Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Little Something

I just finished my first miniature stocking!  It's made from a pinch of sparkly white Lion Brand Fun Fur, a palmful of Red Heart Luster Sheen (both leftover from other projects), and was knit on four size two dpn's.  My mom adapted the pattern from the Plymouth Yarn Company (click on "free patterns" and choose the Jeanee sock, and blogged about it here.  The stocking was lots of fun to make, and was a wonderful little reminder of basic sock knitting techniques, including gusset-making and toe-shaping and kitchenering!

Surely I could make one each month (total knitting time was probably about 5 hours), and by next Christmas have 12 little stocking ornaments to share with friends and family...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Same (But Different)

I only have three and a half skeins left to finish my entrelac wrap...again...

I've been at this point twice before, and twice have decided that I need to add a few more skeins to make the finished piece long enough.  Back in September, at the Big Lynn Lodge (covered in fog when we were there; now covered in two feet of snow!), I started with the recommended eight skeins of Noro Silk Garden in my chosen colorway, 268 - such a nondescript name for something so very lovely, something with so much depth and variation.  The colors remind me of the water and rocks of Iona's wild coastlines, where the grazing grasses grow right up to pebble-strewn beaches and crystal waves of grey and blue...

Perhaps I am a tight knitter, perhaps the pattern is mistaken, perhaps I just prefer a longer wrap...I decided to add two more skeins, bringing the total up to ten.  The little yarn shop that taught the entrelac class and provided the initial stash had more in stock, so I ordered it from them and was delighted to receive the squishy envelope in my mailbox a few days later.

Not long ago, I decided I needed still more yarn, and called up the shop again.  This time they couldn't help.  I searched on-line, and found 268 but in a different dye lot.  The same, but different.

I can't remember now which of the skeins in this picture are from dye lot A, and which are from dye lot B.  I hope that's encouraging news, that they look so similar I won't be able to tell the difference when they are knitted into the wrap (which I'm wearing in the next picture - see how short it still is?).

It is my hope to finished knitting my Iona wrap over Christmas, this season in which God came among us as one of us...the same, but blessedly, wondrously different...

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I've always loved to sing.  I remember making music with my mom and little brother, singing our favorite tunes into a tape recorder while mom accompanied us on her guitar.  I remember standing beside my grandparents in church, holding a miniature hymnal in my hands, singing words I could barely understand. And I remember concerts put on by my stuffed animals, belting out songs I learned in the school choir.

I wonder if Mary had always loved to sing.  It came naturally to her, apparently, for she sang as she walked the road between her house and Elizabeth's.  Poet Irene Zimmerman imagines the journey when she write, "As her feet unraveled the warp and woof of valleys and hills, darkness and days from Nazareth to Elizabeth, Mary wove the heart of her Son...Elizabeth, wise old weaver herself for several months by then, instantly saw the signs and ran heavily to meet her...Then Mary sang the seamless song she'd woven on the way."  My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord...

Already, before Advent even began, I was singing songs I've loved my whole life, songs that evoke memories of candle-let wreaths, angels on the mantlepiece, and midnight services.  Come, thou long expected Jesus... O come, O come Emmanuel... Of the Father's love begotten, 'ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega; he the source; the ending, he...

Saint Augustine once wrote, "The one who sings, prays twice," and I believe it is true.  The words of Mary's prayer, like the words of all those beloved Advent and Christmas hymns, are lovely and wondrous.  Woven through with melodies, though, they soar on wings of angels, they ride the heart's deep rhythms, they sound the love of a mother bending over her baby as she sings him to sleep.

Scripture doesn't say so, but I suspect Jesus never forgot Mary's voice, the songs she cooed to him, the melodies she hummed as she went about each day's work.  Perhaps, every once in a while, he found himself singing as he went on his way, songs he'd loved his whole life, songs that evoked memories of candle-lit stables and angels in the heavens making their own midnight music... Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth...

Artwork: "Annunciation," by Ruth Councell.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Venite adoremus

Today the first graders wore pajamas for their Polar Express party.  The three- and four-year-olds rehearsed their Christmas songs for tomorrow's chapel service.  I saw fourth graders in Santa hats and elf ears.  There were Christmas cookies in the Commons.

Advent ends early for me, because I will not see my faith community again until the new year.  There will be a baby in the manger tomorrow, and the children dressed as Mary and Joseph will hold him tenderly.  Gifts will be exchanged and candy canes will make sweet little fingers sticky.  It will be strange to return to Advent come Friday afternoon.

How lovely to think, though, that Jesus will come again so very soon, that the stable and the world will be filled with light and Love Come Down both tomorrow and again a week from tomorrow.  Usually I have to wait an entire year for Christmas to come round, for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to be with us.

