Friday, 30 September 2016

Elastic Time

Clemency and I got home about 5 yesterday afternoon, and although we had been away for only a little over 24 hours it felt longer. We had left at 5.30 am the previous day, towing the caravan  through thick fog in order to be at a meeting in Wanaka at 10. We had breakfast at the Tin Goose Cafe in Alexandra before I dropped the caravan off  at Clyde and Clemency and her schoolbooks at a lakeside table at Wanaka and headed off to sit round a huge table with a lot of highly motivated people. The morning was intense, but satisfactory, and in the middle of the day it was back to Clyde ready for a Michaelmass service in the little retreat house being developed in St. Michael's Church. There were conversations and negotiations and preparations all accomplished on the sofa of the caravan, which does pretty well as a hospitality space, albeit a small one. I preached and celebrated eucharist and had a few significant conversations and drove home through Lawrence and Milton, having put about 600 km on the car in about 24 hours. Driving home it felt to both of us that we'd been away for a week.
****
It was a quieter day today. Tomorrow I am running a training session for new ordinands on marriage, so there was a bit of preparation for that. In the middle of the day I had a very pleasant conversation, laying plans with someone employed by the Presbyterian Church to develop a school curriculum for contemplative prayer. There were a few letters to be written and I needed to catch up with Alec, Ginny and Debbie in our office. The day flew by. 
****
It's a wholly unremarkable phenomenon that when a day is filled with a variety of large tasks it seems longer than one filled with fewer, or more mundane ones. This is an illustration of the difference between what the Greeks called Chronos, measured time, and Kairos, experienced time.  Chronos is measured against some regular thing like a clock or pendulum. Kairos is measured against our memory and is greatly influenced by the importance we place on the events in our memories and those happening around us. Kairos speeds up as we get older because we have more memories: a year for me is 1/64 of a lifetime while for Noah it is 1/3 of a lifetime. 
****
Since my conversation earlier, I have been wondering how silent prayer can be taught to children. I'm quite used to Teaching it to adults, where it is a case of juggling - in one way or another - the balance of Kairos and Chronos. With children I think something else will be happening, perhaps more of an exercise in relaxing and calming and watching. I think it can be done. But teaching children will be one thing. Teaching the teachers who will be teaching the children... now there's the tricky bit. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Mary Wept Over The Feet of Jesus

Every so often a book comes along at just the right time, and this little work by Chester Brown is one of them, though, in this case, it's not for the reasons books are usually helpful. Let me say at the outset that while I admire this book, and found it intriguing, I do not agree with it's fundamental premise.

I saw this on a colleague's bookshelf and got myself a copy. It's a beautifully produced little thing; wonderfully laid out with a high quality binding and lovely paper it's one of those books which gives aesthetic pleasure just from handling it. The book itself is composed of a brief graphic novel and end notes, but that isn't really accurate. The graphic novel is actually a series of short renditions of various Biblical narratives, each self contained, but contributing to a greater narrative structure, which is Brown's particular interpretation of the genealogy of Jesus presented in Matthew's Gospel. The drawing is beautiful, and the small panels are well arranged in the 173 pages of this first section of the book. The second part of the book is the 100 page long end notes section, which contains yet another small graphic chapter (the Book of Job), and which is a treatise on the role of prostitution on the Bible. This part of the book is seemingly hand written by Brown, and its layout is aesthetically delightful. But its content matter? Well.... that's another story.

Brown's starting point is the fact that Matthew's record of Jesus' whakapapa in Mtt.1:1ff contains the names of 4 women, Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheba (who is in fact not named, other than as "the wife of Uriah") and Ruth. These are all, says Brown, women with an unusual sexual history, who each takes initiatives and makes decisions in sexual matters which are either unambiguously, or are tantamount to, prostitution. From this, and other textual "evidences", he extrapolates that Mary the mother of Jesus was a prostitute, and that Jesus' reputation for consorting with prostitutes arises not from a more general comfort in the company of sinners but from an approval of prostitution as an institution. He argues that attitudes to prostitution were a topic of debate in the first century church with a "Jesus faction" (my words, not his) approving and a "Paul faction" disapproving.

