Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...

We rang in the new year a little early this evening at the home of one of my husband's parishioners.  Back home, and up much later than I intended to be, I'm listening to an odd combination of fireworks and rain and thunder.  Mother Nature is ringing in the new year, too...

I don't have resolutions yet, but think that I would like to make some.  I would like to remember people's birthdays and anniversaries.  I would like to try some new recipes.  I would like to finally paint the bathrooms and the kitchen.  I would like to be more patient and take deeper breaths and read a few more books.  I would like to knit a sweater.

For now, I resolve to enjoy this last weekend of my break, and to remember that it is still Christmas!  (I found that having a candy cane today helped tremendously...may need to try it again tomorrow!)

A Collect for the New Year, by Josh Thomas
Holy God, you have brought us in wholeness to a new year: Make us aware of the needs of others, determined in our efforts to meet both their needs and ours, and joyful in our gratitude for all that we have; that the passing of time may bring us ever closer to you in this life, even as we look forward to your nearness in the life to come, with Jesus Christ our Savior and your Spirit of blessedness and peace.  Amen.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

I thought this post would announce good tidings of great joy about a finished scarf, but I think I'm still about 5 inches away.  I'm hoping that a nice glass of wine and a good movie will help move that along.

I'm still determined to find a pattern for the Best Buy scarf.  The closest I've come is a leaf lace pattern and the candle flame pattern (couldn't get link to work - there are several scarves and shawls that use this pattern), but all the examples I've seen are only one color.  I can't imagine how to alternate colors like the scarf on the lady with mobile broadband.

In the meantime, it's still Christmas!  Charlie 3 (formerly known as Little Charlie, but since his 10th birthday he prefers not to be called "little") designed his own stationary for his thank-you letters, with a tree made out of Bakugan.

And here's my little thank-you letter... Dear Reader, Thank you so very much for taking the time to visit my blog this year.  What a joy it is to have a space for knitting preaching and purling (and planting and picture-taking and...) threads together.  I have not been as faithful in writing as some of you have been in stopping by, and hope that in the new year I will not as quickly forget how much I treasure this space.  Thank you again for being here!  May your Christmas continue to be merry and bright, and may your new year begin and continue in happiness!  Peace, Jennifer

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

F-i-ii-ive go-o-olden moments...

1.  Sleeping in!  I love early mornings if I can be up by myself, with a cup of coffee and a book or a journal.  It's such a quiet, gentle time.  But in that mysterious way that children who are impossible to wake up on school days are awake before dawn on vacation, our house is active before the coffee is even brewed.  So I may as well sleep in!

2.  Leftover soup!  Even better the second day...

3.  Crafting with friends!  Sarah was hand-quilting a gorgeous queen-sized quilt in blues and reds and browns.  I wish I had taken a picture of her beautiful work.  Julie knitted a little and worked on a few more of the felt birds her family gave as gifts this year.  The pattern is from Purl Soho.  We love the bird on our tree!

4.  A ten-year-old with a room full of toys choosing to read instead!  He's been busy with new Legos and Bakugan the past few days, but today he picked up a new book and hasn't put it down.  My favorite part is when, out of the blue, he starts laughing aloud at something he's read!

5.  Yarn!  But not for me, even though I have gotten a lot more work done on my scarf today (see #3).  This year's "surprise ball" from Nana was once again a Christmas treat.  What a fun way to use up scrap yarn hide little treasures and trinkets for your grandson to discover...

...and to give your grandcats a gift at the same time!  Chloe supervised the unwinding of the surprise ball on Christmas day, and Zach has napped on the pile of yarn every day since!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

Curried cauliflower and sweet potato soup is simmering on the stove, and the house smells divine!

We've almost finished all the Forget-me-nots, cookies that, in my family, mean Christmas is very near.

And we finally ventured out in hopes that the post-Christmas crowds were getting weary of shopping.  They weren't.  We found ourselves at Best Buy, and while my guys were oohing and aahhing over all kinds of computer-y things, this is what caught my eye:

The model in this picture in the computer section was smiling, and I'm sure the store wants us to understand she's delighted because she can get on-line so quickly and easily with her new netbook.  But I know she's happy because of the beautiful scarf she's wearing.

Millions of dollars of high-tech equipment, and all I want is that scarf!  

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas...

One way to be absolutely sure you won't have time to knit is to decide to knit two scarves by Christmas.  I started about three weeks ago on Gryffindor scarves for my guys, thinking that they'd be pretty easy to finish since they were entirely done in garter stitch.  I looked at pictures of knitted Gryffindor scarves and planned my own, not following any particular pattern (I now wish I had done them this way - perhaps next Christmas!).

