Saturday, January 30, 2010

Third Time's the Charm!

This morning we woke up to snow...for the third time this winter!  That's twice more than last year, and three times more than the year before that!  The flurries were so tiny I could only see them out of the corner of my eye as they swirled by.  In fact, it has snowed off and on all through the day, and has been cold enough to allow the wearing of scarves and mittens and hats.

Except that I don't have a hat.  Yet.  And so, for the third time this winter, I knit up a swatch of Lion Brand Wool-Ease in hopes of getting gauge to make this Cabled Beret, pattern by Debbie Bliss.  Now, I've never knitted a gauge swatch before.  I've never worried about gauge.  Most of the things I make are some variation on square or rectangular, so that size is easy to determine as you go along.  The few mittens and socks I've made must have had a thread of grace running through them, because I should have knit a gauge swatch first.

From reading blogs and books about knitting, it sounds like many knitters knit gauge swatches only reluctantly.  We're excited about the actual piece we're making, and if our yarn and needles match the yarn and needles in the pattern, why should we waste spend valuable knitting time creating a little square of fabric that won't ever be part of the hat or sweater or sock?

I wanted to do this one right, though.  So I grabbed my size 8 needles and cast on 18 inches plus a few on each side to keep the stockinette swatch flat for measuring.  I knit 24 rows, and then grabbed the ruler that was supposed to show my swatch was a four inch square.

It wasn't.  Which was, I suppose a problem, but really the bigger problem for me was that this was now going to involve math, a weary irony for this knitter who hasn't taken a math class since high school calculus.  And what good are sines and cosines here?!  The short version of a long story is that I knit up a second swatch on smaller needles, thinking that was the right way to get gauge.

It wasn't.  So I went up one needle size from the original swatch, and the third time was a charm!  Turns out, though, that other knitters have discovered the pattern knits up a little large, so after getting gauge, I'm going back down to the size 8 needle.  Next time it snows, I'll be ready!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Cloudy Day

I woke early today, on purpose.  I was the only one awake in the house (well, the cats and the dog woke, too, to savor the early hour with me) and intended to sit quietly with a cup of coffee and a book.  Hoping to avert an interruption once I settled into the armchair, I opened the back door to let the dog out for a moment and saw...

Immediately, as always happens when I see a sky streaked with color, I was a child again hearing my mother or my grandmother chant the rhyme so old even Jesus knew it... Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning... Perhaps he learned it from his mother and grandmother as well... When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.'  And in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.'  (Matthew 16:2-3)  

By the time I finished my coffee and the first chapter of my book, only half an hour later, perhaps, the clouds were white against a cheerful blue sky.  By mid-morning I arrived at Gray Center for a meeting, where the clouds had called in reinforcements.  By mid-afternoon I left for home again under a dull gray sky.  Just now, as I finish writing this post, I hear the rain falling.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Let It Begin With Me

Every year I ask my husband what he wants for Christmas, and every year he says "peace on earth."  It is noble, of course, but I sometimes wonder if he just thinks it's more likely that I'll pull off world peace than that I'd get him whichever guitar-of-the-moment he has his heart set on.

Maybe someday.  For now, though, I think he really does want peace on earth.  So Little Charlie and I stock up all year on things that proclaim peace.  Here's a sample...

What if, throughout the year, we all stocked up on real things that proclaim peace?  Not tree ornaments or bumper stickers but a passion for justice, a commitment to equality, a capacity for mercy, an ability to forgive?

The tree has finally come down, all the ornaments are wrapped up, and I'm already on the lookout for keychains, bookmarks, and other "happies" that proclaim peace, things Santa can throw in the stocking along with guitar strings and picks next Christmas.  Perhaps I can also be on the lookout for ways I can be a proclaimer of peace...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ordination to the Diaconate

It is my deep and heartfelt prayer that the new deacons of the Diocese of Mississippi will have an easier time with their ministry than I did trying to figure out how to eliminate extra spaces between paragraphs in this post... What an honor and a joy it was to celebrate a big moment with them on Saturday!

Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 84; Acts 6:2-7; Luke 22:24-27

Now the word of Pam and Scott and Dennis came to me, saying, "Will you please preach at our ordination?"  I said yes then, but as the year turned and the time came to consider what I might say in the presence of these three friends who are willing and reading to enter the diaconate, this special ministry of servanthood: they are ready and willing, our liturgy says, to model their lives upon Holy Scriptures; to make Christ an dhis redemptive love known; to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world; and at all times, in their life and teaching, to show Christ's people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.  Oh, and to do other duties assigned to them from time to time...

