Monday, January 18, 2016

KKQ 2016: Monday Morning, Season after Pentecost

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.

Monday Morning, Season after Pentecost
Psalm 104; John 14:8-20

For everything there is a season
...  On our church calendar, we're still in Epiphany.  But in KKQ's the Season after Pentecost.  The long, slow season when Easter's alleluias and Pentecost's fires have faded, and we are faced with ordinariness once again.  The long, slow season when Kanuga's toast isn't on our breakfast plates and we aren't surrounded day and night with other knitters and quilters, and we are faced with work or school or cooking dinner or cleaning up or whatever else it is that keeps us from stitching.

The Season after Pentecost, the season after Kanuga, is the longest season of the year.  It's where we spend most of our lives, day in and day out, with good days and bad days, long days and whirlwinds, celebrations, distractions, steady progress, standing still.  Some days it can seem like we're slogging through, like when we knit a thousand rows and our sweater only grows half an inch, or sew a thousand rectangles on a border that only reachers halfway down one side of our quilt.  Other days, though, are the ones about which we've been telling each other stories all weekend.  The day a grandchild was born.  The day a wedding was held.  A house was sold.  A surgery was undertaken.  A shawl was worn.  A quilt was finished.  A prayer was answered.  A prayer was asked.

On the Sundays in this long season, as we go about our ordinary days, we will hear story after story about how Jesus went about his ordinary days.  The gospel record for us healing and teachings, journeys and resting places, excitement and anger.  How might we record, in this slow season, what we have done?  One knitter has imagined might pause in our work from time to time, lay out what we have done, look at where we've been and how far we've come.  Whether it seems we made progress or none at all, we might pin a note to our work at the end of the day at the end of our last row, on the last piece we sew to our quilt.  "My high school best friend called out of the blue today."  My neighbor across the street died.  I got a new puppy today.  Our son started kindergarten.  I fell in love again.  All of these things, day by day, will be part of our stitching, woven into our hearts and our handwork.

And Christ will be part of all those things, and part of our stitching, too.  His story unfolds in ordinary days, and he promises that the Spirit abides with us, not just on mountaintops like this one but in the long, slow season.

When we return home, it is not just our everyday work that will be waiting.  Our yarn and our fabric are also there - I know you, I know we all have a stash.  The season after Pentecost may be long and slow, but that is what growth requires.  It is a fertile season, when things take root and unfold and become.

Saint Elizabeth Zimmerman wrote, "I reconnoitered my wool-room yesterday - it is full of possibilities for the new year... By this time next year some of these will have been achieved and some scorned and abandoned.  Some as yet undreamed-of whims will have taken shape.  I'm ready for them; my mind is open, my wool-room full of wool, my needles poised, my brain spinning like a Catherine-wheel.  My word, such good fortune.  I can only hope the same for you."  Amen.

Tiny felted heart left on the windowsill in the chapel.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

KKQ 2016: Sunday Morning, Easter

Here is where I explain this little series of posts.

Sunday Morning, Easter
1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Psalm 36:5-10; John 20:1-18

Now there are varieties of gifts
, wrote Paul, who often said that his gift was weakness.  There are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, the same God who activates them all in everyone.

I learned, just yesterday in Mimi's class, that one of my gifts is mis-reading a knitting pattern.  I am calling it a gift because Mimi's one classroom rule is that you cannot talk down about yourself.  Perhaps others of you, whether knitters or quilters, have my same gift.  It isn't that we do not understand the techniques we're being taught.  It's not that we cannot execute them.  It's simply that we have a gift...of not seeing what is right in front of us on the page.

Many of the projects we tackled this weekend demanded our best efforts.  I saw all of you hard at work in your classrooms, sewing curved seams, knitting brioche, arranging quilt squares, making fingers on gloves.  I chose Fox Paws for my project, and with the others in Mimi's class I cast on and started knitting.

This is my mom's Fox Paws.  She has the gift of not mis-reading the pattern.

So, until you reach row ten of that pattern - row ten, after nine grueling rows of knit-one-yarn-over-knit-one-in-the-same-stitch, slip-back-two, change colors, weave in the ends as you go... Until you reach row ten of Fox Paws, it's a hot mess.  There are bunched up stitches everywhere, looking nothing at all like the pattern picture, and the only way to tell if you're knitting it correctly is to count, and then to pray.  When you get to row ten, suddenly you see them, those little fox paws, which had been there all along.

