God is Love

Photo by Amber Iragui

So My friend Amber took this photo a few months back, when we were on our nightly walk to feed the horses down the street. The photo doesn't exactly fit with what I want to say--but it is so lovely that I couldn't resist posting it.

God is love. I am always trying to rearrange my thoughts around this idea, because if God is love, than one can't help but see things differently. If nothing else, the thought helps me back to a place of gratitude, helps me to look for something good again, in the midst of all my struggles.

Sometimes it's harder than others to remember this. Today marked the second week of the flu infestation at our home. Both kids are still sick, my husband is limping along, and I seem to have developed a sinus infection. I've been seeing a naturapathic doctor lately, who has put me on the most vile set of potions--herbal antibiotics and sinus relief. They taste like ear wax, only worse.

Add to this the fact that our disposal has a serious clog--and neither it or nor the dishwasher are working as a result, and last night, a log came crashing through our fireplace door and shattered the glass.

These are just the kinds of problems I was hoping to have, he first week of lent and on auction eve, the day before our house is supposed to pass back into the hands of the bank.

Anyway, I was still in that dark place, trying to figure out how to fix the fireplace door and the dishwasher and disposal, when my neighbor Cory sent a text message, saying, "I still haven't 4got you. Lentil soup in the crock pot." Just this small act of kindness was enough to begin to tug me out of despair.

But before I had a chance to pick up the lentil soup, another neighbor drove up the driveway, with a lovely meal of stirfry and rice and a bag of lemons from her tree. I could not believe that on this day, when I was still so sick, both physically and in my heart, two different neighbors thought to make dinner for us.

So I decided, tentatively, to entertain the possibility that God, might after all, be love. I drove down the hill in the pouring rain to pick up some treats for the girls at the store and it seemed more plausible, although still not entirely convincing in my current mental frame.

In the midst of life that often feels like an endless series of problems to solve, some of the unsolvable, God is Love. He comes to us unexpectedly, through two wonderful meals and some dark chocolate chili covered dried mangoes, through a reassuring phone conversation. Through the hope I feel faintly tonight, that His love, will see me through clogged drains, shattered glass and all the loose ends in our lives that we're still struggling to fit together.


ashes to ashes

Photo by Amber

Yesterday I did something that I'm probably not supposed to do: I took my friend Ludmilla to a funeral parlor to select an urn for her husband's ashes. Cremation is not generally practiced in the Eastern Orthodox church because we cherish our bodies as images of the divine. We believe that even ever they've been laid in the ground, they still have something good ahead, a soul reunion. Cremation doesn't honor this belief in the same way. Plus, why make things more complicated for God? What an awful lot of work to send him scouting for our precious ashes on the bottom of the Pacific. Not to say He isn't up to the task, but doesn't an earthen burial just keep things simpler?

At any rate, there's the ideal somewhere out there, and there is the reality of parish life, and the choices people have made long before we came to the mission, choices they embrace with all their heart and soul. And all this leads me back to the funeral parlor, with Ludmilla, who didn't have such a hard time picking out the urn after all.

While we were there, the funeral director explained to Ludmilla that she didn't owe a penny for her husband's services. She'd paid into an insurance policy all these years, and now she was in the clear. Ludmilla couldn't believe this gift, after all she'd been through caring for Rolf in his final year.

So we climbed back into the car with Rolph's ashes on Ludmilla's lap. As I backed out of the parking lot, her face was radiant. "The God is merciful" she says, "He takes care of me!" I glance over at her, sitting there, cradling her husband's ashes, and everything falls back into perspective.