Come, Lord Jesus, come, Lord Jesus, amen, come Lord Jesus... Oh, come quickly, come, Lord Jesus... the children will sing in chapel.  And humbly, I realize that Jesus will indeed come.  Not because Mary and Joseph will carry him down the aisle and hold him while we hear lessons and sing carols.  Not because it's Christmas.  Jesus will come because that is who he is.  He will come tomorrow, and again a week from tomorrow, and on every day in between, and on every day after...calling us to quickly come and follow.  O come, let us adore him...

Artwork: "Nativity Silhouette," by Gail Bartel.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent 2C

Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

You will see signs in the sun and moon and stars, Jesus told us last Sunday, the first Sunday of the Advent season. You will see signs in fig trees and all the trees of summer. Signs of endings all around you giving way to signs of new beginnings waiting to be revealed. That is how it will be at the last day, when Jesus comes again in clouds and glory. That is also how it was on the day he came in a stable, with tiny toes and swaddling clothes and a baby’s soft sigh. You will see signs, Jesus said, signs that something is going to happen, something wonderful, something that will change everything..

I saw signs all right. All week long, every day, everywhere I went. They were big and bright and unmistakable. Road construction. Right lane closed. Speeding fines doubled. Lanes shift. Detour. Slow. Expect delays. Orange cones and workers in hard hats and big yellow machines with scrapers and rollers signal that something is going to happen, something wonderful, something that will change everything...someday...if they ever finish...

Does road construction ever end? They’ve been working on I-55 since we moved here more than three years ago. I try not to think about 1-20 just south of here. Both routes to our son’s school were resurfaced recently. At the same time. They’re fixing the pothole around the corner from our house. Again. Deep down, I know it’s all for the best, to make a smooth and level way for us to get from here to there or wherever it is that we’re going, but that’s not what I think about when I see those signs. Road work ahead. Road work next billion miles.

Instead, I’m usually thinking about the next appointment, the next meeting, the next lesson, the next errand, the next obligation to which I may now be late as traffic merges into a single slow-moving lane. Even the excitement of a trip can be tempered when we have to wait and wait and wait on an under-construction interstate or highway. If we’re lucky we might find an alternate route, a way that might normally take longer than the main road, if the main road wasn’t being scored and graded and paved and painted. 

Scripture is almost as full of road construction as the Jackson metro area is. At the Lower School this year we are telling stories about women and men who go on a journey with God, who set out on the road from here to there or somewhere, and it’s never a quick trip. The roads in Noah’s day needed so much work God washed them all away. For Abraham and Sarah, the way was fairly smooth except for a few bumps in the road and a little detour that took them all the way to Egypt and back. If there had been a road of any kind, Moses and the Hebrew people might have reached the promised land with time to spare, but it was wilderness the whole way, and so they endured forty years of road construction through the sea and over mountains and across the desert. Very soon we will join Mary and Joseph on the overcrowded road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

God, it seems, is in the road construction business, forgoing the orange cones for ark schematics and skies full of stars and burning bushes and angelic announcements signaling that something is going to happen, something wonderful, something that will change everything. This morning, the prophet Baruch tells the story of the signs he saw at a time when God’s people had been defeated, scattered and exiled, and every road back home torn apart. Once again a wilderness separated them from their promised land, and they feared that this time even God could not find a way from here to there. Arise, O Jerusalem, God spoke through Baruch. Arise, stand upon the height, and look, and see your children gathered from east and west...God will bring them back to you, for God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

The return home may have been smooth and level, but there was still much repair work to be done. Their cities, their Temple, and even their sense of community had to be built all over again. It was long, slow, hard work, to restore all the ways that had been lost. Eventually, though, new cracks began to show here and there, and potholes began to form, and the old ways became worn and in some places crooked.

And so the signs went back up. It is Luke who tells us this story, starting on the streets outside the palaces of emperors and governors, rulers and high priests, and winding his way out into the wilderness, where the word of God came to John son of Zechariah. Once again, a new road was to be made. God had found a way from heaven to earth, but for earth to meet heaven there, repairs were desperately needed.

Prepare the way of the Lord, the prophet Isaiah had known someone would say, and Luke tells us that that someone was John. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. Over and again, and again and again, for Noah and Abraham and Sarah and Moses and for everyone who had ever set out on a road from here to there or somewhere, over and again God had been patiently and powerfully present, making the journey possible, working to make the way level and smooth.

And yet, over and again, and again and again, the people of God had been impatient, had sought out alternate routes to happy endings, ways around the hard, slow work of change and growth. John’s words urged them - urge us, still - to do a little road construction of our own, to consider where there are mountains or valleys or crookedness or roughness between ourselves and God.