Supposing him to be the gardener...  I love this little detail in John's Easter story.  Supposing him to be the gardener.  Mary Magdalene, alone at the tomb, already grieving and now also anxious to find her Lord...Mary Magdalene turns away from a vision of angels to see a man standing nearby.  Supposing him to be the gardener...Mary is gifted, too.  She does not see what is right in front of her.  She did not know that it was Jesus, John explains, and scholars and preachers have often said it was because resurrection was not a category she knew, that she did not recognize him because it couldn't possibly be him.

Others, including Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, give Mary more credit than that.  Though Jesus clearly knew a little bit about growing wheat and grapes, or so it seemed from the stories he told, he was definitely not in the plant business.  Mary thought he was the gardener, Bolz-Weber believes, because he looked like a gardener, which is to say, he was a mess.  In icons and stained glass windows, the two of them stand face to face.  Jesus is dressed all in white, with flowing hair, his face clean, his halo shining.  But if Mary supposed him to be a gardener, he must have looked a little rough, the way we do when we're pulling weeds.  Dirt under our nails, on our faces and between our toes; the hem of our pants (or his robe) soaking wet from the grass, maybe wearing a hat or carrying a hoe, with bits of leaves and twigs in our hair.

One of the knitters at the retreat cares for the gardens at Kanuga.
The heather was blooming while we were there.

It was an understandable mistake, perhaps.  God had been a gardener before, of course, in the very beginning, when God planted the seeds of all that would take root and grow and flower into creation. How fitting that on the day of resurrection, when creation was made new, infused not with time but eternity, that God would appear as a gardener again.  Mary did not see Jesus until he called her name, and then suddenly there he was, right in front of her all along.

For everything there is a season...  In all seasons, there is Easter.   Every Sunday on our church calendar, whether in Advent or Lent or any other time of year...every Sunday is called a "little Easter", when we gather again to remember that Jesus died, yes, but also that he rose, re-creating us, and it is on this side of Easter that we now live - not just every Sunday, but every day.

Which is not, of course, to say that every day we look our best, as we do for "big" Easter, in our white dresses and pastel ties, lily-fresh.  It may be that here, on retreat, we've been more appropriately dressed to find our risen Savior.  If Mary, who had seen him face to face, supposed him that day to be a gardener, how many times, on how many days, have we look at Christ right in front of us not knowing that he was there?  In the smile of the server in the dining hall.  In the patience of our teachers here.  In the stranger who has now become a friend.  Singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer writes, "God walks round in muddy boots, sometimes rags, and that's the truth.  You can't always tell, but sometimes you just know."

Resurrection is messy.  There are scars.  There is misunderstanding.  There is the business of becoming a new creation.  There is meeting Christ on a morning in the midst of grief and confusion.  And there is finally leaving the place where we saw him.  In the Fox Paws pattern, row one comes around again eventually.  And for a time the stitches will once again be all bunched up and difficult to work.  But now we know the little paws are in there.

It was a jumbled assortment of squares.  But there's a quilt in there all along.

Jesus the Gardener sent Mary out to tell what she had seen.  And she went, and it very well may be that we have a gospel to read at all because she announced to the others that Christ had risen and that they would see him going ahead of them.  And when indeed they did, Jesus said he would be with them always, even to the end of the age.

Mary was gifted.  And so are we.  And I don't just mean that sometimes we don't see what's right in front of us.  Mary had the gift of courage to tell the story of resurrection, as unbelievable as it sounded.  Some of us have the gift of patience to teach.  Others listen well, or start good fires in fireplaces, or elicit smiles, or are gifted at encouragement.  We are all of us creative, and we all are able to wrap the world around us in warmth and color and generosity - or what else are we doing when we give someone a sweater or a hat or a quilt?

Charlotta is gifted at quilting.
Trish is gifted at knitting.
These knitters and quilters are gifted at music.
They play for our closing service every year.

I hope there is new life in  you today, at the end of this wonderful weekend we've shared.  We've walked in the shadows of mountains and trees, we've not had to cook even once, we've sat by fireplaces, we've talked with friends, we've napped, we've shopped, we've walked in the snow, we've stitched for three days straight without interruption.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  For everything there is a season...  Soon we will leave Kanuga, and in 360 or so days return (but who's counting?!).  In the year to come, in every season, may we share our gifts, may we keep creating, may we seek and find Christ not in perfection but in all the beautiful messiness of life.  He's right in front of us all the time, and with us to the end of the age.  Amen.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

KKQ 2016: Saturday Evening, Lent

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.  This evening service included prayers for healing.

