Sunday, December 25, 2022

Blessings for the 12 Days of Christmas

May you know the peace of Christmas
Like the arc of a Swallow’s wing in flight
Or the spaces between the falling snow

May you know the noise of Christmas
Clamoring
Laughing
Ridiculous like the fictive drummer boy
Or an over-the-top toy from a wayward uncle
The whoosh of wind outside a warm home
Astonished bursts punctuating the night
Like the shouts of shepherds

May you know the silence of Christmas
… of the word pleading
Of answers that deflect wrath
Like the pause between the last cry of birthing and the first cry of birth

May you know the joy of Christmas
sticky hands on cheeks
The scratch of new skates
A tail thudding on the floor
Like an old miser born again

May you know the love of Christmas
Like a parent swaying in the night
The sparrow resting in the eaves

May you know the challenge of Christmas
Like Demands we are told are light and easy
And Terrible creatures telling you not to fear

May you know the extravagance of Christmas
overstuffed turkey
apples syrupy on the edges of the pies
Green, blue, red, silver, gold papers
Round yon mothers

May you know the light of Christmas
On the trees
And corners
Like unreplenished oil
Eternal, fixed, and unfixed,
Like a comet scarring the sky
Light that darkness did not comprehend

May you know the darkness of Christmas
Deep, troubling
Revealing of stars, casting off shadows.
Intimate
May you know the hope of Christmas
Weary
Wondering
Curious
Rushing down the stairs or
Fighting the long defeat
or unashamed like a Heron

May you know the courage of Christmas
Like a cardinal red against the snow

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Remembering my baptism

Sunday we took a brief trip to Goderich and the Beach.  The sun, the two-toned lake, and the cloudless sky were restorative.  The water was early June temperature--it made my feet and legs ache.  I have a bit of a ritual with Great Lakes and the Oceans--I always attempt to overcome my natural reluctance and jump into the water.  (I mean at normal times of the year...  I am not planning on joining the polar bear club anytime soon).  I almost always find the cold is a bit more manageable than I originally assume it will be, invigorating really.  

Sam was out there repeatedly dunking himself--crying out "one, two, three."  I thought to myself:  in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

I was baptised around this time of year.  I believe I was 13 or 14.  It was a big deal.  I was baptised with my best friend's younger brother and another friend's Mom.  I remember being very scared and embarrassed in that teenage angsty sort of way, but I had been reading my Bible frequently and felt a sense of strong conviction reading about Jesus' baptism. 

It was a simple thing, but it was one of the first times I remember choosing to be brave.  These memories flooded over me as I jumped into Lake Ontario this week.... the sense of letting go, the sense of relief when the water wasn't as bracing as I feared, the reminder that I can overcome my fears, the sense of cleansing and refreshment.

We are told in Scripture that in baptism we recall that we have been buried and raised with Christ Jesus.  Baptism is death and resurrection at the same time.  I wasn't baptised a Mennonite or even baptised into church membership.  Right now when so much that I loved and worked for the last 5 years, the last 10 years, the last 20 years is feeling stripped away... I remember my baptism.  I remember that I can be brave because of God's promised presence.  I remember that I can be brave because the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is present in my own life.  I remember that I can be brave because I remained joined to Christ even if important human associations are stripped away.  I have spent a lot of my early adulthood looking askance at my "just Jesus and me" faith of my childhood, but boy, sometimes you need it.  I need to remember that Jesus is close, proximate, ever-present and as Paul says:  "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus or Lord."


Monday, April 26, 2021

Wonderful Minari

 


On Sunday I watched Minari with Doug and Johanna.  This movie would have delighted my Mom. We only went to the movie theatre a few times when I was a kid in the mid-80s (the era of Farm Aid) and it seemed to me that I watched a lot of heartbreaking farm stories. (This is my favourite).

Minari follows a young Korean family that is trying to make a life for themselves on a 50 acre farm in Arkansas.  Some aspects of the story are universal to the genre:  the perils of drought and inclement weather, the untrustworthy nature of city people, tenacity, health concerns,  the strain on marriages, and the isolation.  Other aspects are more particular:  the challenges of crossing-cultures and generations, the unique relationship between the Grandmother and the youngest child, and the unique friendship  between the Father and his strange Pentecostal neighbour.  Again, and again, the movie, eschews easy stereotypes allowing each character--even the ones that only flit on the stage briefly--their own complications.


I really loved the movie.  There were bits that especially resonated with my own history: the Sunday School bus, the intrigue of going to a friend’s house where the rules are much more lax, and just the general look and feel of a rural community in the early 80s.  


I found myself wishing that it had won more awards.  I love Frances McDormand, but Nomadland and the way its storytelling floated detached from material conditions--the loss of industrial jobs and the way that precarious employment atomizes people and destroys selves and communities--left me cold.   (It isn’t surprising that the director has a Marvel movie lined up).


 Those 80s farm movies my Mom loved were very much stories told in the shadow of Reagan. These movies fit well with stories about coal miners and mill works. Artists were trying to understand something that was being lost, perhaps the dignity of work....


Minari reminds us that work must connect us to place, to family, to weird communities and friends.  Nomadland is also a story about  resilience and work, but it makes resilience a characteristic of the individual, another way of saying rugged individualism. In this way it is the perfect parable of our neo-liberal moment.


