Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent 2C

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

One of the books on my shelf is a dictionary of sorts, written by Presbyterian theologian Frederich Buechner, describing in alphabetical order some of the people and beliefs that have shaped the church.  There is an entry for Abraham, and this is all it says: see 'faith'.  Abraham and his wife Sarah, as our holy scriptures tell it, were the first to embody faith in their willingness to trust God's word, to leave their home and their family and set out on the journey of their lives with nothing but a promise to guide them.  I will bless you, God had said.  I will go wherever you go.  I will make your name great, and to your offspring I will give the land to which you go.

Abraham and Sarah had no children of their own.  They could only watch with wrinkled, wistful smiles as nieces and nephews played games in the dust and dirt, whatever versions of hide and seek, duck duck goose, red light green light, and ring around the rosy.  Perhaps once in a while Abraham and Sarah even joined in, their old bones creaking a little as they danced in a circle and sang, Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

In the ancient near east, though, children were worth far more than simply their giggles and games; children represented a hope and a future for a family name.  As long as there were succeeding generations to inherit what land a family possessed, that family would survive.  What a thrill of hope God's promise must have sounded in the aging hearts and dreams of Abraham and Sarah.  I will bless you.  I will make your name great, and to your offspring I will give the land to which you go.

Problem was, they had been going for quite some time now, passing right through the promised land and beyond and still going.  Now far away from home, far away from those nieces and nephews, far away from anything familiar, doubt and fear were creeping in where once hope and trust had taken hold.  Abraham and Sarah had been faithful in their journeying, but there were no signs of stopping in a land intended for them, and still no children of their own to give that land to anyway.  I will bless you, God had said, but they didn't feel blessed - just weary of walking and waiting and wondering if God's promises would ever be fulfilled.

So it was that late one afternoon as Abraham slid the sandals off his aching feet and closed his dust-dry eyes, the word of God came to him in a vision.  Do not be afraid, Abram.  I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.  Such powerful words that God intended for comfort, but to Abraham it sounded like one more empty promise, and he cried out, What good is a reward without children?  You promised...  Abraham, the great father of many faiths, sounded for all the world like a child himself.  Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

He probably braced himself for a reprimand; but God, like a mother hen, nudged Abraham to his feet and out the door, where he saw a sight that silenced his squawking and smoothed his ruffled feathers.  Look toward heaven, God said, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.  So shall your descendants be.  Abraham didn't have to number each twinkling light to understand God's meaning.  Countless as the heavens were that star-bright night, he knew that God was revealing not so much a glimpse of Abraham's future glory as of God's power to bring into being that which seems improbable, even impossible.  For surely the One who created the heavens and the earth, who created such an abundance as the number of stars in the sky, could also work wonders in Abraham's old life, constellating generations of faithful children in his starry eyes and sending them all on the journey of their lives.

Seeing God's power to bring light and life in dark and barren places, Abram believed, says the writer in Genesis.  He put his trust in God, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.  It was a significant moment in Abraham's journey, as was the next moment, when God spoke more powerful and comforting words: I am God who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.  But again, Abraham heard a promise too good to be true, and again like a child he complained.  O Lord God, how am I to know that I will possess it?  You promised... Prove it...  And again trust gave way to doubt; hope gave way to fear; the promise of abundance gave way to the apparent reality of barrenness.  Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

The Lord is my light and salvation, said the psalm we read together just a moment ago.  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?  The truth is, there is a lot to be afraid of as we, like Abraham and Sarah before us, journey through our lives.  We worry about health.  We worry about money.  We worry about the people we love.  We worry about earthquakes and tsunamis and blizzards.  And we worry about everything else under the sun, or under the stars of night.  Sometimes we are full of trust and hope, other times doubts and fears creep into our hearts and we, too, forget about God's power and God's comfort.  Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Perhaps it is what Abraham and Sarah faced that we fear most of all: barrenness that persists even as we hope, even when we trust, even when we believe, all evidence to the contrary, that God saves, that God redeems, that God breathes life into ashes and dust and calls it very good.  Yes, Abraham had faith, but it wasn't, theologian Walter Bruggeman writes, a peaceful or pious acceptance; rather, Abraham's faith was a hard-fought and deeply argued conviction, with generous room for questions and fear and wonder and humility and hope.  "It is part of the destiny of our common faith," Bruggeman writes, "that those who believe the promise and hope against barrenness nevertheless must live with the barrenness."

