was the culprit of this crime. I’m surprised PETA didn’t come after him.

I’ve often reflected on my father’s solution to rid himself of pesky squirrels in the backyard. They were everywhere, dominant and intrusive, hoarding seed at the birdfeeder, eating scuppernong grapes on the arbor, green tomatoes before they could ripen on the vine. In general, the squirrels were a nuisance to him. O taste and see that the Lord–and the acorns!–are good, must have been their favorite Psalm.

So, he came up with a solution. He would trap them in a homemade wire cage, lured in with acorns, and transport them to another location far away from his yard, like three whole miles.  But before he released the squirrels to their new location, he spray-painted their tails. White.
When I first learned of this I said, “Daddy!” He retorted that it didn’t hurt the squirrel and he was doing scientific research. He would know if the squirrels made their way back to North St. Mary’s Lane.
I can only imagine the astonishment and puzzlement some poor soul had when they spotted a White-tailed Squirrel jumping from tree to tree. He/she must have concluded it was a mutation, an albino occurrence like Edgar and Johnny Winter’s colorless skin.
My dad is a bit stubborn and won this battle though he lost the war. None of the squirrels he transported made it back to his home, but new ones came, ones with gray tails intact and bushy. He no longer grows Scuppernongs or tomatoes. The birds have learned they must share their spoil. They seem to cohabitate gracefully.

What occurs to me about this story is how fruitless, really, it is to try and trap and transport problems out of our lives, as if they could be manipulated and handled, exorcised. It may bring relief for a little while, be a source of conversation at the table–Guess what I saw today? A White-tailed Squirrel on Kennesaw Avenue!–but in the end, merely prolongs lasting solutions.

Good morning!

I want to share with you this morning an email exchange between a thirty-something, intelligent, liberal, ethical, loving and sincere Christian and me. We are not blood relatives but are family. She is an archives librarian and is immersed in ordering a collection of information on a Christian student movement at a major Ivy League Institution. I will call her Mary because that’s her name and she said I could.

She is struggling with the essential nature of evangelism and the tone and direction it took by this particular group of college-age Christians in the 1960’s. 

So, here they are, for your own reflection or response or consideration or disagreement…

Patty,

Is it possible to be a good Christian yet be uncomfortable with the evangelical nature of my religion?  I don’t care about winning converts to Christianity.  I just care about truth, justice, and the people be treated with love and dignity no matter their circumstance. 

The collection I’m working on frequently touches on how denominational student groups should win hearts and minds to Christ in the University.  It’s gnawing at me.

Mary

Here’s my response:

Yeah, it’s tough Mary.
 
At some level, I think many of us Christians who are more liberal rebel–or at least are disturbed–by the nature of ‘evangelism’. We view it as disrespect for the autonomy, dignity, and sacred path of each person and of other religions. It smites as a sort of first-world expansionistic oppression, like the British and American Empires, which historically have viewed other cultures as inferior. Thus, the perceived need–or rationalization for economic and political gain?–to ‘civilize’ or convert other countries and peoples to the great White Way of Western modern philosophy and culture. And yes, religion (i.e.Christianity).
 
Perhaps, our own faith is part of the rub and what makes such a mindset offensive. We are too democratic. Too convinced that God is in all people. Too Christian!
 
On the other hand…there is always an other hand, right?– if we believe that Jesus is ultimately Good News like a baby being born or someone getting a new job, why wouldn’t we want to share it? The word ‘evangel” means simply this: the bearer of good news.
 
Perhaps the method is what is problematic, the attitude you perceive in the papers you read and the student movement. If one genuinely cares for another and loves another, I believe respect comes through and love and truth and justice and the things you want and hold dear are innately part of the exchange, the relationship between human beings. There is no ‘winning’, only love.
 
I am not sure I know what it means to be a “good” Christian, as you inquire. And there is much, I believe, we need to be uncomfortable with in our history and Church.
 
Still, the concept of ‘evangelism’ to me is not offensive. It is more the practice. We don’t seem to get it right.
 
Jesus ‘converted’ only in the sense that he turned people’s worlds upsidedown, through love, respect, not shying away from the truth, compassion, acts of mercy..People followed him because their lives were transformed or they had the hope that they would be.
 
