Saturday, June 15, 2013

Postcards from Florida

It has been ten years - ten years! - since we went to the beach, a wonderful whirlwind trip with family when C3 was just 3 years old.  So when a parishioner offered a beachfront condominium for just the three of us to spend a whole week in Destin this summer, we started packing.  Swimsuits, goggles, sunscreen, boardgames, bucket...done.

And yarn, of course.  Plymouth Jeanee cotton in brown and blue and a soft light gray to make hand towels as a thank you to our hosts (I just chose a few stitch patterns I liked, and added a seed stitch border).  I mostly knitted on the balcony, but a little on the beach, stitching a little sand and sunscreen in for good measure.

It was the most marvelous trip, filled with waves and walks and seafood and sand dollars and laughter and late nights.  We returned only a little sunburned and a lot rested and entirely ready to do it again someday.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Preach One: Trinity C

Preached at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Jackson, MS.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

"We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance... The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal... And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three persons are co-eternal together..."

...Athanasius, fourth century defender of the faith at the Council of Nicaea, has many things to say to us.  His words, themselves a creed, a statement of belief about the Trinity and the Unity and the Substance and the Persons are in the historical documents section of our prayerbook.  "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible... As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible."  Indeed.  Perhaps we cannot bear it just now.

Augustine, in the fifth century, spent a lifetime writing his reflections on the Trinity, having so many things to say to us that he never finished his work.  "In this Trinity the Son and none other is called the Word of God, and the holy Spirit and none other the Gift of God, and God the Father alone is He from whom the Word is born, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds... The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also.  But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him."  Perhaps we cannot bear this, either.

Perhaps an image would be easier, more comprehensible.  The Trinity is like a shamrock, one leaf with three lobes.  The Trinity is like water, one substance with three forms.  The Trinity is like a triangle, one shape with three points.  Or perhaps a formula would be more bearable, some variation on one plus one plus one.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  Almighty God, Incarnate Word, Holy Comforter.  Primordial Nature, Consequent Nature, Superjective Nature.  And yet there are not three natures but one nature...

There are many, many, many things theologians and scholars and preachers and saints have said about the Trinity, much of which is not easy to bear, either for its obscurity or for its oversimplification.  Some of it is orthodox, definitive of our faith, and some of it is not, but then, when we are attempting to capture the immensity and particularity of God in an image or formula or even a creed, as my liturgy professor from seminary said, "Relax.  In the most strict and proper sense, it's all heresy."

Would that Jesus himself had offered us an answer to how God is Three in One and One in Three, but that must have fallen into the category of things he didn't tell us because we could not bear them.  His Trinity Sunday sermon was never preached.  Well, not from a pulpit anyway...

In John's Gospel especially, Jesus does speak of Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, but he doesn't bother with theological words like substance or co-eternal or even Trinity.  Instead, Jesus speaks of dwelling, and sending, and empowering.  The Father and I are one, he says.  If you know me, you will know my Father also...and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate...the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.  And if, like the disciples before us, we were to try to figure out what Jesus means by this, to argue and answer and try to understand (for we cannot bear the unknown), to treat the Trinity as a riddle to be solved and not a mystery to be embraced, Jesus has one more word to speak to us, a single word at once obscure and simple, mysterious and mundane, divine and deeply human...Love.  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Abide in my love.

So it is that a manner of living, rather than a manner of speaking, is perhaps the best and most bearable way of saying something about the Trinity.  For beneath all the theological words and creeds and formulas is God, who, somehow, is not just in relationship but is Relationship, who is not just in community but is Community, who doesn't just move toward the Other but is the Motion itself, who doesn't just love but is Love.  Jesus' whole life, a life lived in and for relationship, in and for community, always moving toward the Other in and for love...his whole life was a sermon on the Trinity, if a sermon is, at its best, a meeting place of God's story and ours.

But it can be so much more difficult for us to believe in a Love like that, and certainly more difficult for us to speak of it, than it is for us to proclaim our belief in a doctrine like the Trinity.  Our story, after all, is one full of division and fear and suffering and scarcity.  Just this week a tornado tore through a town that could have been ours.  It was an election that nearly pulled us apart.  We buried a long-time member of our community of faith.  We are remembering and grieving, this weekend, the impact of war on the lives of courageous women and men.  Hurricane season is here.  Our lives are full of arguments, sorrow, uncertainty, brokenness, prejudice, pain, power lost, and power found.  There is never enough time or money, but there are always at least two sides, and we take them against one another.