I carried those scarves everywhere I went, and began to think I needed my own time turner in order to get them wrapped and under the tree.  The last ends were woven in on Christmas Eve.  So.  Many.  Ends.  Both were knit from Vanna's Choice in Cranberry and Honey on size 9 needles.  I cast on 21 stitches and knit and knit and knit...

Now that Christmas Day is passed and I don't have a deadline, I have all the time in the world to knit!  I'm finishing up a sock yarn scarf (the yarn is Patons Kroy in Fern Rose Jacquard and the pattern is Red Heart's Colorful Waves Scarf) that began as a simple project to carry on an airplane back before Thanksgiving.  I don't really like the colors, but the pattern is fun.

As soon as I finish this scarf, I'm casting on the Cedar Leaf Shawlette by Alana Dakos.  I love her podcast and her blog, and have looked forward to knitting this pattern since she first published it!  The green is beautiful, but I think I'm going to use some yarn Santa brought...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas...

Perhaps today Joseph finally slept.  Two nights before he had stayed awake worrying about and tending to his laboring wife.  He had cleaned out the manger and gathered fresh hay.  He had called for the midwives and stood by anxiously until he heard the baby's first cry, a holy sound for any new parent.

Yesterday he had spoken softly to curious visitors who, passing by pastures outside Bethlehem before dawn, had heard remarkable stories of angels and stars and saviors from shepherds keeping watch over their flocks.  To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord...  Joseph gratefully accepted the few fish and olives and loaves of bread the innkeeper's wife had brought out, the skin of water she left beside the new mother, the clean swaddling clothes left by the midwives.  He carefully followed their instructions for easing Mary's discomfort and keeping the baby warm.  He watched as they slept, exhausted by the miracle of birth, the immeasurable miracle of that birth...

Last night Joseph had stayed awake, helping every few hours when the baby cried, singing lullabies he thought he had forgotten from his own childhood, wondering what lay ahead for his little family.  The angel hadn't said anything about how to be the adopted father of God.

Soon, all accounted for and assessed, most others would be leaving Bethlehem to return to their homes.  Perhaps they could move into the inn.  Until Mary could travel again, Joseph would be rooted here, back in the place where he had been born, where he, a newborn so long ago, had lain upon his own mother's breast as they slept, exhausted by the miracle of birth.  His father had stayed awake....

Today, Joseph finally slept, and perhaps his dreams were of good tidings and great joy, holiness and heavenly peace.  Before long, his rest would grow fitful and he would dream of kings bearing both gifts and grief... But today, Joseph slept.

Today we wore our pajamas all day long in his honor.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Saint Nicholas

Preached in Middle and Upper School Chapel at St. Andrew's Episcopal School.

1 John 4:7-14; Psalm 145:8-12; Mark 10:13-16

It's a scene many of you know quite well.  There he is, sitting just a little apart form the crowds.  Parents bring their children, although sometimes the children are shy to meet him.  He gently lifts them up into his lap, and smiles as they settle there in his arms.  Believing in him, they whisper to him the desires of their hearts, and he nods to let them know he has heard every hope-filled word...

So.  Who do you think I'm talking about?

In chapel, the answer is supposed to be Jesus, right?  We just heard Mark's story of the time people brought their children to see him.  The disciples were sure he had better things to do than babysit, but Jesus told them in no uncertain terms that children were his business, and that they had better be the disciples' business, too.  Or didn't they remember how to be wide-eyed and filled with wonder, how to trust with all their hearts, how to giggle on God's knee?

Maybe I'm talking about Jesus.  There he is, sitting just a little apart from the crowds.  Parents bring their children, although sometimes the children are shy to meet him.  He gently lifts them into his lap... Who do you think I'm talking about?

Santa?  Maybe... We haven't been to see him yet this year, but every December children whisper to him the desires of their hearts, and Santa nods to let them know he has heard every hope-filled word.

Jesus?  Or Santa?  Sometimes Christians worry that we get so wrapped up in stories of reindeer and rooftops and sleighbells that we forget the story of how angels sang and stars shone and a baby was born on a silent and holy night, how God became Emmanuel, God-with-us, Love-with-us, love all lovely, love divine, in the words of one old hymn.

