Monthly Archives: November 2022

How Are We To Believe?

Readings: Psalm 124; Isaiah 54:1-10; Matthew 24:23-35

Sing, o barren one who did not bear; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor!

For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.

Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen the cords and strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.

For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off, says your God.

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with greater compassion I will gather you.

In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.

This is like the days of Noah to me; Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:1-10, NRSV

Shout for joy. 

Do not fear. 

Do not be discouraged. 

These are not easy things to do.

With great compassion I will gather you. 

With everlasting love I will have compassion on you. 

My steadfast love shall not depart from you. 

These are not easy things to believe.

A world shaped by love and compassion seems far from our daily experience. Politics is divisive and becoming ever more so. Racism and homophobic prejudice, in both subtle and blatant forms, is rampant. Violence confronts us at every turn. More and more people are feeling less and less secure, both physically and financially. It seems impossible to be joyful, impossible not to fear or be discouraged. We struggle to believe that love and compassion can be real, except perhaps in a small and intimate way.

And yet, these are the words we hear in Advent. These are the proclamations of the prophet. These are the promises of God.

How are we to believe and act this way in a world that confronts us with a starkly different reality? The simple answer is we can do it if we have faith. But if it stops there it’s little more than a platitude, sounding appropriately pious, but still all but impossible to believe. We need something more than nice words. However, if words point us to something real, something that we have experienced, they begin to take on a power that makes belief and action possible.

The truth is that the words of Isaiah 54 mean very little unless they are grounded in the words of Isaiah 53.

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases, yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:1-6, NRSV

We can believe the words of Isaiah 54 because Isaiah 53 reminds us that we have experienced the truth of these words. We know that there is a divine compassion and love that saves us from ourselves and anything the world can throw at us. Yes, the world is in a sorry state. That’s why we need a savior. And in great compassion and love God offers that savior to us. We know that because we have experienced it. So, it is possible to believe these words of hope. It is possible to act in joy, not be afraid, not be discouraged.

It is possible! That is the wonder of Advent and the miracle of the Incarnation.

Offered by Jeff Jones, child of God.

Psalm 124

Readings: Psalm 124; Genesis 9:1-17; Hebrews 11:32-40

Psalm 124 by Riley Anderson

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side – let Israel now say –

if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 124, NRSV

Offered by Riley Anderson, child of God.


Readings: Psalm 124; Genesis 8:1-19; Romans 6:1-11

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him (Noah) in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters gradually receded from the earth. Genesis 8:1-3, NRSV

One of my favorite songs is Everything Must Change by George Benson on an old Quincy Jones album I have. It starts out:

Everything must change, nothing stays the same.

Everyone must change, nothing stays the same.

The Young become the Old, mysteries do unfold.

Cause that’s the way of time, nothing and no one remains unchanged.

Then Later:

Winter turns to Spring, wounded heart will heal.

Never much too soon, everything must change.

I would imagine that Noah, his family, and all the animals were grateful for the lack of permanence. Change can be scary and yet we know change is inevitable and sometimes vital. What might you and I want to change as we begin this Advent season? Perhaps we should pray for guidance:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgement, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. BCP

Offered by Bill Albritton, child of God.


Readings: Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains…the word of the Lord shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:2, 4 NRSV

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, or the Son, but only the Father…Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:36, 42-44, NRSV

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone and the day is near. Let us then lay aside works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Romans 13:11-13, NRSV

Isaiah shares a vision of the future, when God’s children will let go of violence and ignorance, throwing out the directions on how to win at the expense of others. In the days to come, resources and time devoted to destruction will be invested in restoring the environment and making sure everyone has all the basics to live a meaningful life. It won’t come without a lot of work, though – swords don’t beat themselves into plowshares, after all. But Isaiah didn’t give the when along with the vision.

Jesus doesn’t provide the when, either, because he doesn’t know. God only knows, he tells us. The reign of God will come like someone breaking into your house, so be ready. Again, it doesn’t seem to be something that just happens – like a good meal, it doesn’t cook itself.

When it does come to pass, how we treat each other and understand our own worth is yanked out from under us; it feels like the end of the world, maybe, but it’s really just the end of what kills us. The thief takes away our darkness and leaves behind revelatory light. Whenever it comes to pass…

Perhaps the reason God only knows when this will be is because it’s connected to our actions. Until we put in the work, until we start living transparently – acting the same whether anyone is around to see us or not – it will stay in the realm of whenever.

But don’t forget that we already know what time it is. It’s Advent – time to wake up and live into the reign of God. How amazing is that!

Changing Course

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Why is it so hard to change direction when we realize we are heading the wrong way? Why is it so hard to ask for directions when we are lost? Why does turning around and turning back feel like admitting defeat?

And what is so horrible about admitting defeat?