There is more to our story, though.  In the beginning, we were made in the image of God, which is to say, in the image of Relationship, in the image of Community, in the image of Movement toward the Other, we were made in the image of Love.  When tornadoes and hurricanes strike, when the goodwill of people and nations is threatened, we have a heart to go help, so we go.  When neighborhoods are in need of renewal, we have a mind to work together, so we do.  When lives around us are in need or trouble, we have hands to hold theirs, and ears to listen, and mouths to pray, so we do.

Catherine LaCugna, a theologian of our own time, understands the Trinity then as "ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life," for in baptism our "solitariness and separateness" are transformed into communion, into relationship, into love, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Even those ancient creeds - the Apostle's Creed we say at baptism, the Nicene Creed we say every Sunday, the Athanasian Creed...well, bless his heart, it's incomprehensible... Even those ancient creeds, for all their careful and good theology about a God who is mystery beyond our imagining, cannot help but speak of God always in motion toward the Other, toward one another as Three in One and One in Three, toward us and all creation.  We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth...God is Relationship.  We believe in Jesus Christ...for us and for our salvation he came down...God is Love.  We believe in the Holy Spirit...who has spoken through the Prophets...(and if we ever speak of God, aren't we all prophets)...God is Motion.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, the creed goes on to say, and so the Church becomes the sign and sacrament, LaCugna writes, of life lived in relationship, of life lived in community, of life lived in love, lived in the image of God.

There are many more things I could say to you about the Trinity this morning, but none of us could bear it, I'm sure.  The Trinity isn't best preached from a pulpit, anyway.  You see the Trinity if you see love, Augustine concluded.  May our lives, then, our community, our relationships, our hearts and minds and hands, be a sermon today and every day; by our love, let us say something about God.  Amen.

Artwork: "Thoughts on Communion," by Barbara Desrosiers.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Preach One: Easter 3C

Preached at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Jackson, MS

Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

What do you want to be when you grow up?  A famous actor?  A fighter pilot?  A fairy princess?  I wanted to be all these things when I was little.  But my acting career peaked around 8th grade when I played the goose in Charlotte's Web.  I took some flying lessons, but then I took physics, full of formulas I couldn't figure out.  I guess I won't ever be famous, then.  And I won't ever fly an F-18.  But a fairy princess...I'm still holding out hope!

In high school, I was voted "Most Likely to Succeed," but really wasn't certain what I would be successful at.  I was a youth minister for a little while, and then a graduate student, and then a bookseller, and briefly a stay-at-home mom before heading off to seminary.  Department of Labor statistics suggest I'm not alone - these days, people tend to change jobs or even careers between three and eleven times before they turn 40.  And we do so for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes we're moving up a ladder.  Sometimes we're disillusioned.  Sometimes we just want to do something different.  Sometimes we have no choice.  And then sometimes, Jesus shows up and says, follow me...

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Perhaps Paul wanted to be a soldier, or Peter a scribe; in their time, though, they would probably have been voted most likely to always be a Pharisee, most likely to always be a fisherman.  Both had been born into the positions they held, and both were successful in their work.  Paul persecuted countless Christians; Peter caught countless fish.  Until Jesus showed up and said, follow me...

Peter was fishing that day, with his brother Andrew.  We don't know whether he had heard of Jesus, or was already considering a career change.  But when Jesus offered him a position fishing for people, Peter leapt at the chance.  It wasn't an easy job, though, and while Peter was eager, he often felt like he was sinking in wave after wave of mystery and misunderstanding about just who Jesus was, even after the Resurrection.  In the end, weary and overwhelmed, he hauled himself and his nets back out to sea.  But Jesus had yet one more job for him to do...tend my lambs...feed my sheep...

Paul loved his work.  He was proud of his Roman citizenship and his Hebrew heritage, both of which revolved around rules.  The Pharisees were a religious and political party within Judaism, devoted to the observance of God's commandments and demanding that others do the same; Paul's job was to round up the rule-breakers.  He was breathing threats and murder that day against the disciples in Damascus when Jesus decided to bring him under new management.  It wouldn't be easy work, but in the end, Paul couldn't see how he could do his old job anymore.

