The Story Lady

This morning, I preached a sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Midcoast in Damariscotta, Maine. It was about an opportunity I may soon have to go abroad again and make a much bigger difference in the world than has yet been within my power–and that’s as much as I’m going to say about that on the Internet right now. 

Part of preaching is preparing the Story for All Ages, and to be perfectly frank, I have been to far too many church services where the preacher seemed not to have given the Story for All Ages nearly the gravity and thought it deserves. Last time I preached to this congregation, I wrote my own story. This time, though, the right story popped into my mind almost immediately: Miss Rumphius. Not only is it a family favorite, my sister-in-law says, “Isn’t this the plan for Maryah’s life?”

Alice would say, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I will live beside the sea.”

“That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” asked Alice.

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.

“All right,” said Alice, But she did not know what that could be.

Last night, around my mother’s kitchen table, we were reading  Miss Rumphius and wondering where it is supposed to take place. “I mean, it looks like Maine….” Out came the smartphones and….

It turns out that the author, Barbara Cooney, when she wasn’t traveling the world, lived in Damariscotta, Maine. “I bet,” said Mom, “that after service, someone will say, ‘I knew her!'”

So I had to smile as an older congregant told me the story of how Barbara Cooney Porter, with her clout and her generous donation, made possible the Skidompha Library building, and that’s why the room where the congregation meets each Sunday is called the Porter Room. 

Then, an older woman from the congregation beckoned. “Want to see the Miss Rumphius quilt?” So I grabbed my mother and we followed this woman into the library. “This door’s usually locked, but I noticed it was open. We probably shouldn’t be here, but you just have to see this!” She led us up a wide stair in an atrium hung with Quilts of Valor, around the corner, and there it was:


That’s Barbara Cooney herself in the chair, and Miss Rumphius in her signature cloak kneeling in the lupines down to the right. Above Miss Rumphius, our guide pointed out Barbara Cooney’s seaside house. 

“That’s also Miss Rumphius’ house from the book. We were wondering last night if Barbara Cooney had drawn her own house.”

“Supposedly,” said our guide, “it’s based on a real story. I said that to a man once, and he said, ‘Yes, supposedly she’s my mother.'”

Then she showed us the Damariscotta street behind Barbara Cooney’s shoulder. 

“Did you know her?” asked my mother. 

“Oh, yes, she was very active here.”

We made our way back to coffee hour, where I eventually found myself speaking to several worship associates about how all the elements of the morning’s worship, from the planned liturgy to the Joys and Sorrows brought into the Circle of Care (our Opening Words) all came together, referencing each other and resonating in unexpected ways. 

“Sometimes,” I said, “the universe just conspires to come together.”

Indeed. Amen. 

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