It’s November already and my long-awaited and much-anticipated trip back to "The Holy Mountain" is a sweet memory. I took off on October 26th at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am (Yes, my son was just thrilled to pick me up at 4:30 am) for the annual William Porcher DuBose Lectures at the School of Theology, University of the South in Sewanee, TN. I graduated in 1984 – 27 years ago!! – but true to form, Sewanee hasn’t changed much. Woodlands still houses seminarians in little bungalows built by the owning dioceses about 60 years ago, the fog is still as thick as pea soup, and when it rains, it really rains. The one thing that has changed drastically is my beloved St. Luke’s Chapel.
I walked in out of the pouring and freezing cold rain on Friday morning for a special Morning Prayer service and was appalled to see regular chairs arrayed in rows, like any ordinary church. Gone were the facing stalls in "choir" and the rood screen, the organ, the altar, and the "Court of the Gentiles" or "the peanut gallery." Front and center below the stained glass window (which blessedly remains the same) is now a stately grand piano, since this sweet house of worship is now a concert hall. Oh the pain of it all! I started to leave but remembered how much cold rain I had walked through to get there and how long I had looked forward to "Moaning Prayer" in my favorite place. So I took a deep breath and looked for a place to sit. Not many people had braved the weather – probably because most of the alums in attendance were way-post-1984 – so I had my pick. Suddenly I realized that the faculty pews along each wall had been left in place so I decided that at least I could get the same feeling if I sat there – at least I’d be facing the right way.
The first seat I got to still had the name plate on it – The Very Rev. John Booty, Dean – be still my heart!! I said a quick "Thanks" and sat down where our beloved Dean had sat – I knew he would approve. Except for reading the psalm and other things I couldn’t quite remember, I kept my eyes closed, trying to bring back the feeling I had cherished for 3 years – a sense of communion with God and community with those worshiping with me. They were friends, professors, classmates – all who had lived with me through my difficult journey to ordination. It wasn’t quite the same as not a one of them was there in person, but I was quite aware of the "Spirit of St. Luke’s" as we knew and loved it and was grateful that God’s Holy Spirit was still front and center in Sewanee.
The lectures were top-notch – you just can’t get better than Barbara Brown Taylor! She’s my preaching hero and it was an absolute thrill to see her again in person (I attended one of her workshops at the College of Preachers some years ago) and she is still the best preacher I’ve ever heard. After the first presentation – it was all about embracing the darkness in our lives to find the light – she invited feedback and comments and I was the 2nd one in line. I began by informing her that my father was the undisputed founder of the ecological movement as he had insisted that we ALWAYS turn off the light when we left a room – even if we were going right back in. If we didn’t, he somehow magically appeared as we left and when we’d come back – lo and behold the room would be dark! I then said that my sister and I in our old age had finally rebelled by becoming (and here my lame brain could do nothing but make up a word) "lightleaveroners." Yes, I really said that to one of the top 20 preachers in America! Well, she cracked up – laughed so hard she had to turn away from the microphone. Then said, "I’ll have to get you to write something for my next book!" I almost fainted – of course, I really will faint if that happens – but it sounded great at the moment.
The rest of my comments were anti-climactic and predictable – that I had lived through the darkness and learned to not only embrace it but to be thankful (to some extent) for it. I quoted Maya Angelou’s "Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now" and said that her amazing biography was the inspiration for my acceptance of my own painful journey as a necessary part of who I have become. I felt myself choking up a little (as I still do all these years later) when I said, "As dark and painful as it all was, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for it now." The next day, I got up all my courage and asked her if she would accept one of my books. She gracefully agreed and while she signed my new copy of her book "From the Altar," I signed her new copy of "Lady Father." What a thrill!
The next day I held a book-signing of my own at a sweet little cafe/gift shop in Monteagle – Lorena’s – and then went out to St. Mary’s Convent to visit Sister Lucy and to meet the new owners of the retreat house. They are wonderful people and they agreed to keep six of my books to sell and were interested in my idea for a retreat about Journeys. I left Sr. Lucy in her wheelchair (from a fall) after a delightful visit and the next day I was up early and off to the airport in Nashville – looking forward to being home at 2:25! Oh…the best laid plans…
My flight was delayed because of the thick fog blanketing all of Eastern Tennessee BUT Sewanee and then delayed even further when we landed in Baltimore. I did make the connection so was only 4 hours late getting home. A nasty travel day but all-in-all, it was a wonderful trip back to "The Mountain."