So the fisherman and the Pharisee grew up to be apostles, to talk and teach about what they had seen and heard, and to lead Christ's followers in creating a community of faith and prayer and practice - the Church.  Peter would help it sink its roots deep in the soil of salvation history; Paul would help it spread that story of God's saving love far and wide.  All who believed were together, the book of Acts tells us. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers... They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need...and day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Day by day by every single day since Jesus showed up on that shore, saying to his first disciples, follow me, lives have been changed by the inviting, transforming, and reconciling love of God.  Jesus went right to work healing the sick, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, forgiving the sinner, embracing the outcast, companioning the lonely, finding the forgotten, shepherding the lost, comforting the sorrowful, helping the poor, and putting others right to work with him, employing their hearts and hands and feet as his instruments, chosen to bring his name to all the world.

And not his name only, but new life.  For it is Jesus crucified and risen who shows up in our scriptures this day, this third Sunday of Easter.  Follow me, Jesus says to Peter once again, resurrecting the rock on which the Church would be fixed.  Where once Peter had denied knowing his dying Lord, now he would bear witness to a living Savior.  God raised him up, Peter would boldly proclaim, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in death's power.

It is Jesus crucified and risen and ascended who appears to Paul, in a flash of light first, and then in Ananias, who was surely Christ to Paul.  Jesus had appeared to Ananias, too, and put him right to work loving an enemy, tending a sheep, forgiving a sinner, praying for a yet-to-be-saint.  Christ died for our sins, Paul would later write, and was buried, and raised on the third day...and appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters, then to James, then to all the apostles...last of all, he appeared also to me...

On this third Sunday of Easter, we remember that the Church began, and then began to grow, because Jesus, crucified and risen, showed up over and over and over again, day by day by day, in people's lives, and set them about the task of bearing witness to the power of his love to transform despair into hope, darkness into light, blindness into sight, death into life; the power of his love to transform an unlikely collection of followers into a community of faith.  Brother David Vryhof, SSJE, writes of that early Church, "they are not alone: countless Christians down through the ages, from every people and nation, have borne witness to their own experience of the Risen Christ.  Through him they have come to know God as love, and this love has transformed their lives," and not their lives only, but the whole world, for the best witness to Love is to love...

Jesus is still showing up.  We are every bit as likely to encounter him over breakfast or on the road as ever Peter or Paul were.  Or haven't we served Christ eggs and grits at our Tuesday morning meal for the homeless and hungry?  Or haven't we walked with him through a South Jackson neighborhood to list all the things a collaboration of church and community volunteers can do to improve it?  Or haven't we heard Christ in the voice of someone over the phone saying they just called to see how we're doing?  Or haven't we watched him teach a classroom full of students, or carefully start an IV, or paint a canvas in every color of the setting sun?  Or haven't we listened to him tell bedtime stories to a cabin full of first-time campers, or speak to someone otherwise alone, or give a speech at a fundraiser for a community center?  Where have you seen him?  In whom have you heard him?  How have you experienced the Risen Christ?

Jesus is still showing up.  And he is still saying, follow me, get up, and you will be told what you are to do.  As fishermen or Pharisees, as pilots or fairy princesses, as musicians or social workers or librarians or babysitters, as firefighters or parents or kids or chefs or CEO's or retirees or nurses, wherever it is that we work, whatever it is that we do, whether we're grown up yet or not, Jesus has a new job for each and every one of us - that we would be disciples, bearing witness, day by day, to the unconditional and transforming love of God.

It's not easy work.  The hours are long and unpredictable, for we never know when or where or in whom Christ will appear.  The pay is not good; in fact, Jesus tells us that following him costs us everything.  The products of a life of discipleship - love and grace and humility and mercy and forgiveness and vulnerability - are not everywhere well received.  And sometimes even coworkers quarrel, even Peter and Paul did.  It's not easy work, following.  But then, by definition, following means going where Christ goes first, where he leads the way, where he already is, where he's just waiting for us to show up and get right to work.

Not just on this third Sunday in Easter, but on every Sunday, and any time we gather as the Church in this place and around this table, we experience the Risen Christ, in word, in the breaking of bread, and in one another.  There is a job to be done, there is a world to be transformed by love.  May we then go out to do the work God has given us to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Artwork: "Jesus Awaits the Disciples on the Shoreline," by Kristen Serafini.