In the midst of it all, though, in the midst of the long journey, in the midst of the walking and waiting and weariness, in the midst of what we experience as barrenness, God goes with us.  Abraham and Sarah are still childless at the end of the story we hear today.  They are not yet settled in a promised land.  But God is not absent.  God is near enough for Abraham to hurl his questions and doubts and fears.  Like a mother who loves her petulant child, God does not reprimand but rather reminds Abraham just who is God, and who is not.  In the midst of what we experience as barrenness, the One who created the heavens and the earth is with us.  Perhaps it isn't so barren after all: faith is growing there.

How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, Jesus said, lamenting over the city of Jerusalem, where the faithful were so fearful they could not hear the powerful and comforting words of God, let alone see God in their midst.  But the promise, handed down to generation after generation of Abraham and Sarah's children, was still good - I will be your God, and you will be my people.  I will go with you wherever you go.  And God did.  In Jesus, God went down into ashes and dust, but this time with a new promise.  Ashes, ashes, we all fall down, but the dance no longer ends there.

The One who created the heavens and the earth, the One who made Easter morning, is the One who hovers over us still, nudging us to our feet and brushing us off so that we might start living again, start walking again, start waiting again, start hoping again.  Like Abraham and Sarah before her, like all of us from time to time, Dame Julian of Norwich despaired at the enormity of doubt and fear with which she struggled.  Jesus, whom she called "Our courteous Mother in all things," spoke powerful and comforting words to her in a vision.  Julian writes, "He did not say, 'you will never have a rough passage,' 'you will never be over-strained,' 'you will never feel uncomfortable,' but only 'you will never be overcome.'"

See, 'faith'.  Amen.

Artwork: "Ring Around the Rosy," by Lindy Burnett; "Abraham and Sarah," by Marc Chagall; "Look Toward the Heavens," by He Qi; mosaic, unknown artist.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

That's a Wrap!

I began knitting my entrelac shawl in shades of water and stone back in September.  I've blogged about it several times, here and here.

As the last of the 12 skeins of Noro Silk Garden began weaving its way into the shawl, I worried whether it would be long enough.  I had never (successfully) blocked anything before, so I wasn't sure just how the shawl would grow.

I read that a warm bath relaxes the fibers in the yarn so that they can be gently stretched and shaped into what looks like an entirely new creation (hmmm, sounds just like what a nice warm bath can do for people, too!).  In the case of entrelac, the ridges between the squares can be relaxed into a smooth fabric, and the shawl did grow to just the right length.  It was time for a debut!

The shawl is much more comfortable in front of a camera than the model is.

The Knit Studio, Jackson's LYS, had the perfect shawl pin to hold the shawl in place.

And that's a wrap!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Few More Little Things

Back in late December, when I finished knitting my first sweater and my first Christmas stocking (nevermind that they are just two inches from top to bottom), I thought I might set a goal of knitting one of each during every month of 2010.  I would then arrive at Christmas with a couple dozen handknit ornaments to give as gifts.  Because who doesn't want a tiny sweater or stocking?!?

January flew by in fits of freezing weather and snow, but no sweaters.  February brought an honest-to-goodness snow day, but no sweaters...until I have found myself glued to the Vancouver Olympics!  Nearly every night, from the breathtaking opening ceremonies to the high-flying half-pipe to the amazing alpine races to the dazzling ice dancing (I can't tango on solid earth, let alone ice!), I have indulged in much more television than I ever usually watch.

In order to feel at least somewhat productive, I picked up some needles and yarn.

