Wispy fog slinks in from the sea, slithering over the mud flats at the river’s mouth, ghosting up the valley to hang in the hollows, gauze curtains that swirl and flow, concealing and revealing unpredictably. My road humps over a bridge. A sign saying “Serpentine River” flicks by. For an instant the fog clears. A dark brown stream weaves through impossibly green fields. A memory emerges. My father loved fishing this river, long ago. In memory’s eye, I can see him standing on the shore, fluorescent fly line etching arcs across sky. Then the fog closes in again, blotting the vision. Memory works like that, opening up and closing in… A tune surfaces. My tires rumble on the pavement, a bass accompaniment. Green fields. The Brothers Four. Their name hasn’t crossed my consciousness in decades, but I can see a friend with no musical skills at all strumming the double bass in a coffee house while the real bass player flirts with a girl in the audience. Then the curtains of memory swing shut again. Now I feel Joan’s hand cupped inside mine as she reclaims her ice cream cone, but she’s gone now, and I wonder what happened to 60 years of marriage, and does anyone care anymore about what we said to each other, oh, about the lonely little clapboard house beside the highway in the Nicola grasslands, every time, and I want to tell her that it’s still there, and I want to tell that her banners are still beautiful, and that I’m fine, and I wonder what she would want to tell me about her final eight months, or if she misses our annual winter week in the Caribbean where warm waves sluice up the sand and leave a froth of foam beneath the sea-grape bushes, white as the wake streaming behind our boat up the North Arm where dark forests too silent to be real rose overhead to strain our necks. And my son and I look down over the edge of the escarpment above the translucent emerald waters of Georgian Bay, but our son died and our daughter went away to college and our tortoiseshell cat yowls outside their bedrooms, the cat who lived 19 years after we nursed her through the illness that should have killed her and somehow she knew we had saved her life, because from then on she would allow us do anything, except forgive us when we went away.
What good are memories when there’s no one who shares them? Or cares about them? And yet roses do bloom in December, because memories are sometimes just as real as reality, and so my mother’s knitting needles still click as they knit my sweaters and socks. My dark road unfurls ahead, leading who knows where, over the hills and far away, because the granddaughter who once rode my ankle to the bounce of a cock horse going to Banbury Cross has gone away too, and my empty arms can still feel rocking her through the black pit of an Ethiopian night.
My baggage brims over with memories, transcending time. Some hurt. Still, I’m grateful each time the wisps of fog pull aside and let me re-live the past.
Memories are blessings. Without them, life would be like a fog – nothing ahead, nothing behind.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s theme of moving through Order to Dis-Order to New Order has cropped up in several conversations this last week. And certainly in letters.
And may I add, I’m delighted to get letters. Of course, I like it best when you agree with me or, better yet, take my thoughts and push them a little farther. Or when my thoughts prompt you to share your own similar experiences. But I enjoy all your letters, even if I don’t publish them the next week – in these times of Covid-isolation, it’s like having dozens of pen-pals.
Cliff Boldt wrote, “At 79, I can identify with much of what you say this week. I am hopelessly addicted to quotes that often fit into what I am seeing or thinking.
“The first: ‘When one door closes, another opens. But it sure is hell in the hallway.’
The second from Bob Dylan: ‘Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’…’”
JT: Dylan was fussy about infringement of copyright, so I apologize to him in advance for using these lines without permission.
Karen Opit: “I too am in the second half of letting go- letting go of things but holding on dearly to family and friends and God's love.”
David Gilchrist: “Rohr’s pattern is easy to relate to. What troubles me now is how a significant section of the Disorder group have assumed the right to impose their version of Reorder [on the rest of us]. A visitor to the USA noted how willing their teenagers were to advise the Seniors from their ‘vast store of inexperience’. At 92, I am grateful for my computer, and it is certainly part of the Re-order of my life. But too many of the Disorder group treat it as a ‘sine qua non’, and require [everything] to be done on a computer -- though there really are many people without them.
“Yes, we have to Re-order our world; but the generation best able to see the whole picture seems to be pre-empted by a few of the middle group acting in too much haste.
“And our understanding of God? I long since let go of the white beard on the throne. I suspect that many younger folk came to same conclusion much younger than we did, and sadly threw the ‘baby out with the bath water’. I too believe more than ever in a mysterious Divinity that I no longer attempt to describe. There are experiences in my life that have no other explanation.”
Kim MacMillan: “When I look back on my life there have been plenty of cycles within cycles of Order-Disorder-Reorder. It continues. The times of disorder always involved a certain amount of suffering as I had to let the old go before I knew what the new looked like -- and sometimes felt bereft about that. In the process I have found that the only way to move into the new order is to become more tolerant of ambiguity and to embrace paradox.”
Isabel Gibson: “On a light and sorta related note, we watched a bad movie last night but even a bad movie has its moments. An old Jewish man says, ‘I've just broken my personal-best record . . . for consecutive days lived’.”
Janet Cawley: I read Rohr's daily meditations, and found that week's columns very meaningful to me, too -- the death of my beloved partner Sallie, the general weirdness of the pandemic time, and illnesses in my remaining family plunged me into a time of disorder once again. You, too, I know. Strange how it gets worse and worse and then, suddenly, something new begins to take shape. I am getting ready to move (after 30 yrs living in the same apartment.) Now my place is a shambles -- empty shelves, boxes everywhere, stuff handed over, thrown out, gone. And a lovely shiny new apartment calling me to a new phase in my life.
“I think I have been through this pattern many times. As Rohr says, the time of disorder is usually a painful gift, but if we work patiently through the turmoil, we begin to find some more reliable points of reference and continue the journey.”
Mary Collins: “Re your ending statement, ‘I believe far more strongly now in a divine presence within us, among us, surrounding us,...’ -- have you read Francis S. Collins' book ‘The Language of God’? Wonderful book; am reading it now.”
Ginny Adams: “Jim, this paradigm of life resonates with mine, and I, too, am in the re-order phase of life. To all who are living in dis-order, it's sweet when one gets a new order to one's life.”
The lectionary offers this reading from Exodus 15 as an alternate to the usual psalms. I don’t think I have ever used it before, probably because it portrays the kind of God I don’t like, a God who takes sides, who plays favorites, who delights in the humiliation and defeat of an enemy. The imagery tells me that I wrote this paraphrase during one of the Iraq wars, but the emotions might also apply to some current leaders.
1 We crushed our opponents completely;
they fled in fear before us.
2 Our victory was so overwhelming, we must have had the God on our side.
3 God is our great general;
God is our Commander in Chief.
4 The forces arrayed against us scattered like leaves in a gale;
their elite disappeared in the desert sands.
5 Our tanks rolled over them like a wave;
the burrows they cowered in became their graves.
6 Our God is a God of power and might;
anyone who gets in God's way, God annihilates.
7 God's anger burns like napalm;
it consumes opponents like straw before a flamethrower.
8 As explosives send shattered windows screaming through the air,
so God blasts the ambitions of the arrogant.
9 God's enemies strut and boast;
they parade their arms and brag of conquest.
10 God goes "Poof!" and they vanish like dust.
11 Our opponents also claim to worship God.
They call on God to give them victory.
We shall see whose God is more powerful.
20 Our women will celebrate our victory.
They will dance and shimmy.
21 And they too will sing:
"We have crushed our opponents completely;
they fled in fear before us."
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)