Monday, April 01, 2013

No bunny 'til some bunny...

C3, now 13 years old, was just in preschool when it started.  Even with only a handful of Easters under his belt, he had accumulated a number of stuffed bunnies.  Every year they make an appearance around the middle of Lent (they're so adorable and soft, how can we not let them out early?) and pile up on C3's bed to await the arrival of Easter morning and (the resurrection of Jesus Christ and) another new bunny in C3's basket.

That preschool year, somewhere around Easter, my husband and I went into C3's room to say bedtime prayers and kiss goodnight.  We found him sitting on his bed surrounded by his bunnies, and as we made room for ourselves in the cozy warren, C3, with a particularly fuzzy stuffed rabbit in his hands, looked up at us and said with a precious sigh, "I love you more than bunnies."


We still say it to this day when we want to emphasize just how strongly we feel.  "I love you" is all well and good, but "I love you more than bunnies"...that's serious.

So, last year as Lent got started, I began wondering whether it was time for me my son to grow up a little, whether stuffed animals were still something he would want.  His heart has a generously sized soft spot, though, and because I wasn't ready for him to be too old because of that I decided to do just one more bunny.  Store shelves had long been filled with Easter rabbits, ducks, lambs all waiting to be chosen to sit among chocolate eggs and speckled jellybeans in some child's basket.  But if this was going to be the last bunny, I wanted it to be special.  I decided I would make it.

Knit it, of course.  I had already eyed some patterns, precious knitted toys with button noses and cotton tails.  I finally chose Sophie, by Ysolda Teague, for its long, floppy ears and sweetest face.  For you knitters reading along, I couldn't recommend the pattern more highly.  It is knit in parts, but there are no seams - beginning with the head, you simply knit, stuff, and bind off, and then pick up stitches for the next part.  I used Caron Simply Soft that I've long had in my stash

Much of the bunny was knit right in front of C3, who never asked what I was making, even when it looked a little Frankenbunny-ish as I picked up for legs or arms or ears.  I loved the project, and smiled often as it grew, just as C3 has grown.  It was ready just in time to nestle in C3's basket - the same one the very first bunny appeared in - on Easter morning.

C3 smiled, and perhaps it was just courtesy, but he kept it out when the rest of the bunnies went into liturgical hibernation at the end of the Great Fifty Days.  This year there was only a chocolate bunny in the basket.  Still, he didn't complain or roll his eyes when all those stuffed rabbits appeared outside his bedroom door, and when I looked later he had brought them into his room.

I know they'll be outgrown, and in some ways so will we as our teenager (wasn't he just that preschooler?!) continues to come into his own.  But no matter what, we'll always love him more than bunnies.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Preach One: Good Friday

Preached at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi.

Hebrews 10:16-25; Psalm 22; John 18:1-19:42

What a beautiful cross, people comment about the one I've worn for years now, with its soft silver swirls, and they often ask where it came from.  I pause, wondering whether I should say it is from some quiet cloister or a cathedral far away, or that it is an heirloom or antique.  But it's not.  It's from...Cancun, and I thought it was beautiful, too, when I saw it in a marketplace there, displayed with hundreds of other beautiful crosses, some with simple smooth shining surfaces, others more elaborate, many bearing the body of One broken in death, or One triumphant over it.

What a beautiful cross, people never would have said two thousand years ago, and certainly not on this day.  What a horrible, hateful, hideous cross it was when Jesus hung there, when it was used as an imperial instrument not only of death but of terror, to crucify criminals and to kill hope.  What an ugly, awful, agonizing cross, rough with splinters and nails, slick with sweat and blood, bearing its victims up into breathless air.  What a dark, dreadful cross, on which was fastened flesh and bone, body and blood, life and innocence and conviction and love and light from light, true God from true God.  Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

There was nothing beautiful about that cross.  There was nothing good about that day.  He was betrayed at Gethsemane, denied at the gate, and most of his friends were gone by Golgotha.  He had healing the sick and helping the poor held against him.  Love was a liability, kindness a crime.  In the end it was easy to nail Jesus down, his arms had always opened too wide.  He was despised, rejected, beaten, mocked, stripped, crowned with thorns, and...what a bitter cross.

Forty days of ashes and dust in the end do little to remove our despair.  For all our repentance, we know our sin betrays and denies and abandons him still.  He suffers on our account.  Looking up at our Lord from the foot of the cross, we would offer one last confession, and hope against hope that he will spare us.