On the face of it, this would be just one more wacky theory dredging up from the outer reaches of Biblical criticism, were it not that Brown argues his case so cogently and so well. Well enough, anyway, for me to put considerable energy into following up on his sources and here is the first thing for which I am grateful to Chester Brown. He caused me to carefully reread  the opening chapters of Matthew, to purchase and read a book by John Dominic Crossan, to read again some sections of Eusebius, and to read some Talmudic commentaries on the book of Genesis, each of which was in itself an enriching, enjoyable and enlightening experience.

But although Brown argues well, though I do not agree with him on some crucial matters. For example, in a matter important, though not central, to Brown's case, Eusebius refers to an otherwise unknown variant of the parable of the talents deriving from a long lost Aramaic or Hebrew gospel which may or may not have been the precursor of the Gospel of Matthew (the jury of informed Biblical scholars is out on that one). This reference is picked up by John Dominic Crossan in The Power of Parable who uses it as an illustration of the way parables are constructed. Chester Brown quotes this material in such a way to imply that both Eusebius and Crossan agree with Brown's own idea of how that early parable was framed. Which they do not.

Brown asks a great question: exactly why are four women included in Jesus' geneaolgy, and why is it those four? But I can't follow him into the answer he gives. My research didn't stop with Eusebius and Crossan and the Talmud. I also looked at Brown's other works, at least in review, and it is here that I had the great Aha Moment for which I am most grateful. Chester Brown is certainly an unconventional sort of bloke. He's a Libertarian, and in his earlier works he has given an account of his adolescent addiction to Playboy magazine and then to a lengthy history of consorting with prostitutes. I guess those aren't too rare as character traits, but his openness about them certainly is. And more uniquely, he argues for the superiority of prostitution as an inter personal arrangement over all this messy business with falling in love, and building a multi-faceted, committed, mutually dependent relationship of equals with somebody. He identifies as a Christian and a social activist. Chester Brown, when he approaches the Bible and interprets it,  does what we all do: he brings all this complex personal stuff and reads there what he needs to read, forming a theory of the Bible's meaning which reflects his own pathology as much as it does the words of scripture. His view into reality extends as far and only as far as he is able to see. Which is not very far.

As is the case for all of us, of course. When we do our exegesis our own personal limits are usually invisible to ourselves, though not so to anybody else.  I am grateful that this example of us forming our theory of the world in our own image is so unambiguous and it came to me just when I needed it. My own take on the women in the first few verses of Matthew, incidentally, is that they are not there because they are all exemplars of a particular sexuality but because each knew how to love. They were all, further, outsiders; they each  show the diversity already present in the ancestry of Jesus, and the openness of God's grace. They challenge the ethnic and gender chertainties of first Century Palestine, and thus bear witness to the message of John the Baptist and, later, of Jesus: metanoiete, think again. In other words, whatever you have used to put your view of the world together is insufficient and will ultimately fail you; you will need to abandon it if you want to be present to the one who IS.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Banksie. Red Balloon.

I am in Hamilton, meeting with the bishops of the church. We are housed in a travel hotel right beside the airport. There's a conference centre, and a travel hotel type of restaurant, and standard travel hotel types of rooms. And very good company.
****

