One of my favorite novels is Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, and my worn copy is full of margin notes (I'm rough on my books; conclude what you will). One such note is a single word -- LIZ -- penciled in large letters next to a double-underlined passage. In that passage, the main character, Hannah, describes the experience of doing farm work that she first learned to do as a child at her grandmother's side, and now continues to do on her own as an adult:
And again I come to the difficulty of finding words. It is hard to say what it means to be at work and thinking of a person you loved and love still who did that same work before you and who taught you to do it. It is a comfort ever and always, like hearing the rhyme come when you are singing a song.
Several years ago, that passage moved me to write "LIZ" because it captured the joy of ministering together in all the ways she had taught me. It truly is "a comfort, ever and always" to continue in the work that Liz and I once did together at Incarnation, now as your rector.
Liz has retired, but her work is still among us and always will be. The fields she plowed and the seeds she sowed are still under our feet, and we now have the joyful task of tending and harvesting them together in the years ahead. I loved the reminder in Liz's Sunday farewell that we are all Incarnation, and we all share in its ministry.
But this ministry may not feel particularly joyful right now. It may feel strange and unfamiliar for a while. We have experienced a significant loss, and it is appropriate and normal to expect tears, grief, anxiety, and fear.
Our small groups have been reading the psalms each week, and it's remarkable how many layers of complex feeling are packed into the psalms we pray. One of my favorites is 126, one of the psalms appointed for midday prayer (join us every Tues/Thurs at noon), and for several weeks I have found these lines particularly strengthening:
"Those who sow in tears
shall reap with songs of joy.
He who goes on his way weeping and bears good seed
shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring
his sheaves with him." (Ps 126:6-7)
We may be sowing in tears now, but we bear the good seed of the kingdom, and we will one day reap a harvest of joy. We often catch glimpses of that joy even now: like when our kids lead us in singing "The Lord is My Shepherd" each week; when Markus came to gaze at the altar candlelight during the gospel procession a few weeks ago; when three birds flew into the gym and Kaitlin and Guillermo and the Ortega kids chased them around with pool noodles; and when, last Sunday, we blessed Liz and sang the doxology in a huddle and then feasted on that INCREDIBLE Incarnation-logo-in-fruit cake.
Incarnation is perhaps the most joyful community I've ever been a part of, but Psalm 126 reminds us that joy often coexists with grief. We don't have to pretend everything is normal and fine, and we don't have to push back our tears. We can sow them right into the soil of this community, trusting that God will use our sorrows as he reaps a harvest of joy in our midst.
And now, turning our eyes toward the harvest...I'm really excited for two upcoming opportunities to help asylum seekers through our partners at Restoration Immigration Legal Aid (RILA):
Provide and/or serve a meal at an upcoming clinic (Wed, May 25) -- if you've never been to a RILA clinic, I STRONGLY encourage you to come! This is a simple opportunity to extend hospitality for asylum seekers and the many volunteers who support them. It's also a little glimpse of the kingdom and I would love for everyone at Incarnation to experience it!
Provide baby items for A* (name withheld for privacy), an expectant mother seeking asylum who lives right here in South Arlington along Columbia Pike. Items can be dropped off at church on Sunday, May 22, or other arrangements can be made. Such a fun and easy way to bless our neighbor -- and stay tuned for a blog with more of her story!
Sign up here to help with one or both opportunities!
How are you doing? How was Sunday for you? What are you curious about, worried about, hopeful about? How can I be praying? Please reach out -- I'd love to go for a walk or a coffee and simply hear what's going on in your life.