Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Passing Time

As vague as fog that veils/unveils
A once-familar place, we change.
As shadows cool an autumn trail,
As branches warm and stretch in rain,
As frost ferns bloom and fade on glass,
As fields grow tall with crops and weeds,
Like joys and failures that we cast
On summer winds like chaff and seeds--
We harvest all the good we've known,
What our experience has shown,
How through adversity we've grown,
Our seasonal moves
In time wear smooth
Our rolling stones.....*

A few months ago, God sent a troupe of angels to the farm to make things right again after the destruction wrought by my sabbatical tenants. They rebuilt the derelict barn, cut and split firewood, mowed the lawn, planted the fall garden, moved the chickens to a new pen, washed the windows, scrubbed the walls, sewed lovely clothespin bags and potholders, suggested a dozen little improvements around the house and farm, and a thousand other little and not-so-little helps. They delighted my housemate Emily and I with footrubs, fresh bouquets, delicious meals, cheerful encouragement, sweet hymns, scripture reading, Christian fellowship.

A friend and I made a quick overnight trip to Manhattan (Kansas, about 90 miles west of Lawrence) to visit my parents last weekend. I returned home Monday afternoon to find that the angels had packed up and left.

Hindsight's always 20-20: Ezra's complete avoidance of me for the past couple weeks, the others showing little enthusiasm for plans or little improvements to our living arrangements this past week, a flurry of washing sleeping bags and tents, eager anticipation of one of their fellows coming to visit, a thinning out of their possessions....clearly this had been planned for some time. They chose to leave like thieves in the night, behind my back, no goodbyes. It hurt.

The notes left all around the house gave clues to a variety of issues that evidently had troubled them, issues they never discussed with me, issues where I feel sure we could have reached some understanding. I was too insistent on things being done my way (yes, because they had always made clear that they were unable to make a committment to stay any definite length of time, and critical systems like firewood needed to be kept in the order I'm accustomed to in case I were suddenly alone again). I was too "fastidious" (yes, I insist on the bleaching of buckets to be used for harvesting salad greens, not wishing to make my customers sick nor to open myself to a lawsuit). They felt I should have provided more food (they didn't eat much of the lamb and fresh vegetables I gave them, so I didn't offer them more). I expected too much work of them (the original agreement was 2 hours work per person, per day, in exchange for shelter, use of tools and materials, sanitary facilities, laundry facilities, and some; the farms and retreat centers where I volunteered during my travels expected 6-8 hours a day for room and board).

And the clincher, the thing they absolutely couldn't live with: They had reason to believe I'm involved in "promoting gay rights."

The issue of homosexuality had simply never come up in our conversations. I felt reasonably sure that they didn't "believe" in homosexuality, just as Ruhamah told me she didn't "believe" in women wearing pants (she therefore wouldn't remove my laundry from the washing machine or clothesline, for fear of touching a woman's pants), just as they didn't "believe" in remarriage after divorce. I figured that if the topic of homosexuality came up in their ministry work away from the farm, they were probably anti-gay to some extent or another. But, why should that matter within the household? They have their ministry, I've got mine. At the farm, our focus was on living together in Christian fellowship, sharing the work of daily living, encouraging one another in our faith journies. What we did away from the farm, I figured, was our own concern.

They knew from the beginning I've been married three times, but that didn't interfere with them accepting my hospitality gladly in their time of need. Why would they would respond differently to realizing that I've never been strictly heterosexual? It's just such a moot point these days...I've been entirely celibate for well more than 3 years. THE love of my life doesn't love me, but my love for my beloved continues undiminished whether it's returned or not. Unless a miracle occurs, I'll be celibate the rest of my life, not because some religious sect requires it, but because God seems to refuse to take away this deep, abiding, unrequited love that I offer to relinquish daily, and I can't imagine any other love eclipsing this one. So it's hard for me to see why my sexual orientation should have been any issue at all within our composite community of celibates. I wasn't looking for a "special relationship" with any of them, regardless of anyone's sex.

Yes, I do promote "gay rights." Just as I promote equal rights and individual freedom of choice on pretty much ALL issues (including my right to wear pants--to counterbalance Ruhamah's condemnation of my refusal to wear skirts, I've had to defend my right to wear pants without a men's-style fly, at my bus-driving job). That includes Ruhamah's right to not risk touching my pants--which I always respected even though I found it quirky, illogical, and not particularly scriptural. I'll let God be the judge of what's sinful and what isn't. And I'll let Him decide whether judging other people is more or less sinful than loving someone of the same sex. As I read it, the Bible's WAY more clear about judgment than about homosexuality.

In this odd transition time, there are moments when the house seems unbearably empty, the farm seems so oddly quiet. I put something down on the kitchen counter, and it is there the next day, untouched. I come home, and there is no tempting plate of food awaiting me. The floor wants sweeping for the first time in months. Toss and Ambrosius are puzzled by the vacancies, and demand extra attention from me. Far larger than the hurt stirred up by their resentful notes, their false accusations, their choice to leave without saying goodbye--is my sadness at their absence, and my gratitude for their presence here, even if it was far too brief to suit me.

So I roll my stone along, alone now...harvesting the rich goodness of our short, aborted friendships, reminiscing about the wonderful experiences we shared, suspecting that in God's time we will all find so many incredible ways that we've grown through all our experiences together.

It's a good time for such a transition, all in all...just at the shifting of the farm from summer to winter rhythms and routines. Everything was about to change, routines for the woodstove, the livestock feeding and watering, the storage of freezable things. In another season, I hope that some of these angels, or their fellows, will come this way again, like a migration.

And I have to wonder, with not a little trepidation...

...Nature abhors a what WILL God think of next? This visitation of angels will be hard to beat, but things have just kept getting better and better since I really and truly turned my will and my life over to Him a few years ago....

*Written as a poem, "In Passing Time" by Natalya Hall (now Lowther), ca. 1984. Later this became the first verse 1 of Natalya's song "In Passing Time", part of the repertoire of the Manhattan, Kansas, womyn's chorus Women of the Heartlands: Singing Our Lives.

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