Saturday Evening, Lent
Psalms 42 and 43; Isaiah 43:16-21

Last year at KKQ, which was celebrating its tenth year, someone suggested we thank Varian for her ministry among us by making something for her out of pieces or yarn or fabric from every participant there.  I wandered from class to class, asking knitters for scraps of the yarns they were using - soft wools, sturdy cottons, lustrous silks and alpacas, in a rainbow of colors even Crayloa hasn't named, light and dark, lofty and sleek, from balls of working yarn and piles of yarn that had been unknit or worse.

Finally I went to the quilting room, uncertain whether what I was going to ask was even possible.  We had decided to tie the yarns together end to end to end, and thought perhaps we could use narrow strips of fabric as well.  I explained this to the quilters, and asked them, "So, from the fabrics you're working with this weekend, do you think there might be scraps?"

Cue the laughter.

Apparently, one of the many mysteries in quilting is not only that there are always scraps, but that as you work your way through them, piecing them in ever smaller strips and shapes into new quilts, the scraps multiply.  Exponentially.  Every quilter keeps a bag or box at his or her table to collect the fragments of fabric cut away but not discarded, for there may be life and purpose in them yet.  Pink from a quilt for someone's daughter.  A musical print in memory of a musical friend.  An orange that was chosen for the color of a sunset.

It isn't hard to see how like life our handwork is.  How we start fresh and new, how all things are possible on the threshold of a project, a year, a job, a journey, a relationship.  How we work eagerly and carefully with all we have been given, whether yarn or fabric or the ability to do math or a gift for teaching or a call to medicine or a chance meeting with someone we grow to love.  How we create something at once beautiful and useful, cutting away what we don't need.

And then...a stitch gets dropped.  A pattern gets misread.  A seam doesn't line up.  We run out of yarn.  We cut the fabric in the wrong direction.  We receive a diagnosis.  The phone rings in the middle of the night.  Someone moves away.  We lose a job, our health, our hope, a loved one.  We hurt someone, whether we meant to or not.

For everything there is a season...  In the liturgical season of Lent, we acknowledge how dark things can get, how tangled, how disordered, how discouraging.  We sift through what seems a pile of scraps and lay them before God.  We have not loved you with our whole hearts, we pray at the start of the season.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We confess our unfaithfulness, our pride, our impatience, our anger at our own frustration, our envy of those more fortunate.  For whatever reason, whether we make a mistake or something happens that impairs us in some way, we lose sight of the pattern, of the possibilities that are yet there.  We are vulnerable, heart, mind, and body, and we need God's help.

I am about to do a new thing, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.  Do you not perceive it?  Even now, in this season of darkness and doubt and discouragement, it springs forth.  For the scraps in the quilters' bags, for the tangled thoughts and feelings in our hearts, it might seem that we are finished.  But there is, quilters know (and knitters, too - or how many tiny balls of scrap yarn are in your stash?) there is infinitely more that yet God can and will make of us.

That extra yarn becomes a lifeline so that the next time you rip back you don't lose everything.  That scrap of orange that was a sunset in your quilt becomes a goldfish when you give it to the quilter at the next machine.  Or perhaps the scraps remain simply scraps, retaining the stories and experiences that made them what they are, as we retain the stories and experiences that made us who we are.  Darkness and light.  Ragged and smooth.  Bright colors and neutral grays.  There is always, always, another piece that can be placed somewhere we did not know it could be beautiful.  Perfection, muses another knitter, is wholeness, not the absence of error or darkness or mistakes.  It is the holding together of all the scraps and threads and making something new.

Yarn scraps can make tiny trees.

Fabric scraps can make tiny quilts.

From start to finish, really, that we can bundle up in shawls and quilts and scarves and woolen socks at all is nothing short of a mystery at least - a miracle more likely.  Most yarn and the threads that form fabrics start out as living things, or part of living things - wools and silks and cottons, tangles of fibers that have to be washed and brushed and spun and plied, or woven and cut into bolts.  We take those single long strands or strips of fabric and mix them up again, connecting loop after loop, piece after piece, until they become a new whole, made up no longer of something unbroken but of partial skeins and cut pieces of cloth.  I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, God says to those who had only remnants of life left.  So will God make a new and beautiful way out of us.  Amen.

