The Rector's Column Summer 2017

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin, Rector

As I write this, I have just returned from a 14-day driving trip during which I visited 10 congregations similar to Holy Comforter in setting, size, and budget. Overall, I drove 2,675 miles, had conversations with priests and some senior staff members, attended church in four different settings (none of them parishes where I had formal meetings), and did a little sightseeing along the way. I visited churches outside Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, slept in some truly dreadful hotels as well as some lovely places, and, taken as a whole, experienced a journey that was exhausting, stimulating, provocative, discouraging, encouraging, fascinating, and much more. I will, as the weeks and months unfold, share some of my experiences and reflections with, first, the staff and vestry, and then with the entire parish.

For now, however, I want to go in a rather different direction. Driving such distances afforded me the chance to listen to lots of local radio stations and CDs, including several discs containing monologues by Garrison Keillor from his popular radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." As many know, these monologues describe life in the fictional Lake Woebegon, Minnesota, a town peopled with eccentrics, bachelor Norwegian farmers, young couples, old folks, confused kids, melancholy adults, people striving to leave, people who can't imagine leaving, and so on. Keillor has forged a rich, multivalent world, and his stories are usually funny and frequently poignant and touching. Having listened to many of these monologues repeatedly over the decades, I know most of them very well, but almost always a word or turn of phrase jumps out at me anew with each hearing.

For example: toward the end of one of the stories, Keillor, in describing the life of a particular farmer, concludes by saying, "He lived his life between the ground and God. Everything else was just salad dressing." Now, while the concept of living between the dirt and the Divine might apply most truly to those who work the earth, I realized, as I drove from one church to another, that the phrase actually applies to all of us, for our lives are lived simply and purely between the ground and God: everything else-our jobs and income, our looks and fashion sense, our family structure and socioeconomic background, our gifts and weaknesses, failings and triumphs-is just "salad dressing." What matters preeminently is knowing from where we come and to whom we belong, and allowing that relationship to shape all other relationships and decisions and directions.

The months of July and August provide a uniquely rich time, due to the altered rhythms of life for many of us, to ponder the essentials and fundamentals of our very being. These weeks can provide time to reflect on what is truly at the center and core of our lives (which is, in essence, what I was attempting to do in my conversations with all those parishes mentioned above). What are the qualities which we want to govern our time, our energy, our present, our futures? At the end of the day, what is truly and profoundly important? Are we authentically living "between the ground and God?" How are we shaping our lives to the call and guidance of God and allowing God's presence and Spirit to form and shape, lead and nudge us in all ways? Because everything else is just salad dressing.