Winter Sunday

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices? 
–  Robert HaydenThose Winter Sundays

We cannot know nor comprehend the sacrifices made for us, so much hidden away and inscrutable.

We who feel so entitled to comfort and pleasure and attention will find that none of it is deserved yet still freely given. May we ourselves someday feel such love for another – if we are so blessed to give of ourselves so deeply.

Our shoes shined, our hearts brimming with gratitude on a cold Sunday morning – we go to thank God for His ultimate sacrifice and His grace in loving us as we are: deserving nothing, filled with everything from Him.

The Paradox of Already But Not Yet

chardfreeze

 

 

chardfreeze2

 

If ever you find yourself in the midst of paradox,
you can be sure you stand on the edge of truth.

~Diana Gabaldon from An Echo in the Bone

 

 

freezechard

 

Tomorrow we begin the season of Advent: the greatest time of year for great mystery and paradox.

One who never left us, came to us, did not leave us hopeless,  yet will come again.
Already, but not yet.

This is the ultimate paradox of our times:
Our Creator God pierces through the veil of humankind to become us, His Image Man;
He comes to live among us to live in us and for us and through us,
to die for us and rise to life again so that we may not die but live.

He has come, He never left, yet He will come again.

When we feel ourselves in the midst of paradox, we find we are on the verge of Truth.
Perhaps enough paradox for one day — standing on the edge of Truth feels a tad overwhelming.

More to come…

 

decemberleaf2

 

 

A Mosaic of Life

 

glassfumco

 

glassfumco2

 

It started with a one hundred year old congregation moving into a new church building after an earthquake destroyed the old one.  These weren’t people of great wealth or prestige so the new building, by necessity, was a simple rectangular design, the sanctuary paneled in light birchwood, the high windows with clear textured glass allowing floods of muted natural light to stream in even on cloudy days.  It was a pleasant enough place to worship, well-lit and airy.

Then a new pastor arrived–a man well-traveled, well-read with a keen artist’s eye and a mind able to mix together a palette of history, colors and words.   He could see what others had not in the empty canvas of the huge space.  What he envisioned for the sanctuary was to enhance the worship experience through the illustration of Life’s passage, of people growing and changing in God’s glory.  Any worshipper entering the sanctuary would become part of the woven tapestry of color cast by a series of stained glass windows.

Six large symmetrical panels of divided narrow vertical windows lined both upper outer walls leading up to the altar.   In our pastor’s design, these were to become stained glass representations of the various stages of life from young to old.  Our pastor recruited would-be artisans from the congregation to be the primary stained glass workers, teaching them how to precisely cut and fit the glass pieces.  Each church member had an opportunity to choose and place a pane matching his or her stage of life, to become a permanent part of the portrait of this diverse church family.  The new windows were constructed from back to front over the course of a year, all by volunteer effort, until the transformation was complete from simple functional space of wood and light to an encompassing work of art, inclusive for all who entered.  Mosaics of colored sections represented the transition through life, moving from childhood in the windows at the entrance, on to adolescence,  then to young adulthood, moving to middle age, and then finally to the elder years nearest the altar.

Rainbows of color crisscrossed the pews and aisles, starting with pale and barely defined green and yellow at the outset, blending into a blossom of blue, then becoming a startling fervor of red,  fading into a tranquil purple past the center, and lastly immersed in the warmth of orange as one approached the brown of the wood paneled altar.  Depending on where one chose to sit, the light bearing a particular color combination was cast on open pages of scripture, or favorite hymns, or on the skin and clothing of the people,  reflecting the essence of that life phase.  Included in the design was the seemingly random but intentional scattering of all of the colors in each panel.  Gold and orange panes were sprinkled in the “youth” window predicting the wisdom to come, and a smattering of some greens, blues and reds were found throughout the “orange” window of old age,  just like the “spark”  of younger years so often seen in the eyes of the our eldest citizens.

The colored windows reflected the truth of God’s plan for our lives. There was the certainty of the unrelenting passage of time; there was no turning back or turning away from what was to come.  Although each stage shone with its own unique beauty,  none was as warm and welcoming as the orange glow of the autumn of life.  Those final windows focused their brilliance on the plain wood of the cross above the altar.

