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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Light of the World: A Sacristy Conversation

The Light of the World: A Conversation with Clark Massey
           After noon Mass on Thursday Clark Massey of Simple House asked me, “Do you have any old candles?”  “Do we have candles!  Take a look at these” I replied and pulled open a drawer in the sacristy.  Clark started loading up with the stubs of altar candles and I asked him “What do you need them for?”  “For the homeless,” he replied.  “They use them for heat.”  “That’s right,” the man who was with him added.  “With a candle and a blanket I have woken up in the morning nice and warm with snow all around.  And I can heat up a can of soup, too!” I was amazed, realizing how little I know about how some of us live, and trying to imagine myself being thankful for the heat of a candle.  “Tell everybody they are blessed,” I said.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hiking on my Ordination Anniversary

A Hiking Story
            Wednesday November 23 – the ninth anniversary of my ordination - was the third day of my hike.  The first day was foggy, the second day was rainy.  For two days I had passed colorfully named scenic view after scenic view, but could only see through the fog and rain for 100 yards or so. The third day – well.  All days start about the same.  It takes about an hour to get some breakfast – even if it is just some granola bars and hot chocolate – and get everything packed back up and ready to go.  It was nice starting downhill – but downhill means you-know-what, and on Wednesday it meant going down low enough to meet the highway and a park entrance.  Going back uphill was a two-hour trek up the east side of the Shenandoahs to the top of Mary’s Rock.  It seemed like a worthy goal for an ordination anniversary.  The rain was dripping off the trees and it seemed like it was going to rain again – which mean putting on my rain gear, and then taking it off when it didn’t really rain.  Rain gear does a good job of keeping the rain out, but it can also make it steamy “inside” especially when burning all that energy to climb as well as walk.  Climbing means fighting gravity as well as inertia.  I do better against inertia than gravity.
            Getting to the top was elusive.  It seemed like it must be just around the next bend or just behind the next rock.  I was almost relieved to get there several times before the rock in front of me was the last one.  Stepping around the rock from the east side to the west side, the wind and the view hit me at the same time.  It seemed like the wind was blowing at 40 – 50 miles an hour as it hit the side of the mountain and then was forced up and over the top, and I was at the top.  I could hardly stand up, and the cold wind that was beating against me was chilling me so fast that it scared me a little.  But the sun and the view out over the Shenandoah Valley was amazing.  Little farms with barns and silos covered the valley floor, with little clusters of houses in villages and bigger clusters in towns.
            Wednesday was a long day, hiking right along the crest of the ridge.  Every time the path ducked down on the east side of the ridge there was some relief from the wind.  Every time it passed along the very top or down the west side, the views were great, but wind!  I had to cover a lot of miles that day to get to the next shelter.  By 2:30 in the afternoon I was passing by Skyland Lodge – the place where Valerie, Margaret and her mother and I would share a late Thanksgiving on Friday.  After hiking for ten miles, I still had four miles to go and sunset comes at five o’clock.  In good terrain I can make two miles an hour.  I was tired, but told myself, “You can do this” as I passed the stables where the horses were already out in the pasture.
            The light was getting dim when I started smelling the smoke from someone’s wood fire.  That meant the shelter was pretty close.  As I turned off the side trail down to the shelter the sun had already set.  The view out over the Shenandoah Valley revealed the sparkling lights from a small town.  The shelter was empty, and even though there was a pile of wood that some previous hiker had gathered, the wind was too strong to make a fire.  The temperature was down close to freezing and the wind made it feel even colder, but I had enough layers to stay warm and get set-up for boiling some water for dinner with my alcohol stove.  There must have been a clear line-of-sight to a cell-tower down below because I got a good signal on my cell phone and called Valerie.
            A hundred yards further down the path, there was a small cabin – one of several that the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club make available.  Soon, a father and son came up the trail to check me out and invite me down to warm up by their fire.  It was a nice ending to a long day.  A family with three sons had rented the cabin for the Thanksgiving holidays and were roasting a chicken over the fire.  They had spent the day gathering firewood and now were enjoying the results of their adventures.  The well-chinked logs kept the wind and cold out.  The gas lantern made it bright and cheerful, pushing bedtime back later than it would normally be for me who would usually eat, clean up, and crawl into a warm sleeping bag no matter how early it might be.  It was nice to be able to peel off my layers and get warmed up and spend a little time with some people who just chanced to meet out in the woods.  But soon, even though it was only 8:00, my tired body told me it would need the next ten or eleven hours to recover for the next day’s hike.