“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

In 1971 I etched those words with a pocket knife in the green enamel of the bridge railing where the main road crossed Rondout Creek (“crick”) in Alligerville, New York. My father had a sprawling old farmhouse there, which he escaped to from the city over weekends and summers. The creek divided a gravel road lined with houses from Frank’s store. The thing to do, if you were twelve in Alligerville in the summer, was to walk across the bridge to the store. Several times a day. I’m guessing our gang of five or six bored kids accounted for at least half of Frank’s non-gas business. For days on end we subsisted on popsicles, soda, cigarettes, and jerky, bought with spare change mixed with pocket lint, pooled together with the occasional crumpled dollar bill.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. (I guess every day is. That’s the point, right?) But today was my first day untethered from a wonderful job I held for five years. Today is the day of wondering: what am I doing? What’s next? I feel a bit like Adam and Eve thrown out of Milton’s paradise: “And the world lay all before them.”

So what’s next? Only God knows, has been my answer to this habitual question from colleagues, friends, and parishioners.

IMG_2975Yesterday I walked from my car to the cafe where I’ve had a quick latte and journal-spew every Sunday morning before church for the past few years. These shoes caught my eye. They remind me of so many things: who I longed to be back when I was twelve, summer feet toughened against the hot tar as I stood barefoot scratching words on the bridge railing. Who I tried to be for a season or two in college, metallic blue eyeshadow caked on in layers before heading out to a dive college town disco. They remind me of an imaginary younger self: flashy, nimble, and daring.

I love loving those shoes, but I don’t ever have to wear them. They’re not even my size. But on this first day of the rest of my life, everything is up for grabs.

What I’ve learned from books, lately

photo 2 (48)A few days ago over lunch a friend said: “I imagine it’s pretty hard getting ready to leave your parish. All kinds of things must be coming up for you.”

I’m moving out of my office. Slowly, surely, I’m leaving a job where I’ve been for the past five plus years, a job where I’ve worked harder and had more fun than I ever thought possible at church. It’s a hard place to leave, in spite of knowing that it’s time. Yes, many things are coming up for me. But instead of telling him about all those things, I just talked about my books.

As a woman of the cloth, I have a lot of books. Books acquired before, during, and since seminary, book-group books, gift books, someday-when-I-have-more-time books. Most people in my position go through life moving their books from one office to the next until they retire and have a huge book sale, or give the books away, or box them up for their heirs to deal with. But I’m neither going to another office nor retiring. When contemplating this move I realized I wasn’t ready to put the books in boxes or give them away, and instead hired a talented young man to build some gorgeous shelves in my study at home.

photo 1 (49)Over the past six weeks or so, since the time the shelves were completed, I’ve taken a box home from the office every few days. I’ve tried to cull through them and give some away, but that has not been easy. I’ve been able to part with maybe fifty books out of I-don’t-know-how-many hundreds. I’ve been meticulous about organizing them: scripture commentary on the shelves by the desk, theology and ethics on the shelves by the armchair. Church music and worship next to the desk, my father’s amazing photo album collection and books for daily prayers next to the armchair. Dictionaries (including Latin and Greek dictionaries which I haven’t opened for decades) are next to the desk; poetry is next to the armchair. Church history didn’t fit; it’s spread out over two shelves in the guest room. Church growth and development sprinkled across both study shelves. You get the idea.

It’s been great to take the books from office to home one box at a time, rather than dreading a big overwhelming moving day. I want my final goodbyes to be separate from packing and moving and sorting. Ditto with my first week at home without a sermon to write or parish meetings to attend.

What I’ve learned from my books is that I that I have a whole lot more commentaries on scripture than I ever knew, and that each one is a particular treasure. I’ve learned that somewhere along the way I picked up a dozen different books on Saint Paul and have yet to read them. And that in me is the intent to read them. I’ve learned that there’s a lot of great stuff out there on Christian ethics and that much of it is on my shelves. I’ve learned that I’m not done with study or preaching or diving deep into worship.

On Saturday I brought home the last box of books. Shockingly, they just fit. Because the books seem to have become a metaphor for what I’m affectionately calling My Big Transition to God Knows What, the fact that they all fit bodes well for whatever comes next. And whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I’ve got a book to go with it.

 

The Curses of Psalm 69

Psalm 69 always comes around on a Friday in the Daily Office in the Episcopal tradition. It’s fitting, if you think of every Sunday is a “little Easter” and every Friday as a “little Good Friday.” Why not include the Psalm that includes these Good Friday words?

They gave me gall to eat, *
and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.

Psalm-69-29-web-nltThis morning, Psalm 69 came around again and I had a vivid memory of being in the chapel of the first church I joined in Portland in a dark, rainy Friday morning in 1987. The priest, deacon, and I were about to say morning prayer. The deacon would write the psalms for each day on a clipboard he’d attached to the chapel wall. Marker held aloft, he paused and turned to the priest to ask: “Shall we leave out the curses in Psalm 69?”

Psalm 69 is one of those psalms that gives the Bible a bad name, gives God a bad name,  section is marked as optional in our collection of daily readings.

Psalm 69 is in a special category of psalm called an “imprecatory” or “cursing” psalm. It begins familiarly enough:

Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen up to my neck.

I am sinking in deep mire,
and there is no firm ground for my feet.

The psalmist is surrounded by enemies, and God is his or her only hope. Familiar enough, right? The psalmist prays fro God’s unfailing help. But then, two dozen verses in, the psalm takes a twist:

 Let the table before them be a trap
and their sacred feasts a snare.

Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see,
and give them continual trembling in their loins.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let the fierceness of your anger overtake them.

Let them be wiped out of the book of the living
and not be written among the righteous.

Really? Of course we want to leave out the curses. Most people do. And yet. The curses remind us that the people who wrote the psalms believed in a God who could handle all of their hateful, vengeful feelings of which, I imagine, in their collective heart of hearts, they must have been just a little bit ashamed. The angry, cursing psalms are not an indictment against an angry, vindictive God, but rather a confession of an angry, vindictive people. The God whom they try to co-opt into their pain is a God who can handle the whole infinite range of human emotion–that’s the blessing of the cursing psalms.

Yes, we can leave out the curses of Psalm 69. But isn’t it good to know that we can leave them in?