Sunday, May 10, 2009

Herding Cats and Doing the Right Things

Herding Cats: Life Lessons in Preparation for Ordination
We had between nine to fifteen cats most of the time I was growing up. I hasten to add that I grew up on a farm in Colorado, so we had a lot of space. They mostly lived in the garage with a few special cats allowed in the house. But all of them kept me company when the two dogs and I went on walks to the orchard or the garden.

Our orchard was a quarter of a mile away from the house, and I taught/encouraged the cats to come with me to the orchard and home again. Picture a ten year old walking in the midst of a swarm of cats, probably carrying one or two kittens who were too tired to make it back on their own, with the dogs ranging out and back, with a couple of the older cats pacing alongside, while the rest did their cat-style investigations: pouncing, sniffing, stopping to consider, rolling in the dust, climbing a tree, … Sometimes I had to backtrack to pick up a wailing kitten, sometimes we stopped to wait for some laggards, and often I had to encourage one or more through calling, getting down on my knees, or patting the ground. So early on in life I learned how to herd cats.

Those early life lessons, I realized this week, have really been very important in my preparation for ordination, that is, in gathering the materials and going through the hoops before ordination. I found out that I have successfully gotten all of the materials gathered and in for meeting with the Committee on Ministerial Preparation, and have been scheduled to meet with them in June. I think that I had to get no fewer than seven ministers, one layperson, and one school official to send in or arrange for materials on my behalf. Herding cats may have been easier, but it certainly prepared me for what it has taken to get this far along the process. What is true about herding cats and about getting these various ministers to send in materials is that the reason that each of them did so was out of love and affection, for me or for each other in the case of the cats, or for me or for the church and in ministry to God's people in the case of the ministers. I give thanks for the love that has accompanied me so far on this journey.

Doing the Right Things
This weekend I attended my denominational region's annual gathering. While there were a number of difficult issues, particularly around the consequences of difficult financial situations, I was impressed that people were/are doing the right things: budgets that require fiscal responsibility and living within the region's means after years of not doing that; one departing (laid off) area minister who wanted to make sure that she was reconciled to the region before she left and asked that if she had harmed any, to grant her forgiveness; and the region responding affirmatively to the member associations' request for review of their actions and authorizing bylaws that seem more top down than our congregational polity allows. In doing and accepting the doing of the right things there are moments of grace and healing.

This poem by Ellen Bass (found in Claiming the Spirit Within, edited by Marilyn Sewell) paints a picture of doing the right thing, and seems especially appropriate this Mother's Day:
There are times in life when one does the right thing
the thing one will not regret,
when the child wakes crying "mama," late
as you are about to close your book and sleep
and she will not be comforted back to her crib,
she points you out of her room, into yours,
you tell her, "I was just reading here in bed,"
she says, "read a book," you explain it's not a children's book
but you sit with her anyway, she lays her head on your breast,
one-handed, you hold your small book, silently read,
resting it on the bed to turn pages
and she, thumb in mouth, closes her eyes, drifts,
not asleep—when you look down at her, her lids open,
and once you try to carry her back
but she cries, so you return to your bed again and book,
and the way a warmer air will replace a cooler with a slight
shift of wind, or swimming, entering a mild current, you
enter this pleasure, the quiet book, your daughter in your lap,
an articulate person now, able to converse, yet still
her cry is for you, her comfort in you,
it is your breast she lays her head upon,
you are lovers, asking nothing but this bodily presence.
She hovers between sleep, you read your book,
you give yourself this hour, sweet and quiet beyond flowers
beyond lilies of the valley and lilacs even, the smell of her breath,
the warm damp between her head and your breast. Past midnight
she blinks her eyes, wiggles toward a familiar position,
utters one word, "sleeping." You carry her swiftly into her crib,
cover her, close the door halfway, and it is this sense of rightness,
that something has been healed, something
you will never know, will never have to know.
May the scent of lilacs (mine are blooming now) and a sense of rightness and the love of those who journey with us be with each of us today.

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