If we are sitting with a person in a bar, say in Athens, and that person is sharing their story with us and it is full of darkness and pain in a way that is destructive to their person, or their circumstances are harmful and oppressive, and they are in despair and searching, would you not want to share with them what keeps you going, what gives you joy, what sets you free, what helps you love your enemies and be empowered to change yourself and have compassion and care and energy to give others.. given the right moment and that they–or you–are not too drunk?
 
I think the world is so lost and wounded and so many suffer, we need evangels from every religion to set it right.
 
Ok, just a few thoughts.
 
Keep going…
 
Love,
 
Your Aunt
 
P.S. Also, I believe God uses all things for the Kingdom, even our screwups. But I like, Mary, and have always liked, that you think for yourself, that you love and respect others, and that your faith and heart are so sincere..

And here’s my followup:

A few more thoughts:
 
My guess is that you are an evangelist whether you like it or not–without awareness or intention. As St. Francis of Assisi is attributed as saying, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

 
There is a beautiful story which I cannot find right now about Mother Teresa helping to rebuild a Temple or Mosque (?) which had burned in the area where her mission was. People were surprised that she would help rebuild a place of worship that wasn’t ‘Christian’ and her response was something like this: “If you are Hindu, be the best Hindu you can be. If you are Islamic, be the best Muslim you can be. Likewise, if you are Christian, be the best Christian you can be.”
 
There is no need to shy away from who we are and our faith. People respect it more when it is genuine and passionate.
 
I heard a similar idea expressed from the Dalai Lama when he came to Atlanta and was met by liberal–trying-not-to-be offensive-Emory-professors-or the Dean of the Theology School who is Christian (?-don’t remember exactly who it was). What the Dalai said was something like this (she wrote and reflected on it later in an essay in the AJC): “I don’t understand if you are Christian why you are not more excited about it. ” This comment caused the Christian academic, intellectual to sit up and take notice of how her own desire not to offend or come on too strong or be perceived as less than open-minded was interpreted by an outsider, as disinterest or dispassion or ‘dis’ something.
 
Ok…
 
Have a good day. P.

Ok, readers, you have a good day too!

Your Aunt Patty

Dying, Christ destroyed our death.

  –Liturgy of the Mass

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  –St. Francis of Assisi

Last night, like many of you, I went to an Ash Wednesday service.

It was at First United Methodist Church in Marietta. I knew the pastor and was familiar with the hymns and liturgy.

It was bitter-sweet and I tasted tears as I watched the congregation file up to receive their ashes. The minister was so tender with each one. It brought back memories of my life as a parish priest.

I use the word priest, not as an ecclesial title, but as a function. Through the sacraments, the ashes, the burials and weddings, the laying on of hands for the sick, even a United Methodist minister is more than a pastor or preacher. He or she is a priest.

After the service, I went to McCrackins. I drank a Guinness and toasted God.

What?! I didn’t give up beer for Lent. And when you are alone in a pub, it is a good time to reflect.

Lent is largely about reflection. Our disciplines interrupt us from our normal schedule. We are called to still like a Naval crew on board a ship. We are whistled into silence.

I don’t really know what St. Francis’ words mean, It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. I am just as prone as anyone, proner than some, to mistake ‘dying’ as self-punishment.

But somehow these words don’t ring true for someone living in the woods, worshiping with animals, loving creation, communing with birds and sisters and fellow pilgrims. Having visions, building a chapel, living a dream.

Instead, I think St. Francis’ life must have been filled with great joy and immense excitement as he followed God’s will for his life and took chances. There must have been a buzz in those woods and in his spirit. Energy overflowing.

I know that this state of being is the one I have experienced when I have completely submitted my will to God’s. It has been uncontainable. It has spilled over to others. It has been a power source.

We must remember the paradox, how Jesus turned things around, even our ideas about dying.

Lent is first and foremost a decision. It is making up our mind to go to Jerusalem and become the person God intended. It is a decision to live our authentic self.

When I think about Jesus talking with his disciples about what is next as they head down that dusty road, the busy highway to the City, I want to say, No Jesus, don’t do it! Please turn back.  I want to protect him, shield him from the agony he will experience, his own perilous fate.

