Monday, October 8, 2007

A Verger of the Heart - July 2005

From the middle of September, I’d been bypassing pumpkins all around Lincoln County. “There’s plenty of time until Halloween. I can’t stop right now,” I told myself repeatedly. My sons didn’t hound me because they took it as gospel that I, as their mother, would provide the requisite pumpkin in due time.

But, by the afternoon of October 31, the Halloween noose had really started to tighten. In September our son Martin began spending hours designing, building and decorating props to transform himself into an authentic elf from The Lord of the Rings. I had sewn a green tunic for him a week or so before but never got around to hemming it.

On that fateful day, while working away at my computer, I looked up and was alarmed to see that it was 1:30 p.m. No pumpkin, no finished tunic, no Halloween candy. I zoomed into Damariscotta to get four bags of candy at Hannafords with the remote hope that they would still have a respectable-looking pumpkin outside with the mums. No luck! The natural food store had a couple of white Brazilian pumpkins. Nope! Louis Doe’s was my last chance.

Louis Doe’s Home Center has everything. There on a shelf outside sat one pumpkin with a concave back and a slightly mushy stem. It tilted. I was desperate, but was I this desperate? Shaking my head in despair, my eye caught the front window display. There stood a tallish, well-shaped pumpkin. I walked in the store and was dismayed to see the windowsill completely blocked off by a new display of birdfeeders.

I found the ever-sympathetic Louis and explained my plight: “It’s Halloween; the school bus is coming; you have the last good pumpkin for sale in Lincoln County and, by God Louis, I need it.”

“No problem, ” he said and went to the counter and hovered while his wife Judy helped another customer.

“What is it, Louis?” She said without raising her eyes.

“Heidi here needs the pumpkin in the window,” he said, giving me a conspiratorial eyebrow before disappearing down the plumbing aisle.

When Judy finished up, I started my little grovel routine but she was already moving boxes to find a way to climb over the top of the birdfeeders. Before I knew it, she was handing the pumpkin over a mountain of merchandise. She climbed back though to safety and my profuse thanks that she waved away with her hand. “Anytime!” she said and was off.

At home I whipped out my sewing machine and began hacking excess material from the sleeves and hem of the elf tunic. As I egged the sewing machine on, feeling bad for my second-rate sewing, for my busyness, for my deficiencies as a mother, I realized something rather profound: That Martin, later in life, will regard this Halloween as the best ever—the high-water mark of childhood Halloweens.

Isn’t memory is a strange thing? Already, just a few weeks later, it doesn’t matter that I was rushed and forgetful of pumpkin-buying and costume-making. It got done and there was happiness all around.

Sometimes the journey is important in forming and informing us, but sometimes closure and completeness, the end result, matters most. I’ve always marveled at the words Jesus utters in John just before he is betrayed: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:31 NRSV). “I have conquered the world? Already? Maybe if the disciples had listened a bit closer to they would have saved themselves a lot of hand wringing later in the week.

“I have conquered the world!” What faith, what confidence, what assurance. It’s so not me. At least once a week I wake for a couple of hours in the middle of the night to toss and turn and worry about everything: children, husband, work, the next day’s schedule, all the things I should have done but didn’t, women who are, right that minute somewhere in the world, suffering abuse and whose children are frightened, animals who aren’t properly sheltered on a freezing night. It’s ridiculous, but it’s my 2 a.m. bad habit and I can’t seem to shake it.

What I need, what each of us needs I think, is vision like Jesus to see beyond our current worries and fears. Jesus declared himself a conqueror on the eve of what the world would call his utter defeat. Why do we need such a daily miracle of conversion? Why do we need to work through our muddles anew every single day?

Advent is a time to prepare the way for the Lord into our rocky and preoccupied hearts. These hearts of ours are cluttered with pumpkin worries and with children and grandmas who don’t do what we tell them to do and with a million different things many of which could be fixed if only we thought first to ask the Judy Doe’s in our lives. Perhaps we need a “verger of the heart,” after that ancient tradition of the guy with the stick clearing goats and children out the way for the priest to come along. But we don’t need this verger only at Advent and Lent. This is a full-time, year-round proposition. Our need for this verger is in our DNA because, I think, God created in us a great forgetfulness. Into our newly-verged hearts, God offers us just the grace we need lest we get too happy and forget to return for more.

May the Great Verger whack your pumpkins with gusto.

Heidi Shott
Copyright © 2005 All rights reserved.