The gift of simplicity is also the gift of clarity. If we are headed in the wrong direction, the easiest way to get moving in the right direction is to turn around. But it’s only children and wise elders that seem to be able to do this without reservation. And it’s only children and wise elders that delight in their change of direction, their turning around.

Lord, give me the strength to turn, turn, so I can come round right. And give me wisdom to find delight in it. Amen.

Minot Forest Path by Jared Fredrickson

Bow and Bend

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be

and when we find ourselves in the place just right,

’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamd.

to turn, turn, shall be our delight,

till by turning, turning we come round right.

[Simple Gifts, traditional Shaker hymn by Joseph Brackett]

Wiping down the tables. Sweeping up the paper scraps. Checking glue sticks and markers to see if they still work. Sweeping the pine needles off the back patios and keeping the chocolate mint plants in check. Wiping a nose, holding the hand of a toddler navigating a step. Such tasks weren’t the main focus of my work as the gardener of the learning library, but they were all necessary elements of the program. Practically anyone could do them, but it fell to Marcia, the children’s librarian, and me. Every summer for many years, Marcia and I returned to these most basic of tasks because they were ways to create a welcoming and engaging space for parents, grandparents, and children of all ages.

When we describe our program, none of these tasks are included. Goals, attendance, the garden-to-story-to-table pieces are highlighted in annual reports for the trustees and the greater library network; these crucial elements remain unrecognized. Perhaps because elements that anyone can do aren’t valued as highly as the elements that require special skills or education – writing curriculum, selecting meaningful stories, noting knowledge and maturity gained by participants.

Perhaps it’s because I’d rather be known for the complex things I accomplish more than the simple. If so, I’ve forgotten a couple of fundamental, spiritual truths:

Simple and easy aren’t the same thing.

More complex doesn’t mean more worthwhile.

Right Place

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight. Simple Gifts, Traditional Shaker Hymn by Joseph Brackett

If I hadn’t been walking; if I’d hadn’t been walking to church earlier than usual for a meeting; if I had set a different meeting time; if there had been a noisy car passing. But I was walking past Ye Olde Tavern on November 13th at 8:33am, with no cars in sight. For whatever reason, the universe conspired to have me where and when I was that Sunday. When I heard a dull knock on a tree, I looked up.

Pileated Woodpecker

[Birds of New Hampshire & Vermont, by Stan Tekiela; Cambridge, Minnesota: Adventure Publications, 2016, p. 69

In my whole life, I’ve spotted half a dozen of these startlingly large and beautiful woodpeckers – most of the sightings while hiking on wooded mountain trails. Yet, on a typical morning’s walk, in downtown Manchester Center, in the valley between the Green and Taconic mountain ranges, one appears right above my head.

After a few seconds, with a flash of feathers, this amazing moment passed – being in the right place at the right time is no guarantee of an extended visitation. But the moment was long enough for me to see where I was for what it was: a valley of love and delight.

I suspect that if I paid attention, every day would hold a right place/right time experience. Where and when else would such experiences be?

The Road and the Rise

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we will not be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

’til by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gifts, traditional Shaker hymn by Joseph Brackett

I know I’m where I ought to be, on the road that brings me home, but I can’t see past the rise. Whatever is beyond it is hidden, including home. All I can do is keep walking up the road.

The road and the rise – it’s as good an image for the spiritual life as any.

[To hear Simple Gifts, scroll back to the previous two posts.]


Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free…

I am free to walk with my face and hair visible – and without an escort. I am free to wear a hijab. I can commune with God and neighbor in a temple, synagogue, mosque, meeting house, or church; I can choose not to worship God. I can drive across the country without documentation beyond a valid license and car registration. I can run for political office. I can vote. All these things are available because I live in a place that offers civil liberties as part of the rule of law. This kind of freedom, this freedom from soul diminishing restrictions, is a rare gift that is too often under-valued or not valued at all by the ones who receive it. It’s in its absence that freedom is seen for its true worth.

There’s another aspect to freedom: what I’m supposed to do with it. Freedom from various things is in the news all the time, but freedom for acting in ways that show love for God, self, and neighbor rarely gets air time. How I use my freedom reveals how I honor the gift that it is.

I doubt there’s a better time to assess just how well I’m doing with my freedom than right now.

Aaron Copland


Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, tis the gift to come down where we ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we shall not be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight, ’til by turning, turning we come round right.

Traditional Shaker Hymn, Joseph Brackett, Jr.

Right thought.

Do no harm.

Right Action.

Tell the truth.

Clean up after yourself.

Take care of God’s creation.

The basics of a good life are not particularly complex. Jesus put it this way: Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self. That’s it: six words that open the door to a beautiful, holy life. Why do we do our best to make it more complex, adding unnecessary and often harmful additions and provisos? If I had to guess, I’d stake my money on another basic truth:

Simple and easy are not the same thing.