“What shall we prepare for the Lord?” asked Bishop Origen of catechumens preparing for baptism in the 2nd century. “What shall we prepare for the Lord? A way by land? Could the Word of God travel such a road? Is it not rather a way within ourselves that we have to prepare for the Lord? Is it not a straight and level highway in our hearts that we are to make ready? Surely this is the way by which the Word of God enters the spaciousness of our bodies.”

You will see signs, Jesus said, and indeed they are appearing everywhere. Shades of blue and purple. One more candle lit. Evergreens and sweet hay. Haunting melodies of hymns we hear once a year. Pregnant pauses in our prayers. Road construction. Slow. Expect delays. Expect something wonderful. Expect everything to change.

The signs are there. So how does the road ahead look? Not the road out there, where we rush and rush and wait and wait. How does the road in our hearts look, the road by which the Word of God enters the spaciousness of us? Where is the pavement uneven and cracked? Where have potholes appeared again? Where do mountains loom and valleys gape? Where are there rough places? Where is there crookedness?

In the season of Advent, the season of signs, we are called to repent, literally to turn back, and rather than seeking some easier alternate route to Bethlehem, to allow our hearts to be repaired, allow ourselves to be leveled, scored, graded, paved and painted, prepared to be a highway for our God. Whatever the road that lies ahead, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the way will be smooth for the Word of God to enter our hearts and go with us everywhere we go. O come, o come Emmanuel... Amen.

Artwork: Road work in Arizona; "The Road to Blacksburg: Good Friday to Easter," by Susan E. Goff; "This Fragile Earth," by Barbara Mitchell; "Highway to Heaven," photographer unknown.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hi, Mom!

The tradition must have started when I was in college.  Whenever it started to snow where I was, I called mom to tell her, and she always did the same for me.

Mom!  It's snowing!

I'd love to curl up on the sofa and knit, content in knowing that there is - if only rarely - a reason to work with wool in Mississippi.  Tonight I'm working with words, though, as I write a sermon for Sunday.  May they drift down as lightly as the snowflakes outside, dusting my page with reflections on Advent themes.  Hope, expectation, waiting, watching...

...for Jesus, of course.  And tonight, for snow.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Prophecy Candle

One of the many lovely things I inherited from previous school chaplains was the very intentional observance of Advent.  I already loved this season, even if just the idea of it - every year there seem to be new and compelling reasons why I can't be still or even slow down in the days before Christmas arrives.  Still, I am drawn to the images of Advent and make them my nest when I can, words and pictures and experiences into which I can settle, wonders wrapped all around.  In weary moments I wish for the nest to be a shelter from the so-many-shopping-days-left world, but in wakeful moments I come to understand that the nest is a space in which life is growing, a place from which I can see the whole world and the ways in which God is always already Emmanuel, God-with-us.

My work as a school chaplain obligates me to make Advent accessible and, God-willing, meaningful to the community I serve.  Unlike other clergy, I get to be with my community day in and day out, which means there are many opportunities to mark the days of this pregnant season.  I spent all of this afternoon editing, copying, folding and stapling the booklets that will accompany the Advent wreaths teachers will begin using tomorrow in their classrooms.  Every morning during Advent I will send the community an Advent reflection written by a faculty, staff, or board member.  Between now and the last day of school we will have ten chapel services, four of which will be services of lessons and carols.  I will teach lower school classes about prophets and angels and stars and stables.  There will be candles and songs and stories and prayers each and every day.  

I treasure times like right now, sitting still on the sofa with a cat by my side, filled with thoughts of Advent like visions of sugarplums, washed in the gently merry multi-colored glow of the lights on the tree.  But the nest is made also of times like tomorrow, attending to work, surrounded by children, aware of countless demands on my time and energy.  As I worry, though, about not being able to be still or even slow down, the children will be tucking a thread into Advent's nest as they gather in circles on the floor to light the first candle...

The First Week in Advent – Younger Children
One purple candle is lit – the Prophecy Candle

In the bible, we read about people called prophets.  Prophets were a lot like teachers, telling people about how God works in the world.  The stories they told were passed down from great-grandmothers to grandmothers, from grandmothers to mothers, from mothers to children, and so on…

A long time ago, long before Jesus was born, there was a prophet named Isaiah.  Can you say Isaiah?  Isaiah said many beautiful things about God.  One of those things was this:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Isaiah 9:2

You see, back then, the people who believed in God had very hard lives.  Can you make a sad face?  They were waiting and waiting for God to save them.  Isaiah’s words made them feel hopeful.

Christians feel hopeful when we hear Isaiah’s words, because sometimes we call Jesus “the light of the world.”  In the season of Advent, we are waiting for Jesus to be born, because we believe he will save us when we feel like our lives are hard.

