On December 8, the second Sunday of Advent, we had the pleasure and honor of welcoming Anne Rowthorn and her husband, Bishop Jeffery Rowthorn, to Grace & St Peter’s. Anne preached at the 10:00 am service and helped to lead our “Caring for Creation” Advent discussion group. Anne’s sermon is posted below.
The “Caring for Creation” conversation after the service continued in a meaningful and lively way as fifteen or more attendees shared their personal thoughts and concerns about the current state of the natural world and our interactions with it. The previous week we had considered perspectives on Creation from a variety of spiritual traditions and had used the first chapter of Genesis as the basis for a simple liturgy, intercalating the narrative of each day of Creation with a prayer appropriate to the events of that day.
Please see Anne and Jeffery’s new book, God’s Good Earth: Praise and Prayer for Creation at your favorite book purveyor. It is a beautiful compilation of Creation centered liturgies.
God’s Expanding Universe of Love
A sermon by Anne Rowthorn at Grace & St Peter's, Hamden, Connecticut
December 8, 2019
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be God’s glorious name for ever. May God’s glory fill the whole earth.” (Psalm 72: 18-19)
In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we heard what is perhaps one of the most beloved of all biblical readings:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
The calf and the lion and the young calf together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, and their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like an ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the snake, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas. (Isaiah 11: 6-9)
Aren’t those words lovely?
Now I am going to tell you a story of someone whose life exemplifies the peaceable kingdom Isaiah is talking about. As I do so, perhaps you might think about who models harmonious living in the natural world for you.
An old wrinkled lady stooped over her garden with seeds cupped in her hand, her eyes a foot or so from the furrow—Granny Dodge was planting a row of lettuce. Almost blind, she could hardly see us. Having never met us, our voices were not familiar, but she was expecting my family’s arrival sometime in the late afternoon and she was keeping herself busy until we got there. She rose from the Eden she was planting and gave us all a hug and a welcome. This was our first meeting with Granny Dodge, a Maine grandmother who, at ninety, was still passionately engaged in the world around her. Even to our elementary school aged children, it was immediately evident that we had entered the world of a very special person.
Granny Dodge was the mother of my mother’s new husband, Ernest Dodge, and learning that we were a young academic family with tent and camp stove but little else, she invited us to pass our vacation camping on her field at the ocean’s edge.
Granny was a Maine woman who lived all her life on the small islands off the Maine coast and in the tiny communities near Ellsworth. When we met her she was living much as she had for the past seventy-five years, on the edge of Union River Bay in a hamlet known as Bayside. Here Granny presided over the family affairs in a small red-shingled farmhouse with neat white trim, caring for her husband, George, and her three children. From the modest living room Granny could look out to the barn and beyond to the spacious field filled with apple trees. Granny also had a small parlor which was rarely used, except for guests, that is anyone who was not a family member or close friend, such as the “summer people” who came by each season to buy Granny’s honey and hooked rugs that she had made over the winter.
The living room was indeed the living room. An enormous fireplace with built-in ovens occupied one whole wall. It was the center of the house where the family lived and carried on all its indoor activities. It was also the sewing room, recreation and game room. There was a table to the side which was variously a desk where the children did their homework, the office where accounts were added up and bills paid. It was also the kitchen table where fish were cleaned and meals were prepared and eaten.
In front of the window was a comfortable “settee,” as Granny called it, covered with a bright array of crocheted afghans, colorful patchwork quilts and comfortable pillows. It was the only soft piece of furniture in the room and those who arrived first scrambled for places on it. Others sat on the straight-backed chairs or stretched out on the floor on Granny’s pile of braided rugs, several layers thick.
Granny’s accommodations to “progress” consisted of electricity, which had been installed several years previously, and a kitchen and inside bathroom.
Granny’s life was centered on her home, the garden and the shore. She planted and tended the garden in the summer; she canned and “laid by” vegetables for the winter. She gathered mussels, crabs, wild blueberries and edible ferns from the shore. She cleaned and dried fish caught from the bay.