Every year on December 6th (we're just a few days early!) we remember the story of someone who was grateful for the gift of Emmanuel, someone whose heart's desire, whose deepest hope, was to love God's children.  All of them.  His name was Saint Nicholas, and he lived in the 4th century in what we know as Turkey.  Nicholas was the child of a wealthy family, with enough gold to impress even a Gringott's goblin.  But he climbed into Jesus' lap at a very early age, preferring to settle there than in the lap of luxury.  Nicholas became a priest when he was nineteen, and a bishop not long after that.  He devoted his life and his inheritance to acts of kindness toward those who were most vulnerable in his communities, most helpless, most neglected, most preyed upon by those who insist on taking every toy under the tree for themselves.

We all become children again, wide-eyed and wonder-filled, when we hear of his legendary compassion.  How Nicholas, when a devastating famine struck, fed his people from a small sack of grain that never emptied.  How Nicholas, returning by sea from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, prayed during a violent storm and calmed the wind and waves.  How Nicholas, having learned that a poor man could not afford to pay his daughters' dowries, tossed sacks of gold through the open windows of the poor man's house.  He tossed sacks of gold down the chimney as well, or so the story goes, where they landed in the girls' stockings hanging there to dry overnight...

Years ago, I heard someone say how wonderful it would be if Santa Claus was a verb as well as a noun.  Then, whenever we felt the urge to do something really kind, something really generous, we could say, "Hey, let's go Santa Claus today."  It could be fun...but what are we really talking about?  Because the thing is, we already have a word for doing something really kind, something really generous.  That word is love, which we heard no less than fifteen times in the short reading from First John a moment ago.  Beloved, dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God.  God is love...

This isn't the sentimental kind of love we feel for our favorite ornaments on the Christmas tree, but love that is fierce and relentless and hope-filled, love that is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness.  The Lord is loving to everyone, the psalmist sang, and his compassion is over all his works.  Since God loved us so much, the writer of First John said, we also ought to love one another.

We Santa Claus pretty well around here.  We bring our dollars for dress-down or dress-up days.  We collect pennies for peace.  We're even bringing sacks of toys for children whose Christmas trees would otherwise be bare.  We volunteer down the street, up the road, and halfway around the world.  We love. We show compassion.  Peter Gomes, a Baptist preacher and theologian at Harvard's Divinity School, defines compassion as "kindness in the face of the opportunity to do otherwise."

Whatever our faith, whatever lap we choose to climb into, Saint Nicholas stands before us in this and in every season when we have the opportunity to choose how we will treat God's children - which is to say, everyone - and he urges us to choose love.  Nicholas reminds us that in even our smallest acts of generosity and kindness and compassion, God's saving presence comes into the world, not just at Christmas but each and every day.

Sometimes we can give a sack full of gold or grain or toys.  Sometimes we can find the cure, erase the debt, create new public policy, right the wrong, correct the injustice.  Sometimes all we can do is climb up into God's lap and whisper our heart's desires and trust that God hears every hope-filled word.

How will you Santa Claus today?  How will you choose kindness, especially when choosing otherwise would be easier or safer or more convenient?  How will you show compassion?  How will you love?

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.  Amen.

Artwork: "Jesus and the Children," by Michael D. O'Brien; "Bishop Nicholas," by Emanuele Luzatti; "Saint Nicholas Wonderworker," by Laura James.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What I am (Un)Knitting

My knitting life very nearly resembles my actual life these days... Lots of projects, none of them complete, never enough time.  That's partly why this blog has been tossed into the corner like a half-finished blanket that's fun to knit but it just takes so long to get through even a single row...

My knitted afghan and a prayer shawl have had a few stitches added here and there over the past few months, and I am still wrestling with gauge on the clerical collar.  The announcement of a new baby in the family finally pulled knitting into a higher priority than, say, mowing the yard, and I searched Ravelry and several pattern books for the sweetest baby blanket pattern I could find.  I chose Pocket Dreams (Rav link) from a tiny little collection of Vogue patterns.  (Now that I look at the Ravelry link, it has universally bad reviews, but so far I think it's cute...we'll see how I feel when I'm knitting those 500+ stitch rows at the end...)

And so now I am...unknitting it.  I know that technically it's "tinking," but that makes it sound like so much more fun than it is.  Especially because the reason I have to unknit all these stitches is because I didn't read the pattern all the way through before I began.  Increasing every other row is, clearly, much different than increasing every row.  Sigh.

There's a mistake even nearer the beginning, too, but I think it may stay as a "design element".  Again, reading the instructions all the way through ahead of time would have been a plus.  The blanket has a precious little pocket in the middle of all its stripes, into which a little knitted toy bear fits perfectly.