The patterns for these two sweaters are here.  Both are knit in the round, and the sleeves are put on holders while you finish the body of the sweater.  The red yarn is the same I used for my tiny stocking.  The green yarn is a single skein of wool (looks pretty as an ornament, but you wouldn't want to wear it - sooo scratchy!) that has been in my stash for years.  I think I pulled it out of a donated bag of yarn at church because the flecks of red and yellow and blue made me laugh.

These are so much fun to make!  I may try this pattern next.  Alpine, ski jump, and speed skating...and tiny sweaters!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent 1C

Homily preached at the Lower School Faculty Eucharist this morning...

Luke 4:1-13

At the end of a busy week, with many long, busy hours still to go, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness doesn't sound half bad.  Well, provided there's a nice shelter in that wilderness, with electricity and running water, and all the ingredients for a thick, hearty soup, and a cozy, down comforter, and a kindle full-charged, and an indefinite supply of General Foods French Vanilla Coffee...

I have wondered whether Jesus knew what awaited him in the wilderness, whether he was expecting something rather more retreat-ish than forty days of too little to eat and too much to endure.  The Spirit had led him there, Luke says.  Mark, always more urgent, says that the Spirit drove him there, Jordan River water still dripping down his neck, heavenly words still hanging round his head.  You are my Son, the Beloved.  With you I am well pleased.

It would not be the first time, nor the last, that a human heart wrestled with God.  I know, the story tells us the devil was the one who whispered temptations in Jesus' ear...Just think how much good you could do if you turned these stones to bread.  Just think how many would listen if you had authority over all the kingdoms of the world.  Just think how impressed they would be if they saw you riding the backs of angels...Aren't you hungry, Jesus?  You can feed yourself...

So it was, so it always is, that temptation sets the human heart against the heart of God and then steps back to watch what happens.  You can feed yourself, the devil still whispers in our ears, and our hearts swell with self-satisfaction.

We, too, have entered our forty days, this wilderness we call Lent.  The temptations we face are not peculiar to this desert, though - they are present with us each and every day.  And so we come into this season, led by the Spirit, to search our swollen hearts for the only words that can ever truly satisfy us, comfort us, feed us...You are my child, my Beloved.  With you I am well pleased.

Perhaps we will have opportunities for retreat in this wilderness time; perhaps not.  Perhaps at the Easter-end, or rather the Easter-beginnning, of our journey we will find that the world still more nearly resembles a wilderness than a warm shelter.  It is not,  however, not ever a God-forsaken place, the desert - indeed, it is where God waits to satisfy our hunger.  It is where the Holy Spirit leads us.  It is where Jesus stands close by, whispering in our famished hearts, I will feed you with myself... Amen.

Artwork: "Baptism of Jesus," by He Qi; "Temptations," artist unknown.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

The homily for our Middle and Upper School chapel services today...

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

About this time in February, three years ago, I watched for the first signs of spring in our yard.  We had moved to Jackson in late August the year before, when the summer heat had already baked everything except a few over-pruned shrubs and an over-grown magnolia.  I had never seen anything blooming in our new front yard, and was ready to be surprised by daffodils and snowdrops and irises.

Nothing happened.  Nothing came up.  Nothing grew.  Nothing bloomed.  For two years the only way you could tell whether it was summer or winter in our yard was if the grass was green or brown.

I wan't much of a gardener, but desperate for at least a little bit of color, I planted a few snapdragons around our mailbox.  I tugged at the tendrils of St. Augustine grass just as its brown season was beginning, found the loose soil beneath, and tucked the half grown flowers in close...and watched them grow.

After that, I couldn't keep my hands out of the dirt!  By the time the green season returned, I had planted some herbs and heather and lantana.  A friend who knows much more about growing things than I do planted roses and crepe myrtles and countless bulbs that had finished blooming, so that their flowers would be a surprise the next time around.  If you're watching for the first signs of spring in my yard this year, you won't be disappointed.  The grass is still brown, but there are green shoots everywhere, pushing soil and pine straw aside to make way for stems and leaves lengthening even as the days grow ever so slightly longer.