One of her pastimes in the winter was making extraordinarily beautiful hooked rugs. She crafted them out of grain sacks and cotton remnants she got from a local textile mill. They were the illuminated manuscripts of Granny’s life with scenes taken from her surroundings—the barn and the house, fishing boats, deer, seagulls, apple trees, boulders and pine trees that lined the shore across the street. These rugs Granny sold to the summer people. For her own household she made braided rugs that were more ordinary and utilitarian.
We spent our days at Granny’s swimming in the frigid water, fishing, cooking over the campfire and just hanging around on the craggy shore. It offered the children endless entertainments like building rock houses, collecting mussels and colored beach glass, and of course, seaweed fights.
In the evenings we would go up to Granny’s and this was the highlight of the day. Granny was a treasury of poems, jingles and nonsense rhymes that fell from her lips with the greatest of ease. She delighted our children with the same stories that she told her own children. Time had not tarnished them.
We all sat in awe of Granny’s stories of her youth, told not with nostalgia but with a gleam in her eye as her wrinkled face shone with a sense of lightness and immediacy. She told us about the time when she was about eight years old that an eagle landed on her back and tried to carry her away. “I screeched and Grampy come and hit him over the head with an oar and stunned him.”
And more unusually, Granny told us about the time she was “down to the shore” with her friends when they spotted a huge animal with spots and a great long tail. It leapt around the rocks and when it saw Granny and her friends, it headed straight in their direction. They ran as fast as they could, jumped the fence and made it to the house just before the animal caught up with them. It turned out that the circus was visiting in town and this spotted animal was a crafty leopard that had escaped over its fence to freedom.
Granny told us about how she helped her parents and grandparents. She’d go with her grandfather by horse and wagon to Bangor to sell their clams and lobsters at Haymarket Square. It was a long day’s trip, begun before the sun rise and ending back home in Ellsworth with its setting, all of it on dirt roads through thick woods.
Granny told us about her mother who kept sheep and how she helped her sheer them, card the wool and dye it. Granny’s mother knew just the right plants to use to make the colors she needed.
Granny’s was a world of immense natural plenty and extravagant beauty but little materially. Neither Granny nor her husband had what you would call a real job, but they made enough money to provide for their family. They dined on the gifts from the garden, the apples and wild fruit. There were also the offerings from the sea and shore. The Dodges’ woods were thick with timber so their house in winter was always warm.
Granny knew nature’s signs. She and George read the currents and the seasons. He knew the varieties of fish, when they were running and where they could best be caught. Theirs was also a collegial world where neighbors helped each other with large tasks such as hauling logs and building barns. While each family prided itself on its independence, neighbors were there for each other in times of need. Life was far from easy and there could be droughts, shortages and red tides, nonetheless, the Dodges’ life was one of passionate engagement with all its rhythms.
If we had needed any convincing that Granny was someone special it certainly would have been the time she told us about her “conversations” with the deer in her field. She recounted the long hours she spent in the winter gazing out the window from her comfortable settee. She told us that she “listened” to the field beyond her window. In the fall she would sense the deer nibbling the fallen apples. She kept windfalls in a large bucket in the entry. In the wintertime when the snow covered the landscape, Granny would steal quietly from her house and scatter a handful of apples on the ground. And wait. The deer would emerge from the woods and eat the apples spread on the snow all around Granny. Her vision was limited, but she could just make out their presence and she understood that they were not afraid of her. On rare occasions the deer would eat out of her hand.
Our vacation was a huge success and for the next dozen years the children begged to go back. They enjoyed the camping but they were entranced with Granny. Each summer she welcomed us into her world with more stories and more jingles and a chance to experience a very different lifestyle than we lived in New York City and right here in Hamden, Connecticut.
Let me ask you now: Who are the Granny Dodges in your world who have shown you how to live harmoniously in nature? What are your memories, dreams and visions of the beautiful, healthy world God intends for all people and creatures, and for the mountains, lakes and hills?
Think, sing and act on these things and, as you do so, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope …” (Romans 15: 14a)