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Welcome, Jesus!

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

Glad tidings of great joy! Jesus has been born to us! Merry Christmas!

Boney M, Mary’s Boy Child/ Oh My Lord, Sony Music Entertainment, 2010, available on itunes]

[Holy Family, by Margaret Hill]

[Nat King Cole, A Cradle in Bethlehem Christmas for Kids, Capitol Records, 2000]

Transformations as Modeled for Us by Cicadas

   Readings: Psalm 146:5-10; Ruth 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:11-18

“The Lord sets the prisoners free.” — Psalm 146:7

“May he also be to you a restorer of life.” — Ruth 4:15

While some people have spirit animals that they claim inspire and protect them, I have recently welcomed a spirit insect to my life (see image above): the remarkable cicada. Like snakes, cicadas break out of their skins as they grow leaving behind their exoskeleton for a new, larger body. I find this transformation to be an inspirational model for how to move up, out, and beyond myself when I’ve outgrown the current structures of my life.

If you have ever watched a cicada breaking out of its skin (either in person or via YouTube), what you will notice is that it cracks open its back shell first and then wiggles through the opening emerging upright in green glory then it pauses before jettisoning itself off the brown husk. I find the time lapse videos on this process endlessly fascinating. In case you, too, might be a wannabe cicada fan, here’s a link for your appreciation:   https://youtu.be/Nnl4hXrq4LM

I identify five parallels between cicada transformations and my own:

  1. Change starts from the inside first and then, after a time of momentum building, forces itself into the exterior world. For example, when I and my business partner started two businesses in 2017, we had had a year before that of internal, private visioning, goal setting, and planning together before it ever became obvious to people in our community that anything different was happening.
  2. Once the change starts happening, it takes tremendous effort.  The cicada/evolving person must be intrinsically and powerfully motivated to stay the course through to the other side of the transformation. Having started, we have to finish, and no one can do it for us other than us.
  3. What gets us through the process is a commitment to being willing to let go of the old and risk moving into the new. Without that, we get dangerously stuck.
  4. Of paramount importance is an understanding that we can’t rush any step in the transformative journey. It happens the way it is meant to happen and any effort on our parts to slow it down or speed it up will be counter-productive.
  5. Finally, once the new has emerged, it is crucial that we follow the wisdom of the cicada and pause.  Taking the time to pause serves many important functions. It gives us time to luxuriate in our massive achievement. It provides us with perspective on where we have come from and maybe a hint of where we are going next.

As the Scriptures cited above point out, “prisoners are set free” and “restored to life” as, using the analogy of cicada transformations and comparison to how self-aware humans go through life passages, the cycle of life — death — life plays out. It is natural and beautiful…and often painful, but always a miracle.

Offered by Jill Fredrickson, businesswoman, encourager of growth, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Cicada Emerging, photo by Shane Gross, Marine Conservation Photojournalist, taken November 2017. Go to stocksy.com to view and purchase more of his works.]

[Two Rowhouses, Colin Fredrickson, artist]

 

For the Beauty and Bounty

For the beauty and the bounty of this place I call home, Lord, I thank you. May I live in gratitude for  your creation, and be a good caretaker of my own little part of it.

 Common Sage in my front yard.

 Rosemary

[Liz Story, Simple Gifts, The Carols of Christmas: A Windham Hill Collection; Windham Hill Records, 2003]

Absolute Color

A week before Easter nineteen years ago, a package came for me. My mother-in-law had sent a set of floral placemats and napkins, with this note:

I saw these in a shop downtown and thought they would look lovely with your violet tablecloth. Happy Easter. Love, Carol

She was right. There was a bit of violet in the fabric that was an exact match for my tablecloth. How she knew that from thousands of miles away, I do not know. But if there’s a visual equivalent to absolute pitch, Carol had it.

The beauty of things mattered to her – setting a table, arranging furniture, picking a wardrobe. She had the gift of making things look just so, and my own table is the better for it.

My son and I used those napkins last night. More than for their beauty, I value them because they are a visible sign of Carol’s love. My life is more beautiful for it.

 

I Love You

Jeanne Pena is a master at saying these three precious words. So is John Capellaro. Fred Rogers said like, but everyone knew there was love behind it. The more candles I add to my birthday cake, the more I’m convinced that these are the real movers and shakers of the world.

If ever the Kingdom of Heaven is realized in the Here and Now, it will come because every living creature has learned how to say, believe, and live these words.

 

Us and Them

It’s one of the tracks on Dark Side of the Moon [Pink Floyd], it’s a mindset, and it’s a lie. Cosmically and religiously speaking, it’s all us  – it’s just that the us comes in many shapes and sizes. All of us are God’s beloved creatures, given the capacity to love and the terrible freedom to withhold it. My husband, siblings, children, and other relatives are part of us; the person in the grocery checkout, the driver cutting me off on route 3 are part of us; Barbara next door and the grieving people of Christ Church, New Zealand are us; even the ones who hurt and kill are part of us – just a part I’d rather not acknowledge.

Them is a false category, a dark place to put the people I don’t know or don’t like. But it comes at a cost: a piece of who I am always goes to the hell I wish for others.

It’s why Jesus advised us to judge not lest ye be judged (Mt. 7:1) – it’s as much to save us as it is to benefit the ones we would pass judgement upon…

Loving Mother

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7; Isaiah 66:7-11; Luke 13:31-35

Before she was in labor she gave birth;

before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.