It is lovely that, in our northern hemisphere anyway, the church season of Lent and the earth season of brown-becoming-green coincide.  In fact, the word Lent comes from the same root that gives us the word lengthen, and at one time that was it was the name for this very time of year when the return of light and warmth bids us stretch our own winter-weary bones (and we are indeed weary of this winter!) and tend to the shoots and stems and other signs of new life as they appear all around us, bursting from the earth as from a tomb.

In this season of Lent, when things that grow are stretching toward the source of light and life, we are also encouraged to go deep, to consider those things that come between ourselves and God, to name the ways we have unintentionally and intentionally hurt ourselves or others, to be mindful of the ways in which our growth helps or hinders the growth of others around us.  Indeed, every faith tradition has a season or an annual observance during which believers reflect on their sins and through prayer and action return to a right relationship with God and with others.

The language of Lent, especially as it begins on this day, is filled with brown and brittle words like wrong-doing, sinfulness, mistakes, repentance, dust and ashes.  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return, many of us will hear as ashes are smudged on our foreheads, a sign of our mortality, of our inevitable failure to thrive.

But then again... From the very beginning, when in the biblical story of creation God kneels down in the rich, dark soil and lovingly forms and shapes by hand a human figure and breathes God's very own breath into it to give it life, and calls it adamah, Adam, which is Hebrew for dust... From the very beginning, God, the maker of heaven and earth, has been covered head to toe in dust and ashes and dirt. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, and into the Christian testament, the story of God and adamah, God and dust, God and us, has been a story about things that grow, things that live, things that stretch toward the source of light and life, things that make the world a lovelier place.

In the Broadway musical production of The Secret Garden, young Mary is delighted to discover the entrance to a walled garden only to find that the plants inside are brown and dead.  Her friend, Dickon, encourages her, scraping away at one of the stems to show her that the plant is wick:

When a thing is wick, it has a life about it, Dickon sings.  Somewhere there's a single streak of green inside it, waiting for the right time to be seen.  When a thing is wick, it has a light around it; maybe not a light that you can see, but hiding down below a spark's asleep inside it... You clear away the dead parts so the tender buds can form; loosen up the earth and let the roots get warm.  Come a mild day, come a warm rain, come a snowdrop a comin' up, come a lily, come a lilac, calling all the rest to come and see...

The season of Lent, especially as it begins today, is about remembering who we are - we are people made of dust and the breath of God, we are people made in the image of God, whose greatest love is getting down in the dirt and making something wonderful grow out of it.  Remember that you are are are rich, fertile soil.  What is God planting deep inside of you?  What is growing there?  What keeps it from growing?  Today we are invited to begin the work of clearing away those dead parts of ourselves to that tender buds can form, of loosening up the earth and letting our roots get warm.  Come a mild day, come a warm rain, come Easter morning, we'll be called to come and see what new life is bursting forth... Amen.

Artwork: Photos from our front yard; cross of ashes, artist unknown; "Early Spring," woodcutting by Art Hansen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Last Epiphany C

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)

One of the first things I learned as a camp counselor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was that I'm not very good at mountain-climbing.  During staff training, we went on an overnight campout like the ones we would be leading all summer.  We hiked for hours, up hill and down hill and through clearings and over rocks and fallen trees, learning all the trails through the woods.

I had never been on a campout like that, and it wasn't long at all before I started having second thoughts about my new summer job, about whether I would be able to identify poisonous snakes, light campfires in the rain, carry a pack taller than I was, negotiate footholds in roots and rocks, tie the right knot in the right place at the right time...and all of that with homesick campers hanging from my elbows!

Late in the afternoon, we started up the trail to Eagle Rock, where we were going to spend the night.  The climb wasn't too bad at first - a winding old dirt road that nature had begun to reclaim, gently sloping its way uphill.  But then, at a mysterious point it would take me all summer to find on my own, we turned suddenly off the road and started climbing straight up it seemed to me, until the path curved around and rose up straighter still.

