Grief and Comfort

caspar david friedrich the window

If I could fit out a small, portable chapel that I would push like a handcart, it would be a useful thing.  Still, the sacred space makes itself apparent, flows down around us and encloses us when we must call upon God for shelter.

As I left work today, I passed a woman who was seated in a chair just beside the subway turnstiles. She seemed to be hyper-ventilating, and a small cluster of Transit Authority employees surrounded her. Perhaps she had fainted, perhaps she was lost. I had a feeling that their problem was about to become my concern. One of the guards offered to walk with her down to the train. I was just a few yards ahead of them, and he escorted her onto the car where I was seated. She took the seat behind me.

Then she started to cry.

It was more than crying. It was wailing, and praying. She was in hijab, and she was calling out in Farsi. As the doors of the car closed and the train started to move, I asked her if she was ill, if there was something I could do to help. Two young Egyptian girls, also hijabi, sat across from her. I pieced together that she was overwhelmed with the news she had just received that her father had died. She had been at work in the airport, a family member called her, and she was on her way home to tell her household.

What could be done? I could not reassure her; her father was dead, it was terrible news, and no empty consolation would mend that. I held her hand, and patted her shoulder. I told her I understood, that it was the saddest news one could hear. She cried, she wailed, and she prayed. The two Egyptian girls tried to comfort her, hold her other hand, and pray with her, but they did not speak Farsi, and told her in English to be a strong Muslim woman, that Allah could hear her prayers.

She told me what a fine man her father was, that now she was sure he was with Allah, that he was receiving the reward for his faith. I agreed with her, not because I knew, or even believed in the same way, but because that was important to her, to think of her father as a man of great faith, who God loved.

Grief cannot be stopped. Once it starts, it is as inexorable as the tide. It must run its course, the tears shed, the words said, the prayers prayed. It is like labour, one friend told me, and to try to circumvent it will harm all those involved.

I knew which train station she needed to exit at, and the girls were going the same way. I walked her to the door of the car, and made sure she was safe. The girls would see her to the bus. She thanked me for my care and support. I hadn’t done anything but make sure she reached her destination, and held her hand, and murmured soothing words that really didn’t matter in content.

Tourists and other passengers looked at me with curiosity. “Her father just died,” I explained. “She got the news while at work.”

They had watched this noisy and dramatic scene with some alarm; they were all right with having me take charge of the scenario. Two women sitting together, probably sisters visiting Chicago, thanked me for my intervention and praised my Christian compassion. The man in front of me said, “I’ve learned something from you. You were so kind.”

In that loop of eternity, there were four of us caught in a vortex of grief and prayer, all of us women, all of us traditionally dressed. The Afghani woman crying out her loss was simply dressed for work, and covered with a beautiful red scarf. The two Egyptian girls, delicate, big-eyed as icons, and graced with glowing, caramel skin like the light of sanctuary lamps, wore elegant silks. I was in my plain black skirt, uniform shirt, and a black kerchief folded and pinned as a short veil. We were four women of faith, at a crossroads. We did what should be natural to women, and entered an ancient relationship, of comforting the bereaved, and praying out the grief.

It was a blessing to minister in that difficult situation, to be allowed inside the curtained enclosure that is hijabi. It did not matter that I am Christian, or that they were Muslim. We were all merely human, merely women, at a time when one woman needs another.



Crofting: Goats, Chicks, Husband

Nicholas finished the tiny fenced yard outside the barn. I wanted a yard primarily for the chickens, but also a place to quickly stash the goats when I am working in the barn. It is quite securely built, with top and bottom rails to stretch the fence wire across.  We need to block off a few small gaps to keep chickens in, and I will sew a cover for it out of old sheets. Tied to fence posts at the corners, it will make an effective shade and anti-hawk cover. I’ve done it before with chicken yards. If it rains, it doesn’t get weighted down like a tarp. It lasts a season, but old sheets are cheap at rummage and garage sales. The silkies don’t fly like other chickens, which was the reason I made one before. The average chicken can roost in a tree 4-8 feet high, and my chickens were choosing to fly out of their pen to socialize in the trees.

