Through Thick and Thin

I what it means: continuing on regardless of difficulty or condition. But I didn’t know where the phrase came from until I looked it up on The Phrase Finder ( Originally, the saying was through thicket and thin wood – a description of the English countryside and a reference to the difficulties of traversing it. It shows up in the 1600’s and got shortened sometime between then and now, obscuring its literal meaning.

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer – things I promised to weather with my husband over twenty-four years ago. If we decide to renew our vows (as we did on our 10th anniversary), I think I’ll swap these words for through thicket and thin wood. Perhaps because they aren’t so familiar as the words in the wedding ceremony, they offer something new and precious. Walking through thicket and thin wood together may bring with it unexpected difficulties and arguments, but it brings with it an appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us every step of the way. Perhaps I’ll face the obstacles gladly for the glimpse of the living world that surrounds us and the deepening of the love that binds us together that only comes from the walk.

[The Phrase Finder was founded by Gary Martin in 1997, an outcome of post-graduate studies at Sheffield Hallam University. It’s a marvelous site, including original sources and helpful references for further study.]


Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

My doctoral advisor called them dime-between-seat-cushion dilemmas: making an attempt to retrieve the dime requires moving the cushion, which makes the dime slide farther down between the cushions; not making an attempt keeps the dime in place, but still doesn’t get the dime out. Either way, the dime remains beyond reach. Dimeless if you reach for the dime, dimeless if you don’t.

Of course, there are other ways to get the dime. If you happen to have a thin blade, you could come up from beneath the coin and try to pop it up and out. If you don’t mind pulling the cushions apart, you can let the dime fall to the bottom of the chair and then pick it up – assuming that the cushions are removable and the dime doesn’t fall out of reach into the coils beneath. You could tip the whole piece of furniture upside down and give it a good shake. But sometimes the rescue requires too much effort or unavailable tools, and the dime remains beyond reach.

Sometimes, it seems like a life of faith is presented as a dime-between-seat-cushion reality: no matter what you do or do not do, it remains beyond reach. So rules come in as a tool to pop it from underneath, and theological treatises offer seat cushion removal instructions. For those of a revolutionary bent, leaders can be found who will tell you to flip the whole thing upside down and let gravity do its thing. But when one or all of these are attempted, the best outcome is a dime you can hold in your hand and the question you hold in your heart: was such a small thing worth such effort? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The problem with all this isn’t the various methods or means of dime-from-cushion removal; the problem is reducing a life of faith to something so small that it can easily fall and get lost between the cracks. You and I will lose our way, and it may feel like parts of our faith drop away like coins in a torn pocket. But these small things, even when they seem so big, aren’t our lives of faith – and they certainly aren’t the entirety of who we are. Whether we try to retrieve them or not, whether they remain beyond our grasp or not, we can be sure that God will offer us a hand and take us home: loved if we do, love if we don’t.

Fixin’ to get ready…

“Fixin’ to Get Ready” Tomorrow

A previous rector at our parish had a picture of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) of “Gone with the Wind” fame with the caption of the last line in the 1936 Margaret Mitchell novel: After all, tomorrow is another day. He was a procrastinator.
There are lots of quotes about tomorrow – the most famous, I suppose, is Shakespeare’s from MacBeth (spoken by MacBeth):
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, 
To the last syllable of recorded time…
And then there’s that wonderful song from the musical, “Annie,” with the refrain: Tomorrow! tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! You’re always a day away!
It seems many have come to the obvious conclusion that tomorrow never comes. It may be another day, but it never arrives. Can you imagine saying Hooray, tomorrow is here? Or more like whoops, tomorrow is here? Of course, Notomorrow is always today when it arrives.
Growing up in Tennessee we had an expression that called out the acts of procrastinating, wishful thinking,  suffering from paralysis of analysis. We said that during those times we were fixin to get ready not actually getting things done but thinking about doing so. Making plans is a good thingmaking plans to make plans, maybe notthat’s like fixin’ to get ready tomorrow.
Present-centeredness, living in the moment, the now, being mindful—whatever we call it, doesn’t come easy. Sitting with my retired friends in Florida during lunch, what is often the topic of conversation? Yes, you know, what are we going to have for dinner?
There is an old story about the clock who was depressed thinking about all the ticks it would have to tick during its life and the clock psychologist who told it  just tick one tick at a time. 
Most clocks I know dont even tick anymoreall that time spent on something that is no longer even exists. As Mark Twain said: I’m an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
Sometimes (often), I need to insert another expression into my thinking; carpe diem! Today I posted a quote from a prayer by St. Francis de Sales when I sent out the daily prayer list: Do not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving God who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day.
In this new year may we seize the day.
Offered by Bill Albritton, child of God, maker of plans, rarely procrastinates.

Many Happy Returns (of the day)

I ran across this saying for the first time in high school, in a book written by an English author. It’s not something I say out loud very often, but I write it in birthday cards all the time.

Many happy returns – the interest gained by a life well lived. I don’t think it’s meant to be an economic saying (may you earn a lot of interest from your stock portfolio) as much as a hope that you will be aware of the wonderful things your life offers you. May you notice the love of your friends and family; may you appreciate the sight of woodpeckers on the suet feeder and cardinals perched upon snowy  branches. May you take the time to honor what this universe offers you – the deepening of your spirit through the easy and difficult circumstances that greet you each day.