About halfway up, I knew I had to stop.  I could barely breathe, my legs were burning, and my face was red hot with exertion...and embarrassment.  I asked if we could rest for a moment, bringing all twenty or so folks to a complete halt on the side of a hill fit only for Olympic downhill skiing.  But they all put their packs down, pulled out canteens, and caught their breath even as I struggled to regain mine.  I dreaded the moment we'd start up again, but at that point on the trail it would be just as difficult to go back down as it would be to keep climbing, so...we climbed.  And as we inched our way up the mountain, a few folks stayed close by, cheering me on from behind and pointing out the easiest path in front of me.  How strange, I thought, that we had been hiking together all day, but I hadn't really paid much attention to everyone else when all I could think about was how difficult the hike was for me.  In the end, the only reason any of us made it up to Eagle Rock was because we helped one another climb.

It was hard to take it all in at the top.  The air up there was sweet and pure - you could breathe deeply.  The sound up there was the sound of the sky itself, of rushing wind and vast, sparkling silence.  The breeze was cool on our hot skin, and the mossy ground gentle beneath our aching feet.  And the view up there, oh, the view - you could see, I mean, really see everything.  It was glorious.

I wonder if Peter and John and James were breathless from their climb up the mountain, if they had to stop halfway up the hill.  I wonder if they were caught up by the view from the top, if their feet were glad for the moss and their sweat-soaked brows glad for the cool breeze.  Luke tells us they were weighed down with sleep.

I wonder when everything began to change.  Did the air shimmer?  Did it first turn golden-yellow, as when a thunderstorm ends just at sunset?  And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white... It was glorious.

The story of the Transfiguration is told every year on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, the last Sunday in this season that has been full of the light of revelation.  The Magi observed a bright star and followed it over mountains and across deserts to reach a newborn king.  A voice from heaven called Jesus my Beloved Son as he stood dripping by the side of the Jordan River.  I will make you fish for people, Jesus had called to the fishermen-now-turned-mountain-climbers, and they left everything and followed him.  We have heard all of these stories, and now we come to this last and most brilliant epiphany, when Jesus was revealed in a new light - or, rather, in a very ancient light, the light of the glory of God.

One dictionary defines glory as "the unapproachable and mighty manifestation of the immediate presence of God."  Indeed, both Moses and Elijah had experienced God's glory on mountaintops before, awesome encounters with God so far beyond what their sense could comprehend that God had veiled their faces and shielded their eyes and covered them in a cloud.  And yet, had they not also encountered God's immediate presence - God's glory - in manna and flowing water, in still small voices, in healing touches, and in the kindness of others?

I am drawn to another definition of glory, offered by Frederich Buechner.  "Glory is to God what style is to an artist," he writes, noting that great works of art - paintings, sculptures, arias, sonnets - great works of art are saturated in the rich and recognizable style of the artist who created them.  "The style of the artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them."

The view from the top of that mountain must have been dizzying, what with Jesus' changed appearance and dazzling clothes, the sudden companionship of salvation history's holiest men, and a mysterious cloud overshadowing it all.  It is no wonder Peter desperately wants to stop the world's spinning and contain the moment his senses cannot comprehend.  He does not yet understand that God's glory has been with him all along, that it climbed the mountain with him, and that it will accompany him back down again.  He does not yet understand what Paul will later say, that in Christ the veil has been removed and set aside, that in Christ God's glory now has eyes for looking love on the world and hands for healing its hurts and feet for walking through the valley of the shadow of death...and for climbing mountains.

God is beyond all of our seeing and hearing and touching and knowing, but the witness of scripture is to the awesome entry of heavenly mystery into human experience, to how the appearance of that mystery ever changes so that we might ever see it in a new light.  And still there is no mistaking who the changeless Artist is, the one who paints glory as both dazzling light and dusty feet, who sculpts messiahs and mountaintops, who brings forth epiphanies and everyday life.