The God's Eye we made for Varian last year, with our scraps of yarn and fabric.

KKQ 2016: Saturday Morning, Epiphany

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.

Saturday Morning, Epiphany
Matthew 2:1-12

We know they're going to ask before they do.  We're sitting there, knitting - quilters, I'm not sure whether this happens to you also, as I think you're less likely to pull out your sewing machine in the doctor's waiting room or in line at the DMV; but perhaps you do experience this here at Kanuga when we knitters visit the quilting room - so we're sitting there, knitting, working away at something that does not demand our full attention, and we become aware that someone nearby is watching.  Just stolen glances at first, but they get longer and longer, until it can only properly be called staring.  Finally the question comes, "What's that gonna be?"

This is gonna be a sweater (the fair isle yoke part).

It is a pivotal moment.  Potentially powerful.  For the question, though sometimes mere courtesy, is often genuine curiosity.  A little wonder, even.  A mystery.  A spark.  "What's that gonna be?"

"A scarf," we say.  Or a hat.  Or a shawl.  Or a quilt to fit a cradle.  We work more slowly for a moment or two, exaggerating movements we usually make without effort, to spark more interest, to keep the wonder alive, to fan the flame.  Do we tell them the scarf is for a grandfather who has a hard time keeping warm?  That the hat is for a friend who will soon lose her hair?  That the shawl is made with yarn we bought last summer on our family vacation?  That the quilt is for our first grandson, made with fabrics leftover from his mother's or father's baby clothes?  "What's that gonna be?"  A scarf is only half the story.

This is gonna be yarn.

For everything there is a season...  In the season of Epiphany, we remember how sparks of recognition flew at first like stars in the night sky and finally burst in transfigured glory.  "What's that gonna be," people murmured as Jesus began to be known.  At first they just stole glances, and then they stopped and stared, not fully recognizing the shape of his words and actions but aware they were seeing and hearing something new and wonderful and of God.

"What's that gonna be," they asked as he turned water into wine, or cast out demons, or said blessed are the meek.  "This is going to be salvation," Jesus might have said.  This is going to be forgiveness. This is mercy.  This is love.  This is justice.  This is grace.  This is welcome.  And then he'd tell a story about vines and branches, wheat and chaff, baker women, shepherds and sheep.  What was happening was extraordinary, the eruption of heaven on earth, but it happened in ordinary time, in the course of ordinary days.  Like us on our ordinary days, Jesus went here and there, he worked hard, sometimes he rested.  He met with friends, at his meals, said his prayers, noticed the people around him and asked him how they were.

"What's that gonna be"  Our quilters know the question because I myself have asked it after staring stealing glances as pieces become a whole, as patterns are revealed that I had not seen before, each an epiphany all its own.  I know it's a quilt, but if I linger long enough, I learn the rest of the story, or some of is a sunset over a mountain, or a gift for a golden anniversary, or a prayer for someone who is grieving, or a cover for a college-bound kid.

This is the sunset over a mountain, before it got quilted.

I suppose any moment, whether we are stitching a garment or a blanket or a life, any moment can be pivotal and powerful when we use it to show and tell how we make meaning, to let someone know, because they have asked, who and whose we are.  And the light, like the work in our hands, grows as someone else now knows something about warmth, about love, about grace.  Then we go back to our work, back to knitting, back to quilting, back to living, as though it is the most ordinary thing in the world.  Which, of course, it is.  And of course, which it isn't.  It's extraordinary.  That's why they stare.  That's why they ask.

It is fitting, perhaps, that we have this retreat in the actual season of Epiphany, when every Sunday tells the story of how someone who stared suddenly sees.  The gospel story for this morning does not say so, but surely the wise men wondered, even worried, when the star they followed stopped not above a palace but a place where peasants lived.  They must have stared at the child who seemed far more the son of the carpenter in the corner than a king, let alone the son of God.  Who knows what happened there that night at Joseph and Mary's house that finally helped them see just who he was.  "What's that gonna be?"  Maybe Mary told the story of the angel who came to announce what God meant to make possible.  Maybe Joseph told the story of his dream.  But like that moment when stacked stitches become a fox paw, or when bow ties emerge from an arrangement of fabric, the wise men saw the light, saw everything differently than they had the moment before.