But would He have it any other way? Would He choose differently if He could do it again?

Would you? Would I? I don’t think so. Our lives are given to us as gifts–all the joy and the suffering, the regrets and the desire. All of it is holy and we best take off our sandals.

Maybe Lent is about this simple discipline: Slipping off our sandals. Going barefoot. Remembering how holy it all is.

Maybe this is how we live.

Every good and perfect gift is from above..

  –James 1. 17a

So, today is Ash Wednesday. I hope you got your pancakes last night.

Today we begin a Lenten discipline and receive a grey cross on our foreheads. We walk around with smudges all day and people think we’re dirty.

We are. Hence, the need for the ashes, the reminder that we all fall down. Like little children holding hands in the front yard, turning and singing:

Ring around the rosie

Pocket full of posies

Ashes, ashes

We all fall down.

We do.

Life Is a Kick

March 7, 2011

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

  –John 10.10b NASV

Lately, I find myself laughing outloud, quite frequently.

I am tickled, amazed, intrigued by life, by people, by events and animals.

Life is so funny. It is a kick really. We are blind if we don’t see it.

For instance, I am visiting an old parishioner in the nursing home. She is recounting her tale of woe–how she got to be here, prone, weak, in rehab. Suddenly, we start to laugh it is so absurd, a series of mishaps.

I am signing her guest book. I ask her the date and we look at the calendar on her wall. Actually there are four calendars in the shared room. Apparently, four are required in each room, two for each patient. We don’t know why That alone is funny.

One is a printout of activities for March, you know, the usual card games, singing groups from churches, birthdays. The other is a yearly calendar. It is complimentary from the funeral home and has information for cremation on the front.

We burst into laughter again.

Life is grand, absurd, funny. Thankfully, my friend Marilyn hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

Then there is Cosmo, Lynn’s sweet little dog. He follows me around the house, trots so innocently at my heels. He is game for anything. I open the door from the kitchen to the garage to put trash in the can. He trots into the garage for no good reason. Then, I say ‘Comeon Cosmo, we’re going back in.” Without question, he trots back in, a total exercise in trusting my lead. It is such a beautiful thing and I get tickled.

That evening, we are on the deck together. A low growl rumbles in his throat as he stares into the woods. His ears perk up. He sees, or smells, or hears something. I get up from my post to stand beside him and stare with my best carrot-fed eyes into the midnight pitch. I see nothing. I smell nothing. I hear nothing. I take his word for it. The roles are reversed.

I notice and admire that in this way, he is very superior and he’s just so darn cute and so earnest about his barking.

I meet a woman at the YMCA. She is a maintenace worker. I ask her about Joseph, another maintenance worker. I haven’t seen him for a while. He is from Haiti. I tell the woman, Guinn, that Joseph and I speak a little French together. He brought me a book on Paris and is very patient.

She tells me she is studying Italian with a woman who comes to workout. Guinn is going to Italy for the second time and will stay a month. She tells me which website to go to to find a rental house–NOT Craigslist.

She is a maintenance worker. She knows more than I do. She travels the world. I am so pleasantly surprised and enthralled and happy for her. I smile big and broad as I walk away.

I think of Joseph and how he came to be here and how he has such a good job with benefits. I have none. It is a beautiful twist.

Then there’s the storage unit. I open the door to see what’s inside. It has been a year and a half and there is my basket of ironing, the contents still wrinkled and overflowing. It is hilarious to me.

I head home, call my sister on the phone. We talk about David coming home this week. He doesn’t know when he’ll go out again. We will have no income while he is off-storm. We are in a pickle.

I say to Dixie, “I’m not sure how we got here. I sometimes look at my life and say, ‘Really?!” We laugh so hard our stomachs hurt.

I get home to The Little House. The driveway is littered with Sweetgum balls. The tires bump over them like they are significant. I guess they are. I laugh to remember how two weeks ago, one little ball brought me down. Rolled me right off my feet. How I skinned my knee like a child and cursed at the stupid thing. I cursed a Sweetgum ball. That is funny, not to mention the comedic scene.

I go to the grocery store to rent a movie from Redbox. There is a man there, scrolling intently through the selections. A woman is close to his right in tight jeans. She brushes his arm with her breast. He doesn’t flinch. Clearly, they are sleeping together. Clearly, they are having fun. I am happy for their intimacy.

