Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Clocks in My Genes

Looking through some old family papers the other day, I came across a business receipt: THE CLOCK SHOP (W.H Heald) ANTIQUE TIME PIECES—GRANDFATHER, BANJO, SHELF, ETC. Also MODERN CLOCKS OF ALL MAKES Repairing in all its branches SOUTH WEYMOUTH, MASS.

By all accounts, William Hersey Heald was my great-great grandfather’s nephew. Born in Sandwich in 1857, he had moved to South Weymouth by 1900. I can’t account for his movements after that, though he resurfaces in the 1930 census, aged 73, a boarder. By that time, his wife had either died or flown the coop. I vaguely recall that his name was mentioned when I was a child—“Uncle Will,” if I’m not mistaken. Possibly an oddball. Maybe even a nutcase.

But I’m delighted to know that clocks are in my genes. 

The Seth Thomas “Parma” over on my study bureau. The contemporary Robert Newton Curly Maple Tall Clock in our entryway. The French Carriage Clock I inherited from my mother. The Chelsea “Ship’s Bell” Clock that belonged to Sukie’s father. The Chelsea “Boston” Shipstrike that Sukie and I bought in 1987 as a wedding gift for ourselves. The Seth Thomas Schoolhouse Clock that hung in the Stetson Shoe Company in South Weymouth one hundred or more years ago and now hangs in our living room, a clock that Uncle Will undoubtedly knew. The several pocket watches belonging to my various forebears in my desk drawer.

I can’t get enough clocks. I say to Sukie, “I need another clock.” She responds, “No you don’t; we’ll all be driven mad by the striking,” she says. And on it goes.

And just now the Parma strikes five o’clock. I’m mesmerized by the tic-tock, the rhythm, the haunting sense that this same clock ticked and struck back in the day, heard by ancestors long since gone.

Ah, yes, and then there’s my iPhone Grandfather Clock app... 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Prayer For All The World and All The Earth

St. Nicholas Episcopal Church
Scarborough, Maine
July 28, 2013

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to hem, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come...’” Luke 11:1-13

In the first chapter of his book The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, the historical Jesus scholar, John Dominic Crossan, talks about his near weekly visits to airports as he wings his way all over the United States and Canada, lecturing at different churches.

As he waits for his flights, he is always in search of electrical outlets for his MacBook Pro; an incredibly powerful computer, he says, but absolutely dependent on getting its battery regularly charged.

And therein he has found his metaphor for prayer. In that metaphor he says we are all laptops, and prayer is about empowerment by participation in and collaboration with God.

This God-as-Electricity is always there, whether discovered or not. Even when found, my human freedom allows me to connect or not to connect. It never forces itself upon me...

Furthermore, God-as-Electricity is equally available to all comers. You do not have to merit it by your action or deserve it by your character. You can be rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, female or male, or anything else you can imagine.

God-as-Electricity works just as well for game and movie players, cell phones, and digital assistants; it even works equally well for Apples and PC’s. All we laptops have to do is find an outlet and plug ourselves in; empowerment is the free gift of God-as electricity.[i]

Well, I might prefer a more warm-blooded metaphor for prayer, but it works well enough.

Crossan then goes on to argue that God-as-Electricity—that is, prayer as empowerment by participation in and collaboration with God—is a biblical notion, found especially in the Hebrew prophets, and later in Paul and the earliest strand of teachings in the New Testament.

He says he sees an evolution of what prayer is understood to be in the biblical literature, a kind of flow from one way of praying to the other. The mysterious secret of prayer he writes is that—like all other human matters—it must mature over time and through practice. And, of course, immaturity is as possible in prayer as anywhere else in our lives. But there is a path forward...

A path forward or, as I have described it, a flow: from prayers of request, to prayers of gratitude, to prayers of empowerment. Request—Gratitude—Empowerment. Kind of like, but not quite, Anne Lamott’s three essential prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow, which I preached about earlier this year.

There is nothing wrong with prayers of request, writes Crossan. There is everything right with taking our hopes and fears under the shadow of transcendence. Neither is there anything wrong—but rather everything right—with prayers of gratitude for the mystery of existence, the challenge of life, and the glory of creation.