It is hard to wait, isn’t it?  It is hard to be patient.  Imagine all those great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, those grandmothers and grandfathers, those mothers and fathers, and all those children who heard Isaiah’s words while they were waiting for God to save them.  They thought God would send a powerful king with horses and armies to save them.  They were going to call that king Emmanuel, which means God with us.  Can you say Emmanuel?

Instead, Emmanuel, the one who came to save us, was born as a little baby!  How surprised everyone must have been!

Let us pray. Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for shining your light into our world.  We who sit in darkness have seen a great light, the light of the Messiah, the Christ.  We give you thanks and praise for loving us so much.  Amen. 

Artwork: Our tree; "There Came a Light," by C. Robin Janning.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What I Learned Over Thanksgiving Break

Around this time every November, I think about how nice it would be if I had been working on little projects all year long that could be given as Christmas gifts.  Not once, though, have I ever discovered a carefully stashed collection of finished objects, and so I turn to pattern books and websites to see if there's any hope of finding something I can mass produce in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This year the thought hadn't occurred to me at all that I might give knitted gifts.  I've been eager to finish my own entrelac shawl in time to wear at Christmas, when my mom will be visiting with her finished clapotis shawl.

Earlier this week, though, enjoying some time off from work, I started catching up on knitting blogs and stumbled across this entry about a technique that combines knitting and weaving.  The blogger had learned the technique from a book, in which I think the author suggests it may be used to create placemats.  I thought perhaps I could try a smaller version, maybe a coaster (without the actual instructions, of course).

This was my first attempt.  All you do is knit a stockinette swatch, and then use a tapestry needle to weave another color of yarn through the stitches.  It's fun, and satisfies for now a faint urge to learn how to weave properly.

The edges looked pretty rough, though - all four of them.  So I looked up suggestions for making the cast-on and bind-off edges identical.  Several knitters suggested a provisional cast-on, which I'd heard of but never tried.  I used the COWYAK version - "cast on waste yarn and knit".  Like most knitting techniques, it looked like intense muddle-making at first but turned out to be ingenious.  With a provisional cast-on, you use waste yarn for the cast-on then switch to your main color.  Later, you carefully remove the waste yarn and are left with live stitches, which I promptly bound-off to look exactly the same as the opposite bound-off edge.

This was my second attempt.  For my third attempt I learned that I could make the side edges neater, as well, by slipping the first and last stitches as if to knit on every knit row, and purling straight across every purl row.  I've read about these kinds of techniques before, but always felt like the edges they produced were too loose.  This one worked just fine!

All three coasters, unfortunately, are a little too asymmetrical for my taste - I know that has everything to do with tension, and could probably be worked out with a few more attempts.  Or purchasing the book.  No mass production this year, but if I'm lucky, perhaps I'll look for a carefully stashed collection of finished objects next November, and find a happy little stack of colorful coasters to give!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proper 29B (Christ the King)

I go to Holy Trinity in Crystal Springs every fourth Sunday. That means my next visit will be the Sunday after Christmas!

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-19; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Little Charlie’s birthday was this week. Nine years old. But didn’t he fit in my arms just yesterday? Didn’t the tender top of his head just have that sweet baby smell? How can time have gone by so very quickly and yet have been so very full?

Birthday week itself is always busy, always full, with cupcakes to back, invitations to send, and gifts to wrap. I was at the store one evening, searching through shelf after shelf of Star Wars figures, Yu-gi-oh cards, and Speed Racer cars, things little boys love. I thought there might be more around the corner of a display, but as I turned into the aisle I was surrounded suddenly by pink. Shelf after shelf of babies and Barbies and dolls of all shapes and sizes. There were miniature clothes and hairbrushes, horses and dollhouses, fairy wings, magic wands and crowns. There was everything a little princess could ever want or need. Fingering the sparkling plastic glass slippers and pink toy pearls, I was a little girl again. How can time have gone by so very quickly and yet have been so full?

This morning we are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our liturgical year before we start all over again, back at the beginning. Today we see Christ enthroned in all his majesty as King of kings and Lord of lords, and we celebrate his glorious and eternal reign over heaven and earth, drawing all of us together under his most gracious rule.

Most of the church’s yearly celebrations have centuries, even millennia of tradition and history behind them. Many mark events in the life of Christ himself. His birthday. The day of his death. And the day of his wondrous resurrection. We look back on these events, we tell their stories over and over again, and we marvel at the meaning they carry for us still, shaping our own stories, calling us back to an ancient once upon a time and forward into a future that promises, somehow, a happily ever after.

