Dear friends in Christ,

Not quite a year ago, I stood on a small rise at the back of the property where I grew up in Hood River.  The home I’d known since I was 3 years old was gone. In the place where the house once stood was an expanse of dirt. The enormous garden where my father had worked for decades had been scraped; the old fruit trees that bordered the garden were gone. My sense of disorientation and deep sadness were beyond words. I shared the news with my childhood friends who had played in the yard too. They were surprised and sad, “They don’t build houses like that anymore,” one friend shared.

The house was built in the 1920s and showcased the craftsmanship of those who built it: thick plaster walls, oak parquet flooring, a stone relief depicting a country scene was inset over the fireplace, solid oak doors with faceted brass door knobs, and stairs bordered by a heavy wrought iron banister. Though not a mansion, it was a beautiful house. And I have a lifetime of memories connected to the house, the yard, the garden, and the creek that runs on that property.

The only thing left is the creek. Everything else is gone or will soon be built over and will no longer resemble the place that evoked a visceral experience of “home.”

Alongside my grief over this dramatic change is the accompanying truth that I did not want to buy it. My life was moving in a different direction; it was time for someone else to own it and shape it according to their dreams and needs. 

One of Jesus’ consistent teachings is to be wary of our attachments to earthly things, that we are called to reach beyond this world in the ordering of our common life in Christ. Yet, we are incarnational beings and created as such. Those material things that become so beloved to us seem to develop a life of their own. So much so that they often seem to reflect back to us our very selves.

Since the intention to sell the Bishop’s Close was announced, I have received emails from folks who want me to know about their memories of the property, the gardens, their conversations with significant people in the building, and the life-changing decisions that were made while walking the grounds or sitting on one of the benches under a majestic old oak tree. Couples have decided to get married or discussed whether to have another child while walking the garden paths. Individuals have worried over health decisions or prayed about a heart-breaking life event while sitting quietly on a bench at the edge of the lawn. Adults recall sitting as youngsters inside the arbor laden with thick wisteria in full bloom. Recently our staff celebrated Eucharist at the outdoor altar, and we smiled at the wisteria branch that has slowly grown toward one end of the altar requiring us to bend with it to walk around. Why on earth would we want to leave this Edenic setting? Who in their right mind would even think it?

To be honest, we might not have thought it were it not for the call coming from the world all around us. We know that the world is changing and that change is hard. Knowing this does not make it much easier. But we know that our belief in God’s persistent call does not assume a way that is easy.  Our faith forms us to listen and to respond because Jesus’ teaching compels us to make choices in this life that are glimmers of life beyond this world.

The Episcopal Church in Western Oregon is entering a period in which we are invited to live into the “springtime edge of the bleak question.” The emphasis is on springtime – the new life that comes forth after a season of letting go and suffering grief and loss. In the midst of this major transition for our diocesan family, we are already anticipating new life. What journeys, yet uncharted, lie ahead for our ministries in our communities? How will a new Diocesan Center equip us to walk with hope and love alongside our neighbors and partners in ministry? Most importantly, who will become our new friends because of the ways our joy inspires and pierces through the veil of fear and apathy? I look forward to living into these questions as we prepare for the new thing that God is creating in our midst.

Months ago, I heard a blessing, and I want to share the section that continues to echo for me and which I believe speaks to us in this time.

May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime edge of the bleak question.

May you have a mind that loves frontiers
So that you can evoke the bright fields
That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.

Excerpted from For a Leader in To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue.

Blessings this Advent,