Thursday, March 01, 2012

Down to the Wriggly Bits


When you love someone deeply—down to the wriggly bits, the twiggy bits, the very tips— that love occupies forgotten territory in your spirit. There are little fingerling leaves and rootlets we very often forget. Deep love seeps into these. This is sometimes love-of-your-life stuff, the partner with whom you’ll spend your final days. But very often—perhaps MORE often—it’s a friendship or fellowship tangling its way into the places God knows need nourishment.

I’m very lucky to have good friends. I’m very lucky to have a good man. I’m very lucky to have a spiritual community that crosses several belief systems and communities. The support, prayer, and fellowship I find with these people is a pearl of great price. We support one another in pain and sorrow, take joy in the blessings and successes. We feel each pinch and pleasure down to the wriggly bits.

This month I am losing a friend to what I hope, for him, will be greener pastures. The greening of the world came, this year, out of joint and season. My snowdrops, which always poke up through a blanket of white, are bobbing in an Ides of March rain that washed away February’s Leap Day snow. But my tulips, daffodils, and crocuses are threatening an early bloom that has left the tips of their green shoots yellowed and thin. I always worry when this happens—a warm winter tinkers with the natural order of things, and threatens my bulbs and flowering bushes. Lilacs, forsythia, quince… will they be okay?

They will. And so will my friend, Father Mark Ballard, who has been the Pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption for these past few years. OLA lost our beloved Father Donald Clifford to retirement, and will lose Father Mark to re-shuffling at the command of the archdiocese. Nobody is happy about this, but we have nothing to say about it.

When Father Clifford left it felt like spring was gone forever. He has stayed close, but parishioners missed him terribly, and still do. Father Mark was a warm breeze in a community gone cold and damp, a parish struggling to find its way without the leadership upon which it had come to rely so casually. Assumption had a temporary pastor, meandered a little, and felt the seasons tipping out of order. But the thing about nature is that it simply IS. Anything alive, anything wriggling its way through the earth toward the sun, can’t be UNNATURAL. Life itself is natural, however it manifests. It is a product of nature, which is a mercurial beastie at best. Cold ground gave forth new life with Father Mark.

I find myself hoping, as my nephews make their way through the religious education program, that Father Mark’s best and most-missed legacy will be his family liturgy masses. He called the kids to sit on the floor in front of the altar and spoke directly to them. He took a new-school attitude to underscore old-school ideas and beliefs. He created a wonderful atmosphere of trust and love for God, and made it easy.

I don’t really understand the changes taking place in parishes on the South Shore at the moment. I’m a webmaster for Assumption, and someone with family and friends marrying, learning, and being buried in this community that has survived—literally—fire and destruction. Changes are coming regardless of what the parish wants. I worry that priests being displaced by the new plan—whatever it really is—will lose the sense of extended family, connection, HOME that so often makes a good priest great. Will people want to talk to a rotating pastor they don’t see every day? None of that is for me to say, but it does make me think about Catholics who will be living with the changes.

And it makes me think of those struggling buds, tips gone yellow. Perhaps we must look to Robert Frost and see the gold, “nature’s first green.” Because this is, after all, New England. We have wacky winters and chaotic springs, but the seasons come just the same. My hyacinths will appear, in a few weeks, with somewhat twisted and sparse blooms. While I regret that they will not show in bold, lush, thick brushes of purple and rose, I will celebrate the color and fragrance, and be grateful to have them.

Father Mark is leaving us too soon. We’ll miss him here in Green Harbor. I hope we see him on occasion. No person who gives so deeply to a community should disappear completely. That’s what harborfests, Irish nights, and pancake breakfasts are for: old friends, new friends, people who love down to the wriggly bits getting together. That kind of love goes deep, through the veins and roots, into the very earth. It stays, enriching us, always.

I hope Father Mark finds new blessings in his new home, and is appreciated by his new family… all the way down.

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