It has been an intense few weeks. We have received news that the home we've been living in as caretakers is going to auction on March 6th. The owners have been unable to keep up with the mortgage, and we, like thousands of other Americans, are now living a home that is moving toward an uncertain end. We are just waiting now, not quite sure how concerned we should be about the impending auction in light of how slowly everything is unfolding. We are waiting, I should say, and hoping that it will somehow be possible for us to stay awhile longer. We don't feel done yet.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In light of all this uncertainty, it helps me to remember how transitory everything is, how every home we've ever inhabited is just a tent after all, this one a little more glorious than the others, still just a temporary dwelling as we ache toward a more permanent home. And it helps to think of Ludmilla, luminous, with Rolf's ashes on her lap, reminding me that everything turns to ash, eventually. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, everything moving toward impossible hope.


how lovely it is to be your guest

So this is a picture of our current dwelling, although I am always afraid to call it our home, because while we do live here, we're not the owners, we're merely caretakers, biding our time in an uncertain market as we wait to see what happens next. The house has everything we could have hoped for and more. Everything, that is, except for a two-year-lease. Instead, we are on a month-to-month, trying to to be grateful for each day and to not fret about the uncertain future.

One of the most beautiful things about this home is that it has separate guest quarters, or an Ohana. We dream of one day building a church with guest quarters so that folks from the mainland can come here and be refreshed. God is so kind, letting us live here for a time and sending a steady stream of guests so that we can begin to experience some of the realities of our dream before we take the plunge.

But the tenuousness of this home forces me to think about home in a whole new way. This is the place where we lay our heads and read stories to our kids, where we fight and make up, where we sweep and sit quietly before the icons, where I sit now with my laptop and try to make sense of things while a lentil-squash stew simmers in the crock pot. It is the place we have been given for a season, but it is not ours with a period. It is ours, with a comma, for now, as we wait and watch and hope.

Tomorrow, folks from the Mission will gather here for the Akathist of Thanksgiving, a beautiful hymn written by a Russian priest just before he died in a prison camp. One of my favorite lines is:

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

We have been in Hawaii for almost a year now, and we're yet to lose the sense of being mysteriously hosted. We have been cared for in all sorts of ways that I could not have anticipated. But the deal with the house is not unlike the deal we've had to make with Hawaii and life generally. We are guests, for a time, and we do not know how long that time will be.

In the mornings, I love to open the front door and watch the sun rise over Hualalai, Hawaii's third most active volcano. There is no lava flowing now, but it is expected to erupt sometime within the next hundred years. I have heard that Hawaii is also the tsunami capital of the world, and we do have hundreds of earthquakes a week, although most are undetectable. We live on the newest land in the world, and it is, in fact, still being formed.

The lack of stability here, the fearful possibilities, and the otherworldly beauty, force a continual awakening in me. One of the newest members of our mission is also one of the oldest, pushing ninety. After his wife died this summer, he packed up and moved out here on his own. When people questioned why he would move to Hawaii so near the end of of his life, he told them that Hawaii is a wonderful place "to practice for paradise."

So as we approach Thanksgiving, I am grateful for this home that isn't really ours, but has been entrusted to us for a time, and for this island where it is so lovely to be a guest, and such a natural place to practice for life in the next.

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.



Photo borrowed from Amber's flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/ambery/

So I know I need to blog again, but I've been struggling over what to write, especially because this has been a lonely month. I keep resisting the temptation to put "Jenny is lonely" for my facebook status update. I mean, how pathetic is that? But if I'm to revisit this blog, I might as well lay all my cards on the table at the outset.

October was unusual, because in a short span of time I was able to travel back to New York with my two kids and hold my godson Ike as he was baptized, visit with my mentor from seminary, and stay with my children's great-grandfather, Warren. Because we lived in New York for three years and because Anna was born there, It an was emotionally intense time.

I can't describe what it was like to hold Amber's son Ike in my arms, to gaze on the Hudson from Warren's windows, to watch the train rumble in from the City, and to drive through the autumn leaves to visit my seminary mentor with Amber. I hate to say it, but I was even kind of pleased when she got lost on the way home, except for that it was my fault, our gas tank was nearly empty and I was a little worried she wasn't going to like me anymore. Still, in my hearts of hearts, I wished we could stay lost as long as possible, because as soon as we got back to Warren's apartment, we'd have to say goodbye.

