Once upon a time, I lived on a farm in the mountains of western North Carolina. I had a garden...of sorts. The tomato vines were attacked by some pest or plague and produced exactly one tomato (which, after calculating the cost of the plants, frames, lime, and fertiliizer, was worth about $26). The only things that thrived were my raspberry bushes. I returned home one afternoon, however, to find the goat happily chomping on the last remnant of them. "I cant grow anything," I said out loud to myself. Then I walked inside and discovered two toadstools growing in the bathroom.
It was damp in western North Carolina. If mildew were a cash crop, I would have been rich the three years I lived there. But abundance came to me in other forms. Friendship. Grace. Hospitality. I rediscovered things I had lost sight of in my last years living with Sojourners Community: the blessings of extended meals and late-into-the-night conversation with friends; the expectant unfolding of the seasons; the mysteries of natures bounty.
My closest companion was Savannah, a golden retriever I invited in when I knew I wouldnt be returning to Sojourners. As I was letting go of a way of life that had spanned 15 years, and was sorely in need of some unconditional love, Savannah arrived with all the grand exuberance and abundant affection of a 7-week-old puppy. She reintroduced me to delight. She lavished me with "gifts" she found and reveled in every day and season, bounding joyfully with equal grace through deep snowdrifts or a pasture bursting with bright yellow buttercups.
Three years ago, Savannah and I left the farm and moved to Atlanta, so that I could finish an M.Div. degree I began 20 years before. Another transition, new challenges. I served as a chaplain to dying children, rewrote the Book of Job, and completed a thesis on South Africas Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As I write this, my cap, gown, and scarlet hood wait in the closet in anticipation of my graduation.
Last month Savannah died of lupus. The house, and my heart, feel achingly empty. In a world with homelessness and racism, the death penalty, domestic violence, and war, it was a blessing to live with a creature who loved everyone she ever met, never rendered a judgment, and was overcome with tail-wagging, fall-on-the-floor excitement every time I walked in the doorwhether I was returning from South Africa or from checking the mail.
Savannah was among a circle of friends who helped me to see that there was life beyond Sojourners Community, at a time when I couldnt envision that life for myself. And now there is yet another transition. This is my "farewell column." This is a season of goodbyes: to Savannah, to seminary, and to Sojourners.
I REMAIN GRATEFUL for my time living with Sojourners Community, especially the early and formative years. I am abundantly thankful for the blessings of travel that accompanied my decade and a half as associate editor of the magazine: visiting other intentional communities; covering justice struggles from South Carolinas Daufuskie Island to Virginias coal fields to the Nevada nuclear test site; helping to establish Witness for Peace in Nicaragua and traveling throughout South Africa to cover the churchs fight against apartheid.
Now I do more of the same, as the Communications Director and Associate for Spiritual Development and Community Building for the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ. I travel often, preaching and leading retreats, focused on my ministry passion: the intersection of spiritual formation, justice, and community.
My Sunday morning worship home is First Congregational United Church of Christ in Atlanta, whose rich history can be traced back to the mutiny on the slave ship Amistad. As I travel the path toward ordination, I count among my ministers Elizabeth Mitchell Clement, a dear seminary friend and outstanding pastor; Dwight Andrews, a renowned jazz musician and teacher; and Andrew Young, an ambassador for many just causes.
Sunday evenings I am often at the Open Door Community, whose warm embrace has enfolded me into relationship with homeless friends and ushered me to Georgias death row. On Holy Thursday, I kept vigil with friends from Jubilee Partners at their moving annual re-creation of Gethsemane.
I am blessed to be able to return often to the North Carolina mountains. I delight in being able to co-teach a seminary course on "Principalities, Powers, and Preaching." I look forward to a summer of writing (there are a few more books in me waiting to be born).
As I move on, I want to offer a hearty "thank you" to all the Sojourners readers who over the past 20 years have sent messages lauding or lamenting what Ive written, or who issued invitations for me to lead a retreat or preach a sermon. (Im still reachable at jhollyday@mindspring. com).
I am mindful that, just as we carry our wounds with us, we also carry our friends. Just as Savannah arrived to smooth the last transition, other dear friends are on hand for this oneand I trust will be for the next. There is life beyond Sojourners, life beyond seminary, even life without Savannah, hard as it feels at times. Sometimes we have to let go in order to see broader vistas and plant new seeds.
You never know what might grow. I have planted a patch of lantana in my front yard in honor of Savannah. It is overflowing with pink and yellow and orange blossoms. I tend it with care and nurture it in hope. Flowers, toadstools, a $26 tomatolife is full of surprises. Thanks be to God. n
JOYCE HOLLYDAY is a Sojourners contributing editor and the author, most recently, of Then Shall Your Light Rise: Spiritual Formation and Social Witness (Upper Room Books, 1997).