Monday, August 20, 2007

Intersections 2

Five wooded acres with a creek running through them. More than an hour's drive from any major city. For sale.

My grandfather gave me that land as a wedding gift. His transparent hope: that my husband and I would build a house next door to his and my grandmother's and raise our children there. An unlikely scenario, given our two-career dilemma at the time and the fact that, while I occasionally entertained Atticus Finch fantasies, our connections to my tiny hometown were simply too tenuous for us to establish ourselves there. But my grandfather was an optimistic man.

He was also a completely secular man. I know of only three religious legends about him. And the first of them doesn't even really concern him but, rather, his mother. A WCTU matron, she apparently sallied forth from her home every Monday to visit the rectory and advise the Methodist minister on the ways in which his sermon of the previous morning might have been improved. I'm sure his enthusiasm upon seeing her must have been somewhat restrained.

The second story isn't really about my grandfather either. My grandmother had an uncle who was a Methodist bishop, "the most tedious man on the planet," according to my grandfather's description. He extended that tidbit of commentary one day by adding, "Marrying and burying ~ that's all they're good for."

The only story with any religious bent that directly portrays my grandfather himself came from a friend who is a nun. My family was in the grain business and the nuns, whose convent lies twenty minutes from town, have a farm, so my grandfather frequently spent time with them, discussing beans and corn and equipment and weather. As the decades passed, my grandparents and the sisters discovered mutual interests in music, art, politics, and nature, and became fast friends. The story in question probably comes from about 1970; my grandfather would have been about sixty-five years old and Sister A about forty. She told me some time ago that they were visiting together one afternoon and he mentioned that he would like to go into the sanctuary.

"So we did," she said. "And I genuflected, and moved into the pew, and knelt down to pray. Your grandfather followed me and sat down on the bench. After a few moments, he said, "You really believe in all this, don't you?"

Bemused, she responded, "Yes, H. I do."

"Sometimes," he said, "I wish I could."

Sister A was the first person I consulted about selling my land to help pay for seminary. Although there had never been the tiniest thread of obligation attached to the gift, I still felt uneasy. Certainly my grandfather's intention could not have been less related to the reality unfolding before me, and to sell under these circumstances and in this market is hardly a savvy economic move of which he would approve, regardless of purpose.

"Your grandfather," said Sister A, "would have wanted you to exercise complete freedom of choice in this situation, and he would be thrilled to have been able to help." And then her eyes began to dance and she began to chuckle. "If only he were alive so that I could see the look on his face at this turn of events!"

Last week-end I was down in the southern part of the state visiting family. I walked the creek , which at the moment is a dry bed of rocks, not a run in any way, shape, or form. I flipped over the fossilized remains of brachiopods and coral, hoping for a trilobite. (We have never found even one in that creekbed, although a massive trove of them lies on a remote farm a few miles away, but I am optimistic, too.) I listened to the chickadees and a distant catbird, and looked over the building site above the creek, a perfect foundation for a thatched-roof cottage designed for hobbits. I hope that someone who will love the land purchases it, but I have relinquished control over all potentialities in that regard.

And then I stopped by the convent to see Sister A, who greeted me with open arms and the words, "So here comes the future minister!"

Yes, my life is brimming with intersections. Devout Catholic nun friends colluding with a grandfather whose own deeply reflective life of the spirit precluded allegiance to organized religion. Land marked by the creatures of the Paleozoic, and by the descendants of the Puritans of the seventeenth century and the German immigrants of the nineteenth who married each other and farmed there for generations. Ancestral people and places whose message echoes down the creek and through the woods and across the fields: Go! We all made you who you are, but you cannot stay rooted to this land and be the woman whom you are called to be. Gather what we have offered you, put it to use, and go.

Five wooded acres with a creek that usually runs through them. For sale.


Cynthia said...

Do you know just how beautiful this is? Wow.

mompriest said...

I think your grandfather would amused and pleased, just as the nun suggested with her twinkling eyes. Sure, he had other hopes, but now he will live on in you and your memories of him, instead of the land.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Wow. This is beautiful.

Too bad you can't keep it. And then build a church and retreat center, there for yourself to run after you're out of seminary.

(word verification: nihrmote.....'in his holy spirit remote'???)

Mike said...


We would like to do an interview with you about your blog for . We'd like to give you the opportunity to
give us some insight on the "person behind the blog."

It would just take a few minutes of your time. The interview form can
be submitted online at

Best regards,

Mike Thomas

Quotidian Grace said...

What a wonderful story, told so well. Everything is falling into place, isn't it?

Diane said...

yes, WOW just about says it all.

And I agree with Sister A.

What a sacrifice you are making for your dream.

RevDrKate said...

Again, the title so apt, intersections, past and future, a gift to you so your gifts may be given to the world. Beautiful post, gg, thanks.

Lisa :-] said...

Your grandfather sounds so much like my dad... He didn't know any nuns, but he had a spirituality about him that had nothing to do with organized religion. Much to his credit... :)

And I am sure, as Sister A said, your grandfather would be thrilled to be able to help you achieve your heart's desire.

LawAndGospel said...

A wonderful story-and my mind is exactly with Presbyterian Gal on this one. I can see you creating a community for retreat and discernment there. I can picture the encounter with Sister A and your grandfather- priceless.
( I only had uzngy for word verification- using why?)

Carol said...

Absolutely beautiful, GG. Your ability to connect words, symbols, and meaning will serve you and those you strive to serve and minister quite well.

Serena said...

Reading this took my breath away! This is an AWESOMELY BEAUTIFUL post. I've only recently begun reading your blog ... but look forward to reading posts as you walk the seminary journey.

Kris said...

I got goosebumps.
What a great way to start your "official" journey, with a gift from your grandfather. His ultimate wish for you, I am sure, was to be happy with your path in life. So it is truely a gift back to him.

Kathryn said...

This is one of the best stories you've shared. I'm laughing at your great-grandmother's weekly visits to the rectory - may you never encounter this in your new career.

I think your grandfather would be glad to be helping you achieve your dreams and goals.