These are the stacked stitches that became a fox paw.

"What's that gonna be"  Perhaps the best answer of all would be to say that we aren't sure yet, even if we know it is, minimally, a hat or an art quilt or a shawl.  The truth is, it's a story that is still unfolding, with epiphanies around every corner, revelation in every row, stories in every stitch.  In the gospel, Jesus had years yet to grow, the wise men had miles yet to travel, the star had light years yet to burn, our own stories were yet dreams in our ancestor's hearts.  So also our projects are works in progress, as we are.

What if, today, we shined a light for every moment of recognition, every time we saw the pattern - in our projects, yes, but better still every time we saw in one another the pattern of heaven on earth as we go here and there, working hard, resting, eating meals with friends, saying our friends, and telling each other our stories.  May this day be blessed and bright.  Amen.

Friday, January 15, 2016

KKQ 2016: Friday Evening, Christmas

Here is where I explain what this little series of posts is all about.

Friday Evening, Christmas
Psalm 96; Luke 2:15-20

For three years I sang in the children's choir at Otey Memorial Parish in Sewanee, Tennessee.  I loved our black and white choir robes, and the paperclips marking what we would be singing from our little red hymnals.  But most of all, I loved Lessons and Carols.  Every December we joined the University Choir - or were they angels? - in the cathedral-sized chapel for a service of scripture and music celebrating the coming of Christ.

My dad and me when I was in the junior choir.

We practiced our little anthem - tu-ra-lu-ra-lu, pat-a-pat-a-pan...  We practiced sitting still for the long readings from scripture.  And we practiced and practiced and practiced processing up and down the aisles, singing while holding a lighted candle.  I will never forget the first time I heard, in that enormous candle-lit darkness full of people and evergreens and anticipation, the first time I heard a solo soprano voice begin, Once in royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed...

So it was that God, in the words of one of the collects of Christmas, joined earth to heaven and heaven to earth, casting on what had until then been only a dream, only a possibility, only a prophet's hope.  Many of us have made incarnate today something that didn't exist when we woke up this morning.  A pile of cut fabric, a cast-on row, a stack of increases or decreases.  With even the first two stitches the yarn or thread is stronger than it was as a single strand, the foundation for all that yet will be.

For he is our childhood's pattern, my favorite Christmas hymn continues.  Day by day like us he grew.  He was little, weak and helpless; tears and smiles like us he knew.  Our hymnal calls it our lifelong, not just childhood's, pattern, which feels more true, or aren't we growing all the time, sometimes up, sometimes out, sometimes deep inside ourselves.  And don't we sometimes feel little, weak, and helpless?  Aren't our days filled, like our Savior's were, with tears and smiles?  The pattern is always this...we've held it in our hands today...the pattern is always this: something starts small.  A single loop in knitting, the first piece in quilting.  It will have to grow for rows and days and sometimes years before it grows up into a glove or a shawl or a quilt or a Savior.  But every stitch matters.  Every block counts toward what will be a new creation.

A quilt in progress at KKQ

If our works in progress look like nothing yet, we are doing just fine.  Did the baby in the manger look like a messiah?  Did he sound like a son of God?  If angels hadn't appeared with their startling announcement, would the shepherds have noticed there was anything different about his tiny toes and fingers and his cry that melted his momma's heart?  First stitches, first steps, first breaths are humble and delicate and fiddly, like a baby, and we have to handle them carefully.

Nothing at all happened as that solo voice rang out at the beginning of Lesson and Carols.  Nothing, that is, except the perfect stillness that precedes beginning to move.  On the second verse, the choirs joined in, softly at first, so as not to wake the one who had come so far to his birth.  And we walked slowly, a slender thread of candlelight and harmonies processing through the chapel.  At the choir stalls, we filed in, one row behind another and another so that, looking back now, I see how the lights became a fabric, like so many stitches and stories in a quilt, like so many years and stories in a life, day by day.

Not in that poor lowly stable, sings the last verse.  Not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by - we shall see him but in heaven, set at God's right hand on high.  I'm not so sure we don't see him in humbleness and lowliness and first rows and fiddly bits.  For all the tenderness of the Christmas story, the starlight and angel song, don't you know Mary and Joseph must have had to swaddle their baby a hundred times before they got it right, growing as they were into their new role as parents.  He was, after all, God incarnate, all flailing arms and tender skin.  Perhaps no one could see it yet, but in those dark infant eyes was the light of the world, in his tiny frame God's embrace of all the world.