I said yes then, but now, considering all that these three are ready and willing to do as deacons in the I trembled and said, Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a priest.  But God is also willing and ready to do this, and so I shall humbly endeavor to speak whatever God commands.

I am only a priest, and a school chaplain at that.  Most of my homilies are preached before congregations of children and teenagers.  In fact, just three days ago, on the Feast of the Epiphany, I was standing in this very pulpit, not during the cathedral's brilliant festival of lights but earlier in the day, when all of St. Andrew's Middle School gathered here for our own celebration.  "The candles you hold," I told them, "represent the light of God that shines in and through you for all the world to see... So please...don't drip wax in your neighbor's hair, or use them for imaginary lightsaber duels, or do anything that might burn the church down.  There's an ordination here on Saturday, you know..."

Just three days ago.  By now the school jackets left behind have been gathered into lost and found, the programs folded into paper airplanes and crammed into pew racks have been recycled, and the candle was has mostly been cleaned up.  Three days ago there were rich red poinsettias climbing the steps into the choir and clustered around the high altar.  A wreath of evergreens and magnolia leaves stood beside the stairs, its four blue candles exchanged for white, a fifth white candle in the center announcing good news of great joy for all people.  And just below the pulpit, so near I could have breathed in the sweet baby smell, were figures of the holy family and the animals who attended the birth.  A camel kept watch from atop the organ.

It was all here, just three days ago.  But today it is all gone.  No poinsettias, no evergreens, no wreath.  No camels, no sheep, no stars.  The shepherds have returned to their fields and the magi to the east.  Even Mary, Joseph, and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes have gone, no longer living in Bethlehem town but perhaps down in Egypt, or back up in Nazareth.  Tomorrow when we gather to worship in our communities, Jesus will be grown, with Jordan River mud beneath his feet and a dove over his head as a voice from heaven declares, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

For so long we were getting ready.  For so long we were waiting, anticipating, hoping, planning, and preparing.  For so long we journeyed, each day nearer with Mary and Joseph (who were also getting ready and waiting and anticipating and hoping and preparing), each day nearer with them to the big moment in that silent and holy night.  And then we waited and hoped and journeyed again, each day nearer with the magi to the big moment when yonder star revealed to them a perfect light.

What happens, though, when the big moment is gone?  When it is past, and there is only ordinary time ahead?

Howard Thurman, in whose remarkable life in the last century mingled theology and civil rights, poetry and preaching... Howard Thurman offered his understanding of what happens after the big moment in his poem entitled, "The Work of Christmas."  Thurman wrote:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

What happens when the big moment is gone?  When it is past, and there is only ordinary time ahead?  We get to work.

So it was for Jeremiah, after the big moment when God called him, commissioned him, and touched him, putting God's own words in his mouth.  The work of prophesying began.  So it was for the disciples, after the big moment when Jesus, in sharing a meal of bread and wine, shared himself with them.  They struggled to understand his meaning, and he told them that true greatness was in giving one's self for the sake of others.  The work of serving began.

And so it will be for you, Pam and Scott and Dennis.  So it is for all of us at some point in our lives, or perhaps over and over again, when in a big moment like an epiphany we see clearly how God is calling us and equipping us and blessing us.  O God, Bishop Gray will pray as the three of you kneel before him.  O God...we praise you for the many ministries in your Church, and for calling these your servants to the order of deacons.  For so long you have been getting ready and waiting and anticipating and hoping and planning and preparing.  The big moment is finally here.

What will happen when it is gone?  When tomorrow we return to ordinary time?

You'll get to work.  In the words of Ormonde Plater, deacon in the Diocese of Louisiana, you will "through activity, word and example...encourage, enable, enlist, engage, entice, model, lead, animate, stimulate, inspire, inform, educate, permit, organize and support Christian people in ministry in the world, and...point to the present of Christ in God's poor."  It is extraordinary work, and we have already declared our desire that you be ordained to do it, and promised to uphold you in your ministry.  Soon we will say a loud "Amen!" when Bishop Gray prays, As your Son came not to be served but to serve, may these deacons share in Christ's service.

But we won't always listen to you when you enjoin us to serve.  The world won't always see what you see when you look into the eyes of God's poor.  Like King Herod we will be afraid of losing our power. Like the disciples we will want to know how much our work is worth.  Like Jeremiah we will doubt our ability to do the hard things that God asks.

And so, perhaps, will you.  When the big moment is gone and everything looks ordinary again, and the work is wearying, and the need is overwhelming, perhaps you also will say, Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak for I am only... I am only...

We are only... We are, each and every one of us, only people whom God knew before God formed us in the womb.  We are only people whom God consecrated before we were born.  Do not be afraid, God says to us, as God once said to Jeremiah, for I am with you...