The red strip is a life-line, just in case... Once I get going again, I think it will be lots of fun to knit, a nice easy pattern with regular color changes and increases to keep it interesting.  I'm using Caron Simply Soft on size 6 needles.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I need to unknit a little bit of life, too.  Tink back a few rows, a few obligations, a few pattern repeats that have me frustrated and tired.  I've been trying to give up a few tasks and activities and responsibilities in order to make room for a little more faithfulness to my knitting other jobs, like writing those sermons and mowing the yard and getting some sleep and keeping a blog and, best of all, spending time with my family.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010


According to Presbyterian pastor Frederich Buechner, vocation is "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."  If that is so, then I've found the perfect project for this purling preacher... May I present to you, the knitted clerical collar by Naomi Miller!

A friend emailed me the pattern and gifted me a hank of creamy linen yarn from her stash so that I could give it a go!  I'm not sure if it really looks all that much cooler than the plastic version I've worn for the past six+ years, but it's so fun I just have to give it a try!  Of all things, one of my plastic clerical collars split down the middle the day after this pattern arrived in my inbox...

It's not so bad to wear one of these (it is kinda silly to say "clericool" though) - they're less uncomfortable than they might seem.  The really challenging part, to be honest, is designing the rest of your wardrobe around them.  Is it okay for women clergy to dress like, well, women?  Or should we stick to suits and jumpers?  I prefer a style that's classic and simple and feminine - if I had a million dollars I would shop exclusively from JJill (heavily supplemented with hand-knits, of course!).  Here's some of the best I've been able to do...

I absolutely love PeaceBang's Beauty Tips for Ministers, and check regularly to be sure I'm fighting frump, showing poise and decorum, and faithfully representing my vocation.  She writes, "This is the gospel of Beauty Tips for Ministers: if clergypeople believe religious life is vital, relevant and beautiful, they should look the part."  Of course it's not about the clothes, but with a hearty dose of humor, PeaceBang (herself a minister) gives thoughtful and tasteful permission to enjoy prettiness and a little femininity.

Time to work on my vocation (I'll let you decide whether that means I'm knitting or writing a sermon)!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

New Socks!

Earlier this week I made the final decreases, kitchenered the toes, wove in the ends, and slipped my feet into my new socks!

The pattern is Anne's Magic Stripes (which really only has to do with the self-striping yarn) from Antje Gillingham's Knitting Circles Around Socks.  From start to finish the directions were clear and easy to follow, although my friends and I all found that perhaps the measurements for the size we chose were a little off.  I had to stop long before the recommended length for the foot.

The yarn is Premier Yarns' Serenity Sock Weight in the color Aquamarine, one of the many Iona-inspired yarns in my stash that I wrote about last spring.  It's 50% merino superwash, 25% bamboo, and 25% nylon.

My socks are fraternal rather than identical twins, but that's okay with me - they're soft and warm and, best of all, finished!  I've already cast my now trusty two circulars on for another pair, this time for my husband (but shhh, don't tell him yet!).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Proper 8C

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

I'm going home tomorrow, back to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where I went to high school and where my mom still ives.  My friend Sherry and her family still live there, too, and I hope I'll get a chance to see her.  Or at least to pass her a little note.

We were skilled note-passers in high school, filling sheets of notebook paper with giggles and gossip, hopes and heartbreak, doubts and teenage drama.  Then we folded the paper in that time-honored fashion, tucking one corner in to make sure it didn't unfold accidentally, revealing it's sacred contents to just anyone.  In the hallways or at our lockers or at the end of lunch, we passed the notes to each other and hurried to our next class so that we could read them before the bell rang.

Now, a traditional feature of our notes was the question.  It could be any question, but it was usually something like, "Do you think he's cute?" or "Would you ask him out?" followed by three empty squares drawn in pencil with the instructions, "Check one: yes, no, maybe."  And you thought very carefully about your answer before you checked a box, folded it back up, and returned it to your friend because after all, it was important - it was about relationships, about love.

I don't pass notes anymore.  Sherry and I keep up through email and Facebook and the occasional phone call or visit.  But I think about those boxes often - every time, in fact, that I update my computer or download a program or create an on-line account and a window appears with the words "End User License Agreement" followed by a long, long, long note filled with...well, to be honest I've never read one all the way through.  It's the contract that states you'll use the software appropriately, and at the end is a question: "Do you agree to these terms and conditions?  Check one: yes, no."  We should think very carefully about our answer because after all, it is important - it is about a relationship, and if we agree to it, we'll be asked to exit all programs and restart our computers before we can run the new program.