I woke early with one of those thoughts that I should have noticed years ago. Jesus Christ. His first name identifies him as a particular man, a first Century Jewish man with a pretty ordinary first Century Jewish name, Joshua. His second name is a kind of honorific, denoting one who has been anointed. He is (in Greek), the one who has received chrism, oil. The Hebrew equivalent is Messiah, which, again, means "the anointed one." Anointing in the First Century was a common courtesy for honoured guests, but more significantly it was ( and is) the ritual pouring of oil as a kind of ordination, performed on someone set aside for a great task. Kings are anointed, and priests. The person doing the anointing is always someone authoritative: a prophet or a priest, someone who has God's own authority to perform such a task. The person being anointed has oil poured on their head and sometimes the breast and hands; the seemly parts of the body. So, Jesus is the anointed one. So who anointed him? The Gospels tell us, in a story that is repeated in all the Gospels. The details change a bit with each telling, but the essence is the same; Jesus was anointed - against every more of his culture - by a woman. Who could ever argue against the ordination of women once they had noticed that?  Further, he was anointed, at least, so Luke tells us, by a woman of pretty questionable personal virtue. He was anointed not on his head or hands or breast, but on the part of his body regarded, in his culture, as most repugnant: his feet. He was anointed not before he sat on a throne, but before he was nailed to a lump of wood.  The action is so offensive the good people protest, and this is the last straw for Judas Iscariot, who, upon witnessing this, goes off in disgust to seek the righteous people and betray Jesus to them. Here, in this name which I don't go a day without speaking, is the whole scandalous upside down and inside out Gospel. Christ.
****
We spent this morning at Houchen retreat house. I walked the beautiful gardens, looked at the bedrooms where I have stayed a hundred times and the meeting rooms where I have led retreats, interviewed potential ordinands and run workshops for accepted ones. I found the labyrinth laid out by my friend and supervisor Paul when he was the warden of the retreat house. It is mown into the grass of a gentle slope, skirting a tree and a flower garden. I walked it, noting the simple, repeating pattern of this little journey, aware of the views out over the Waikato and of the garden, seeing each from slightly different angles with each turning. I finished and found in myself a deep, deep longing to make another journey.
****
Sue Pickering was with me years ago in the group which developed a programme for training spiritual directors. With several books to her credit, she is now a sought after spiritual director and retreat leader. She is guiding us today, and at the start of the session, she uses a Banksie picture of a little girl grasping for a red balloon. After talking about red balloons a week or so ago, I feel a small prickle on my spiritual spine. Someone is trying to get my attention. At the end of the day she talks about anointing, and asks us to anoint one another. Yes. Definitely trying to get my attention. And succeeding. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

There and Back

The venue for synod was the Invercargill Working Men's Club. It is big, well equipped, comfortable. Everything - the heaters, the sound system, the projector - works perfectly. The food is great. But the best part is the people. I look out at the rows of people sitting 8 each around a table and know them all. I had feared that we might all get a bit tense and argumentative, what with the lack of money and the uncertainty and everything, but no. The need for change has been accepted, and we are getting past the understandable but futile desire to find a quick fix. We aren't lacking in clever people, and we have all the money and buildings we need; it's just that the organisation we have evolved over the last 150 years is now on the verge of being unworkable.
****
People spoke with respect and they listened. A number of people made excellent contributions, but I was particularly grateful to Ginny Kitchingman our accountant, and Diccon Sim our chancellor for being calm, patient, professional and sensible. It made all the difference to me, and I know, to a lot of other people. And Debbie and Alec in our office, and Jean in Invercargill did long hard hours of invisible work to make it all happen. Down here in the South, we are so blessed in the company we keep.
****
I've been thinking about Easter Saturday, and that long day, which for Mary Magdalene waiting at the tomb and for the other apostles cowering in hiding somewhere, must have seemed bewildering and interminable. They, none of them, had the foggiest clue what would happen next. They sat there with the knowledge that all that they had pinned their hopes on had come to a spectacular halt, and there was no obvious way ahead. So they waited, not sure of  what they were waiting for or even, I suppose that they were actually waiting. Death and resurrection is a concept I can accept, but the bit between them, the dead place where nothing happens, is hard to endure. But it is a necessary part of the whole process. It really is, after all, the dead place: the place where we understand that all that has gone before really has gone; the place without which we won't be able to know resurrection when it arrives. 
****
Clemency arrives in her own car part way through Saturday. Late on Saturday afternoon Alec Clark gives her a large bunch of flowers. It really is an ending. After breakfast on Sunday we drive home, the two of us in a little convoy, following each other through the drizzle on the familiar roads. We stop in Gore for coffee and buy blue cod in Waihola. We have left the others behind to discuss what they they want to do with their diocese. We are starting to realise that what lies ahead looks pretty darned rosy. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Bishop's Charge to Synod 2016


E te Atua to matou Kai-hanga

Ka tiaho te maramatanga me te ora, I au kupu korero,

Ka timata au mahi, ka mau te tika me te aroha;

Meatia kia u tonu ki a matou

Tou aroha I roto I tenei huihunga.

Whakakii a matou whakaaro a matou mahi katoa,

E tou Wairua Tapu

Amine.



