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"Getting Parsonal" - October 2020

My mother was a voracious reader, and had a poet’s heart, both reading and writing poetry. She carried a notebook in her purse to capture ideas and phrases when they popped into her mind. She composed her annual Christmas letter in rhyming verse for many years, weaving together the story of the previous year for each of the four of us and our family as a whole. It took her days to get the flow of that poem just right, and she shared it with joy. That is, until the Ingraham family reunion where my cousin, the only family member with a PhD, said to my mother, “Billie, your Christmas letter is always such amusing doggerel.” Deeply offended, mother never again wrote a poetic Christmas letter.


But nothing could discourage her love of poetry, or her appreciation of inspiring words. She would look for phrases that were appropriate to my sister’s life or to mine and share them with us. This was evidenced the Christmas following my second year in Detroit. I had taken up gardening that spring, planting a large vegetable garden on my own, and encouraging parishioners to join me in planting flower gardens all around the church property. That Christmas, my mother gifted me with a little sign for my garden:


Who plants a seed

beneath the sod

and waits to see

believes in God


I gardened the rest of time I was in Detroit, and most of the years I lived in Ann Arbor, too. In Albuquerque I did not have a garden because I lived in the high desert. A garden didn’t make sense to me, ecologically speaking. But I did cultivate a lot of house plants inside. I continued with only house plants through my first few years in Methuen. It wasn’t until this year that I returned to gardening. My motivation was the Covid-19 pandemic. True, Pat Moss-Newbury was moving, looking for a new home for some of the abundance of plants she’d been tending for decades. I was so grateful to receive them! But had it not been for the pandemic, and its impact on the activities we can pursue (in other words, my being stuck at home!), I doubt I would have taken up the shovel and trowel again.


On my knees this fall in the parsonage yard, sorting out roots and stones from the newly turned soil, mother’s gifted poem has run through my mind like an earworm (that is, like a song you can’t get out of your head). As I’ve mixed in compost and prepared the ground for ten dozen daffodils (won’t it be lovely this spring!), I’ve realized that my gardening has been more than an effort to occupy idle hands. It has also been an act of faith. This is especially true as I plant bulbs for the spring. Through the fall they will take root, only stopping when daylight grows shorter, the chill settles in and the ground freezes down to their dept. They’ll then go dormant, waiting out the frigid months until the sun begins its climb back to the north, with its promise of warmer days on the horizon and the coming of spring.



It occurred to me that along with the daffodils, I’ve been planting little bundles of hope in promised joy. As I cover them with the dark soil I’ve labored to enrich, I rest in the assurance of brighter days ahead, no matter how long, how cold, how hard the winter is that is before us. Spring will come. And with it, beauty and joy, love and life.


After six months, the Covid-19 global pandemic continues to weigh heavily. We long for the return to our normal lives, but instead learn to accommodate “the new normal.” It is far from what we want, and far from what our hearts and souls need. Yet it is what we have. Vaccines are months away from distribution. We’ve a long way to go.


Now is the right time for planting hopes and dreams in God’s promised future. We’ll nourish them with our prayers, even watering them with our tears. And as we dig, we build trust in God, assured of all the beauty and joy that divine love and compassion afford us.


Through the coming days, when we peer out windows tinted by pandemic darkness, and all we can see is a barren ground of sadness, grief, worry or doubt, we can remind ourselves: just below the surface, well out of sight but right there before us, countless blessings are taking root. They lie in wait, ready to burst through the surface, making real the hope and joy we long have needed.


Hope does not disappoint us. God never fails. We can trust that.


As it turns out, I’ve got quite a lot of gardening still to do before this winter comes. I’ll not put away my shovel and trowel just yet. How about you?


Faithfully yours,

~Bill




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First Church Congregational

United Church of Christ

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