Beyond the stained glass, as life fades from the richest of colors to the brownest of dust, the light will continue to shine, glorious.

 

glassfumco3

 

photos thanks to  the Facebook page of First United Methodist Church – Olympia

 

Sliding Home

 

7

 

-1

15

 

-5

 

 

Our small church, Wiser Lake Chapel,  once belonged to a summer co-ed softball league, along with 8 other churches and a few local businesses.  This was a traditional Thursday evening summer activity for the past generation or longer.  Couples met for the first time on the ball fields and eventually married. Babies attended games in back packs and strollers and eventually were catching at home plate.  Relatives going to different churches found themselves on opposing teams yelling good natured insults.  There were a few bopped heads, abrasions, sprained fingers and one broken leg as part of the deal.  Hot dog roasts and ice cream sundaes were the after-game rewards.

Yet nothing was quite as wonderful as how a team recreated itself year after year.  It was thrown together by our coach Brenda in a mere two weeks prior to the season starting, with the youngest members needing to be at least age 14 with no upper age limit; we’ve had our share of 70+ year olds on the team over the years.   Some ball players were raw beginners having never played catch or swung a bat outside of school PE class, and others have extensive history of varsity fastpitch in school or other community league play so meant business when they strolled out on the diamond.  It was the ultimate diverse talent pool.

A different dynamic exists in church league softball compared to Little League, Pony League, minors or majors when you watch or play. Sure, there are slow pitch teams that will stock their ranks with “invitation-only” players, reserving the best and most athletic so there is a real chance at the trophy at the end of the summer.  Churches like ours, a mere 150 people average weekly Sunday attendance, had a “come one, come all” attitude, just to make sure we avoided forfeiting by not having enough players week after week.   We always did have enough.  In fact we had more players than we could find positions for.  And we had a whole bleacher full of fans, dedicated to cheering and clapping for anything and everything our players did, whether it was a pop-up foul ball, a strike out swing, a missed catch, or an actual hit.  We loved it all and wanted our players to know they were loved too, no matter what they did or what happened.

I think that was why the players and fans came back to play week after week, though we hadn’t won a game in years.  We rooted and hollered for each other, got great teaching and encouragement from our fantastic coach, and the players’ skills did improve year to year despite months of inactivity.  We had a whole line up of pre-14 year olds eager to grow old enough to play, just so they could be a part of the action.

Why did it not matter that we didn’t win games?  We were winning hearts, not runs.  We were showing our youngsters that the spirit of play is what it is all about, not about the trophy at the end.  We were teaching encouragement in the face of errors, smiles despite failure, joy in the fellowship of people who love each other–spending an evening together week after week.

We are family; family picks you up and dusts you off when you’ve fallen flat on your face during your slide to base while still being called “out.”

Most of all, I see this as a small piece of God’s kingdom in action.  Although we no longer gather for church league baseball — the competition got too fierce and the rules too tight — we do gather for a pick-up game now and then, just to remind ourselves of who we are and what we are about:

Our coach models Jesus’ acceptance of all at the table, and embodies the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

Our players are the eager, the ambivalent, the accurate, the flawed, the strong, the weak, the fast, the slow: chosen for the game even if they were completely inadequate to the task at hand, volunteering to be part of each moment as painful as it can sometimes be.

The cheering from the bleachers comes as if from heaven itself:

Do not be afraid.  Good will to all.  We are well pleased. Amen!

We’re sliding to home plate, running as hard as we can, diving for safety, covered in the dust and mire and blood of living/dying and will never, ever be called “out”.

Let’s play ball.

 

 

13

 

-3

 

6

When They Were Young

moonandsisters

 

 

conwaychurch1

 

empty-church1

 

 

On the green hill with the river beyond it
long ago and my father there
and my grandmother standing in her faded clothes
wrinkled high-laced black shoes in the spring grass
among the few gravestones inside their low fence
by the small white wooden church
the clear panes of its windows
letting the scene through from the windows
on the other side of the empty room
and a view of the trees over there
my grandmother hardly turned her head
staring like a cloud at the empty air
not looking at the green glass gravestone
with the name on it of the man to whom
she had been married and who had been
my father’s father she went on saying nothing
her eyes wandering above the trees
that hid the river from where we were
a place where she had stood with him one time
when they were young and the bell kept ringing
~W.S. Merwin “Windnoon” from The Moon Before Morning

 

peekaboocloud

 

perfectday

 

 

Visiting the graves of those who lived and loved for decades,
now mere dust lying side by side,
their spirits risen and flown~
we realize we were young once and now
feel the weight of change and passage of the years
despite our effort to grab and hold them still.