But that is not why we are here.  There is no prayer of confession today, and only once will we call ourselves sinners.  We are ever in need of forgiveness, and on this day no less, but that is not why we are here.

We are here to do something much harder.  But it is something beautiful.  And it is something good.  Dear People of God, we will read in a moment, Our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.  Here at the end of the holy season of Lent, walking no longer apart from Christ, but being loved by him and called as servants and friends, we will not only follow him to Golgotha but embrace with him deepest and darkest suffering and death, cross it with heaven, and with God's help raise it up and heal it.  Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being made raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.  That, sisters and brothers, is why we are here.  That, I daresay, sisters and brothers, is always why we are here.

We are here, because as Christ entered into who we are even as fully and deeply as death, so did he hallow all of who we are even as fully and deeply as death.  Brother James Koestner writes, "It was not because Jesus was oblivious to pain that enabled him to undergo such cruelty.  It was because he knew the depth of human grief and loss and despair.  And he knew that, because he loved."  Today is about how Jesus suffered and died, but it is also about how he lived, with and for and in love that does not measure or weigh or reserve or hesitate or exclude or fear.  We are here on this good and awful day, at this beautiful and terrible cross, because we cannot love this way without him.

If we will go where Christ goes, we must come to this day, we must come to this moment, we must come to this cross, not just to look up at it for our own healing but, trembling, to gaze out from it for the healing of the world he so dearly loves and calls us to love with him, praying for everyone according to their needs, helping and healing and showing what kindness we can.  If we will go where Christ goes, we must be willing for our hands and feet to ache, to find no rest, to suffer and be held of no account, to be despised, to be rejected, to be acquainted with infirmity and grief.  If we will go where Christ goes, we must be willing to love until it is finished.

Let us pray.  Almighty and Eternal God, so draw our hearts to you this day, so stretch out our arms, so move our feet, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so direct our prayers, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly and always and everywhere you go dedicated to you.  And then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Artwork: "The Beauty of the Cross," by Daniel Bonnell.    

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lost and Found

The third of five homilies preached at the 2013 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference...

Saturday Morning
Psalm 23; Luke 15:3-6

I had to ask for directions the first time I drove alone to our diocesan conference center.  It's easy, I was told.  Get off the interstate and follow the road through a four-way stop and over a train track.  When you get to the place where there used to be a two-story house, turn left.

It's how we give directions in the south.  If you want to know how to get anywhere, you're going to need a history lesson first, or you'll definitely get lost.

Of course no one asks for directions much anymore.  We just type our destination into our phone or the car's computer and follow the little blue dot to wherever we need to go.  But sometimes even Siri leads us astray, or we wander into an area the GPS doesn't know.  In my mom's old car, the computer would give up and announce we were in "uncharted territory," which gave us a little thrill of adventure as we made our way out into the unknown.

Who knows why we, like that poor little sheep, lose our way.  Maybe we get distracted as we go about our day, or perhaps we are too focused.  Maybe we saw what we thought was a better way.  Maybe we are seeking adventure, or, fearful, avoiding it.  Maybe we get stuck while the rest of the flock, the rest of the world, moves on without us...however it happens, we find ourselves apart and alone and uncertain of where to turn next.

It happens in our handwork, too.  There we are, with directions and charts and patterns printed out and plain to see, and we think we've followed them faithfully until our stitch count is suddenly off, or a seam has been sewn wrong, or we're holding the wrong color in our hands, and we have no idea how we got where we are.

God, like a guide me along trusted roads, our psalmist sang, rejoicing that lost doesn't mean lost forever.  But God doesn't not stop at providing directions.  God does not merely show us the way but is the way, does not merely point out the pattern but is the pattern.  I am the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus said when his friends worried they would never find the place where he was going.  The right pathway, the most trusted road, is a life lived like his, following such directions as love one another, forgive your enemies, feed my sheep, follow me.  Directions like these will seem to take us off the world's beaten path, for the way of Christ winds through side streets and margins and alleyways and through the valley of the shadow of...but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

If you find yourself in uncharted territory today, if you feel a little lost, either in the pattern you are working or in the path of life you are walking, perhaps you are not so far from the way.  The Lord is our shepherd, after all, and comes looking for us when we stray.  As surely as there are people here to help you put one foot (or needle) in front of the other, so does God desire to show us the right path.  Who knows, perhaps the right way lies precisely in having gone the wrong way a while and so having learned to look for and trust that our shepherd is near.

