About Those Sheep And Goats

Matt 25:31-46

Jesus called God Sovereign and said that at the end of days God will separate the sheep from the goats, putting the sheep on his right hand and the goats on the left. God will praise the sheep for all they have done for him and curse the goats for all they have failed to do.

Neither group understood what in the world, or in their lives, he was talking about. They had all gone to church, they had all tithed, they had all prayed and obeyed the law, they had all been faithful to their family. And none of them – not one of them – had ever even seen God, much less clothed or fed him, visited him when he was sick or in prison.

Those sheep, they were plenty grateful to be praised, they knew they deserved praise, but he was praising them for all the wrong things. He was praising them for things that had never happened. What about those Sunday mornings when all they wanted was another hour’s sleep but instead they got up and went to church? What about that year when they changed their vacation plans to help with the fund raiser for the church roof? What about knowing the Ten Commandments by heart, saying the rosary, grace before meals? Listen, if there’s going to be a reward, it should be for predictable, expected achievements.

The goats agreed completely. What in heaven’s name was he talking about? Wasn’t it enough that the kids went to Catholic School – and that cost a pretty penny, believe you me — when public school would have been cheaper, and had a better football team? Wasn’t it enough that they stayed in the church through all the scandals, even when they learned that Father What-a-waste, that handsome young priest in charge of the youth ministry, was more of a wastrel than a waste? Wasn’t it enough that they never cheated on taxes, always paid their debts, and what about contributing more than their share to that neighborhood fence? What was all this business about feeding and clothing, helping and visiting God? God doesn’t need any help!

Now I like goats as much as sheep, maybe even better. And I happen to be left-handed. So I always felt this parable was harsh on goats and on left hands. But, boy, God really got them, didn’t he? “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

I hope the light turns green before I have to stop. That guy with the sign that says he’s homeless is at the intersection again. But he has a cell phone and how does he get out here to a suburban shopping center anyway. I’ve heard it’s an organized scam and I donate to the Food Bank regularly. Phew, thank goodness, the light is green.

The Big Shift

January rushed into February
Everyone wanting less hurry and more quiet
If only I could stay home for just one day
Movement pushes days too fast
Too much to do in too many places
Please, God, slow my life down

Then March
Slowed into April
Slumped into May
Shambled into June
Shuffled into July
Stumbled into August
Stalled into September
Slackened into October
Slumbered into November

As we await the sweet wakening vaccine kiss

Jane To Me

Jane was
briefly
my mother-in-law
twice married
a lawyer of a generation before mine
when almost no women
went to law school

Jane was
Herself
northern
not merely northern but
the antipode
southern woman

She loved telling stories
about herself
(She was mother to six children
stepmother to more
but her stories were her own)

She lived large
in her small farming community

Disorganized and usually disheveled
she was
not to put too fine a point on it
not a housekeeper
nor did she feel responsible
for organizing her lawyer husband

She was noisy and nosy
boisterous and brilliant
no Tarzan’s mate
But her tree-swinger
jungle-dweller
animal-tamer
Self

How strange to her
that nineteen year old unexpected
daughter-in-law
turned on, tuned in, dropped out
hippie with Southern young lady
(Southern Catholic young lady)
sensibilities

She taught me to ride
bareback, of course

She taught me to observe
not just watch

She taught me to examine
not just protest

She taught me to do more than survive
when her son left for greener pastures
(in the shape of my friend Sherri)

One day
long before internet made searches easy
she took me to a university
spent a day pouring over a tome
with me
her soon to be ex daughter-in-law
a book of scholarship possibilities
finding all I might qualify for
(My own parents having given up on me)

We found some
I applied
filled out the forms
huddled on a chair
using a barely cleared corner
of Jane’s disheveled desk
Jane watched
from her lawyer’s chair
ridiculously masculine to me
(Never mind my Gloria Steinem pretensions)
behind her lawyer’s desk

I got a scholarship
finished university
the rest, as they say
is history

But not Jane
two decades dead
Jane still lives
for me
never just history

Parenthetically

The President says our election was fraudulent.
(Our 2 year old grandson calls us Baba and Boppy.)

COVID-19 is surging all across the United States.
(Our Christmas cactus has buds that may bloom for Thanksgiving.)

Too many people are out of work.
(The wind chimes in our magnolia ring softly today.)

Police still kill too many dark skinned people too quickly.
(My yoga mat is a little darker shade but almost the same texture as orange peel.)

The environment may not support life at the end of the century.
(I love the prickly feel of my husband’s short beard.)

(I only feel safe inside my parentheses.)
But then I feel selfish.

Virginia Autumn

Through golden green trees
we drive the two lane highway
to the old farms
past villages
always historical in Virginia
in and out of tree dappled sunshine
reminding me of that poem by that Jesuit
but the afternoon is too lazy for me to remember
names or titles.

Those stone posts have stood at the entrance road
since the early 1800s
but the row of mailboxes just beyond
are just a few years old.

On one side is the turn-off to the recessed farm
closest to the road but recessed from the river
the colonial water highway
On the other side, the debris left
by recent loggers
the long deep wound
not yet softened by new growth.

Slower now we wind
through sunshine and trees
as men and women have for centuries
We turn at the next set of stone posts
drive through a gap in the old stone wall
the wall my husband repaired
stone by flat stone
rebuilding what other hands laid
centuries before.

We pass my favorite oak
not really special except to me
it stands at the end of the driveway
to the house that once was ours
the manager’s house.

Just beyond is the family’s house
that began as an 18th century hunting lodge
on land gifted by the king
the same family still owns the land
the house
the business
my husband helped build.

