Knowing New Life
I had a parishioner in a previous parish who is now celebrating her 100th year in this life. When I was her pastor, she was in her "mid-to-late" nineties. She is a remarkable woman whose life was both modest and relatively simple. She was a career woman before the word existed, working in jobs after her schooling ended until she met her husband, and then after he was injured in an accident and left partially paralyzed. She took care of him, said her prayers and kept her world turning through a combination of deep faith and a sense of personal motivation that helped her to both endure and transform the trials of her life into blessings.
I would go to see her, taking communion and the service from the "old prayer book" that she loved. By "old" I mean the 1892 edition. She viewed the 1928 BCP as "new" and the 1979 version we use to today as "the baby." She was not a traditionalist in any sense of the word, being a person whose whole sensibility lay in living in the present moment; but she did enjoy with humor and relish the use of the old rite...and to hear the old words and ways of doing things revived was a font of pleasure for her.
One day, I found her in a more pensive mood. It was in the early spring, and she was in her usual spot, an easy chair pulled up against a sliding door that opened onto her back garden. As I set up our Communion, she gazed out the window at the grass beginning to green, at the new buds on the once-bare branches of the trees.
"You know," she said, "I have been thinking about that teaching of Jesus'. The one where he says that unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, nothing can come of it. I always thought that meant good seed becoming a plant." She paused. "But you know," she continued, "even if the seed is a bad one, it still has a function as compost."
That is the wisdom of a centenarian.
Every time I open up the epistles general of Peter the Apostle, I get the sense of sitting with a person like the parishioner I just introduced you to above. There is a deep wisdom that both serves to comb through the experiences I am having in the moment, drawing meaning out of the tangles of sensations I am working through, and the awareness that there is a cutting edge that is waiting to nick deep into my being--a word of truth that divides bone from sinew as much as it works to teach and inspire.
Hearing texts that call upon us to forbear and persist in the face of struggle can wear thin. Hearing judgment leveled against us is wearing. But when that teaching is couched in the voice of the ancients of days, and we let it work into us over time...well, then, some sense starts to take root.
Hearing her teaching, and absorbing the lessons offered to us today, I give thanks to God that at least in this moment I feel like there is some new growth blooming in me that can bear fruit for the kingdom. As well, even if it were not, I know in my soul that I remain at the least....good compost.