May you know that you are a delight to God – and that the entire universe was changed because you came into being.

Many Happy Returns – for the day of your birth and every other day!

Happy Birthday, Larry Ganem, wherever you are…

Common Expressions…

They are everywhere – on mugs and posters, in novels, and spoken by morning show hosts. These common expressions pepper our conversations. We hand them down to our children and toss them back and forth with neighbors and strangers alike. Some are almost universally understood, others only known within a particular region. I thought it might be fun to give them a second look…

Bang A Uey 

It’s New Englandese (specifically, Boston area) for make a U-turn, turn around. I use it on occasion and hear others use it every so often – but only in New England or from New Englanders who’ve moved elsewhere. It even showed up in the GPS vocabulary when the TomTom “Boston Driver” voice was activated. It’s what I have to do when I’m heading in the opposite direction from where I need to go.

Bang a Uey. Turn around. I can’t and won’t do this unless I know and admit that I’m going in exactly the wrong direction. To get where I want to be, I have to do an about-face, turn the wheel and put the destination in front of the dashboard rather than in the rearview mirror. There’s no easier way to make the necessary change of direction.

When I have to do this in the larger sense, bang a Uey can be said in just one word: repent.

Endings and Beginnings…

Some look at birthdays and the turning of one calendar year into another as significant – bringing new realities and possibilities into being, taking stock of what was to begin the journey into what will be. Others see such days as much like any other – just randomly assigned holidays with no intrinsic value beyond what our imaginations or superstitions assign to them. In my almost fifty-five years on this planet, I’ve gone back and forth between the two. The older I get, the more I believe it doesn’t really matter which side I land on: what matters is the reasoning behind it and the actions that spring out of it.

Birthdays and New Year as significant: These days encourage reflection and can serve to spur me into action because I can’t hide in my daily unthinking routine. And there’s usually cake…

Birthdays and New Year as not intrinsically more significant than any other day: Every day is a new beginning, an opportunity to reflect on life and see in my daily activities the grace of God and the miracle of this life.

Whatever side I land on in 2019, I hope to waken each day with the sure knowledge and deep appreciation for this fragile, imperfect, holy life I’ve been given; I hope to waken each day with the sure knowledge and deep appreciation for the fragile, imperfect, holy lives of everyone I encounter. May I find enough love and wisdom to live this out in 2019.

Happy New Year! Amen.

Getting It for Christmas

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” Luke 2:15 (The Message).
The Incarnation, or what C.S. Lewis calls “the Grand Miracle”, is here with us now. This gets talked about often, but I’m still flabbergasted that God chose a pretty poor and certainly non-royal family, a cave or manger, a bunch of shepherds—probably the lowest paid job of the day, as some of the props for Act I of our salvation story in the New Testament. Sometimes I wonder what Act II was like for the shepherds—if I’d seen such a revelation in the heavens could I just go on with those sheep? And why didn’t God send the angels to Herod or Caiaphas so that there might be greater acceptance and less doubt? Well of course the doubt would have still been there years later and the threat Jesus was to the establishment would have as well—they probably wouldn’t “get it” anyway. Sometimes I wonder if I get it.
My Christmas prayer today is that, after all the celebration, food, gifts, angst over whether people like the gifts,etc., we might take a moment to “get it”—the Word made flesh has just “moved into the neighborhood”—”let’s see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
Offered by Bill Albritton, child of God and loving presence in this world.

Fear and Wonder

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan, the Christ figure of the series, is safe.  Mr. Beaver’s response: “Safe: Of course, he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”   

In Psalm 96, we find a pattern of Fear and Wonder.  In the (NIV) version of the Bible are verses like, “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (V. 4) and “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” Does this reveal that God isn’t safe, but he is good? When the shepherds found Jesus in the manger, it must have been with amazement that this infant was the Messiah-even God himself. 

Sometimes we are pretty good at declaring God’s glory and greatness in worship services.  We sing songs and hymns of praise. We hear from the pulpit sermons on Gods’ grace. We celebrate God’s wonderful works together. Recently Christians have experienced violence and shootings in their churches. Our worship can take us to places that are not safe.  Does this reveal that God isn’t safe, but he is good?

This psalm helps me to remember that we are not only to declare God’s glory among those whom we worship with, those who know God, but also among those who do not. Our worship may take us to places that are not safe, places that are risky. I believe God is safe and He is good, even in these such places.  He gave us the gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ, so we can know we are his beloved, held in the palm of his hand throughout life’s journey and into eternity.

Because of God’s faithfulness Love came down at Christmas into our world. God loves us so completely that He became flesh. May we never to lose sight of God’s glory.  May we be unhesitating in proclaiming God’s wonders. And may God, indeed, be glorified in our words, our deeds, our being.

Take time to read Psalm 96.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Today’s meditation and image offered by Donna Eby, photographer, pray-er, seeker of the Christ Child.

Tipping the Scales

Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. 

He has helped his servant Israel, 

in remembrance of his mercy…

Luke 1:51-54, NRSV

Offered by Colin Fredrickson, artist, college student, child of God. This image was originally posted for Advent, 2015, and created when Colin was a high school student.