"Follow him," urged poet W.H. Auden.  "He is the Way.  Follow him through a land of unlikeness, and you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.  He is the Truth.  Seek him the kingdom of anxiety.  You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.  He is the Way..."  Amen.

Artwork: Disclaimer...most of the knitting and quilting photographs included with these homilies are actually from the 2012 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Retreat.  This year I actually spent more time knitting than taking pictures.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rest(eth) Here

The second of five homilies preached at the 2013 Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference...

Friday Evening
Psalm 23; Matthew 11:28-29

There are many faithful translations of the 23rd psalm, studied renderings of the psalm from one language into another, preserving as carefully as possible the intended meaning of the author's original prayer.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, we read this morning from the New Revised Standard Version of scripture.  Tonight we read the translation we know best, even though we only speak this way when we recite this psalm... He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul.

Don't we do the same thing sometimes in our quilting or our knitting?  We read the pattern, which looks to the untrained eye like a foreign language - K1, P2, K2tog, YO - and translate it directly through our yarn and needles into a garment that matches (well, mostly) the designer's original intent and is (well, mostly) clearly recognizable as a sweater or a scarf or a quilt or a pillowcase.

There are other times, though, when we engage in something more like interpretation than translation, faithful to the original pattern, but using different colors or threads or fabrics than are called for, or going up or down a needle size, or using more or fewer strips for a log cabin block, shaping the finished piece according to the author's vision but also to a little of our own.

So are there, in additions to the translations we know, faithful interpretations of the 23rd psalm, holding to its meaning, but shaping and reshaping the words and images to express something of how the text speaks to the person interpreting it.  My shepherd will supply my need, wrote Isaac Watts, turning the psalm into poetry.  In pastures fresh He makes me feed beside the living stream.

Other have taken the psalm and turned it into...well, you tell me if it's faithful or not.  The Lord is my coach, I shall never be defeated, goes the version for athletes.  The Lord is my drummer, I shall not rush, is for bass guitarists.  There is even a version for quilters, He maketh me to lie down in stacks of fat quarters, he leadeth me to bolts of batiks.

In your interpretation of the 23rd psalm, where would Jesus, our Good Shepherd, lead you for rest and refreshment?  Into a quiet chapel?  Out of doors, beneath a wide tree or in a long row of rocking chairs?  Beside a blazing fire in a circle of friends, or down to a room filled with sewing machines, with all the time in the world to knit or stitch before the dinner bugle sounds?

Sheep are not very smart, some say, because they are herd animals who take no thought of their own except for fear.  They wander.  They stumble.  They panic.  They fall over.  They are easily and often startled.  They must be led to places of nourishment and refreshment, or they will starve from lack of food or gorge themselves on things that are not good for them.

So is it interpretation or translation when another psalmist says we are sheep, the sheep of God's pasture and the people of God's hand?  So vulnerable, so needy, so easily worried and distracted and restless, so afraid of the dark, we need a shepherd to settle us, to send us out, to take care of us, to gather us back in the fold.

Come to me, Jesus says.  Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  For sheep, that place of rest that restoreth the soul is in lush green pastures beside gentle, cool, clean water.  Perhaps the shepherd leads you there for rest, as well - perhaps just such a setting is a perfect sanctuary for you.  But the psalmist means less to tell us where to find rest than simply that God provides it, if we will but follow.

We have found rest for our souls here this weekend.  "Knitting [and, I am certain, quilting] is not just a thing that we do but a place that we go," writes a knitter-philsopher.  Knitting or quilting is a place, a space of time and movement and prayer, where we are nurtured, fed, and lulled into a deep knowing that we are securely held, wrapped in love.  Let us know more deeply still that it is God who has led us here.  The Lord is our shepherd...  Amen.

A Knitter Looks at the 23rd Psalm

The title is better in its original setting, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, written by Phillip Keller and published some thirty-five years and two million copies or so ago.  Mr. Keller takes each verse of this psalm we all know best and talks about them through the eyes of an honest-to-goodness shepherd...what happens when sheep don't have green pastures or clean water, when they get lost, when they get hurt...