But it is an immature view of prayer that addresses a Supreme Being radically apart from us who thinks and wills, knows and hears, grants and refuses more or less as we do, but with infinite broadband.[ii]

Crossan argues that at its heart, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of empowerment; and, if the metaphor works for you, a God-as-Electricity prayer, a prayer that we plug ourselves into every week.

So, in the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus prays Abba, Father! it is the Spirit praying within and through him. It is a prayer of mutuality and reciprocity, an interaction between the divine and the human or, in Matthew’s version, as in heaven so on earth or on earth as it is in heaven. And so it is for us who pray this prayer week after week, throughout the year.

To call God Abba, Father is a mode of address that is undeniably rooted in a male-oriented, patriarchal culture and is increasingly problematic for many of us. And yet, Crossan argues, the term Father was used as a metaphor that had a particular meaning. He notes: Despite its male-oriented prejudice, the biblical term “father” is often simply a shorthand term for ‘father and mother.’

Which is to say, it’s an inclusive term. And it indicates not just fathers and mothers of children, but a householder in charge of a home and extended family—it contains brothers and sisters, male and female slaves, animals, land, and tools.

As in biblical times, we all know what a well-run household looks like, says Crossan. We know what a good householder looks like. Walk in and look around, he says. Are the fields well prepared and the livestock well provisioned? Do dependents have adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Does a sick child [or elder] get special care? Does a pregnant or nursing mother get special concern?...Does everyone have enough?[iii]

So to call God Father in heaven is to call God Householder of earth. By participation and collaboration with God, we are householders of earth, caregivers of one another and of the whole creation.

And so Crossan dares to call the Lord’s Prayer the greatest prayer; a uniquely Christian prayer, yes, but a prayer for all the world and for all the earth.

As Christians, we have a particular responsibility to be God’s blessing and healing for all who suffer; by our manner of life, we are a prayer for all the world and for all the earth. We claim grace for one another.

Steve Charleston, the former Bishop of Alaska, and citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, addressed us all in his morning Facebook reflection. He wrote:

I am not so proud that I think I know what you need, or that I could give it to you even if I did. But I am so faithful that I know God is aware of your need, and so certain of grace that I claim it for you.

I do not know how many times I have needed a breakthrough, a turning point, a moment of deep change. How lonely the vigil at that crossroads.

But each time I was discovered by grace, helped by grace, given a path forward to follow. I claim that for you too. I pray it with an assurance that only comes from knowing the broken times.



[i] Crossan, John Dominic The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer ; HarperOne, pg. 9
[ii]Ibid.; pg. 27ff
[iii]Ibid.;  pg. 40

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Being Alive and Having to Die

“Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die” wrote Forrest Church, the former senior minister of All Soul’s Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City. Having studied religion for over thirty years, it’s as good a definition as I’ve heard. It sharpens my core values of offering blessing and healing and living, as I am able, with loving care and attention. Just that. Everything else is commentary.

My barometer for how well I’m doing is washing the dishes after supper. With Bekah and Anna around, washing up after meals has become a big deal. Yes, I could ask them to clean up—and I do from time to time—but Bekah has become our primary chef, with Sukie or Anna as her assistant. Sukie cooks when nobody else wants to, which is much of the time. So by default, I clean up.

The louder it gets, the less well I’m doing. Aggressive cleaning. Banging pots and pans, throwing dishes and glasses into the dishwasher, splashing water, sponging violently. Cats scurrying in every direction. Complaining aloud that it’s not Thanksgiving, so what’s up with the frigging mess?

The other barometer is how placidly (or not) I leave the house in the morning. Rushing around with my head cut off. Cursing while I slap peanut butter and honey on two pieces of bread. Shoving items into my gym bag. Forgetting to kiss Sukie goodbye. Slamming the door as I leave. Not good.

Being blessing and healing for others. Living with loving care and attention. Slow down. Take a breath. Realizing that this life, this moment, is all I have. Religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die. Thanks, Forrest.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


My grandmother insisted that her father’s people were Scottish, not Irish; Protestant not (God forbid) Catholic. Was it MacBride or McBride? It appears that her grandfather came from Ireland, her grandmother from Scotland. They lived in Brooklyn. He was a carpenter, she a housekeeper.