For all of creation, itself art in motion, reflects something of the glory of God, as though reflected in a mirror writes Paul.  The view from the top of any mountain, the coolness of any breeze, the gentle spring of moss, the hand that helps you climb, the companionship of friends along the way - are not these also great works of art saturated with the style of the Artist who created them?  The sound of our voices raised in song, the sight of our community gathered in prayer, the touch of a hand at the peace, the smell of the wine in the chalice, the taste of the bread that fills us with the Body of Christ - are not these also great works of art saturated with the style of the Artist who created them?

A third scholar defines glory simply as "God's visible manifestation."  There was no mistaking the visible manifestation of God's glory at the top of the mountain that day, but Jesus had not changed.  God's glory was on display in him each and every day of his life for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear.  It was visibly manifest in his choice of company, his eating, his touching, his smiling, his weeping, his need for rest, his willingness to let children hang from his elbows.  It was visibly manifest in his willingness to receive a crown of thorns, his face bright red and burning, his breath ragged, his life ceasing.  But death could not contain God's glory, and so when light dawned on the third day, Jesus revealed God's greatest masterpiece, resurrection, and invited us all to shine.

There may not come for us a dazzling light or a voice from heaven.  Such epiphanies, such transfigurations, are rare and perhaps unbearable.  Instead, we are slowly changed from one degree of glory to another, one mountain at a time - and there are many mountains along our way.  You know, nothing really changed about the climb to Eagle Rock - the hill was still steep, I was still out of breath, and I still worried about poisonous snakes.  Nothing really changed, except that the kindness of my companions awakened my senses so that I saw myself, those who were with me, and the woods in which we walked in a new light.  There were lots of little epiphanies like that over the course of that summer, little bursts of light like the stars overhead or the fireflies in the trees or the sparks above the campfire.  Each little encounter revealed something more of God's immediate presence, God's glory, in every day life - a helping hand rolling up tarps and sleeping bags, sharing an extra canteen of water, singing as we walked the trails, catching the unchecked smile on a homesick camper's face when she saw the view from the top of Eagle Rock... It was glorious.

In this season of Epiphany, we have hiked together with sisters and brothers in faith from the wilderness of the Jordan River to the wilderness at the top of a mountain; in a very few days, we will enter the wilderness of Lent.  Many of us carry heavy packs.  There are roots and rocks to negotiate, knots to tie, and lines to cut. The way is sometimes narrow and winding and steep.  We may get stuck on the side of a hill.  We will all at times need to stop and catch our breath.  In the end, the only way we will make it to Easter Morning is if we help one another climb.  And along the path, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, if we have hands to reach out and tongues to tell and hearts to beat and spirits to serve, we will slowly be changed from one degree of glory to another, and begin to shine with the likeness of Christ, the Artist in Residence.  Amen.

Artwork: Lake at Kanuga Conference Center (we hiked around it before starting up to Eagle Rock); "The Light of Christ has Come into the World," by Barbi Tinder; "Luke 9:28-34," by Chris Cook; "The Transfiguration," by Cornelis Monsma; "Blue Transfiguration," by Macha Chmakoff; "Transfiguration," by Lewis Bowman.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow Day!

The alarm was set to go off in time for me to check the news and see if school was cancelled so we could sleep in... Two minutes before it was scheduled to sound, though, the sudden quiet of the power going out woke us all up.  Since my inservice day had already been called off, I had actually planned to get up early and start the morning with a cup of coffee and a book and the silent fall of snow.  Instead, we all got up early and started the morning in the cold and candle-lit dark as we watched the snow drift down's the impossible part...not melt!

When it was finally light enough, Little Charlie and I went outside.  I wore my new hat!  The snow was just right for catching on the tongue and making snowballs that exploded into puffs of white when they struck the coats of giggling and delighted moms and little boys!

A neighbor told us she had heard that the power wouldn't be back on until Saturday.  By mid-morning, though, when we went outside again, resigned to the reality that we'd be cold whether we were inside or out, we saw this.

We had pancakes and hot chocolate for lunch!  The afternoon was spent outside again, playing with neighbors and pets as the snowflakes finally grew fewer and further between, and the above freezing temperatures were melting the snow.