This is the real meaning and the real work of Christmas and Epiphany, those big moments that today only appear gone, for God is now Emmanuel, God-with-us in each and every ordinary moment.  God's love has been made manifest in Jesus Christ, who taught us through activity, word and example to love and to serve all people.

The real meaning, the real work of the big moments is what we then go and do in ordinary time, in ordinary places.  The shepherds did not remain at the stable - they went out glorifying and praising God for all that the had seen and heard.  The magi did not betray the child Jesus - they returned home by another way that he might live to lead others home.  The disciples did not remain seated at the table - they learned to serve, and when they were called to minister in other ways, they appointed others to serve, to be the hands and feet and heart and eyes of Jesus Christ.

For Christ himself did not stay at the manger, or on the banks of the Jordan River.  He did not stay at the table in the Upper Room, or in the stone cold of the tomb.  Jesus remains Emmanuel, he remains God-with-us, going out into the world

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To be among us as one who serves.

When the sound of our singing is stilled, when the bread and wine from the table are cleared, when we are gathering our coats and preparing to go home, at the end of this service, our new deacons will dismiss us and this big moment will be over.  Then the work of deaconing will begin.

Pam and Scott and Dennis, as you will urge us moment after moment in your ministry, so let us now urge you: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Amen.

Artwork: "Light in the Darkness," by Linda Witte Henke; "The Beating of God's Heart," by Brie Dodson; "Leaving the Cloister," by Shiela Robinette; "The Cross of Ubuntu," by Brother Anthony-Francis, Hermit; "An Invitation," by Deborah Scarff; "Places of Light #3," by Krystyna Sanderson.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A cold coming...

The sky became a painting at sunset, with colors as rich as silk tassels on a camel's reins.  Cold air now stirs the wind chimes, and with my eyes closed the sound becomes bells on those same bridles, and I can see them journeying through field and fountain, moor and mountain, heavy-laden with gifts...

If there are stars tonight, they are bundling up against the chill under a blanket of increasing clouds.  Thank goodness the sages from the East are safely ensconced in the carpenter's modest home, their feet by the fire, their velvets and furs filled with sawdust, their eyes creased with warm laughter as they watch the child play.

They will dream tonight of kings and warnings, stars and journeys, even as we dream of snow.  Tomorrow when they wake, tomorrow when we wake, what will the world look like?

Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melted snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on the slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbert...
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory...

Feast of the Epiphany

As part of our Epiphany celebration in the Upper School, a small group of students sang "Seasons of Love," from the Broadway musical, Rent.  Truly they are stars...

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Matthew 2:1-12

Happy New Year!  Again... How do we measure a year?  By the school calendar, from August to May?  By the church calendar, from Advent to Advent?  Does the year start on January 1st?  The Chinese New Year is still more than a month away, when we’ll enter the Year of the Tiger.  Happy New Year!  Maybe...

My son, in third grade, and my mom made this confetti for their New Year’s Eve celebration last week.  And they made these crowns to wear and a “Happy 2010” sign for the front door.  Little Charlie told me all about it the next day, the dance contest I probably would have paid good money to see, the ice cream with chocolate sauce and star sprinkles, the countdown to midnight (well, it was midnight somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean).  “It was a mega-party,” Little Charlie said.  Happy New Year!

How do you measure a year?  I think I told you back in December that the church begins its new year with Advent, the season in which we prepare to hear once again the story of Love Come Down at Christmas, to begin once again our own journeys to Bethlehem and beyond with Emmanuel, God-with-us.

But then, a journey of faith in the church or in any tradition, perhaps, is not easily measured, is it?  We may count the days of the journey on a calendar of some sort, and there are “mega-parties” from time to time, significant events that help us renew our resolve to keep journeying - Christmas, for Christians.  Easter.  What are the special events, perhaps mega-parties, in your tradition, on your journey of faith?  How do you measure a year?  How do you measure a journey?

Along the way, throughout the year, whatever our faith, we ask questions, we have doubts, we get lost, we get found, we learn, we forget, we skip, we stumble, we have epiphanies.  Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means something like, Oh!  An epiphany is a sudden realization, a new grasp of the deep meaning of something.  It is the name given to this special event, this day on the church calendar, the day when we recall the journey of wise men to Bethlehem, where they met the child Jesus and realized, with sudden and overwhelming joy, that they were meeting God. 