The Feast of Christ the King dates all the way back...to 1925. In the wake of a war unlike any the world had ever known, God seemed to be losing ground to the work of tyrants and the powers of nationalism and secularism. The Vatican instituted Christ the King in an effort to reclaim the absolute authority of Jesus Christ. At first it was celebrated nearer to All Saints’ Day, for it is Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth to whom the saints pledge their loyalty and from whom they draw their strength. In 1969, the feast was moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year as a sort of climax, the vision of Christ to which the rest of the year points.

In the coming week, though, the great wheel of our liturgical year will make a mighty turn, bringing us around again to Advent, when we look forward to welcoming Christ the Lord the newborn King, tiny and helpless, enthroned not in majesty but in a manger, seated not in heaven but upon his mother’s lap. We look forward to Christmas, counting down the days to one of the greatest feasts of the year. Or are we looking back to Christmas, peeling back the years to that glorious night, that starlit stable where began the reign of heaven on earth?

The liturgical year of the church is very different than the calendar year, or the academic year, or the budget year. Those calendars are measured in blocks stacked up as columns and set in rigid rows, and time moves forward with precision and purpose. It is how we know when to arrive at school or at work, when to pay our taxes, when to celebrate a birthday.

In Little Charlie’s Sunday School classroom, though, the calendar of the liturgical year is in the shape of a wheel, a circle, wrapped round with the colors and seasons we celebrate. It is mostly green, of course, for that long season after Pentecost, the season that comes to an end today, so that the Feast of Christ the King is bordered on one side by green and on the other by purple, the color of Advent.

We will call next Sunday the first day of the new liturgical year, but of course it is the nature of a circle to have no beginning and no end. So it is with the calendar by which we tell the stories of our faith, always looking forward in hope, always looking back in wonder at the ways in which God has been revealed in the days and months and years of history. And so it is also with the reign of Christ the King, who does not rule over this day alone but who is Alpha and Omega, who is and who was and who is to come.

As we move forward to the celebration of Christmas, as we move back toward the manger that once stood in the little town of Bethlehem, the reign of Jingle Bells and toy store shelves will assert itself, and we will worry that there are too few rows and columns on the calendar between each day and the Big Day, December 25th. Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Time will go by quickly, and the days will be full...

But the liturgical calendar, even as Advent comes around, at first points us far beyond the Big Day to the Biggest Day of all, the last day, when Jesus will come again in power and great glory, when we will see him seated on that throne surrounded by saints and angels and ourselves. Then we will be pointed back to John the Baptist who is pointing forward at one who will come to level the mountains and valleys, to make the crooked places straight and the rough places plain and smooth, as the surface of a circle. Finally, in one of the readings appointed for Christmas Day, the gospel of John will point us back to the beginning of the story. Not Bethlehem, but the very beginning before there was anywhere or anything or anyone at all. In the beginning, John writes, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Without him was not anything made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.

Christ the glorious king. Christ the newborn king. Perhaps it is that the great wheel of the liturgical year stands still, and it is we who move around it, sometimes forward, sometimes backward. It matters not. Christ is King at every point from beginning to end and back to the beginning again. His kingdom, his reign, was not from this world because it began before this world came to be. He chose, however, to make this world his dwelling place, reigning among and in us as Love, as Compassion, as Forgiveness, as Mercy, as Truth.

All year long we’ve seen our King in the stories that we’ve heard. We’ve seen him call sinners and outcasts friends and disciples. We’ve seen him heal hurts that no one else would dare touch. We’ve seen him bundled in the straw of a stable, on the dusty on the streets of the city, riding on the back of a donkey, standing trial in the palace of Pilate, hanging on the wood of the cross.

All year long...time went by so quickly, and yet it was so full. Where did we see our King in the days and weeks and months of our own lives, our own stories? Was he, perhaps, in the compassion of a friend? The kindness of a stranger? Was he in the comfort offered to a grieving family, the creativity of a couple burdened by the economic downturn, the conviction of someone arguing a just cause?

Where will we see Christ our King in the year ahead? Not, I suspect, among the glass slippers and pearls and crowns and power plays of the world’s kings, whether real royalty or things like fear and regret and anxiety and ambition that hold dominion over us day to day. The reign of Christ, suggests one preacher, is wherever people love and care for one another and for the weak and vulnerable. It is whenever the hungry are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the neglected are cared for, and injustice is overturned. We will see the reign of Christ wherever and whenever people embody Jesus‘ way of acting and relating.

O come, O come Emmanuel, God-with-us, come round again and reign forever in our hearts. Amen.

Artwork: "Rosabunde Center," by Richard Adams; "Namaste Mandala," by the Reverend Catherine Quehl-Engel; "You Power of Wisdom," by Susan Tilt; Photograph of labyrinth at Gray Center; "The Mother," by Lysanne McGaffey; Photograph of shed door at Veronica's House.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can't Set Down

Everything was ready to go.