Welcome, welcome thrice welcome as we gather here in the South of our Diocese to celebrate our common life and plan together for our future. As we begin our time together, I am conscious of those of our number who have died over the past year:

Leonard Austin, Jocelyn Broughton, John Sutton. Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them May they rest in peace and rise again in glory. Amen.


I am very aware that this will be my last time to be standing here as your bishop, and who knows? Perhaps my last time ever to be present in this synod.



This past year has proven to be a significant one for the diocese. Late last year Mr. Graeme Sykes ended his role as diocesan manager, and at approximately the same time, Mrs Emma Neas ended her role as communications officer. We did not fill these positions, and instead reorganised our office so that tasks previously performed by five people were done by three. Mrs. Debbie Flintoff took on the role of Diocesan Registrar, which involved assuming the lion’s share of the manager’s tasks as well as retaining almost all of her former duties as Bishop’s PA. Mrs. Dominique Aitcheson continued as senior accounts officer and Mrs Ginny Kitchingman as Diocesan Accountant, with both taking up extra tasks. Our office functions because of the selfless commitment of our staff and their long years of experience, but this last year has not been an easy one for Ginny, Dominique or Debbie, who have coped admirably and shown immense good will and humour in very trying circumstances.



I am grateful for the support and encouragement given me this year by our Vicar General, Alec Clark. Alec has a difficult time ahead, leading the diocese through one of the most important transitions in its history and I ask for your support for him in the months ahead.



At the end of last year Mr. Benjamin Brock Smith left his position on the ministry education staff to move to Auckland where he is studying at St. John's College. This has meant a reorganisation of our educational structure. I have taken some of Alec’s tasks and in this past year the expenses of the episcopate have, accordingly, been partially met by our grant from the St. John’s College Trust Board. Without this measure, and without the reduction in office staff we would not have survived as a diocese, and our future is far from certain. This synod must make some hard decisions, particularly in relationship to the diocese and how it is financed. We are at the point we have spoken of for years, when radical change is necessary, and the changes need to be made now. The changes required go beyond mere reform or even revival. We need to be thinking of building a whole new church, here in the South of Aotearoa.



A few weeks ago we remembered the builders of the Church of Aotearoa, and the epistle set for that remembrance was 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, which reads:



“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.”



Many years ago, when I was 21, that foundation was laid for me. On the evening of August 5, 1973, I went with my girlfriend, Clemency, and my best mate, Alden, the Assembly of God Church in Lower Hutt. For the previous year I had been engaged in an intensive period of spiritual exploration, and as part of that I was attending, for the first time, the church which Clemency had lately found to be so helpful. Ten minutes into the service I deeply regretted going. I seemed to be surrounded, wall to wall, with nut jobs and I was subject to the worst sermon I have ever heard in my life. It was about how classical music is of the Devil and if you listen to it you are going to Hell. At the end of the service an invitation was issued for those who wished to commit their lives to Jesus Christ to come forward. To my very great surprise and horror, both Clemency and Alden went forward, leaving me alone in the pew. I thought the entire world had gone mad, and resolved to return home to Christchurch as quickly as possible. I moved to the end of the pew, but, for reasons I am still not clear about, instead of turning left for the door and the inter-island ferry, I turned right and went to the front of the church. I was ushered into a back room and a glittery eyed young man asked me if I wanted to commit my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. I wasn’t entirely sure who or what the Lord Jesus Christ was, but I nodded, whereupon he led me through the sinner’s prayer, and asked me to sign a small card, which I still carry in my Bible.






My Great Decision For

Christ



By the grace of God, I have

this day accepted Jesus Christ

as my personal Saviour, and

I thank Him that He has

forgiven me my sins, and granted

me Eternal Life.



"Him that comets to me I will in no wise cast out

John 6:37



But as many as received him, to them gave he power

to become the sons of God, even to them that believe

 on his name

John 1:12



And in that moment my life changed. Over the next few weeks I experienced in myself healing, restoration and forgiveness. I found a new purpose and a new direction. I found myself part of a new community. I began the work which has been central to my life ever since, of understanding what happened to me on that night, and understanding the one who so patiently and lovingly called me to himself. I now realise that the event of that night wasn’t the adoption of some theological understanding or other, or my incorporation into a particular church. It was rather my first (though not my last) experience of dying to self; of relinquishing all my previous guesses about what the world is and what it means, and accepting in their place the life offered in Jesus. That is, a life characterised by the pattern of death and resurrection.



