Making Enemies?

Readings: Psalm 79; Micah 4:1-5; Revelation 15:1-8

Return sevenfold into the bosom or our neighbors the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord! Then we your people, the flock of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. [Psalm 79:12-13, NRSV]

He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. [Micah 4:3-5, NRSV]

I love the psalms for many reasons. They are beautiful verses, bringing comfort in difficult times and give words for the joy and praise I offer God. But they are honest, giving voice to my worst fears and prejudices. If it’s a feeling I can have, it’s turned into verse somewhere in the psalms. That’s what psalm 79 is – an articulation of primal, authentic feelings. Authentic, not necessarily admirable. Wishing those whose words make me feel small and unworthy a taste of their own medicine isn’t exactly commendable, is it?

But that’s the psalms’ secret: offering up my worst, most fearful feelings to God rather than throwing it at my neighbor gives me a way to let them go before I return damage for damage. It gives me a choice of not making enemies of my neighbors.

Walking in faith isn’t running over the faiths of others, punishing them for their misunderstandings about God and life (as if I don’t misunderstand all the time); walking in faith is meaning good things for my neighbors, alleviating fear rather than adding to it.

Please God, give me the strength and wisdom to walk in faith and love. Amen.

 

The Counter-Attraction of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. [Mark 13:24-27, NRSV]

I am drawn to Advent like a moth to the flame.

As the endless, tedious Sundays after Pentecost grind to an end I cannot wait to turn purple. But why? Why do I long for gospels of darkened suns and blotted moons? Why pine for prophecies of doom-cum-dawn? Why raise my hand for a helping of judgment?

My family says it’s my Nordic noir, the shadowed world of Ingmar Bergman, August Strindberg, even Henry Mankell. Maybe, but there are legions of non-Scandinavians who love this season’s art of darkness. It’s because we need to know that the whole of our lives, the whole of the world, is good—and not just the best, well-lit bits.

In the first creation story of Genesis, God separates the Light and the Darkness, naming them Day and Night (1:4-5). This is the eternal cycle of light and dark that is the backdrop of all creation. Every day passes into night. Every year is equally split between the two. And every human heart holds both its light and (how could it be otherwise?) its shadow—if we dare to meet it. Unless we can understand the Night, even befriend it, we are missing exactly half the action—and, as it turns out, the most powerful half! For, like Jacob at the river Jabbok, it is what we meet and wrestle in the darkness that holds the power to bless us.

That or something like it, bigger even than I know, is why I am so attracted to the days and nights of Advent. As the earth makes its final December descent, Advent pulls us into the great big shadow, the planet’s and our own. There we meet an apocalyptic Jesus—as in the gospel for today—warning of a time when the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I’ve studied those words, preached on those words, and I still have no earthly idea what they mean. Doesn’t matter. Advent bypasses the brain and simply wallops the heart. I know what that kind of black-out feels like, and the eschatological preacher is painting this chiaroscuro canvas, calling me to repentance. You must change your life. Now, while you yet have time.

I don’t believe in some Hieronymus Bosch vision of judgment, but this stabs my heart. I know about regret, remorse, lost time. Whatever I “believe” or don’t, I feel the urgency of this moment, and the hope hidden in all true judgment, the promise that change is still possible and love has not given up on me yet.

When he first came to live with us, an exile from Manhattan at the beginning of the plague, my five year-old grandson was afraid to go down into the basement at night. His room, his parents’ room was down there so it was often necessary, but he wouldn’t go without a hand to hold. If someone had turned on the light at the bottom of the stairs it was all right, and the hall just beyond was well lit. It was just that fearful descent and the well of darkness at the bottom. It gave me such deep joy to take Dashiell’s hand and accompany him on such an important journey. Now that he is no longer afraid I am a little wistful.

Advent is the hand I hold to make that same descent. It is primitive exposure therapy, like the bronze serpent raised on a pole. When I fear darkness, I am to turn into it, flee into the stories of apocalypse and warning and judgment, because, paradoxically, they are the only source of actual hope.

If you take those awesome downward steps, one day you will come to know the sweetness of the light because you are, in Robert Frost’s words, “one acquainted with the night.”

Offered by David R. Anderson, priest, preacher, grandfather bound for Bethlehem. [www.findingyoursoul.com]

Sands

by Hazel Ward Adcock

Scientists tell of singing sands

What songs?

What songs sing the singing sands?

I went to a desert place

To learn the song of the singing sands

These offspring of rocks

Forever lost, wanderers of the winds

Flowing obliterating tracks

In high wind fury

Blowing into newly-sculptured dunes

Burning at noon time

Shivering, quaking in moonlight;

Calm burning days

Of diamond shimmer and mirage

Bright water waving, lapping

Glimmering fading forever

As we approach.

At last I heard the song

Its grand song

Song of the only truth or certainty

The grand song of time and change.

Never lost, never the same.’

Kindly offered by Martha Zinger, Hazel Ward Adcock’s daughter.

Happy Thanksgiving

Dear God, make me grateful for all that this life offers – the good and the difficult. You made me and you sustain me, offering love in all times and places. Teach my heart to love, my spirit to dance, and my mind to understand. Amen.

[I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For, Bing Crosby, Holiday Inn (sound track), recorded 1942, Sunbeam Records]

Business, not as usual: default quarantine

An indirect brush with Coronavirus changed all the plans I had for the days leading up to Thanksgiving. No one at home was sick, but someone who tested positive had interacted with my husband. Social distance and masks were both used, but quarantine-by-default was still the result. We adjusted our plans and expectations and began to figure out how to get our work done in isolation.

