I signed and sent it – then tried to survive the rest of the day that included paying property taxes, grocery stops and two carpool line-ups in rapid succession.
But the next morning before I reached for a pen, I dropped the kids at school and rushed to the cathedral. I ran across the sun-worn parking lot, entering slightly late but hungry. I slipped through the double-doors and dipped my fingers in the basin of cool water. A blessing covered my body, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Then the slow exhale.
I found my seat on the isle. I inhaled the air, wonderfully weighted with the sacred spices of incense and candles. Aromatherapy for my soul, I took slow breaths to enter into this place, to mark this moment. I heard the cadence of Isaiah, the day’s Old Testament reading. Then we stood while the African priest read from the Gospel of Luke, the invitation to follow Jesus even when there is no promise of a stable home or a pillow for our head. My appetite piqued, I leaned in for a word from elsewhere.
“Today is the Feast of Saint Jerome. I want to spend this homily reflecting on him and his gifts to the Church.” The man with the rounded accent betrayed me with the first sentence uttered. What of Isaiah, what of Luke? My whole body sighed with disappointment.
Prone to obedience, I listened through the setback. The priest spoke of Jerome as a scholar-saint. He was a man well versed in Hebrew, Greek and Latin – all the languages of the Church. “Even today,” he said, “people who love the Scripture study Hebrew and Greek.” Jerome was the one most known for translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, giving the Vulgate to the Church. His translation, his commentary and teachings were all in service to the Church. So in love with the Scripture, his studies became holy service. “A scholar can still be a saint,” the priest said with a hint of surprise.
It wasn’t Isaiah or Luke – but a kind of holy water christened my cheeks nonetheless. This girl, who struggled through three sections of Hebrew and sweat for high marks in Greek, loves the Scripture, too. This girl who reads commentaries from cover to cover, who can be found reading Brueggemann poolside in the summer and a South African theologian on the sidelines of soccer practice – she loves the stories God bequeathed to us. And while she is no scholar or saint, she wants her study to be a gift to the Church.
I felt an invitation to wade into the water. Saint Jerome extended his hand and helped me step into the rushing river, to join so many students of Scripture who served the community of saints with their written offerings. I agreed to add my words to the currents of conversation that circulate in our day. I agreed to offer my work and words toward our common faithfulness as we, the Church, follow Jesus forward.
We said The Lord’s Prayer in uneven unison. We offered greetings of peace across the isles. We processed forward and received the Eucharist. And at last I was full.
I lit a vigil candle to consecrate this next season of writing, this contracted project. “Lord, I want to be faithful to You, and I want to be a gift to Your Church. Help me in my service.”
My contract with Wm. B. Eerdmans to write The Sacrament of Belonging: Graces for Transformation in a Fractured World will arrive on a wing and, yes, a prayer.
I will be collaborating with a smart and fearless editor, supported by a kind and diligent literary agent and strengthened by a writing group that is, without any hint of cliché, wind beneath my wings. I can’t believe I get to do this with all of them!
I did not arrive at this threshold alone. There was the initial email from Sarah, the first question about a book from Sherry, the future-eyes of sweet Idelette, the faith and friendship of not one, but two Haines! And there was always my hewe, Claude, knowing this was ahead for us, always his loving and enthusiastic presence every step of the way. My village is full of the best people, such a holy tribe of Jesus lovers!
I will share more about the book in the days to come. But for now there are more errands, carpools and soccer games to tend to before the week ends. And does anyone know where I can find an icon of Saint Jerome? I might need to add him to my iconostasis.