Knitters are quite interested in sheep, too, of course, and are grateful for the work of good shepherds.  Without them, you'd be getting sweaters knit from dental floss, or socks knit from crabgrass, or worse, no handknits at all.  

Quilters don't use wool as often as knitters do, but they, too, know something about patterns of pastures and pools and pathways.  And of course knitters and quilters alike are able to settle into a rhythm with their work, stitch after stitch, piece after piece, so that the verse after verse of saying a psalm fits right in.

At the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference this year, we gathered in worship at the beginning and ending of each day.  Each service included a brief homily, which I humbly offer here...

Friday Morning
Psalm 23; Matthew 6:25-34

When my mom and I talked about what we were packing to bring to Kanuga, our lists were pretty similar: yarn, scissors, needles, a knitting bag, patterns, stitch markers, a little more yarn, crochet hook, row counter, extra yarn...a bigger knitting bag...

The list for quilters is even longer.  I know this because I traveled here with one, and while the three knitters in the car could squish our extra yarn and knitting bags into corners and under seats, sewing machines and irons don't squish.  Between the four of us, the car was filled to overflowing (although there was curiously enough room for the things we found at the fabric and yarn store we stopped at in Birmingham).  There were bags and boxes and crates and baskets and, oh, a suitcase or two (for the non-knitting or -quilting related things on our lists, you know, like clothes, toothbrushes, never know what you might need).

We had everything we wanted.  Except, we now know, for all the things we forgot.  No matter how detailed we make our lists, no matter how thoroughly we check them off, we always manage to leave something at home, always manage to lack something we might want or need.  A phone charger.  A favorite pair of socks.  A spool of thread in the right color.  The right size needle.  What did you forget?  What do you lack?

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  No psalm is better known or loved, or more often prayed, than this one.  It isn't, of course, about the things we want because we left them at home on the kitchen counter, or on the back step.  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  We lack much more than the pillow or pattern we forgot.  We want so much more than we ever have, whether it is money or confidence or success or strength or happiness or authority or courage or compassion or comfort or patience or faith... What did you forget?  What do you want?  What do you lack?

The 23rd psalm is filled to overflowing with God's goodness and mercy, God's gracious provision, God's good shepherding of so very many sheep (which is to say, us) with so very many wants and needs.  But before we ever get to those green pastures or still waters, before we walk right pathways or wrong ones, before we sit at a feast with our cups running over, before our heads are anointed or our hearts are comforted or our souls are revived and restored...before the good shepherd tends to our needs and wants, at the very beginning of the 23rd psalm, the list of things with which we think we need to pack our lives (a list that, no matter how much of it we check off, never fill us up and always leaves something behind) is reduced to just one.  We need only one thing: the Lord, who is our shepherd, who gave us life, who gave us love, and who in the valley of the shadow of death gave us love and life all over again...

Someone here can lend you that pair of socks or scissors.  You can run into town for a toothbrush.  Between us all we're filled to overflowing with yarn and fabric, creativity and color, courage and compassion and goodness and mercy, and we can surely share what patience and happiness and faith we have.  But before we start too long a list of what we think we need or want or lack, let us not forget what the psalmist says we always already have - the Lord is our shepherd.  What more could we want?

In the words of Saint Julian, let us pray, "God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory.  And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all."  Amen.

Artwork: Good Shepherd stained glass window - I used this image on the cover of our worship booklet, but now can't find the source...if you know where it lives, or who designed it, please let me know so that I can give proper credit; needle-felted "Good Shepherd," by Daria Lvovsky.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Knitting and Quilting (and Preaching and Purling)

Three Knitters and one Quilter ride travel from Jackson, MS, to Hendersonville, NC, for the Kanuga Knitting and Quilting Conference.  Knitter A packs a suitcase, a knitting bag, a crate full of worship materials (she's the chaplain for the conference), a pillow, and a purse.  Knitter B packs a suitcase, two knitting bags, a pillow, and a heavy coat.  Knitter C packs a suitcase, a knitting bag, several crates and baskets of knitting books and yarn (she's an instructor for the conference), and a pillow.  The Quilter packs a suitcase (for clothes), another suitcase (for fabric), a sewing machine, an iron, a cutting board, and a bag of quilts.

Question: What percentage of the car's rear window is available for the driver to see out of?
Answer: Zero.