Their youngest son, Edwin, my grandmother’s father, moved north when he was young, was apparently raised by an Episcopal priest, and changed his name to MacBride. He married Carrie Thayer in  1891. In 1896, he died of typhoid fever, aged twenty-eight.

My grandmother said her mother was a saint, raising her and her brother alone; said she was very clever and lovely and lady-like.

I found a photograph of Carrie when she was a girl, with long curly tresses, looking ever so confident, delightfully full of herself.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Nine

We're back home from Islesford. Back to my 10' by 7' study--the "Treehouse"--looking out to the yard and across Birch Lane to the woods beyond.

On the wall to the left of my desk, there are two watercolors by Nat. Both are of Islesford. One pictures the row of boathouses on Sandy Beach at Hadlock Cove. The other is a view from the cabin on Bayberry Point, looking through the garden gate down to the shore and across to Cadillac Mountain. It was made on September 6, 2000.

The trees have since grown up and obscure the view. They'll be thinned out this winter and next summer the scene will be more akin to Nat's watercolor.

Meanwhile, the island--and Nat--will be with me through the intervening months. Photo: Nat Bowditch watercolor, Cranberry point, Islesford.

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Eight

"Will be leaving tomorrow, though don't want to think of it," Nat wrote in January, 1976. And in September, 1994: "It's so peaceful, we never want to leave."

We're catching the 12 o'clock ferry to Southwest Harbor. Nat's brother, Steve, will be picking us up at the cabin in his island vehicle, an old Dodge pickup.

It feels like we've just settled into the quiet rhythm of this place. Hate to leave. And yet...

Steve said Rick Alley will come this winter and open up the view down to the point, thinning out the trees, gathering the brush in piles to burn. We plan to be back next summer. Photo: Fog Rainbow, Hadlock Cove, Islesford.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Seven

Nat's entries in the cabin journal overflow with gratitude. "Thank you God for Islesford...Thank you for our cool place in the forest...Thank you for the peace..." And always full of love. "Love to our island and all who stay here," he wrote in June, 1994. And again, in October, 2005: "Love you, Islesford." It would be his last entry.

It is this "thank you" that ties the generations of Bowditchs--the "thank you" that is implicit in every page of Vincent's journals, the "thank you" that was the inspiration of Phil's open letter to his family and "all others who feel that Little Cranberry is as much a state of mind as a place," the "thank you" that echoes through Nat's entries in the cabin journal; and the "thank you" that so many others have spoken or written who have visited the Bowditch homes. Gratitude is the legacy of grace this family has left us.

Phil Bowditch died in July, 2007. In September of that year, Nat was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He died a year later. Molly, Nat's mother, passed away in March, 2011. When I come here to Little Cranberry, I am keenly aware of their presence. I expect to see them. I speak to Nat as I walk about the island.

It's Friday morning and I walk down North Woods Road to the path that leads out to Marsh Head. The fog cleared in the night and the day is bright; an almost autumn clarity. The path emerges onto a stony beach where driftwood collects and is cast about. I cross over the tidal inlet and around the marsh to the rocky shore. At the edge of the woods, there's an outpost of the US Life Saving Station, now broken down and standing askew, it's shingled roof open to the sky, battered by a hundred years of winter storms. The men would stop there on their night rounds and hang their lantern, seeking shelter from the wind and snow.

Today, I walk on to the rocky headland. From the height one has open views across to the Acadia mountains to the north, Schoodic Point to the northeast, and Baker's Island to the southeast. Behind me, the osprey cry and wheel, keeping sentinel around their stick nest atop the old spruce.