The chicks are growing fast. The biggest one is twice the size of the smallest one. I haven’t had any more losses, so I suspect that the runt got accidentally smothered or trampled. The little  ones cuddle under the wings of the bigger ones. Silkies are good brooders and good mothers. They  aren’t prolific layers, since they go broody, but these, if enough of them are hens, will provide a few eggs for us. I will get laying pullets later. Nicholas is enjoying caring for the silkies, so that is good enough for now.  The eggs are usually buff or brown, but I’ve seen silkie eggs in blue. Some of ours may be crossbred with bantams, but it isn’t noticeable. They are a nice looking, gentle chicken, known for being friendly and pet-like. They would be a good choice for children raising chickens. Even the roosters have parenting instincts and are easy to handle.

silkie hen and chick via wikinut guides

I  have the goats out on tether as the weather is very nice. I had to shorten Tara’s lead a moment ago, as she and Vanilla have decided that lilac has a nice taste. I don’t mind a little trimming, but they nibbled a three-foot high swath out of the back of the bush. These are big old bushes, but I still would like blossoms next year. Lilac only blossoms on old wood. If you cut your lilac blossoms, you will get fewer next year.

I cut a little clover this morning, but it was just too warm for stooping down in skirts and a bonnet, so I will do some more and hoe the garden tonight. We are eating radishes, lettuce and peas from the garden now, with lots of tomatoes coming along, and beans due in a week or so. This may seem late, but due to weather and the lightning strike, everything got planted a month after it would usually go in. Doug and Nikki brought us replacement tomato babies. The surviving squash and cucumber are blossoming like mad, big yellow and orange blossoms. I may have to improvise row covers to carry them through the frosty weather. I have an abundant dandelion and yarrow crop as well. That was unintentional. I will let the yarrow grow, as I use a lot of it in the winter. I will dig some dandelion roots.

We have plenty of food for the month, although funds are very short. I am saving the rest of my gasoline to go to an appointment with Immigration Canada on August 23rd. I’m hoping some sort of document can be provided so that I can cross the border without trouble. I would then have the option of working in Maine at least part-time, and I could see my family and American friends again. I have not had a meeting with Bishop Miller yet. He is on vacation right now, and I have asked if it would be possible to meet when he returns.

I do want to work. My husband pointed out that I do keep writing, even if the pay is almost nonexistent. He would like me at home as much as possible. I think he is still very uncertain about staying alone. I think we can find ways to manage if I can return to work.

But I was called to ministry, and I do what I can even if I am not licensed, nor get paid for the work. Laboring in the vineyard of the Lord is its own reward. It isn’t light work, even if people have the impression that is indoors with no heavy lifting. It is a state of mind and spirit as much as anything, a refusal to get sidetracked by the world, a sharp focus on following Jesus Christ rather than the beguilements of a popular culture of indulgence.

Thoughts, Brief Reflections, Job Search

I have written a new resume/curriculum vitae for my job search, and it comes across as a bit hollow. I remember my years of ministry, lay and ordained, as active and without a spare moment. But how does one distill that down into a two page resume? I didn’t go to workshops, seminars or conferences except under duress. My student and parish years were too full of hands-on work to allow me to sit on seminary or diocesan committees. I wrote good papers, made good grades, and when in the parish, worked eighty hour weeks on the ground. How do you get across the hours of study, carefully-crafted sermons, pastoral conversations over tea in someone’s kitchen, or the deep questions and answers that come up when working with young people, people in grief, people in need?
Wordpress gives us statistics on how many people visited our blog, what posts they read, and what methods they used to get there. Some of the search terms are funny or puzzling. The funniest one today was “Are Anglican Christians witches?” The short answer is “No.”
I have about six good books somewhere in my head, waiting to be written. But I never seem to get more than a start on them. I used to write professionally and now I can’t seem to get more than about seven hundred words together! You’d think I had all kinds of time to write, but it takes more than unoccupied hours. It takes undistracted hours, and it takes research facilities I don’t have now. Nonetheless, I am angry with myself for not doing this. Would it be possible to find a parish where writing a book would be a more than a wish? In years past, the old fellas regularly churned out volumes of obtuse theology, sermons, moral tales and occasionally a ripping good novel. But they had curates, wives and housekeepers. No one came to the study door and asked,”When’s dinner?” Or worse, “Do you know where the plunger is?” Those of you who manage to write books or the equivalent, how do you get your family and household and parish organized so they don’t constantly break in on your writing time?