We didn't need to see the road behind us, anyway...all that mattered was the road ahead of us as we made our way to Kanuga Conference Center, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.    The trip should have taken about 10 hours, but ended up taking 16 hours, owing to a stop at a dealership to fix a faulty heater and a detour through a yarn and fabric shop that just happened to be several miles off the interstate on the way.

The dealership offered to find us a rental car, but admitted it would take as much time to do that as it would take to repair the heater, so we pulled a few chairs into a circle in the waiting room and stitched away while the mechanics fixed.  Sitting and waiting time is never wasted on a knitter.

A little ways down the road, our feet finally warm, we stopped for lunch and a visit to In the Making, home to beautiful fabrics and yarns and a Hannah Fettig trunk show.  We each found a little something to tuck into corners of the car, a ball of yarn here, a printed pattern there, a fat quarter or two...

We finally arrived at Kanuga around midnight, awake just long enough to make plans for the next day's drive into Asheville for more yarn and fabric fun.  Our first stop was New Morning Gallery in Biltmore Vilage, where our Quilter has some of her stunning work on display.

From there we went to Earth Guild, where they sell everything related to fiber arts but the sheep themselves.  Roving, yarn, spinning wheels, knitting needles, looms, beads, dyes,'s all there.  Except now there is a little less roving there, because some 100% merino came home with me.

The conference itself was wonderful.  There were workshops in fair isle, intarsia, lace, cables, and knitting with beads.  There was a room filled with sewing machines and fabrics.  We had chapel twice a day, at which we took the 23rd psalm one verse at a time and reflected on the ways in which our Good Shepherd cares for us (preach on the 23rd psalm and yarn...please, don't throw me in the briar patch!!)  There were fires in the fireplaces and Kanuga toast on the breakfast tables and rocking chairs on the porch and sweaters and cowls and scarves and quilts and mountains all around and friends everywhere you looked.

Many thanks to Varian Brandon, conference coordinator, for bringing us all together, and to Kanuga for being our holy ground!  Three Knitters and one Quilter from Jackson, MS, definitely plan to return in 2014, and should probably start packing the car now...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


So, yesterday, I was all ready to list my New Year's Resolutions, an assortment of self-improving guidelines for 2013.  Drink more water.  Get more sleep.  Exercise.  Try new recipes (healthy ones, of course).  Keep a dream journal.  Learn fair-isle knitting.  Blog more, at least more than the 7 times I blogged last year.

And then a friend posted this as her status update on Facebook:  I don't make resolutions.  I don't change something about myself.  I add something positive.  I think when you focus on the good within you...the negative tends to fall away

There is indeed much good within Rachel, and I'm so grateful she shared this particular good thing.  All of my resolutions, as usual, were based on some perceived lack in my life - I don't drink enough water, I stay up too late, I should go to yoga more, cook more, write more, knit more, blog more...

All of which will only, in the weeks and months to come, give way to needing to stick to my resolutions more.  Isn't that the way it so often goes?  We start the year with the best of intentions and end it with the worst of disappointment, having not only failed to do the thing we vowed to do, but having vowed to do it knowing that we would probably fail.

What if instead of choosing resolutions we chose resolve instead?  Resolve to remember and celebrate and give thanks for the good things in our lives and about ourselves.  Good qualities we've cultivated, good decisions we make, good friends we've found, good times spent with family and alone and with God.

So in 2013, I hope I'll knit more (knit this, in fact), spin more (did I tell you I'm spinning now?  Maybe I should blog more...), make healthy choices more, be more self-assured.  I hope I'll do all those things and, well, more.  But I resolve to focus on the good within me, to remember and celebrate and give thanks for things like a little creativity, a lot of quiet, a tendency to believe the best about people, a love of Multigrain Cheerios.

I don't mean there isn't room for improvement - of course there is.  There is negative that needs to fall away.  But perhaps it does so more naturally when we're lifting up good from within instead of piling on good from without.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Paul wrote, and that's a little bit what making New Year's Resolutions feels like.  Figure out what will make you better, what will improve you, what will save you, and work at it.  And we do, with fear and trembling, because we might fail.  But what if here, as so often is true in our holy scriptures, fear and trembling mean not anxiety but astonishment and even awe?  For even as we resolve to remember and celebrate and choose things that make for happiness and health and hope, even as we work out our salvation, it is God who works within us.  And that is very, very, very good.

Philippians 2:12

Artist: Elisa Choi