Nat came here often, in all seasons, in all weather. Several of his pastels and watercolors and photographs were made here. Marsh Head was his sanctuary, his way station. And it's where I go to sense his spirit, his gratitude for this place, for life. After a nap in the sun, I pick up my pack and head back to the cabin. Tomorrow we head home. Photo: Outpost, Life Saving Station, Islesford.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Six

After their honeymoon at Treetop, Phil Bowditch's parents, Henry and Eleanor, dreamed of building a house on Bunker's Neck. Phil's father died tragically in 1926, and his mother carried on with five children. As money would allow, she started to build in 1929; the family first occupied the house in 1930.

Phil describes those early days: "We cooked on an old coal stove, kept spoilables in an icebox using ice from Irving Spurling's ice pond, lit the house with kerosene lamps, and hand pumped water from a well. We did not get electricity until 1935, seven years after electricity came to the island. My job in those days was to clean the lamp chimneys with newspaper every Sunday...I can recall resenting the intrusion of daily chores into my very important interests."

Phil reflected on the summer days of his youth, playing in the rock pools on the Neck: "Small wooden boats made of crudely carved shingles plied the waters of many a rock pool for hours on end. To watch the marine life that filled these pools was a never ending fascination. To think that a child can derive such rewarding satisfaction from  these simple yet terribly sophisticated facets of nature is one of the truly wonderful experiences of island life. Even to this day, in the twilight of my life, watching a spider build its web is an all consuming experience."

Last night, Sukie and I, after listening to a delightful reading by Sarah (Lord) Corson of a ballad by  local author Rachel Field (1894-1942) at the Neighborhood House, rode bikes back to the cabin through a cold, thick fog. The street lights ended at the big bend where the North Woods road turns and heads due east to Marsh Head. Fearing unseen potholes, we walked our bikes the rest of the way. As we approached the cabin, we could see lights flickering through the woods at Treetop. Just beyond, we turned into the grass driveway to the cabin. Earlier in the evening, I had made a fire in the woodstove. We opened the door to embracing warmth: Rollfast Island Cruiser at the Cabin

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Five

Nat's great-great uncle, Dr. Vincent Yardley Bowditch, first came to Islesford in 1886. Staying with friends in Northeast Harbor, he came over to the island "to picnic on the beach." He returned with his father, the abolitionist and Boston physician, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, and other family members, the following year, boarding at various Hadlock residences.

In 1901-1902 "Treetop" was built and the life-long bachelor spent his first season there in 1902. Nat's grandparents, Henry and Eleanor Bowditch, spent their honeymoon at "Treetop" where, according to Nat's father Phil, "Islesford first wove its magic on their lives."

Tuesday evening, Sukie and I ate at the Islesford Dock Restaurant, enjoying the live Latin music. We watched as the fog receded, revealing the forms of the Acadia mountains to the north, before again climbing and obscuring their slopes. Later, we were joined by Mary (Lord) Van Dusen and two of her friends from Marblehead. After Vincent Bowditch's death in 1929, Mary's parents, Milton and Rosamund Lord, bought "Treetop" and summered there beginning in 1936. She and her family still come to the island.

When Sukie was eleven or twelve, living in Marblehead, she and her sister Peggy babysat Mary's children. Bowditch and Lord, Heald and Curtis. There are occasions, more than mere happenstance, when the interweaving of lives is astounding, and delightful. Past ages live on within us and our present moments are subtly shaped by the ebb and flow of time. Photo: Old skiff , Islesford boatbuilder Arthur Joe Spurling.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Four

"When I think of it, this home--which in so many ways it has become to us all--has given birth and nurtured many beautiful relationships. No matter what happens in the outside world, the Bowditch homes and the island will remain safe havens and healing centers for many. Thank you [to his parents] for our cool place in the forest." Nat wrote this in October, 1991, also noting that it had been too long since he and Lynn last got away to the cabin. Because of increasingly busy lives, it would become a recurrent theme.

The phrase "our cool place in the forest" comes from Nat's father, Phil. In an essay titled "An Open Letter to My Children, Grandchildren, and Any Others Who Might Feel that Little Cranberry is as Much a State of Mind as a Place" Phil wrote, "As I have told my children and they theirs--'This island is for the young in age or heart-THE COOL SPACE IN THE FOREST-where one goes to replenish one's soul rather than one's body.'"