We don’t really know how to measure the wise men’s journey.  Only the stars know how many steps it took to travel from somewhere in the East to Bethlehem and back.  “A cold coming we had of it,” poet T.S. Eliot imagines one of the wise men to say.  “Just the worst time of year for the journey, and such a long journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter.”  We don’t really know, though, what time of year it was when the herald star appeared, or whether the wise men rode camels, or even how many wise men there were.  Scripture doesn’t say.  But it matters not - those things aren’t the deep meaning of the story.

We do know that they brought with them rare and valuable gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh - gifts fit for a king.  Did the wise men feel foolish as they stooped to enter not a palace but a small house, their fine robes and furs sweeping up sawdust from the carpenter’s dirt floors?  We don’t really know what happened to the gifts they gave, whether they were kept or sold or given away.  But it matters not - those things aren’t the deep meaning of the story.

What does matter, I believe, is this: When the wise men looked at Jesus, the stars they so dearly loved suddenly paled in comparison to the light they saw in his eyes, and they gave him the very best they had to offer.  I don’t mean the gold, or frankincense, or myrrh - such things meant very little to the newborn king.  The gift that pleased God best, the gift we celebrate today, was their willingness to begin again, to let the light of God’s love be their new guiding star as they journeyed back home and told the story of all that they had seen and heard of the child on Mary’s lap.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, but on a journey of faith each and every day can contain moments of revelation, moments of light cast across our paths in new and surprising ways, moments in which we grasp or at least glimpse deep meaning.  “Always we begin again,” wrote Saint Benedict in the sixth century, understanding that each day, each moment, each minute is an opportunity to start anew on our lives’ journeys and to give the very best that we have to offer.  And I still don’t mean gold, or frankincense, or myrrh...

At the end of last year (or, wait, the middle, or...good grief, how do you measure a year?!?)... In May of last year, I was asked if we could use the song “Seasons of Love,” from the Broadway musical Rent, in a chapel service.  Rent is hardly a show about faith, except, perhaps, that it is a show about epiphanies and beginning again.  In the story, a group of friends grow increasingly isolated from one another as they struggle through a year of bad luck and bad decisions.  They wonder what they have left to show for themselves, what they have left to offer, and they sing, “525,600 minutes...525,000 moments so do you measure, measure a year?”  

So, how do we measure?  In daylight?  In sunsets?  In midnights?  In cups of coffee?  In grades earned?  Hours worked?  Practices attended?  Games won?  In pizzas eaten?  Rows knitted?  Service hours earned?   Text messages sent?  In lines memorized?  Miles driven?  Pages read?  Dollars earned?  All of these things can and do tell us about who we are, about where we’ve been, and about where we hope our journeys will take us.  They represent many of the exceptional gifts we have to offer.  But, not quite the best...

The broken and weary characters in Rent discover that, despite their own arrays of gifts and liabilities, despite their accomplishments and their failures, the only true measure of a year is love, the kind of love that opens us up to new possibilities, new directions, new friendships, new stories, new journeys.  And so we have 525,600 minutes...525,000 moments so dear in which we can offer the gift of love, of our own willingness to begin again, to let the light of God’s love be our guiding star as we continue on our way.  For epiphanies are not the end of a journey, but rather a bright new beginning...

Happy New Year!  Happy Middle of the Year!  Happy Almost-New Year!  Whatever calendar you use, whatever journeys you take, this year let’s measure in love.  Amen. 

Artwork: "Tree Star," by David Orth; "As I Saw the Living Creatures," by D. Riis Grife; title and artist unknown; "Journey of Three Wise Men," by Oldivad.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


It looks like we're about to have flowers, at the beginning of January!!

These and other bulbs have been coming up in the yard for the past couple of months.  I thought all I had were daffodils and a few irises or lilies here or there, most planted by a friend who was helping me learn how to love my yard.  Either they're all coming up early, or my friend planted other things as well, things that are supposed to bloom at this time of year.

Whatever these are, I hope they survive the cold mornings we'll be having this week.  And I hope my yard will still have a spring!

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Little Something Else

My first knitted sweater ever!  Okay, so it's just two inches from yoke to hem...

And I didn't exactly learn any actual sweater knitting techniques...

But it's another quick, easy and fun pattern to make little ornaments for next Christmas!  I used leftover self-striping sock yarn, which is why one side is green and the other is red.  The pattern, by Ruth Karohl, is here.  The sweater is knit flat in one piece, and then seamed together.  It took about two hours to complete, maybe even less.

Two other patterns I've looked at are here and here.  The first is knit in the round, and I could learn about raglan sleeves; the second is knit flat, and I could learn to pick up stitches for the sleeves. Unfortunately the holiday hours are ticking away, and it's time for me to turn my attention to the first week back at work.  But the MLK holiday is only a few weeks away...