Our evening prayer altar at KKQ.

For everything there is a season...  The Christmas season when grace such as we had only dreamed of as a distant light in the darkness became something we could touch and feel, a pattern revealed in sight and sound and the smell of newborn baby.  The first small step in the growth of the body of Christ, which is to say, the growth of who we are.  First stitches of scarves and sweaters and quilts and friendships and other possibilities have been cast on today.  Maybe what we are working on, with our hands, in our lives, in our faith...maybe it has been born and born, again and again and again, already.  If what we are doing feels fiddly or small or weak or helpless, I wonder if we might remember that's how salvation started, too, in the shape of our lifelong pattern of growing day by day, story by story, stitch by stitch?  Amen.

KKQ 2016: Friday Morning, Advent

Yarn and Jesus and mountains.  Y'all, for a retreat, it just doesn't get any better.  Unless you throw in 100+ knitters and quilters, the best toast you'll eat anywhere, and snow on Sunday morning.  Then you've got the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat, at which I have had the privilege of serving as chaplain for the past few years.  The posts that follow are the "homilettes" (so, a homily is a short sermon; a homilette...) I shared at our morning and evening worship services.

The theme was officially "Turning and Re-turning," a lyrical thread from the Appalachian tune, "Simple Gifts."  I had been thinking about the liturgical year, which had begun in Advent, and we were only just in Epiphany.  And it had been a year since we had seen one another, and so many things had been begun and ended between when we had last been at Kanuga and when we returned.  In our stitching, we turn and re-turn to the start of rows or strips of fabric; in something of the same way we turn and re-turn to the start of the story of salvation every time Advent comes around again, always building on the story with another year of our own lives, of new experiences and perspectives and rows or strips of faith.

What ended up being the "unofficial" theme, because it was the refrain I kept returning to in my reflections, was "For everything there is a season."  Some of what is here will have made more sense if you were there, but I hope it is still enough familiar that you might turn and re-turn to similar seasons in your own years and projects and faith journeys.  So we begin with Advent...

Canticle 15 (Luke 1:46-55); Luke 1:39-45

And blessed is she who believed...

Seredipity Needleworks, Tuscaloosa, AL

We stopped at a yarn shop yesterday, on our way from Jackson, Mississippi, to Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  We actually stopped at two yarn shops.  Now, this is problematic for several reasons.

First, perhaps you have not seen the car in which the three of us, sometimes four, travel to this retreat.  It's not a small car.  There's plenty of room for plenty of things, and yet with all the yarn, and books about yarn, and things for working with yarn, and things made out of yarn...and suitcases, if they fit...there's only just enough room for people, if we hold yarn in our laps.  The last thing we need is more yarn.

Second, perhaps you have not heard about how we travel.  Someone said yesterday that we always manage to squeeze a nine-hour drive into around thirteen hours.  Sometimes it's because of where we eat on the way.  Sometimes it has something or other to do with the car or its gas tank.*  There's really not time to stop for yarn even once, let alone twice.

*We may or may not have run out of gas on the way last year.  Twice.

I think one of the reasons we stop for yarn anyway is because we know what will happen when we open the door and step inside the shop.  It has happened to all of us, I'm certain, walking into a yarn shop or a fabric shop.  Or don't you have to pause for just a moment on the threshold to catch your breath, overwhelmed, even if you knew exactly what you came there to fine?  All that color!  All those textures!  All those patterns!  All those possibilities!  You could make anything!

Perhaps, like me, you wander among the displays, touching with reverence the fibers or fabrics, smiling with involuntary delight at a particular print or at a color more saturated than any we have every seen.  Can it really be that yellow?  Perhaps we pick up a skein or a bolt, or see a shop sample, and begin to imagine something we might make something beautiful, something bold.  But then reality sets in, whatever it is about our daily lives that makes us too busy or too tired or too fearful, whatever limits our possibilities, and we put it back down and walk away.

In the Making, Birmingham, AL

But what if...