In fact, it was ready long before it had to be. The readings were printed, the prayers were written, the acolytes were trained, the speakers were prepared, the choir was warmed up, the powerpoint slides were all in order. On bright blue post-its, so that they would catch my attention, I was writing a few last minute notes about how I would introduce the chapel service. "We have so much to be thankful for..." I was going to say as I introduced the speakers, the choir, and the young woman who was going to play the Chinese zither for the prelude. Everything was ready to go...

And then, just like that, it wasn't. One of the speakers, a student, had butterflies. Not the little lace-winged kind that flutter around and make you hiccup, but the kind with great wings that beat the air and cause storms halfway around the world. We talked about facing fears and finding courage, but in the end she chose to look for a different way to give voice to the stories inside her.

Another of the speakers, a teacher, didn't realize there were actually two services rather than just one. Middle School Chapel is followed by Upper School Chapel (the fire marshall prefers we not all worship at once). We talked about finding a substitute for his study hall.

My son's elementary school called to say they were beginning the swine flu vaccinations momentarily, and if we wanted to be there to hold our son's hand we had to come right now. I called my husband, and we talked about who would go.

I gathered up my things - post-it notes, cassock and surplice, readings, birthday prayer list, computer, special connector-thingy-to-hook-my-mac-up-to-the-projecter... Except that the special connector-thingy was at home. I quickly saved the powerpoint onto a special drive-thingy and ran to the chapel to find my associate. We talked about using her computer instead of mine.

Which would have been wonderful, had I remembered how to get a PC to connect to the projector. A quick call to the saints of IT took care of that with literally the push of a button (it's always just one button between me and technological success). Saint IT over-corrected, though, as the words on the screen stretched out so that only the middle parts of each line were visible. ...et us sing to the Lo...for joy to the Rock of our salvat...ome before his presence with thank... We talked about whether the Middle School might know the Venite from memory.

Everything had been ready to go...

Everything, including the Holy Spirit.

She showed up in the student who stepped in at (literally!) the last minute to speak in place of the student with butterflies. She showed up in the ease with which the teacher found someone to cover his study hall. She showed up in the mysterious inner workings of the borrowed computer that ran the powerpoint with the words to all our songs and prayers. Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise. Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise...

The Holy Spirit showed up in the nurse who administered the swine flu shot that my son didn't even feel. She showed up in the multiple teachers who raced to fix the screen problem, so that by the end of the Venite (which it turns out the Middle School did know from memory) we were all able to say with confidence, We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice...

We sang. And we prayed. And we listened as scripture was read, And God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed that you need and will make it grow (2 Corinthians 9:10). And we heard our speakers describe how thanksgiving had grown into simply giving in their lives, through Teach for America, the Peace Corps, and a student exchange program in Ghana. Seeds were planted, I think, I hope, for a harvest that might one day feed so very many.

The Holy Spirit had everything ready to go. She showed up, and she settled in to stay, and she surely sang along with the choir as they launched into their anthem, My soul is so happy it can't set down...

Artwork: "Like a Dove," by Kathy Thaden; "Firebird - Grow 2," by Ann Finch; "Pentecost Dove: Aldersgate Methodist Church," by Julee P. Lowe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Threads of Grace

I want their hearts to be encouraged, and knit together in love... Colossians 2:2

It has been two weeks since I returned from "Threads of Grace," a knitting retreat at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Meridian, where dear friendships were renewed and the ties that bind were strengthened. The time was brief - not even 24 hours - but the fellowship was full and the yarn flowed freely.

A few women at the retreat were from other churches in Meridian, where they hoped to start prayer shawl ministries. It was lovely to have the opportunity to tell the story of how this ministry grew at St. Paul's from a small circle of tentative knitters to a generous helping of women (and a brave man or two) who have knit or crocheted and given away nearly one hundred prayer shawls and other knitted comforts.

We began the morning with a service of prayer and a blessing of our hands. I've laid hands on people's heads before, and I've washed feet, but I had never anointed hands. We found some prayers on the Prayer Shawl Ministry website, but most of what we used came from medical communities in which the chaplain blesses the hands of hospital staff as they go about their work.

Officiant This is holy ground.

People We’re standing on holy ground.

Officiant For God is present.

People And where God is, is Holy.

Officiant These are holy hands.

People God’s given us holy hands.

Officiant God works through these hands,

People And so these hands are holy.

Officiant Where God is, is Holy.

People The work of our hands is holy work.