The bells of time keep ringing in our memories.

 

marshmallowmay3

 

evening5718

 

 

stock-footage-church-bells-ringing-on-a-summer-day

God Scraped and Torn

 

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.

How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song–all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.

We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God.
~Nicholas Wolterstorff  in Lament for a Son

 

trilliumweeping

 

“My God, My God,” goes the Psalm 22, “hear me, why have you forsaken me?”  This is the anguish all we of Godforsaken heart know well. But hear the revelation to which Christ directs us, further in the same psalm:

For He has not despised nor scorned the beggar’s supplication,
Nor has He turned away His face from me;
And when I cried out to Him, He heard me.

He hears us, and he knows, because he has suffered as one Godforsaken. Which means that you and I, even in our darkest hours, are not forsaken. Though we may hear nothing, feel nothing, believe nothing, we are not forsaken, and so we need not despair. And that is everything. That is Good Friday and it is hope, it is life in this darkened age, and it is the life of the world to come.
~Tony Woodlief from “We are Not Forsaken”

 

 

candle_in_the_dark_by_barkingbeagle-d33vdew

 

Scratch the surface of a human being and the demons of hate and revenge … and sheer destructiveness break forth.

    The cross stands before us to remind us of this depth of ourselves so that we can never forget. These forces continue to break forth in many parts of the world now, and many of us would like to forget how in some places in the United States we treat a person whose skin is black.

    Again and again we read the stories of violence in our daily papers, of the mass murders and ethnic wars still occurring in numerous parts of our world. But how often do we say to ourselves: “What seizes people like that, even young people, to make them forget family and friends, and suddenly kill other human beings?” We don’t always ask the question in that manner. Sometimes we are likely to think, almost smugly: “How different those horrible creatures are from the rest of us. How fortunate I am that I could never kill or hurt other people like they did.”

    I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters emerge for me to deal with. How painful it is to bear all this, but it is there to bear in all of us. Freud called it the death wish, Jung the demonic darkness. If I do not deal with it, it deals with me. The cross reminds me of all this.

    This inhumanity of human to human is tamed most of the time by law and order in most of our communities, but there are not laws strong enough to make men and women simply cease their cruelty and bitterness. This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible…
~Morton Kelsey from “The Cross and the Cellar”

 

sunriseholyweek13

 

In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, 
God takes the worse we can do to Him
and turns it into the very best He can do for us.
~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness

 

 

May we remember today, of all days, the worst that can happen becomes the best that can happen.
We tussle and haggle over the price of what this will cost us, but realizing it has been paid for us makes an impossible loss possible.

We are paid in full, no longer debtors.  From now on, we are freed from worry: the worst became the best.

 

 

Preparing Through Parable: Be Humbled

 

 

 

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14: 7-14

 

 

 

 

 

In the unspoken hierarchy of what makes a church function, I’m a kitchen lady and always will be.  I remember those very women from my childhood church of the fifties and sixties– their tight-knit ability to function as if one organism, swarming in aprons among tables set up in the fellowship hall and bustling around in the back by the stoves with steaming pots and pans and the occasionally dropped plate.

They kept the rest of us alive, those church ladies, by feeding us efficiently and plentifully and never ever sitting down.  I would occasionally see them eating standing up in the back of the hall, chatting amiably among themselves after the rest of us were served, but I knew they carefully wrapped up the leftovers during the clean up to deliver to shut-ins who couldn’t make it to the church supper.

I knew I was destined to become a kitchen lady, shy and introverted as I am, hiding myself behind huge plates of food and piles of dish cloths.  For me, it is a place of comfort and clean up filled with plenty of leftovers for anyone who needs them, and that just about perfectly describes the kingdom of God in my book and His Book.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.