There is a baby in a cart. His momma and older sisters are picking out a DVD. The baby looks at me from his royal seat in the cart. He is bundled up like an Eskimo. His cheeks are ruddy. We smile at each other. He throws his toy on the floor and leans over to watch it. Then looks at me again and smiles. How can I not laugh? The baby is funny and knows it. His family is completly unaware of our exchange. That is funny too.

I go home for the first time in a week and step out on the deck. There, where I usually sit is a pine branch, no, more like a log. It is thirty inches in diameter and has flipped the chair upsidedown. I look at the tree overhead and see where it broke off during a storm. It would have killed me. “Are you kidding me?!” I ask the gods.

It is Sunday morning. I am picking my daddy up for church so my mom can go to Sunday School. He is still getting dressed and having trouble with his shoes. I kneel beside him to help put them on. They are tight and we struggle together. He asks in complete sincerity, “Are these my shoes?” I say, “I think so Daddy.” We find a shoehorn and eventually get them on. 

Life is so rich. Every single moment. It is simply, deliciously a kick.

Unction

March 4, 2011

But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things.

  –1 John 2:20

The great thing about blogging is looking things up.

Going on-line and following rabbit trails through Google is like the joy of using a dictionary for a poet, that perfect understanding of a word, which leads to other words, which fuels the imagination.

This morning, like most, I sat outside drinking coffee and praying. I believe you can do both at once.

During the silence and the beauty of prayer, I wait for inspiration, for a Word. I believe God is as interested, more interested, in this blog than I am. I know I don’t always hear perfectly or follow God’s lead, but I really try and I ask for guidance. There is a moment, usually a persistent one, when I feel a certain “unction” about what to write. This morning, it is the word “unction”.

What’s funny to me is that I thought I knew what the word meant. It is one of those ‘religious’ words, like consecrate or narthex, which one doesn’t hear outside the church. I have used it for years.

I just discovered that I have unintentionally been misusing it.

I thought unction meant a sort of ‘nudging’, a proclivity or inclination, or even stronger, the inner sense of being compelled or moved or at least urged.

I have used it to speak of the agency of the Holy Spirit, that breath of  inspiration which gives a Holy Push.

But here’s what I discovered when I looked it up: Unction means the act of anointing. It is associated with oil and is most familiar to Catholics through the practice of Extreme Unction–the anointing of the sick, commonly referred to as Last Rites.

Thus, in the verse found in I John, chapter 2–But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things– John is reminding the Church that they have been anointed by the Holy Spirit, consecrated with divine oil.

Ok. So is there a connection between the two meanings..mine and Merriam-Webster’s? You already know my response is yes. If I don’t see anything, I see connections. Life is one big string theory to me.

The anointing or unction of the Holy Spirit allows us to be moved, nudged, urged to do a certain thing. It makes us sensitive enough to feel the slightest touch or gentle pressure. Like reins on a horse’s neck, unction allows us to be directed. We are anointed to serve. We are anointed to care.

A sermon preached in 1845 further elucidates the connection between the two meanings:

So spiritually, the unction, or anointing of the oil of the Holy Spirit makes the conscience tender. Wherever that unction comes, it takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. It removes impenitence, unbelief, waywardness, perverseness, self-righteousness, and self-conceit; it softens and supples and makes tender the heart and conscience, so as to fall under the power of the truth.

  –“The Unction of the Holy One” Preached at Providence Chapel, Oakham, on June 8th, 1845, by J. C. Philpot

I experienced this connection yesterday in the grocery store, right beside the onions and potatoes.

An old friend from Young Harris greeted me from behind her buggy. We exchanged smiles and hugs, chatted a little, and then I told her my news, that my husband and I are getting a divorce. She has known us a long time and loves our family very much.

This is what she did, right between the Russets and Vidalias: she prayed. She took my hand in hers and quietly offered a prayer for our family, for our peace, for our future.

My belief is that she was divinely led because of her anointing, the prime movement an effect of the Holy Spirit’s unction.

So, maybe God is like a Horse Whisperer. The oil is poured out and rubbed on our ears and necks. We are polished and brushed until we shine, and then we hear a whisper.