Every experience in New York was tinged with sadness. Seven years ago, from that same window overlooking the Hudson, I watched the billowing smoke rise from the Twin Towers and realized that I could never really feel safe again. In that same apartment with the gorgeous view, we began to lose John's spunky grandmother Sally as Alzheimer's took hold. All this to say, I don't want to go back and relive it all, and yet I can't help but ache for the experiences that I will never have again: Sally and Warren holding Anna the morning she was born--four generations piled into that hospital room in White Plains, or later, when Anna was a newborn and I was trying to figure out how to be a mom, the reassuring presence of Amber folding her laundry beside me, so casual, as if the mundane would always be available for us to share.

After I got back to Kona, six house guests arrived: more close friends from seminary Fr. John and Jenny Hainsworth, their three kids and our friend Heather. It is unfortunate Fr. John and Jenny stole our names and then escaped over the Canadian border, and also that they also serve an Orthodox parish on an island, but we have chosen to forgive them. My husband and Fr. John were ordained two days apart. My husband stood up with Fr. John as a deacon, and issued a most tenuous "Axios?" after Fr. Paul poked his head out of the royal doors and cued him, "Axios!"

Anyway, while they were here it was like a continual feast. We had wonderful meals, all ten of us, consumed copious amounts of coffee, and assembled at the fire pit every night after the kids were tucked in to talk story and drink wine. One night we saw a series of shooting stars, although I saw more than the others and called them bimbos, which they all seemed to appreciate.

Of course when they were here, everything seemed oddly hilarious. I'm still chuckling over their final trademark departure when Fr. John said, "Goodbye beautiful house, of course it is only beautiful because of the people who live in it," while Jenny barfed into an imaginary barf bag.

All these October encounters caused this odd emotional response in me. I hope somebody else has experienced this, because maybe they can help me understand it a little. Basically, I long for every place I have lived, every person I have come to love in each place, all at the same time. Does this happen to everyone who moves a lot? Is this some kind of scattered personality disorder?

Tonight, watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech in Grant Park, I missed Hyde Park, the neighborhood where we both lived for all those years. I wish I could have heard all the honking horns as he left his home for the park, I wish I could have watched history unfold there as all of my old neighbors undoubtedly did. Just to express the depth of my wistfulness, I actually felt a little sad for Barack that he will have to leave that unique neighborhood to take up residence at the White House. I say this because I know what it is like to leave, and how you can never have it back, no matter where you live.

I really miss living in a building from 1894, the high ceilings, the yard, the neighbors, especially Joan and Marji, Ser and Dina. I miss the seasons: the crunch of leaves under my feet, waking in the middle of the night to glimpse the first snow of the season. I even missed the steamy summers, because they helped me thaw out from the winters. And of course, I missed a lot of opportunities I didn't seize, such as a chance to trick-or-treat with Obama's family last Halloween.

Hawaii has been better than I could have hoped for in almost every way. I love the community we serve. I love walking on our windy mountain road, smelling the coffee trees and the gauva, waking to the sound of roosters and cattle and birdsong. But all this beauty doesn't make me miss people less. I think, perhaps, the openness required to experience it all only intensifies the ache, and reminds me how far I have to go to make a home here.

Perhaps, on some level, I am grieving. Almost one year into this adventure, I am finally counting the cost, looking up at the lopsided moon (we are so close to the equator here that we don't see a crescent, but a smile) and realizing how far away I am from all that I have known and from many of the people I love most.

In a new place--even a year into it--there is always the sense that you have to prove yourself. People don't know your history yet, so they watch and wait. I'm sure this is especially the case for clergy families. One of the biggest difficulties for me, silly as it sounds, is that I make a lot of jokes that people don't get--they don't even seem to realize that I'm trying to be funny. I really miss the fluidity of old friends who are always ready to receive a joke.

This ache seems to leave me with a few options: I can update my facebook status 12 times a day and check my email at least twice that, or perhaps I can begin to be present in a deeper way to the people right around me, to start to know them and to let them know me.

Anyway, the roosters are crowing, a good clue that I've been up too late already. Tomorrow my new friend Viviana will be here to help me weed. She tells me that weeding is therapeutic, that only the Japanese on this island get it right. Maybe all that weeding will help me as I struggle to put down my own roots, right here, in this volcanic soil.