chickens out to a small, blue farm house on 10 acres in Buckley, Michigan. My Dad was almost 50 with two failed marriages and a drinking problem. My Mom had only left the mental hospital a year before. I was weeks old. In the earliest pictures I was red and enraged. Sometime during that first Spring and Summer on that little farm I would grow improbably plump and blond.
There is a place in the narrative of the book of Job where, after the destruction, three servants come to tell Job of all that has been destroyed and in sequence they proclaim "and I am the only one left."
People age and die and so I am not experiencing a general cataclysm, but that feeling of being one of the last witnesses has echoed in my head these last few weeks as I contemplate my parents' death.
Sometime in the first years my Mom wrote the following poem:
THE MADONNA OF THE BACKYARD
The blue and white chipped
Stood erect, but meek.
Enclosed in an aging bush.
Green grass at her feet.
She seemed so out of place there,
But then I had to pause
Love is everywhere. . . .
And backyards can be the
Holiest of all.
When Doug held me in the room where my Father died he whispered in my ear "you were redemption's child."
This had turned out to be an identity as weighty and overwhelming as it sounds.
At times impossible to bear, really, as it is an identity that is made possible by the unreform(able)ed past. Yet, it seems to me a betrayal not to continue to witness to that love.
I remember my Mom telling me her favorite book of the bible was Ruth. At the time it irritated my evangelical sensibilities. My Mom would pick the most boring book in the Bible-seemingly so devoid of God's definitive action in history.
Hesed is often translated as "steadfast, loving kindness" it is redemptive and transformative love, and it is distinctively divine love. And while Boaz becomes "the kinsman redeemer" in the story of Ruth and Naomi, it is Ruth, the Moabite stranger, that becomes the agent of redemption. It is Ruth, the Moabite stranger, that demands that love is enacted through justice for her Mother-in-law; it is Ruth who bring forth new life for the bitter Naomi making impossible possibilities possible.
You can imagine the story of Ruth and Naomi occurring in dust bowl America, or almost any Refugee camp in the world. As such its placement in Holy Scripture should reminds us that divine love sanctifies those little human redemptions that are made possible through everyday faithfulness and love. We all know that real life is filled with impossible situations. It is astonishing grace when things are set to rights.
Sometimes backyards are the holiest places of all.