Exegete

March 2, 2011

I was trained as a preacher under Fred Craddock. Not a bad gig.

Dr. Craddock is a poet, an artist with words, and a great teacher. He is a master of homiletics and revived the use of narrative in sermons. He understands the oral tradition as an art form unto itself, distinct from the written word. 

Although his method is fairly simple–the naive reading; the exegesis; the development of a theme or thesis; the composition of a full manuscript– discipline is crucial.

One definition of crucial is in the form of a cross and that’s what occurs when one preaches. The preparation will kill you. You die a hundred little deaths each week.

I learned in seminary the meaning–and the practice–of exegesis. If the discipline of Craddock’s preaching method is crucial, exegesis is key. It unlocks the door to freely explore and to listen. It requires attentive receptivity. It is a good metaphor for life and for prayer.

Exegesis means to draw out and is a transliteration of the Greek word exhgeisqai. It is a hermeneutical process of pulling out the meaning of a text. It is the opposite of eisegesis, a reading into one’s own meaning of a text. Eisegesis is frowned upon by modern Biblical scholarship and criticism.

And so, we were taught at Emory to do our research. After the naive reading of the text where free-floating thoughts, questions, images, ideas, and connections are made and written down, which often become the fodder to help the sermon come alive when it is composed, next comes the rigorous task of exegesis.

Commentaries, lexicons, concordances, various translations become the tools to understand the scripture text–to place it within a setting, a culture, an historic context;  view it in relation to what comes before or after in the chapter; identify and learn from its literary form; compare or contrast it with the larger themes of a book and the writer’s ‘agenda’–for lack of a better word.

Exegesis is exciting, if excrutiating. The process is a bit like being a mid-wife or dentist–something is pulled out, something is extracted, something is born. And often does not emerge without tears.

Dr. Craddock is a great preacher and teacher but maybe his greatest gift is that of pastor. And so, he had us exegete not only the text but also the congregation. We did the same work each week with the ones who would hear the sermon as we did with the scripture reading.

We drew out what we knew of their lives, their families, their hopes, concerns, and growing edges, their needs and fears amd worries, the larger world, the economy, wars, crises, the challenges and strengths  and issues of the local church and community. From the combined knowledge of scripture and congregation, a new sermon was formed.

To be a good preacher, one first needs to be a good pastor.

Maybe that’s why Jesus was so good. He knew the people. He was a story-teller and used the narrative of their lives to weave words which healed, convicted, encouraged, challenged, and comforted. His sermons, through parables and discourse, on a hillside or from a boat, were specific and targeted. There was nothing about them that was ‘canned’ or generic.

I read this quote recently from John Barton:

In origin, an exegete was not someone who drew out the meanings of texts, but a guide to a sacred place, who led the visitor out to see it and explain it, a kind of tour guide (John Barton, The Nature of Biblical Criticism).

I really like that interpretation of exegesis. I know it to be true in my own life. Jesus is my exegete.

Hiawassee!

March 1, 2011

I’m sittin’ in the railway station
Got a ticket for my destination
On a tour of one night stands
My suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one man band

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

Everyday’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me
The movies and the factories
And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

Tonight I’ll sing my songs again
I’ll play the game and pretend
But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony
I need someone to comfort me

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me
Silently for me
Silently for me

  —Paul Simon, Homeward Bound

It is 5:00 AM. I’m in Hiawassee and out of cigarettes, a bit of a problem.

I must drive nine miles, one way, to get them.

But I don’t mind. The moon is a tender sliver, the stars cascade through the clear mountain air. I turn on the radio. I drive to the Circle K.

Here, I am greeted by strangers I might as well know. The man at the register buys a biscuit and coke. He talks with the cashier, Alyssa, about a mutual friend’s problem. Another man walks in and is greeted by the man at the register. The second man is boiling peanuts this morning for the opening of a new fruit stand.

The cashier places a hand on her belly. She is pregnant. Her baby is kicking she says.

I need decaf as I’ve already had two cups of caffeine. She tells me to push start on the large coffee pot. She’s got it ready. I might as well be a cousin in her kitchen.