The first thing that surfaced for me: not everything I had on my to-do list really needed to be done before the end of quarantine. I prefer getting everything done well in advance, but that’s not the same as things needing to be done within my original time frame.

The second thing: the worst that would happen would be delay, not cancellation, in delivering Advent materials. The world would not stop spinning, and Advent would arrive.

The third thing: any inconvenience I might experience does not compare to the suffering of those who are sick. To suppose otherwise is at best ignorant, at worst callous.

Quarantine is a hard thing, but it offered me a better view of what is and is not important. Thanks be to God for that.

Thank you, John Landis Mason

They are my storage heroes.

They come in many different sizes, with weight and volume listed on their sides – cups, ounces, and milliliters all marked with raised dashes that can be felt as well as seen. Beyond their original canning purpose, they are freezer, fridge, microwave, and oven proof. They don’t break easily. They are inexpensive to buy in bulk, and free to anyone who buys Classico pasta sauce. There are multiple lids that make it easy to use them for spill-proof drinking glasses, tea light candle holders, and flower vases. Right now, I have a dozen storing pasta and dried beans, still more keeping herbs and spice mixtures fresh. Several are in the fridge, filled with salad dressings and leftovers (cut onions and their aroma are both easily contained in one). Mason jars are our drinking glasses, too.

In addition, Mason jars remind me of some important things:

  1. Life is richer and more joyful when I am able to adapt to a variety of tasks and contexts.
  2. Value isn’t measured solely by a price tag.
  3. the inner life will reveal its beauty – no need for disguises or fancy coverings.
  4. None of us was put here for only one purpose.                                       [Thank you, John Landis Mason, for your inventiveness. You make my life and the life of the world so much better for the jars and lids you created.]

Window Washing

It took over an hour, getting the windows ready for cold weather. Out came the screens and the glass outer windows, top and bottom. The double-hung inside panes were squirted with a vinegar/water/soap spray – twice each. Pollen, dust, a few leaves and some spider webs were removed, leaving behind a much cleaner set of windows. It’s the same every year: I’m amazed at how much the accumulated dirt of the past few months was blocking my view. For an investment of time and a little scrubbing, I get a better view of the world outside my own home.

Window washing is a good metaphor for teaching in faith. Study and practice can help me scrub the dirt off the glass, allowing a better view of the world. It doesn’t create the world or dictate the view, but it can make it easier to see and share. That’s good enough for me.

Driving Home: Scotland Bridge Road

Yesterday, I drove past the house I called home forty-nine years ago. It’s a ranch, medium size, nestled in the trees. It sits at the middle of Scotland bridge road, halfway between where the river meets tidewaters and an old community church. Although you can’t see it from the road, there’s a lovely path through the woods, babbling brook included. Only a couple of miles from the Atlantic, you can smell the salty sea on most days.

It’s a typical Maine house, with nothing to distinguish it from dozens of others in York. When I turned onto Scotland Bridge road, I wasn’t even sure I’d recognize it. There are a few more houses on the road, and the ones I remember don’t all look the same. New paint colors and a few additions have added a layer of unfamiliarity to many of them. But it was still a home and a road in a town that I called mine.

Watching maple leaves drift groundward at the place I now call home, I see that my memories are that house on Scotland Bridge Road. They’ve changed over time and distance, with new layers added that weren’t really there when I was living among them. But the heart is the same: my soul recognizes the place I once called home.

 

 

God In Mine Eternity

Science Fiction and Fantasy novels sometimes portray immortality as a good in itself. Living beyond all generations, never growing old or suffering from the pains of an aging body – who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t do just about anything to gain that?

But a few narratives include something else. Not exactly a religious or overtly prayerful approach that questions this, but the cost of such an infinite life. Perhaps it’s the method of gaining immortality – Voldemort by soul-splitting murder, Dorian Gray by soul-revealing portrait. Maybe it’s the consequence more than the method – Tuck Everlasting’s immortal family that “fell off the wheel of life” and landed in a never-ending loop of isolation, Olympic Gods losing empathy and the ability to value life, Bella Swan Cullen forever stuck in teenager mode.

If I’m to drop from life into eternity, it can’t be an eternity of my own making; such a thing would be existence, not life. If I’m to drop from life into eternity, it has to be falling into a much deeper, wiser love than I can attain or even imagine.

Mine eternity can only be something God offers, or it cannot contain the love and grace that even this short life of mine has given. May I only seek to enter God’s eternity. It can’t be truly mine unless it, just as my life, is God-given.

In My Ever-Living Soul

[Christ Church Parish, Plymouth, Massachusetts]

It blends in with the rest of the windows in the chapel – blue in tint, full of small symbols, rarely noticed by anyone but the people who sit below it during Sunday worship.

It’s breathtaking to me, this small bird. Surrounded by the virtues, the gospel writers’ symbols, and so many flowers, it’s a visually quiet pane. Peaceful.

Whoever crafted it, I owe you a debt. To see a bird perched on a branch is such a common thing – a glance out a window is likely to offer just this sight. I think that’s why you included this bird. To remind me that God is ever-present, a common element in my life.

But it’s when I remember that God is just as surely perched in my soul that I can trust that ever-living is an adjective that applies to it.