In the season of Advent, we pause for just a moment on the threshold of what some have called the greatest story every told, the story of how God opened the door from heaven to earth, stepped inside, and became Emmanuel, God-with-us.  The possibilities were endless, as in a yarn shop or fabric store.  But not every yarn works for every pattern; not every fabric can take every shape.  You wouldn't knit something with scratchy wool to go around your neck, or quilt with flannels or thick batting for a Mississippi bed.  God could have picked any pattern for the Savior of the world - a blue whale, a dogwood, a cumulus cloud, a warrior, a king.  But God chose humility and a sense of humor (Jesus could tell a joke!), ordinariness and passion, calloused fingers and dusty feet, and devotion as a shepherd to his sheep.

It was not a new pattern.  God had made a person before, with the same hands and feet and shoulders that sometimes get cold, with ears and a mouth and an eye for color, and bearing God's own image.  But there would be a new thread this time, the perfect yarn for God's pattern of salvation.  This person would not simply bear God's image.  This person would be God from God, light from light, true God from true God, love from love...

...if Mary would believe it was possible, if she wasn't too busy, too tired, too afraid, if she wouldn't put down God's invitation to do something beautiful, something bold, and just walk away...

More In the Making...

Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of all that God has spoken, Elizabeth said when she embraced her cousin.  That God would do something as extraordinary as becoming as vulnerable as we are.  That God would choose reality - our busy-ness and weariness and fears - as the place where God would do more than we could ask or imagine.  That God would piece salvation together from humility and humor and ordinariness and passion and kindness and community and welcome and relationship and prayer and creativity...from the kinds of things that will be happening right here at our retreat...

More In the Making... This yarn may or may not have come home with me.

For everything there is a season.  For believing that anything is possible, for preparing as best as we can, for waiting for the marvelous things that have been promised, that season is Advent...and the first morning of the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat.  We're waiting for the warm scarf or yoked sweater or bowtie quilt that will soon be born.  The patterns and yarns and fabrics are chosen.  What if, today, we believed that God will fulfill all that God has spoken?  What if, instead of putting down what we think cannot be done, we believed that God-with-us will be with us?  What if reality is as full of color and texture and promise as a yarn shop, or the quilting room, or heaven?  Amen.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Preach One: Proper 8B

Preached at St. Andrew's Episcopal images with this one, just words...

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43.

And in this matter, Paul wrote, I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something - now finish doing it.

Last month, I began to do something...well, to desire to do it anyway.  I attended a conference on clergy wellness, about holistically and prayerfully examining spiritual, vocational, health and financial matters in order to better engage in the life and ministry we are given.  By the end of the conference we had all written a small rule of life, an intentional rhythm of activities and practices to help us notice and honor and abide in God's presence day by day.  A rule of life might include setting aside time for prayer or reading or writing; or learning a new practice that helps to center us, at a loom or in a garden or with a fishing pole in hand.  Perhaps we intend to spend more time in community, to encounter God in others; or in solitude, to encounter God in ourselves.  Perhaps we intend to eat more healthfully, or sleep more soundly.

For a rule to become a daily practice, two things must be true.  First, it must be realistic, not an ideal toward which we are striving.  Memorize the Book of Psalms is a lovely if lofty goal.  Read one psalm every morning is a very good rule of life.  Second, a rule should include some form of accountability, preferably a person, someone to help you remember your rule when you forget it, to pray for you as you practice it, and to discern with you when it might be time to make changes to your rule.

If you make Jody, our Canon for Parish Ministry, your accountability person for the part of your rule of life in which you have stated your intention to exercise regularly, this is what you will hear every day at the office: Did you walk today?  How about today?  Did you walk yet?  Are you walking?

It is one thing to commit to doing something... But somewhere between I will walk an hour every week, and lacing up my walking is another thing altogether to follow through.  It's kinda hot today.  I'm really tired.  There's just not time.  I have to get this, or that, or a thousand other things, done first.  I'll just walk tomorrow.

I am giving my advice, Paul wrote, what you began doing, what you desired to do, now finish doing it.  He was writing, of course, to the faithful in Corinth, with whom he had corresponded before, his first letter filled with moral instruction, and teaching concerning the purpose of spiritual gifts and the practice of Christian love (you know, how it is patient and kind, how it bears all things, how of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest).  Paul had also in that letter urged them to offer financial support to the poor in Jerusalem, and the Corinthians had agreed to do so, desiring to do so, for though they were Gentile and the believers in Jerusalem were Jews, they understood from Paul that in Christ all are baptized into one body, Jew and Greek, slave and free.  If one members suffers, all suffer together, Paul had told them.  If one is honored, all rejoice.