In the same essay, Phil noted that an "important and recommended action" one who loves the island should take is to bring one's choice of mate to Islesford before one proposes or accepts. "Passing the so-called 'Islesford test' is a vital element to insuring tranquility and perpetuation of the species." For Sukie, it became the "Phil and Molly test." She passed with flying colors. Photo: Woodpile belonging to Danny and Katy Fernald, the owners of Islesford Artist's Gallery.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Three

"Where to next and how, who, when? It's a fine thing to have time to get away and a place to get away to. Everyone has their secret place and Islesford is mine. Thank you God for Islesford, my sanctuary of sanity." Three weeks of solitude at the cabin in December, 1979, afforded Nat the opportunity to reflect on his life's journey. The "who" was Lynn Spann, the "when" was July 17, 1981, the "where" was the Islesford Church at which Nat and Lynn were married, the Rev. Stanley Haskell presiding.

Several of the wedding guests, myself among them, camped out here at the cabin on Bayberry Point. "The islanders must think us a little crazy hearing all the screams" wrote our friend Michael in the cabin journal, "but these were actually squeals of delight; for this island is full of delightful people, things and places to go. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. B [Phil and Molly Bowditch] for this excursion to serenity."

It clouded up and cooled off overnight. Sukie and I were awakened at 4:50 by a Swainson's thrush singing outside our bedroom window. We can take a nap later; it's time to get up.  It's raining now and a steady northeast breeze blows in through the window where I am writing. Off the point, a lobster boat rumbles as it cruises by. Photo: Sea Glass Panel, Islesford Church.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part Two

"Nat and Dave arrive on a cloudy, brisk day," Nat wrote in the cabin's journal on December 30, 1994. "The house is like an ice cube but with a few logs on the fire and both heaters ablaze, she'll be warm in no time. This is the Ark's [the cabin's] first winter stay. So we don't have any idea what we're in for. But we don't really care or worry. There's only one place to be and that's where we are."

I made three more mid-winter visits to Islesford after this, the last in 1979. In January of '78, Nat stayed on for a month, much of it alone. Years later, he spoke of that time as among the best moments of his life, reveling in the solitude and sense of being at one with wild creation. He cut wood, hauled water, tended the fire, and went on long walks around the island, whatever the weather. He had time to draw and paint. The cabin was his "secret place...his sanctuary of sanity."

It's hot here today (Sunday). Sukie and I read. She knits. We nap. A warbler nests nearby and occasionally alights on a spruce branch in the yard. It flies off as I reach for the binoculars. After supper, we'll go over to Treetop and sit on the front porch and look across the Eastern Way at the mountains and watch the sunset. There's only one place to be and that's where we are. Photo: Islesford Post Office and Market

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dispatches from the Cabin: Part One

The Bowditch cabin at Bayberry Point on Islesford is my study for the next seven days. Sukie and I arrived on the island yesterday (Saturday) afternoon. Built by "Win" Fernald in the autumn of 1973, the cabin became a refuge for Phil and Molly Bowditch. The "Big House" over on Bunker's Neck had been in the family since the turn of the last century and continues to be used by their children. Vincent Bowditch, Phil's great uncle and a physician in the Boston area, first came to Islesford in the late nineteenth century and built "Tree Top" on the property adjoining the cabin. A delightfully odd and quirky house of many levels and landings and outlooks on the ocean, it's now owned by the Lord family.

My first stay at the cabin was in December, 1974. Nat--Phil and Molly's eldest son and my dear friend since childhood--and I came to Islesford in the winter to rough it. The water had long since be turned off and we had to haul it in. The only heat was a drafty Franklin stove. We chopped and split wood from trees cleared when the cabin was built.The "facilities" were out in the forest--our throne an old wooden lobster trap with the toilet seat from the bathroom perched  on top, wiping paper hung from a nearby spruce.

Our favorite pass time was to take the golf cart (Phil introduced this form of island transportation not long before) out on frigid nights and cruise around (with refreshments, of course) under a breathtakingly starry sky. We loved the solitude, the sense of being utterly away from the "world" in the silence of these woods. Photo: Bowditch cabin, Bayberry Point, Islesford.