Papyrus was harder to fold than notebook paper, I suppose, and anyway Jesus much preferred to ask questions in person instead of in a note, to meet people face to face.  So it is that Jesus met three would-be disciples on the road to Jerusalem and he presented to them the terms and conditions of following him.  Turn away from your home.  Turn away from your family.  Turn away from your work, from whatever your livelihood is.  Exit all programs.  Restart.  Then follow me.

If it sounds harsh to us now, imagine how it must have sounded in a time and place when no one ever did anything new.  Most people never left home but instead worked the same land of labored at the same skill their parents had learned from their parents.  Wages earned were solely for the care and keeping of one's extended family, often including multiple generations dwelling under one mud and straw roof.  The ancient law given to their ancestors, once a breathtakingly new expression of relationship, of love, between God and God's people, had become in practice rigid and rote, binding and brutal.

How drawn they were to Jesus, a breath of fresh air they would come to know as Spirit, a rabbi, prophet, and - dare the hope? - messiah who spoke of things like life and love and healing and a magnificent kingdom of God in which the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lame would walk, and the poor and lowly would be lifted up.  I will follow you wherever you go, someone exclaimed, overcome by the wonder of it all.

Long before the days of Facebook, which also has boxes you can click in response to things other people say - "Check one: like, ignore" - long before the days of Facebook allowed us to express our enthusiasm for things without actually acting on them, Jesus needed to make sure this would-be disciple understood that the box he was checking was important, that it was about relationship, that it was about love.  Not the "Do you think he's cute, would you ask him out" kind of love but, rather, love that is resolute, love that is fierce, love that is generous and unwavering and free.  Love that restarts everything.

In fact, while this gospel story has long been read as a strong statement on the difficult demands of discipleship, demands that disciples devote themselves without remainder to following Christ, that they check "yes" knowing that they are choosing everything he stands for, everything he loves, everything he lives for, everything he dies for...while this gospel story has long been read as concerning discipleship, some have suggested that it also reveals something of the kingdom of God that disciples are called to proclaim, something of the reign of God's love, something of the relationship between God and God's people.  Scholar Richard Shaffer even wonders if the heart of the story, underneath all the terms and conditions, all the questions and boxes, if the heart of the story might be "Jesus' singlemindedness of purpose that is prompted by God's profound love for humanity and all the world."

It has sounded harsh ever since that day on the road when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.  What is it that in ever age has lured would-be disciples into a singlemindedness of purpose that serves only ourselves, our desires, our needs, our wants?  That makes it difficult to choose a singlemindedness of purpose that serves love, which is to say, that serves God, and serving God, serves others?  Some say it is self-indulgence that causes us to hesitate over these boxes, wondering which to check.  Some say it is greed, some say it is evil, some say it is fear.  Fear of scarcity, fear of finitude, fear of limitations.  Sometimes, overcome by the wonder of it all, we say to Christ, I will follow you wherever you go.  And sometimes, like the townspeople in our gospel story, we refuse even to welcome him.  Sometimes, like James and John, our first choice is destructive anger.  Sometimes, like so many other would-be disciples, we give up, we procrastinate, we make excuses, we get distracted, we turn back, we check "maybe," or maybe "no."

But if Christ's singleminded purpose is God's love for all the world, then the kingdom is not lost; indeed, it is among us before we even know to choose it.  Listen again to the gospel story, how Jesus reveals himself and God's kingdom to those on the edge of discipleship.  Jesus, love incarnate, in whom God's reign has come, has no place to lay his head because love cannot be contained in a fox hole or a bird's nest or a building of any kind.  Love's home is everywhere, and indeed it is so vast that all things are at home in it.  Jesus, through whom all things were made and who made the earth a new creation, cannot be stopped by death or its trappings.  He has overcome the power of death to consume us, and bids us lay aside our fear.  Jesus, who for love set his face toward Jerusalem and never once looked back, in every miracle and parable and teaching and touch showed that God's reign is gracious and generous and vast and lovely, such that even those things that seem most important to us and demand our attention pale in comparison to it.  We would-be disciples are urged not to let anything in all the world delay us or weigh us down or hold us back from our "yes" to relationship, our "yes" to love, our "yes to following everywhere Jesus goes.

And so we, when like so many disciples before us we trembling check that box...yes...we become part of the good news, part of the kingdom unfolding.  He meets us on the roads we walk, in homes we keep, in the families we have, in the livelihoods we lead, and there he calls us to a singlemindedness of purpose - his purpose.  The terms and conditions are these, that in all the relationships in our lives, all the places we inhabit, all the work we do, all the roads we walk, all the strangers we encounter, all the courage we muster, all the hope we humbly hold...that everything we are and everything we do derive its meaning and joy and mission from God's profound love for humanity and all the world.