But that was a year ago.  And now, though the Corinthians had followed Paul's teaching and Christ's example in loving one another, they had failed to follow through on their financial commitment.  Who knows what happened between, I will give to those in need, and sending the money to Jerusalem.  I don't have enough.  Someone else will do it.  There is this need, and that need, and a thousand other needs right here.  It won't help that much anyway.

So what does happen to us in that space, the space after we acknowledge our intention to act, to move, to love, to extend ourselves, to give...and before we actually do it, or fail to do it?  Why does now suddenly become not the right time?  Why are we suddenly not the right people?  Why is our offering suddenly not the right one?  What keeps us from walking?  What keeps us standing still?

We have witnessed in the past few weeks the devastating results of failing to follow through, to finish what has been begun, to effectively and decisively end racism and gun violence.  And even as the members of Mother Emmanuel AME responded to the horrific tragedy on their grounds with indeed amazing grace, we have watched as many others across our nation instead descend further into division, arguing about race and rights while significant gaps remain between black and white Americans in many ways, such as education, income and access to healthcare, and while gun-related incidents claim thirty American lives every day.  And then decisions rendered by the United States Supreme Court in the name of justice for all revealed still more division, our newspaper opinion pages and Facebook feeds filled with both elation and anger, deep gladness and confused grief.  In the midst of all our division, we are hemorrhaging community.

"The truth is," said the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, elected and confirmed yesterday as our new Presiding Bishop, "The truth is, we are brothers and sisters of each other.  The hard work is to figure out how to live as beloved community, the family of God."  We have brothers and sisters who live in fear every day, who live in isolation, who live with prejudice, who live without equality or safety or enough to eat.  We have brothers and sisters with whom we live in disagreement, in our nation, in our neighborhoods, even in our Church.  We have our own fears, or pride, or self-righteousness, or doubts, or a thousand other things that make us linger in the space between desiring and doing.  How can we move forward as beloved community, as the family of God, when hate, oppression, busyness, pride and division crowd our way?

Paul pointed the Corinthian community toward Christ as the example of fearless giving, of generously and radically transforming love.  Jesus touched us, entered into relationship with us, built a beloved community out of us.  Following through means following him, giving whatever it is we give, both individually and as a church - whether it is financial resources, or bags of lemons, or a few hours at the front desk, or a lunch break serving at Stewpot, or a willingness to listen, really listen, to another's pain...we give whatever it is we give, according to what we have to offer, because Christ gave himself for us, to us; gives himself with us, through us.

Poet Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes of the reasons we list for why we cannot give of ourselves, why we stay stuck and isolated in the space between desiring and doing," There is not enough time... You don't have the power... Of course you don't.  It's not yours.  Time does not belong: it flows.  Power does not sit: it flows.  It is not your time, not your energy, but God's.  You enter the river and it flows through you."

So I walked on the treadmill Friday morning - I can't wait to tell Jody! - and I watched as the week's headlines scrolled across a television screen.  And it struck the midst of all we have experienced as a nation and as a church in these past few weeks, we as people of faith, as family of God, have an extraordinary opportunity to follow through.  To do what we have said we would do, to finish what Christ started, perhaps not expecting, as President Obama said of Reverend Pinckney, pastor of Mother Emmanuel Church, perhaps not expecting to see in our lifetimes complete transformation, but not accepting any reasons or excuses not to act anyway.  To love our brothers and sisters, all of them, with patience and kindness, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude.  To live as beloved community, in eagerness and gentleness.  To bear witness to amazing grace.

After all, we named our desire and decision to do something in our baptism, when the covenant we made as water dripped down our necks became our first rule of life.  Will we continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?  Will we persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we sin repent and return to the Lord?  Will we proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  Will we seek and serve Christ in all persons - all persons - loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Will we strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being - even those who differ from us, even those who disagree with us?  In this commitment we have begun in baptism and are called to continue in community, our accountability person is none other than the one who made us and who loves us and keeps us.  I will, with God's help.

Brothers and sisters, let us finish what we have set out to do, which is to say, let us do love, let us be kind, let us welcome grace, until what Christ started is complete.  Let us live in real community, as God's family, with God's help.  "We are part of the Jesus movement," Bishop Curry proclaimed, "and nothing can stop the movement of Christ's love in the world."  Amen.