Adapted from Alyson Breisch

Most of our time was spent sitting and knitting, usually after having been well-fed a home-cooked meal, and enjoying one another's company and wisdom ("Now how do I fix this dropped stitch?" "What is a knit two together?" "Which yarn do you use for this pattern?"...) Once, however, we knit in silence meditation following a reading from The Reverend Barbara Crafton's book, The Sewing Room, in which she reflects on the way in which sewing was handed down to her, and how she is handing it down to others. Most knitters could also tell the story of the person who taught them to knit, and in a group like ours those stories are often interwoven.

The only workshop of the day was a lesson in making stitch markers. Don't look, mom! Santa told me he was working on a few of these for a few nice knitters on his list...

Many thanks to my friends at St. Paul's for inviting me to be part of this special weekend!

Let us pray. Holy God, mantle of our hearts: We ask your blessing upon all who have come before us; whose hands have been instruments of creativity and beauty; who have used humble tools and handspun wool to provide cover and warmth for themselves and for those they loved; who have taught our hands the rhythm of their work; who have felt, as we will feel, the yarn in their fingers; who have seen, as we will see, the growth of the fabric; who have heard, as we will hear, the click of the needles.

We ask your blessing upon our hands. They perform countless mundane tasks; they also create great beauty. Each and every day, they reach out, touch, write, scrub, lift, push, pull, grasp, gesture, and guide. Upon these hands, our hands uplifted to you, we ask your gracious blessing, that their work may bear fruit, that their labor may be always in love, and that their rest may be in your embrace. Amen. Adapted from Janet Bristow

Artwork: Pictures from the weekend; "Agnes knitting the nations together in peace," by Susan Goff.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Proper 27B

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

The temple in Jerusalem was always crowded. But with the Passover so near, its courtyards were overflowing with many thousands of exhausted, excited pilgrims making preparations for the Korban Pesach, the Passover sacrifice. Merchants in the outer courtyards descended upon all the new arrivals, selling souvenirs, sacrificial animals, and lunch. Money-changers shouted their offers to convert Roman coins to the ritually pure Jewish coins necessary for making purchases within the Temple walls. There were animals and people everywhere.

Passing through the gates into the Temple’s main courtyard, pilgrims saw the charnel houses where the animals were prepared for sacrifice. Those sights and sounds mingled with sights and sounds of the courtyard itself, where there was constant singing and dancing and music. Along one wall of the courtyard was the treasury, where thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles collected people’s offerings of coins for the purposes of maintaining the Temple and its staff. As each person tossed in their offering, they said aloud the amount and purpose of the gift to be heard by the priest overseeing the collections.

On that day, Jesus and his disciples were sitting nearby, perhaps in the cool shadows cast by the treasury wall, taking in the swirling sights and sounds of the courtyard. Jesus himself was watching and listening as the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums, Mark writes, and for all we know these sums were carefully calculated gifts, like our own, guided by the law of the tithe. The crowd was full of women and men in fine long robes dropping into the treasury bags filled with coins that clinked and clattered all the way down.

But it was someone else who caught Jesus’ attention, a woman, a poor widow, Mark explains. She was nearly invisible in that crowd, her offering was nearly inaudible. When a woman’s husband died, she was dependent on grown sons to provide for her. If she had none, she might return to her family. If they could not take her back, she had no one. She was no one.

Jesus’ scathing criticism of the scribes, just a moment before, suggests that the poor widow was even invisible even to her community of faith. The scribes, experts in the law, should have known the commandment to care for aliens, widows and orphans – for invisible, inaudible people. They should have been the first to call attention to the widow’s desperate situation. Instead, their attention was focused on the people with fine long robes, and when bags full of coins weren’t full enough, Jesus said, the scribes devoured widows’ houses.

Jesus watched and listened as the poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Her meager offering wouldn’t make any measurable difference in the sum total of the day’s collection at such a busy time of year. Perhaps the priest overseeing the collection never even looked up from his ledger. One artist has imagined the scene at the moment the widow is walking away, and in his painting Jesus and the disciples are watching her go, and Jesus is gesturing toward her so that one can almost hear him beginning to explain that she has given more than all the others in their fine long robes. They have given out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, has given everything, all that she had to live on.

And so it is that the invisible, inaudible, un-named woman has become an illustration of giving generously. We nod our heads, understanding full well that those who gave bags full of clinking coins held back far more than they gave out of all that they had. The poor widow had scarcely anything, but held none of it back. Only she, not the others in their fine long robes, gave abundantly. It’s a charming story, conveniently coming round in stewardship season, encouraging us to consider our own giving to the Temple treasury. What do we hold back, and why? Perhaps the story loses some of its charm when we realize that the poor widow is not tithing. It’s not a 10% gift that Jesus praises. The poor widow gives 100%, all that she had to live on.