On the foundation of that initial encounter with Jesus Christ I began to walk the path which, over the intervening 43 years, has led me to here and now, to the pulpit of Holy Trinity Church and to this synod. In brief, here are the waypoints of that journey:



For the rest of 1973 I became a member of the New Life Centre in Christchurch, and was baptised. At a meeting called Group 70 in St. Mary’s Addington, I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. In 1974, St Jude’s Lyall Bay I was confirmed by Bishop Edward Norman and became an Anglican. In 1975 I became a youth worker in Holy Trinity Avonside, and in 1976 married Clemency, and then attended St. John’s College in Auckland where I picked up an Otago B.D. And won prizes for my abilities in Greek and public speaking. In 1979 I became a curate in St Mary’s Merivale and then, 3 years later was made the Vicar of the Parochial District of Waihao Downs in South Canterbury. In 1985 I became minister in St. Francis Co-operating Parish in Hamilton. Later, I had a brief stint as Vicar of All Saints Sumner and then was made Bishop’s Chaplain for Ministry in the Diocese of Waikato. In late 1998 I moved to Dunedin to live in the lovely old vicarage in Highgate and 7 years ago you elected me Bishop. Somewhere along the way I became the father of three extraordinary children and the grandfather of four even more extraordinary ones. I acquired a Doctor of Ministry degree and various bits of paper testifying to my abilities in subjects of varying significance. I accumulated several walls of books. Somewhere else along the way I stopped referring to myself as a Charismatic and started calling myself a Contemplative. So was all of this “successful?” The only test is the one Paul gives in 1 Corininthians 3: The work of each builder will become visible for the day will disclose it.



A few years ago Clemency and I were in Hamilton for the weekend so, for nostalgia’s sake we went back to St. Francis’s, the church where we had been most “successful”. In six years there, we had both worked full time in the parish, and had seen the fruit of our labours. The congregation had more than trebled, going from about 70 people at the main service to about 250. The Sunday school had increased from a membership of about a dozen to a membership of over 120 and weekly attendance of around 80. We ran an annual school holiday programme with average attendance of 200 children a day. Clemency’s weekly Bible study, Bibles and Bubs, held in the vicarage, was attended by an average of a dozen or so young mothers, each with at least one toddler in tow, and two family camps a year aimed, and usually successfully managed, to graft their husbands into the worshipping life of St. Francis. Leaving St. Francis is one of my great regrets in ministry, but a couple of decades later we returned, to find that almost everything we had built was gone. A bit like seeing an old and loved friend after many years apart we saw the contrast between what constituted a large and thriving church in 1988 and its 2008 equivalent. There were a few familiar faces, aged as I suppose ours were, and the beautiful new building I had helped to develop was now, 30 years on, showing its age. Our vicarage had long since been sold, and the garden Clemency had planted was paved over. We had a sober conversation on the plane and the way home. The work of each builder will become visible for the day will disclose it.



So had we wasted our time? No.

Would we do it all over again? You bet your life we would.



The real lasting work wasn’t the building or the garden. It wasn’t even the congregation or the Life in the Spirit seminars or Christmas Countdown or the other programmes. It is seen in the people, and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Over the years, on occasion, there are those  who hesitatingly approach me at some social event, shake my hand and say, “You won’t remember me, but there was a sermon you preached once, that made all the difference to me,” or, “I still remember the time you visited when my mother died.” The worth of ministry is measured not so much in statistics, or buildings or successful programmes, but in the extent to which we bring people to the foundation, to Jesus Christ and allow Jesus to begin the building work in them.  The life of St. Francis parish and my own spiritual path, if they are truly marked by the presence of Jesus, MUST display that pattern of his life, that is, of death and resurrection.   



