Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tombstones, wood storks and breathing room

     What do I want people to say about me after I die? Do you ever think about things like that, or am I just really morbid? Maybe it's because death is something I encounter all the time as a hospital chaplain. Or maybe it's because Easter got me thinking about death and all that comes after it. There's also the fact that I recently met up with family for a trip to Savannah, where we visited Bonaventure Cemetery. My aunt Sharon is an amateur photographer, and the ancient tombstones and moss draped trees gave her lots of potential pictures. I enjoyed reading the narrative inscriptions on centuries-old headstones, like this one: 
      "The religion of the cross she understood with uncommon discernment and regarded it in her life with humility and with reverence. On her death bed she found its consolation with delightful peace and hope, and at the close of a distressing disease fell into a sweet sleep and left the world without a struggle. Fair stranger, mayest thou live and die in the same manner." 
        Apart from the distressing disease part, I would be pretty happy if that could be written on my tombstone (or in my obituary, since I plan to be cremated). It's one of the best epitaphs this "fair stranger" has ever read.


      I find myself becoming enchanted with the idea of breathing room.  In our 24/7 wifi connected lives, with our ipads and our smart phones, we are always on, typing, reading, listening, working, playing absurd games on tiny screens.  Our daily schedules are so busy that finding time for coffee with a friend turns into a calendar challenge.    I find myself savoring the moments when all the beeping, winking gadgets are turned off, nothing is scheduled and I can just breathe.   I've started scheduling myself a few hours here and there just to be.  I pull up an hour on my digital calendar and label it "breathing room."  It's an hour of free space - to turn off the phone and the computer and sit on the back porch or walk on the beach.   It's time to breathe.



Blessings in the Unexpected
      A friend of mine noticed the beautiful dogwoods blooming in winter chill winds and remarked, “Oh, it’s a dogwood winter.” I had never heard that particular expression, but liked it and decided to go in search of a dogwood photo at one of my favorite local parks. I walked and walked, passing camellia and azalea blossoms battling out the transition from winter to spring. Nowhere could I find a single blooming dogwood. Resigned to look elsewhere, I started on a path back home and stopped to observe an unusually large egret. Inching closer, I found it actually was a wood stork with its hideous vulture head topping a delicate plume of white and black feathers like some kind of dinosaur bird hybrid. I’m used to seeing these birds in Florida, but not so much here. 
      As I left the park wondering where to go to get my dogwood tree, I realized I already had my blog topic. When I let go of my expectation and saw the blessing before me, the reptilian head started growing on me. I decided to let go of my expectations and dwell on the stork’s blessing. 
     I found out this remarkable creature with its five-foot wingspan puts its open bill in the water and waits for the touch of a wandering fish. When it feels a fish, it can snap its bill shut in as little as 25 milliseconds, which according to National Geographic is an incredibly quick reaction time matched by few other vertebrates. Who knew? What a great spiritual metaphor about being still and waiting when it’s time for that and lightning quick to action when it’s time for that. I usually have it in reverse. I fail to wait on God and jump headlong into a situation and often when I sense the spirit moving me, I hem and haw too long.
        To me Easter in part is about opening to how Jesus surprises us and shows up unexpectedly. It’s about seeing the blessings in not getting the expected, about how an ugly little vulture head can grow on you.