Perhaps the apostle Paul was baptized according to the Book of Common Prayer, for he writes often of the choice to follow Christ, and never once does he presume that he can meet the demands of discipleship alone.  I will, with God's help, it is as if he says over and again in his letters to the disciples and would-be disciples of his day.  Of course that's what following is, right?  We go not be ourselves but in relationship, we go with the one who goes before us, each step bringing us further into the knowledge and experience of God's reign all around us.  When left to our own devices, bound to our fears in a world where love and life's resources appear scare, finite, limited, we choose such things as lust, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, factions, envy...Paul's list is long and accurate.  Living by the Spirit, though, understanding that God who cannot be contained in any dwelling yet dwells in our hearts, we are able to choose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, kingdom fruits.

Thomas Merton, 20th century monk, priest, poet, scholar, and disciple, knew as did Paul, as do we when we are honest, that we find ourselves still trembling and hesitant on that road to Jerusalem, desiring in our deepest hearts to follow, knowing that it is important, that it is about relationship, that it is about love.  I offer you Merton's prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following you does not meant hat I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire for all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me.  Amen.

Artwork: Image from; "Pilgrimage," by Grace Collins; "Thoughts on Communion," by Barbara Desrosiers; "Looking," by RaRa Schlitt; "A Cloud of Witnesses," by Mary Melikan.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Two by Two (by Three)

I am so tired.  Maybe it has something to do with Friday night's sleepover when my son and his friend woke up to save the universe from evil clones at 4:45 am.  Maybe it has something to do with Saturday night's last-minute sermon writing.  Maybe it has something to do with Sunday's church services, one in the morning and one in the evening, each an hour away from home.  Maybe it has something to do with this.

I can't stop knitting.

My friends Julie and Sarah picked two socks on two circular needles as a summer project, and patiently helped me get started on the cuffs of mine when they were nearing the heels of theirs.  I've knit two pairs of socks on dpn's but at this point I'm having trouble remembering why anyone would ever choose to do that when you could knit them on two circular needles.  I love this method!

My yarn is Deborah Norville's Serenity Sock in blues and greens.  The superwash merino, bamboo, and acrylic content creates a wonderfully soft texture with just a hint of sheen.

Not only am I learning how to knit two socks on two circulars (really, is there any other way?!), but in the process I've also learned how to do the long tail cast on, how to slip slip purl, and how to pick up dropped stitches.  Well, that last one isn't exactly in the pattern...

Now, just a few more rounds of gusset decreases before I go to bed...

Friday, June 18, 2010

I do still preach...

In fact, this blog originally began as a place to save my sermons against the possibility of my computer literally melting inside.  Which it did.  Twice.

Back then, my sermons were the most important things saved on my computer.  I labored hours and hours on each one, delivered them in congregations I deeply cared for, and rather than dismissing them at "thanks be to God" I wanted to hold on to them like photographs of a growing vocation, snapshots of an evolving priesthood.

Surely you backed up, you say.  Surely, I should have.  And as surely as I didn't, I lost many of my early sermons somewhere inside those two melted laptops.  Surely you began backing up then, you say.  Surely, I should have.  But blogging was taking root and growing and evolving, and I thought that saving my sermons to a blog would be a way not only for me to archive them but, if I were ever bold enough, to easily share them with others beyond the pews of my own parish.

Some of the first blogs I read were knitting blogs, and I as much as I enjoyed seeing the yarns and patterns and projects displayed in them, I was also amazed by the writing.  It seems that knitting and writing go hand in hand, as Christian journalist and activist Dorothy Day wrote, "Knitting is very conducive to thought.  It is nice to knit a while, put down the needles, write a while, then take up the sock again."

Writing and knitting are very similar, at least in my experience.  When I'm writing a sermon it feels very much like choosing threads and patterns and weaving together something that can be worn as comfort or as adornment (like a sock or a scarf), or something that can carry or contain a piece of life (like a bag), or something that can be useful in tending to life's needs (like a wash cloth or a blanket).  The stories of our faith traditions and the stories of our lives are closely knit.

