AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Katherine Carrier
Something stopped me as I rounded the corner on the way to the home of a friend. Maybe it was the angle of light streaming through the morning haze and the sedge. But then the little house came into focus. How have I not noticed this house before? How charming. Movement in the window caught my eye. A woman stood in the sunbeams looking out at her garden. I looked at her garden too, beyond the sedge, and was astonished at the organized plots, densely planted with herbs, vegetables and blooms. I looked again at the window. The woman stooped and rose again with a fleshy, sleepy toddler. She held him closely and gently swayed with him. She caught me staring. Embarrassed, I doubled back to her walkway and approached the door.
She met me at the door. “I’m sorry,” I said, “it’s just that I saw your gladiolas and…” My voice trailed off because I recognized her face. I have seen her many times at market, selling tinctures, dried and fresh herbs, flowers. I heard about her husband dying in a work accident on construction of a friend’s house. Some thought our friends had scrimped and then lied about materials or supports. I didn’t pay much attention. There was talk of a settlement but I’m not sure what happened. But I know that now this woman works tirelessly to keep her children fed and clothed. But something has changed in me. At the marketplace, she was part of a transaction. Here, at her door, seeing her in her garden, with her baby, there’s a catch in my heart, right alongside a rough spot I guess I hadn’t noticed growing. Now that I see her and see her house, I suddenly worry for her. This house is charming and the location is good. There has been rumbling about unfair practices to edge people out of their homes, people who already are barely hanging on.
In my husband’s circle of friends, our circle of friends, hasn’t there been jesting and smugness about cleaning up the town? Something stirs in me and a bile is turned over. I’ve tried to ignore the insensitivity but really, when did it happen? When did I become uncaring? My husband was a good man at first, so eager to please when he asked for my hand. My father was wealthy and shared his wealth graciously. My husband admired my father. Now I wonder if it was the wealth he admired more than the heart. And when was the last time I actually did anything for other people? For people on the edge? There was a shift after my husband rose quickly in the ranks around the king’s family. Now it seems I barely know him, but don’t we see each other all the time? Everyone’s talking about what the prophets are saying and doing these days. Some people are angry. Some are afraid. These prophets, my husband says when I bring it up, are reckless lunatics. Well, I think, their words smack with truth, even when they are hard to understand. The priests, on the other hand, they lavish comfort and stick to the old stories.
My father loved the old stories. He told me of God camping out with the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. His Presence was with them, in a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire at night. My young head almost exploded wanting to be there, to be in the Presence of God. I remember so many nights after I learned this story, I would wait until everyone was in bed and sneak out to search the skies and pray for God to show up, to be there with me. How mysterious and wonderful! Now, in these days, my pillow has ceased to be a respite and I find myself again at night, on my balcony searching the sky.
A quick flight of the mind and I’m back with… “Ariel, isn’t that your name?” I ask.
Her face lights up and she smiles. Her toddler holds a lock of her hair in his chubby fingers.
“Forgive me,” I say, “I’m Mayim. My father named me after Spring and I’ve always been partial to anything that blooms and well…” I look around at her gardens and spread my arms wide sweeping them around for emphasis. “And I believe you sell at marketplace?”
“Yes. I think you bought one of my tinctures for rest. I hope it helped?” I cringe when I think of her seeing me at market with my “friend,” the woman whose construction project became her husband’s death. I lie and tell her it has helped.
I want to do something for her. I falter a bit then say, “I am hosting a banquet tomorrow and I need flowers. I was especially admiring your gladiolas.” I have no plans to host a banquet. Another lie, maybe, but a plan is hatching. I reach my hand out to the toddler and say hi. He smiles and reaches for the bangles at my wrist. My heart melts a little when I see the dimpled knuckles. It’s been so long since my son was small.
I tell her I need the entire lot. I don’t. We agree on a price and the delivery. I nod and start backing away down the lavender lined path, waving at the toddler who smiles and shyly burrows his head in his mother’s shoulder.
My plans double inside of me, triple. I have friends who spend money on herbal products, who host lavish parties and need flowers, who can’t get enough oils and fragrances. Maybe I can be a platform to help elevate Ariel’s products to a captive audience. I shrink back a minute and remember that I don’t know actually know her plans or her story. Get her plans. Get her story, whatever she wishes to share. That’s the best place to start. I can be her friend and maybe I can be her business champion. I’m available. We’ll see.
I’m well up the road when it dawns on me the image that stopped me as I stood looking at the garden, sun rays cutting through the haze. My eyes grow wide. The cloud. The fire. A word comes to me from my memory, Shekinah, God’s glory. This thought washes over me fresh. Tonight, I think, sleep may actually come, but only after I return to the balcony and raise my arms in a blessing, for the Presence of God came to me today.
“The women of My people you evict. Each one from her pleasant house. From her children you take My splendor forever.” Micah 2:9 NASB
Each one from her pleasant house.
Find a quiet place. Quiet your mind by focusing on your breath. Check in with your body. Lower your shoulders. Gently nod then shake your head. Breathe deeply. See if you can feel blood flow in your extremities. Let tension go. Glimpse around at your surroundings. Be present to the moment. Melt into the moment, letting go any to-do list item.
Note from the Micah verse that God somehow knew these women had pleasant houses. How would He know if He had not been there with them? When they were sipping tea, making bread, tidying up, welcoming friends, crying over a lost child or lost husband, standing in a window bathed in light — the Presence of God was there.
These are unnamed women in the book of a minor prophet. What would make you think the Presence of God is not where you are right now?
Bring your focus to your present. Merge that with God’s Presence and just allow the space about you to hold this communion. Let light pour into your story, into your today, into your mind, your body, your spirit.