I push start. I bask in the simplicity, the familiar. Where customers help because it makes sense. No one is too proud here. No one can afford to be. We all know about each other. Everyone struggles.

Hiawassee is a place where cultures meet and merge. Eventually, newcomers become less complicated. The mountains take you in, and even if the locals never accept you as one of theirs, the relationships cross lines out of need.

Educations no longer matter, or babies out of wedlock, or free lunches in the school cafeteria, or stellar careers. No one is impressed by big houses on the lake or travels around the world. What matters here is the ordinary, the unaffected.

People can spot airs a mile away. They don’t care. The playing field is leveled like the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, where neon rides zoom kids from Florida, Atlanta, and Hayesville into the cool mountain vapor twice a year. The teenagers flock together. The screams sound the same from the tall ferris wheels.

I fill my lungs with it. I take long sips of a certain naivete. I am refreshed.

Now, the sun is up. It rises through the mist. From Lynn’s new house high on a hill, I can see seven mountains. I can pick out Brasstown Bald.

One view graces me with three ranges back to back. Gentle slopes ascend in elevation behind one another. The lines run parallel and gesture to the valley below. Dew sparkles and reflects light like expensive diamonds in the grass. Lynn’s house sits in the center of jewels.

When I return from Circle K, it is still dark. There are no street lights in Lynn’s new neighborhood. She sits on the sofa with her dog, Cosmo, concentrating on her Bible study. They share a coffee-colored softly woven afghan. I invite her to come look at the stars. 

We turn out the lamps in the house and move to the front porch. Our eyes adjust to take in the exquisite: light years and eons fill our pupils.

Lynn goes to work. I sit on the back deck, just like The Little House. The caw of crows, the sparrow songs, a woodpecker’s rattle fill my ears. And underneath their combined pitch is the low mourn of the dove, melancholy comfort.

At the Circle K, Alyssa tells me to put my hand on her belly. She shows me a picture of the ultrasound. She thinks she is having twins and it looks that way to me. She is only four months but her skin is tight and taunt over a swollen belly. It is her first. I don’t know her.

Her husband is a cop. He is heavy and works two jobs. He comes in while I am still there. Twins run in both of their families but he insists they are having one. I ask Alyssa what she will do if she has twins. She answers, “Buy more stuff.” She won’t have a problem with babysitters or practical help, I know.

On my way back to Lynn’s, a raccoon crosses in front of me, its striped tail disappears down the side of the road.

I may stay all week. Lynn said “Patty, you know you are welcome here.” We can hang pictures and I will take the trash and recycling to the dump.

Soon, I will go to Mass at St. Francis. Sing the responses in a reverent minor key. I will ingest Christ in the church that received me as a new Catholic. I will hear an excellent homily.

I have former parishioners who have moved to nursing homes since I left. One who calls to check on me. One who chaired the committee to welcome my family fifteen years ago. She is now ninety something. I want to visit them.

On my way to Blairsville, I will pass the church I served, the tennis courts where my kids went to camp. I will pass by my husband’s former business and the new Dollar store. I will miss MaryAnn’s and Gibson’s and the old movie theatre.

There are new traffic signals in Hiawassee and Young Harris and Blairsville. The man in the truck lifts a finger from the steering wheel as he passes by. Everyone does that here, a move so slight you wonder how it can be seen.

In thirteen years of living here, I never got a single ticket. Once, when my son was sixteen and wrecked his car in Young Harris, the deputy sherriff told him to walk home to the parsonage and get the driver’s license he had left on the dresser. Three people hurried into the church within five minutes to tell me Hank was in an accident.

I ran and swam and rode my bike in a triathlon one year. The police who stopped the traffic said to me, “Way to go girl” even though I was bringing up the rear.

Tonight, I will go to the Lady Indians basketball game. They are in the regionals and may win state again this year. All the town shows up–even people without kids–and root for them, even though they are girls.

No one is patronized in these mountains. The mountains create dignity. At their core, the people know here that they matter. They are somebody, whether rich or poor.

I was raised in Marietta, but when I head up 575 and 76 through Jasper, Elijay, and Blue Ridge and the mountains appear before me and the temperature drops ten degrees, I am like a poet in Liverpool named Simon. I am homeward bound too.