I don’t think this story is about money. But before you breathe a sigh of relief, let us consider what this story is about. A stewardship lesson might be far easier than the lesson this woman teaches. As beautiful and charming and inspiring and challenging as this story is, the model of giving it teaches is much harder than calculating percentages, drawing up budget, and signing a pledge card.

Most translations tell us that the two copper coins were all that the poor widow had to live on, but the Greek Mark uses is far more stark. The woman puts in her bios, Mark writes. Bios, the word from which we get biology, the study of life. Jesus is telling his disciples, telling us, that the woman put her life into the Temple treasury that day. All that she had to live. She gave her life.

The disciples still don’t understand what it means to give your life. Jesus has been trying to explain for weeks now – take up your cross, be like a child, be last of all and servant of all – and now, in the great teaching moment captured by that artist, with Jesus gesturing at the widow and looking at his disciples, he says See, this woman has put in everything, she that she has to live. She has given her life.

They still won’t get it, I’m afraid. They’ll gesture right back at the magnificent buildings surrounding the Temple courtyard, as if to say, yes, Jesus, and see what can be built with all those offerings! They’ll all be torn down, Jesus will say, exasperated. How many more ways can he tell them that only one thing will endure, and that is the abundance of love and life given by God. An abundance we can’t receive if our bags are already full. An abundance that is invisible until we look at the world’s need. An abundance that is inaudible until we listen for those crying out at the world’s margins.

The poor widow’s story is not about giving money generously. It is about giving life generously. She does not challenge us to fill out a pledge card. She challenges us to be like Christ. Her offering foreshadows the offering that Christ will make – the offering of his bios, his life.

A stewardship lesson about giving and holding back money would be much easier. But the poor widow’s stakes are much higher, as are the stakes Jesus demands of his disciples. How willing are we to give up everything, to give our lives entirely and without reservation to Jesus? What parts of our lives do we hold back from him, and why?

The lesson is all the more difficult because we don’t know what happened next in the widow’s story. In the painting they’re just watching her go as Jesus clearly is speaking about her. Did he go to her, put his arm around her, and bless her? Did he ask Judas to take something from their community purse and give it to her? Did anyone else see her or hear her and offer her charity? Or did she just fade into the crowd, unnoticed, unheard, on her way back home to no one, to nothing?

Giving ourselves to Jesus Christ, holding nothing back, is not a guarantee that we will live lives of ease, no matter what the televangelists us to think. But we are guaranteed this: for love, Jesus has offered himself to us, holding nothing back, so that all people might have abundant life, and not just in an age to come. When we toss in our last two copper pennies, when we give all that we have to live on, when we give up our lives to take on the life of Jesus Christ, situations like that of the widow will begin to disappear as we begin to be Christ’s hands and feet and heart in the world. As ministers in God’s church, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to put all of who we are into the treasury of the kingdom.

Our gifts belong there, the ways in which God has made each of unique, whether we’re priests or prophets, theologians or teachers, knitters, or cooks, or parents, or gardeners, pilots, dancers, contractors, farmers, students, or caregivers. Our gifts belong in God’s treasury. What do we hold back, and why?

Our attention belongs there, whether we engage the world through sight or sound or touch. We are called to notice one another, to notice strangers, to notice where there is need. Our attention belongs in God’s treasury. What do we hold back, and why?

Our resources belong in God’s treasury, whether we have fine long robes or no more than two pennies to our name. Our resources belong in God’s treasury. What do we hold back, and why?

When we are able to give all of who we are to Jesus, and so to take all of who he is into ourselves, then we are able to give out of an abundance of love to which no one is invisible, no one is inaudible. Then we, and all to whom we minister, can live rich lives. Let us give generously. Let us hold nothing back. In the words of writer Molly Wolf, “Whatever you’ve got, give it. You don’t know what price tag God puts on it, after all. It’s probably safe to assume that God’s values are not very much like ours, and what seems unworthy to us may please God greatly. But don’t worry about it. Just give whatever you have most of. It will do.” Amen.

Artwork: "La denier de la veuve," by James Tissot.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


I'll try to post today's sermon on the widow's might (I like this name for her story!) soon... For now, I'm still swamped with things to do. I'll leave you, then, with pictures from this morning's drive through the Mississippi Delta on my way home from preaching in Sumner.

Now you're swamped, too!

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Not much time for knitting or blogging this week. I'm a little buried by sermons and meetings and laundry. Oh my.

I'll leave you with these pictures from our front yard (and a poem not from our front yard), just in case you're not buried. Berried. Either way.

Lantana berries.

Poke Berry berries.

Nandina berries.

Berries from the plant with giant leaves whose name I can never remember. Actually, these are the flowers, but the berries will be there soon, and the birds will love them as always!

Crepe Myrtle berries.

Woods, by Wendell Berry

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.