Back inside, inspired perhaps by the wisdom of filling your lap with wool on a cold and snowy day, a new knitter was hard at work!  The sun came out by late afternoon, a beautiful end to a beautiful day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My New Plate Cozy

At least that's what my husband happily decided to call it when he saw it blocking over one of our dinner plates.  He knows it's really a hat, but couldn't be stopped from smiling at the thought of individually be-sweatered plates stacked cozily in the kitchen cabinet.

I started this hat, you may remember, the last time it snowed in Mississippi.  By all rights, that should mean I started it years ago, but no, it has snowed three times this winter alone.  Temperatures have dropped below freezing more than enough times to validate knitters living south of the Mason-Dixon line.  Still, imagining that winter was surely giving way to warmer temperatures and gallons of rain even as states north of here are frozen and covered in snow, I declared that perhaps I would have a completed hat by the next time it snowed here.

But the groundhog saw his shadow a few weeks ago, and according to NOAA, there is 100% chance of heavy snow tomorrow night.

Just in case, I have a hat blocking on a dinner plate.  I'm ready.

Specs for the Debbie Bliss Plate Cozy Cabled Beret:

One and a third skeins of Lion Brand Wool-Ease (which is soft and springy but may not actually have enough wool in it to block - we'll see), sizes 5 and 8 circular needles, cable needle, counter (which is only really useful if you remember to press the little button, which I often don't).  
Cast on 110 stitches, knit flat and seam up at the end.  I won't do it this way again, because it turns out I really don't like seaming.  I think if you omit one stitch at the beginning and end of each row, you can join and knit in the round. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Knit Together

The saints went marching up to Tupelo for the 183rd Annual Council of the Diocese of Mississippi.  "The Challenge of Mission" was our theme for the weekend, which we spent praying and singing and talking about how God has called us as individuals and as a church to go out into the world.  For some that means traveling across oceans and even continents, visiting Episcopal and Anglican communities in the Sudan, Uganda, Haiti, the Virgin Islands, Honduras, or Panama, to offer medical care or school supplies or simply to build meaningful mutual relationships.  For others it means walking down the street to welcome a homeless person into your parish hall where coffee and breakfast are served every morning.

(Yes, I knit a little during some of the business sessions, but then so did lots of other folks.  All the pictures in this post are their various projects, knit either for loved ones or as part of a prayer ministry in their community...)

We heard stories about how mission challenges us to think outside the box, to learn new languages, to embrace new traditions, and to open our hearts to people who seem, at least on the surface, very unlike ourselves.  One priest new to the diocese, by way of the Diocese of Minnesota, said that the Mississippi Delta has taught her that phrases like "might could" are as useful as "you betcha," and that sweet tea is far superior to its unsweetened counterpart.  Of course her reflection was light-hearted, but it revealed that even within our own country - and I suspect this is also true within our own states, even our own cities - there are diverse cultures and traditions to be learned and celebrated and respected.

There was tension at times, as there always is in families.  There is enough diversity of culture and tradition and belief within even our own Episcopal community that we are challenged to consider perspectives not our own, and to walk side by side with those with whom we disagree because, as Bishop Gray reminded us, the simplest creed is this: Jesus is Lord.  Jesus reigns, and that reign was in his life and death and resurrection, and in the life of the church at its best, manifest in love.

And so it is love that knits us together.  I pray that we will continue to hold in graceful tension the many threads that make up our community of faith that is the Episcopal Church, and that within the Diocese of Mississippi we will take up more and more of those threads in our hands and hearts.  I would love for us to sing from our African-American hymnal, to say a prayer in Spanish, and to use more expansive language when we describe God.  Our failure to weave these threads and others like them into our worship is our greatest challenge to mission.  Praying shapes believing...

The saints went marching back home in time for the kick-off of a game that would bring not only Episcopalians but believers (and non-believers) of all stripes together.  We'll all get back to work now, here in the mission fields of our day-to-day lives, whether we travel far away or simply walk down the street.  Go in peace to love and serve...and to knit together in love...