Sometimes my sermons come unraveled, just like life and even faith can.  Knitting has helped me imagine that a garbled pile of words and images, like a garbled pile of yarn, can be picked up again and knit more tightly or perhaps more loosely, combined with another thread, or placed in a pattern more suited to its color and texture and drape.  Sometimes sermons flow onto the page (or the computer screen) with ease, like garter stitch, and speak through their simplicity.  Other times they are a challenge and must be woven together slowly and deliberately, every word carefully placed like stitches in a lace shawl, to create a text that speaks to the complexity and mystery of God.

Lately, my sermons have felt more garbled than graceful, and I haven't posted them.  But I snuck one in just before this post, and perhaps will return to sharing them from time to time as photographs and snapshots not only of my vocation and priesthood but also as echoes of how knitting, picking up threads and creating out of them garments and gifts, has woven its way into my life and faith.

Artwork: Photo of my desk at home (a little straightened up for my dear readers); "Trio," by Marilyn Green.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Proper 6C

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

Summer officially begins in just about a week, a fact that hardly needs noting with the heat index already climbing over one hundred degrees.  I've lived all my life in the South, and while I love ice-cold lemonade and fresh peaches, I really don't like hot weather or sweet tea, and so I spend my summers searching for and sitting in the shade.

Some of my favorite summers were spent at my grandparents' house in Spartanburg, SC.  May brother and I were little then, and we spent nearly every hour of every long summer day playing together, even when we were supposed to be resting after lunch, that hottest part of the day when our shadows disappeared beneath our bare feet and even the blue sky burned in the sun.  Summer was the season when the afternoon shadows grew impossibly long and daylight lingered in the air well past bedtime.  We played then, too, chasing fireflies round and round the shadows of trees and grown-ups.  We played after we were tucked in the two giant-sized beds in the spare room we sometimes shared upstairs.  A nightlight bathed one wall of that room in a soft glow, making just enough light for us to create an entire arkful of shadow animals with our fingers.

The shades and shadows of summer were always part of our play...except when they didn't seem playful.  On rainy days we played inside that big old house, from the attic all the way down to the basement.  The staircase to the basement turned several corners before it reached the cool damp bottom, and every flick of a light switch illuminated just enough of the long way down and around that you could almost see the next light switch in the shadows.  Piles of forgotten old books and rolled up posters and maps and dusty pillows became spooky shapes in the dim basement light.  At night we laughed at the shadow animals we made with our fingers, but the shadows behind the closet door or under the bed were no laughing matter.

These are the sorts of shadows, in which lurk real and imagine dangers, that we borrow when we speak of having shadow sides, when we speak of being shady.  They are the shadows we wrap around ourselves to hide the real and imagine parts of us that hurt and that cause hurt.  Like piles of old books and posters and pillows, perhaps if we shove these parts of us into the shadows, they will be forgotten.

This morning's readings flip a light switch on for us, challenging us to see an all too real part of ourselves that cause all too real hurt - we are challenged to see our sinfulness.  Individually and as a community of faith, we prefer to sweep the reality of our sin into the shadows, to politely say the confession and receive our absolution and then say no more about it.  But this morning we are asked to face our fear of sin's darkness and learn how to walk in the light.  In our readings this morning we hear the stories of a man and a woman who have done just that: King David, and the unnamed woman of our gospel story, sinners who overcame the shadows of their wrongdoings and welcomed the bright sunlight of God's forgiveness.

As king, David should have protected the lives of his people.  Instead, David gave orders that poor Uriah be killed, and then took Uriah's beautiful wife, Bathsheba, as his queen.  Of course none of this dark plan was hidden from God, who sent the prophet Nathan to confront the terrible shadows of David's life.  As king, David recognized immediately the sin of the rich man in the story Nathan told.  As a sinner, David couldn't see that the shadow cast by the rich man was, in fact, his own.  Do you see this man? Nathan demanded.  You are the man!  The story is about you, David!  You, upon whom God has lavished such gracious care; you, whom God has always protected.  The story is about you, to whom God gave the responsibility of caring for and protecting others.  You are the man!

And David saw the light.  I have sinned against the Lord, he acknowledged humbly, and though he would still suffer the consequences of his actions, he would not suffer the darkness of separation from the Source of his life, the Source of all life and illumination, who lavished forgiveness upon him not for the first time, and not for the last.

As a Pharisee, a keeper of God's law, Simon should have known that the law was given to teach people how to live in relationship with one another and with God, who had long ago promised, I am the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.  Instead, Simon used the law as a lens through which he could see shades and shadows, judge the depth of darkness in a person, and crop them out of his picture of salvation.  When a woman began weeping at the feet of one of his dinner guests, Simon saw through his trusted lens a sinner at the feet of a fool.  As a Pharisee, Simon recognized immediately the picture in the story Jesus told - the greater the debt that is canceled, the more gratitude the debtor displays.  As a debtor, not in denarii but in sin, Simon couldn't see that the story's shadow was cast, in fact, over himself.  Do you see this woman? Jesus demanded.  Do you really truly see her?  Do you see yourself, Simon?  Do you really truly see yourself?