Who has heard of such a thing?

Who has seen such things?

Shall a land be born in one day?

Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?

Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children.

Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord;

shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;

rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her –

that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;

that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

Isaiah 66:7-11 NRSV

New life doesn’t survive on its own very long: a mother’s milk nourishes the newborn body, a mother’s and father’s loving gaze and comforting embrace nourish the heart, mind, and soul. Without this love and devotion, new life withers and does not grow.

Sometimes I forget that the same is true of the life-giving spark that is born in the soul, the image-of-God in everyone. That spark is nurtured by the people we love and the faith traditions that sustain them. I am in debt to every person who embraced my spiritual growth and fostered it.

Sometimes, I forget that faiths are also born – gifts of the loving God who created everything and sustains every breath. My own faith of manger and cross was born to the faithful children of Yahweh. It is the faith of Israel, the heritage of Abraham and Sarah, Deborah, Jacob, Mary, and Joseph that embraced and fed it. I am an ungrateful and unwise child, indeed, if I don’t see in this a mother’s love and the steadying hand of God. 

Nat King Cole, Christmas for Kids from One to Ninety-two, (recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA), compilation [Hollywood, CA: Capitol Records, 2000]

shoot, branch, root

Readings: Isaiah 11:1-9; Numbers 16:1-19; Hebrews 13:7-17

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, 

and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1, NRSV

This image incorporates twigs from the artist’s family home. This was originally posted during Advent, 2015, when Riley was attending college in Virginia.

Offered by Riley Anderson, artist, seeker, child of God.

Painting For A Change

My mother’s living room was showing its age, so my sister and I offered to paint it – a Mother’s Day gift of a fresh look. Off we went for a couple of cans of Bistro White (walls) and Dune Grass (doors) and a paint kit. An hour of cleaning, another for prepping the space, and we were ready to paint. A few hours later, the furniture was polished and back in place, curtains were up, and we were on the sofa looking at the results. Even though the color on the walls was the same, the difference that new paint and a little effort made was remarkable – to have fresh paint on the walls and things within the space given a good scrubbing has always been more than the sum of the labor and materials it took to do it.

The hundred and thirty mile drive between my mother’s home and mine gave me a chance to think back on the other rooms in other houses. Whenever possible, my mother let me and my siblings choose the paint color for our bedrooms; she and my father thought it was good to offer choices when possible – and that we should enjoy the spaces we lived in. It wasn’t so much the paint as it was the wish that we be at home in the world, accepted and loved for the unique souls we were.

I know that no amount of paint, spit, and polish can make a house a home, or a bad situation a good one. But I also know that every time walls are washed, painter’s tape applied, and gallon buckets opened a new opportunity emerges. I don’t know if it’s just the brighter and cleaner reality that a few hours of work ushers in, or if it’s the closer look at a living space necessary to get it done that matters most. Taken together, they open up the possibility to fall in love with the same old four walls I’ve barely noticed for years.

It’s been years since I’ve painted anything larger than a bedroom closet in my own home. But I’ve noticed lately that the bathroom ceiling above the shower has a few dark marks, and there are smudges near the light switch. It might be time to pull out the tarps, tape around the fixtures, and change this room through sweat, intention, and careful attention to detail. I just may get a glimpse of the grace I so often overlook – a place to call home, and the lovely way it holds everyone who lives here.

Thanks, Mom, for all the rooms and all the life you gave me within them. Thanks, Charna, for being my painting partner and lifelong sister and friend. I’m so glad I got to paint with you.

Go Out Weeping, Return in Joy

Readings: Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:2-6; Philippians 3:12-16

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then it was said among the nations,

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,

and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,

like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126, NRSV

I’ve never seen it in real life, but I’ve seen it dozens of times in movies and television shows: a New Orleans funeral procession. Musicians play a dirge, giving mourners a slow beat as they walk with the casket, heading for burial. Through streets they go, their grief on display for everyone – a bartender heading to work, a mother pushing a stroller, the tourist taking selfies and some kids with their homework. Grief cuts through all of them, keeping its own graveyard appointment. Memento Mori.

But the way back is something else. When the casket is lowered and the last prayers said, the band picks up the tempo. Those who buried a friend or relative leave the mournful music behind, dancing back to life with exuberance and joy. Those who went out weeping come home with shouts of joy, just like the psalmist said. The fruits of mourning and loss are joy and a renewed appreciation for life: the seeds of loss become the sheaves that nourish and enrich life. It’s Psalm 126, it’s the hope of resurrection, it’s an acceptance and release of death set to music, walking down a street.

The older I get, the more I like the idea of this kind of funeral. There’s no denying the loss – everyone sees it and no one attempts to keep it private. Grief walks every street in every city: New Orleans is just more honest about it. On the other side of the grave is a street celebration of life with drums and horns to get everyone moving back into life. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? Accept the loss, share your grief, let it go, return to the land of the living in joy.

It’s an old pattern and a modern one, found in two thousand year old psalms and New Orleans funeral processions and Irish wakes. Mourn, let it go, return to life a bit wiser and a bit more joyful. It’s a holy pattern, one of the gifts of faith from a God who wants even our greatest losses to end in jubilation. May I have the strength, courage, and wisdom to follow it.

The Blind Boy of Alabama, Uncloudy DayDown in New Orleans, 2008 Available on iTunes