The same family
welcomes us back always
so we drive confident past the barn
that is on the national historic registry
across the train tracks
built after the colonial canal was drained
built to accommodate the newer faster rail transport
back in the 19th century

Through the farmland to the river
to the delight of our two year old grandson
abandoning the car
we slip down the muddy grassy sides
to the rocky shore
and spend the Indian summer afternoon
watching a 2 year old throw ever bigger rocks
into the river.

I take off his shoes and socks
and mine
so we can dangle our feet in the cold water
my long legs from the big rock
his short ones from the little rock

Driving home
we pass again the family’s home
300 and more years after the land grant
still owned by the same family
We pass my favorite old oak
at the turn for the manager’s house
occupied by another family now
but we are always welcome here
We pass the stone wall
rebuilt by my husband
built first by enslaved black men
We drive through the stone posts
erected by those enslaved men
We look through the trees to where
the slave chapel once stood
and beyond that we know are the few small
leaning half-buried gravestones
in what remains of the slave cemetery

How many of the black people
in these small historic villages
share blood with those
who built those walls
laid those posts
cleared that land
planted now harvested trees
lie unnamed in forgotten graves

We drive through sun and shade
tree filtered

White owners still
keep house and land
Generous people
Kind people
Proud people
Seen and heard

Black slaves disappear
Unless you squint
past the blinding white
into the dark past
Generous people
Strong people
Proud people
Unseen, unheard

Too Quiet: New Orleans, 1957

In the picture we sit

Quiet

Row upon straight row

Hands folded on the desk tops

Quiet

Uniformed, combed, clean

Quiet

And white

All white

Watched over by Sister

Standing in her habit

Only her face visible

Hands folded inside her habit

Quiet

All girls

The boys

Starting in sixth grade

Went to a different school

We imagined them rowdy

Rough

Dangerous

Not quiet

Just a few short years later

Ruby walked into school

Quiet

Between two US Marshalls

And all hell broke lose.

Sugar

Fall’s beauty mocks
our fragile mortality

Death can be proud
when dying is so colorful

The brilliant day
gold, green and red
leaves
against a cerulean sky
mocks
my clouded countenance

A preschooler’s
scribbled yellow sun
belies
my private rain
watering
my loss

Sugar died last week
Our twelve year old
sugar sweet puppy
Sixty pounds of canine
with lap dog aspirations

We await her ashes

Spice
her cinnamon litter mate
life companion
Died
earlier this terrible year
as an uncertain spring birthed
from a reluctant winter

We dug her ashes
into the succulent garden
that now turns magenta and gray
as fall’s death overtakes summer’s life

And so we will with Sugar
bury her death in sandy soil

Await her rebirth
with Spice
every succulent spring

Prayer for a Friend

God of Eve,
Who stayed with her in hardship and exile
God of Sarah,
Who stayed with her in barrenness and wandering
God of Miriam,
Who stayed with her in the desert
God of Deborah,
Who stayed with her in battles
God of Ruth,
Who stayed with her in loss
God of Esther,
Who stayed with her in a world strange to her
God of Elizabeth,
Who stayed with her in barrenness and in fullness
God of Mary,
Who came to her
God of Mary Magdalene,
Who stayed with her despite her demons
God of Martha,
Who stayed with her as she worked
God of Lydia,
Who blessed her with faith
God of every hurting woman,
God of my friend,
Let her feel your loving Presence
Sooth her fears
Comfort her tears
Heal what can be healed
Lend her your strength and courage
To face what needs to be faced.
Reveal yourself to her
Every day
In the help and care
Tenderness and prayers
Of those who love her.
Amen, please, amen.

God Chuckled

with a smidgen of theology
a smattering of prayer
with concern for the environment
that preferential option for the poor
with a mother’s lap for a weaned child
and borrowed ah, bright wings
i carefully craft my god

on a fall day
Rain
softly kisses
the breasts of trees

windshield wipers
(my oldest
forty and more years ago
called them smicker smackers)
play hide and seek
with the Rain

my vision blurs
/smick/
clears
\smack\

i hear (my husband)
/smick/
talk soft
\smack\

i watch (my husband)
/smick/
listen hard
\smack\

(even we
will little heed
/smick/
nor long remember
\smack\
what we
say
/smick/
see)
\smack\

but ah, bright love
through a gray day
i hear some God
(not of my making)
chuckle

Expectations

I was told I would
See the heavens open
As angels of God the Father
Descend and ascend
On the Son of Man

When I was a child
I ran through bright fields
Of imagination’s freedom
And I sang

When I went to school
I fenced those fields away
So I could stay safe
In the cathedral of faith
As I prayed

I waited for those angels
For that Father God
For that Son of Man

When I grew up
I tore down those fences
So I could run free of faith
But thorns drew blood
So I stumbled, I fell

I never found a clear path
I never found one hand to hold tight
One heart to beat with mine
Whether in open fields
Or high walled cathedrals
Whether giddy with flower perfume
Or bloody with thorn sharpness

I never heard a clear call
Only echoes of maybe
Reverberating dreams
In fading sound mist

I never saw those angels
Coming and going

I dragged chains
Heavier and heavier
Up and down
Hills and ravines
Of hopes and failures
Expectations and measures

Now that I am old
I laugh when I remember bright fields
I shiver when I remember fenced cathedrals
I wince when I remember sharp thorns
I smile when I remember perfumed blooms
I cry when I remember dragged chains

But mostly I sigh when I remember
All the nows, all the futures
I have traveled to get here
My love
Here to you

To your hand in mine
To your heart with mine
To your smile, your kiss
Your silences and your tenderness

Then I look at you
At our life
Together
And I raise my eyes
To the opening heavens
And I whisper
Thank you