So to this last phase of my stipended ministry. Over the past 7 years our diocese has continued the process of decline, with the patterns following the same trends they have displayed over the episcopacies of the last four bishops. During this synod we will have to make some important decisions about how we shape our future, because every one of our parishes is financially stretched, and the diocese itself cannot manage the tasks already required of it, let alone those new tasks which are waiting just over the horizon. As the number of churches which cannot manage their own affairs rises, and as the requirements on us for accounting and auditing become ever more stringent, our resources of money and personnel are being stretched more and more tightly. “The work of each builder will become visible, for the day will disclose it.” Paul's metaphor is profound, and it should be noted that there are some fires which burn so hot that as well as the straw and wood being burned up, even the precious stones will crack and crumble to nothingness, and even the gold and silver will melt. I believe the church in all the West is now feeling the heat of just such a fire. I repeat something I said above:



We are at the point we have spoken of for years, when radical change is necessary, and the changes need to be made now. The changes required go beyond mere reform or even revival. We need to be thinking of building a whole new church, here in the South of Aotearoa



To be in such a situation can seem daunting and discouraging, unless we remember one thing; and that is, that no matter how fiercely the blaze is burning, the foundation remains solid and undamaged. Jesus is still there, and it is our job as a diocese; each of us individually, and as a group, to rediscover that foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord. If we can know that we are grounded there, there can be no failure, and the building will take care of itself. If we claim to follow the resurrected one, why would we ever be surprised that we are led to this place of death? It is the only path to the life which must surely follow.  



+Kelvin Dunedin. 16 September 2016

There's a Last Time For Everything.

I wake early and go through my morning routine. I pack a bag and load stuff into my car. Soon I will drive to the office and then on to Invercargill, where I will make a few pastoral calls and then go to Holy Trinity Church for the opening service of our Diocesan Synod.

Since I began life as an ordained person, I have attended 39 diocesan synods in 5 different dioceses. I have been to 6 General Synods and participated in 6 electoral synods. I have attended a Presbyterian General Assembly, once, twice a Methodist conference, and God alone knows how many Forums of Co-operative Ventures. This synod will be my last one ever, and I will only be present for half of it. Attending synod has never been high on my list of favourite activities, and I doubt whether, when the appropriate weekend in September 2017 rolls around, I will feel the slightest pang of regret or longing; but this weekend is a milestone for me. It's an ending. A death.

****

My table companion hugs me when we meet.  The coffee appears and we chat about her family and mine and her immediate future and mine. We discuss theories of the atonement, and book titles, ask the waiter for a lunch menu, and then get down to business. Hours. Expectations. Money. Duties. "When would you like me to start? " I ask. "As soon as you can manage it," she replies. And for the first time since I left my curacy at St Mary's Merivale, I have a boss. It's a beginning. A resurrection.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Red Balloon

(c)bhmpics.com

When we lived in Hamilton, we went, one Pentecost Sunday to the morning Eucharist at St. Peter's Cathedral. The dean, Keith Lightfoot, gave us all red, helium filled balloons on a piece of string. Catherine, who was about 4 at the time, thought this was about the coolest thing that had happened in church, EVER. At some appropriate point in the service, we all trooped outside, and on schedule all released our balloons, 200 Pentecost prayers for the life of our city, streaming upwards into the sky in a gloriously colourful symbolic statement. Well, let's be accurate here. 199 balloons streamed up into the sky, but one remained firmly clasped in a four year old's unyielding fist. Catherine was adamant. No amount of coaxing could persuade her to relinquish this treasure for such a hare brained reason. So, we drove home with the red balloon gently bobbing against the headlining of the car.

All this was too much for Bridget, who was 10, and already endowed with the passion for justice that would lead her to a career in law. Later, at home, when her inexplicably lax parents weren't looking, she frogmarched Catherine into our back yard, prised open her fingers, and enforced the sacrifice which she herself had already made. She returned the balloon to its intended purpose, and I can still remember Catherine's wail of grief and impotent chagrin.

Catherine was right to grieve of course, at the loss of so great a prize. But Bridget was right too. There are some things which are not meant to be held onto. There are some things which attract and entice and which we would dearly love to hold near us, but our benefit and theirs is best served by relinquishing them. Sometimes my life seems filled with red balloons and what is required of me is so tiny, and yet so all consumingly difficult: to open my hand. To release. To watch as what was once precious drifts skyward and away, to where it can do its real, its intended task: blessing somebody who isn't me.