Perhaps the presence of light and shadow in that room was as uncertain as a child's nightlight lit bedroom, filled with playful shadow animals and scary dark corners.  Do you see? Jesus demanded.  Simon sees a sinner, a woman whose life is unclean and so whose touch would make others unclean.  When she takes down her hair to wipe Jesus' feet, Simon sees also a fool, a man who could not possibly be the teacher and prophet he is reputed to be.  In both Jesus and the woman, Simon sees the shadow side of the law that is his guiding light.

Do you see this woman?  Do you see?  Jesus also sees a sinner.  He sees two sinners.  He sees the woman, who knows she has nothing to hide, and just as his forgiveness has washed her clean, so she now washes his feet in a generous and loving act of gratitude.  Jesus also sees Simon, who is blind to the light of the world at his own table, who has cast people like the woman into the shadow and, though he cannot see it, has shuttered himself from God as he brandishes his own righteousness like a torch and works his own way to salvation.

Do you see this woman?  Do you see?  The woman sees a savior.  She sees the one who has already invited her to God's table, who has welcomed her as an honored guest, and forgiven her before she ever knew to ask.  She sees the one who loves her despite her sins and shades and shadows.  She sees the one who has shown her how to be in relationship, how to invite and welcome others, how to forgive, and how to love.  Another preacher writes, "The woman's extravagance is a picture - [a bright reflection] - of the extravagance of God's grace."

Do we see?  Do we really truly see?  With God, our sins are forgiven before we ask, even if we never ask, even if, like David and Simon, we never realized we needed forgiving in the first place until we were shown the light.  God has let our sins go.  And yet, our sins will continue to overshadow us if we are not able to confess them, to acknowledge our inability to stay in relationship with God and with others without God's help and grace and love and forgiveness.  Do you see? Jesus demanded.  The woman's sins, which were many, have already been forgiven by God's love and grace; therefore she is able to show great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, who is blind to his own need for forgiveness, he shows little love.  Our sins are forgiven, we are washed and anointed and given a seat at the table.  The only thing required of us is the openness to receive this lavish gift of grace, God's cancellation of every debt, God's forgiveness of every sin, God's welcome of all people.  You.  Me.  David.  The unnamed woman.  Even, bless his heart, Simon.

Or do we, too, suffer, from time to time, from something of the same self-righteousness - I mean, blindness - that afflicted Simon?  Do we judge him?  Do we think ourselves better than him?  Do we justify our dislike of him by his dislike of others?  Do we distance ourselves from him?  Do we see this man?  Do we see?  Jesus, charged by the Pharisees of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners, sees Simon the sinner, and in showing him what grace and gratitude look like in the life and actions of the woman, he shows Simon the light.  So also Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners, sees us.  Jesus, to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets or shades or shadows are hid, really truly sees us.

When we open our eyes and see the grace that bathes us from head to our own weary feet and toes; when we face our fear of the dark and reach deep down inside ourselves to offer up our shadows and shades, our sins, our hurt, and all that separates us from God and from one another, then we are saved.  And yet salvation is not so much a prize we earn or a destination we can ever reach as it is a way of living that may be perfected beyond our life in this place but is lived in part right here and now when we allow God's grace to illuminate our lives and all the lives and all the world around us.  Salvation is lived in part right here and now when we in turn carry that light into the world, not to cast shadows around others but instead to see how they, too, shine.  For forgiveness is not restoration to what we were before - it is newness of life, and it carries with it an invitation to walk with Jesus, through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the reign of God - a reign in which the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the sick are cured, the deaf hear, and dead are raised, and the poor are raised up.

As we are willing to receive forgiveness, as we are willing to receive grace, as we are willing to love in response, as we are willing to welcome all people to the table, as we are willing to live and work not for salvation but because we are already saved, so then will we be able to say with Paul, It is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Amen.

Artwork: "Vesper Light," by Angela Wales Rockett; "David and Bathsheba," by Marc Chagall; "The Allabastar Jar," by Daniel Bonnell; "Gracious Spirit," by Anne Randolph Rechter; "The Center of Everything," by John C. Little; "Elemental," by the Reverend Caroline Kramer.