winnowing in season...

When we returned from sabbatical two years ago, we began to down size our home:  there were probably 300 books and an equal number of CDs that went into the "letting go" pile along with  14 garbage bags of clothes.  I had hoped the momentum might continue but the practicalities of church life took precedent - negotiating and praying a way into semi-retirement was exhausting - and everything else ground to a halt.  After Easter 2017, however, I ventured into the basement to sort through vinyl records and works of fiction. After three vigorous days of sorting, I had 200 fewer albums and nearly 900 fewer books (all of which were donated recently to our local library.)  It is time for another romp through the CDs and then onward to my church library.

My clergy colleagues tell me that winnowing their theological library was tough going - and I know that's one of the reasons I haven't attempted it. Not only are there profound memories embedded in those wonderful books; but alongside the acquired wisdom is the stark awareness that this leg of my professional journey is nearly complete. There is a haunting hint of mortality, too. For years I have kept this part of my humanity at bay. I live joyfully, I pray wildly, I saturate my days with music and poetry, and I celebrate creativity and love with those dearest to my heart with abandon. But actually speaking with a living being at the Social Security office interrupted all illusions that I might escape the shared fate of my kin.

Clearly the time has come to do more than whittle away a few forgotten relics from my days at Union Theological Seminary. Now is the hour for shedding all but my most essential friends.  Barbara Brown Taylor, Henri Nouwen, James Carroll, Richard Rohr and Jean Vanier will remain alongside Mary Oliver, Rumi, Robert Bly, Wendell Berry and Scott Cairns. It will be more complicated weeding through my doctoral dissertation research - these allies fed my soul for so long - but who really needs a whole shelf devoted to U2, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Madonna, Sarah McLaughlan and Simon and Garfunkel respectively? I probably won't profit much from our London tour books either let alone long lost dreams of touring the Hebrides, right?  I think Parker Palmer, Walter Brueggemann and my Iona liturgies will remain as well as my beaten up Book of Common Prayer. But probably not a whole lot more except Amy Jill Levine's The Jewish Annotated New Testament.

These next six months will involve a great deal of leave taking. Saying farewell to all but the essential books and recordings for my soul evokes a sorrow that simultaneously feels refreshing. Or is the right word liberating? Parker Palmer writes in his "spirituality of nature" series that "from autumn's profligate seedings to the great spring giveaway, nature teaches a steady lesson: if we want to save our lives, we cannot cling to them but must spend them with abandon."

When we are obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with the rational relation of means and ends, with projecting reasonable goals and making a beeline toward them, it seems unlikely that our work will ever bear full fruit, unlikely that we will ever know the fullness of spring in our lives.

From deep within I know that after 35 years this season is coming to a close and another time for simply being and sharing is starting to germinate - maybe even grow. I find myself returning again and again to Isaiah 55:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food...
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.



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