Minari reminds us that resilience requires roots, connection, and buttresses.  We need one another to be resilient.  We need other people to be  more than passing shows on our road of life. We need other people to confuse us and complicate our lives.  We need our roots to grow twisting  together--wonderful like Minari!  




Thursday, December 3, 2020

Though Christmas has been a show (12/29/2001)


Christmas has been a show

Plotted in October.  Texts, words edited, the songs 

deliberated.  

Fussing over "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear."


This year it will have to come--if it comes-- the way that disappointed me once ...

as a young adult.

 no candlelight services.  

or Oratorios.


This world that I have built to inure me 

from that farm falls away.


I remember Christ singing "O Come Emmanuel" to me

in the disappointment of a tabletop tree and illness and a sense of unremitting loneliness. 

But...

This story turned and glistened differently on another December Eve.

And so we have lived hope 

and it changes the way we wait. 










Wednesday, November 11, 2020

An Armistice --11/11/2020


 You danced on the beach on Armistice Day.

There were no kindly sellers of poppies.

we did not need to justify our lack of red to anyone.

Your bones and sinew are as fragile as any girls. 

this is true of every little boy.

your curls, your pointed chin, the way you laugh as an alto.


As a young girl,  I wanted to be sturdy and strong 

to save things.

 I was not taught that the keeping of the world

depended on body's destruction. 


It was my soul that would be be required.

My soul and the too pointedness of my chin.


We can be strong together, dear boy.

You and I.

You do not need to be cannon fodder.  I do not need 

to bury desire 

God, Mother!

We can walk together.  We can have the same heroines (heroes)!

We do not have to become scared in order to be brave.








Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A very present help



Do you remember when you could call into a radio station and request a song? When I was a kid I called into the local radio station when I was Sam’s age to request B.B. King’s standard Stand by Me for my Mom. 

Stand by Me originated in Gospel music and the 2nd verse of the song is drawn from our Scripture text for this morning Psalm 46.


If the sky that we look upon 

should tumble and fall

or the mountains 

crumble to the sea

I won’t be afraid

No, I won’t shed a tear.

Just as long as you stand, stand by me


This line seemed to me to be a perfect expression of the kind of trust that a child has in a faithful and loving parent and the sense of security that the presence of a parent can bring despite circumstances.

The 46th Psalm has been called the Song of Songs of faith. It is the inspiration for another song, Martin Luther’s magisterial hymn: A Mighty Fortress is our God. In this hymn Luther begins with the premise that one of the possible translations of “strength” in the verse: “God is our refuge and our strength” could be defense, or strong tower. To have faith in God means to trust that God is a bulwark never failing.

 For me, Psalm 46 elicits an immediate physical response of comfort. As soon as I hear the first two verse:


God is our refuge and strength 

a very present help in trouble

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change 

though the mountains shake into the heart of the sea.


Something within me loosens; I reflexively lower my shoulders and release my breath. This is more than just my personal response.


These words find us 3,000 years after they were originally written. Words that have been prayed through plagues, battlefields, prisons, sickness, death. Words that have uttered before in quarantine, in refugee camps, and in exile, recited while hiding in jungles or facing down crematoriums. These words have seen gallows, sinking ships, bread lines and locusts. These words are stronger than our response to them.


The text promises that God is near-by, proximate, close at hand. It repeats one of the most frequent commands in the Bible: “Do not be afraid!” but

in the form of an affirmation.  Therefore we will not be afraid.


The text does not deny that there are things to be afraid of both in the physical world of nature and in the day-to-day world of people and politics. 


The earth changes ...

The Psalmist tells us to put no trust in the earth

or the sod you stand upon. Even the stability of mountains can be shaken...

Everything can be rendered as chaotic and tumultuous as the sea.


Politics and world affairs also threaten to displace, to bring desolation and violence. The text reminds us to not be surprised when we see great nations dissolving before our eyes.

We are reminded that because of God’s great love we will not be overcome.

In our translation the text concludes with an invitation: “Be still and know that I am God.” Mystics have pondered what it means to “be still and know that I am God.” I don’t have anything fresh or especially insightful to say about what this text might be saying to us in our own time and in our spaces and places, but I will try to say something here anyway.

I take the command “to be still” to be an invitation into a very deep and particular form of listening and attention. A form of listening that accepts as fact that God has promised to be “ever-present in trouble.” This is difficult to remember sometimes. I have to catch myself all the time.. It is my first instinct to pray that God will be with people who are facing tough diagnoses or decisions or death.

When I do this, I try to stop myself and to take a moment and be still in the knowledge that God is already present. 

God is more concerned, more vexed, and more filled with love and care than I am. When this happens, I try to shift my prayer to: “Let this person be made aware of your loving presence God.”

To be still and know that I am God can also be an invitation to deeper insight and reflection.My spiritual director sometimes invites me to imagine Jesus sitting with me in difficult situations. What words of encouragement or comfort might Jesus offer? Maybe Jesus is just their weeping... In tought conversations, I ask Jesus to sit with me and listen for what I cannot hear, to see what I cannot see…

To “be still and know” can be a call to allow God to mediate in our experiences with others 

Be still and know” can also be a call to be more attentive to how God is working in the world. This is why I think we come to worship each week…. not because God is only or even especially here, but it is a way of tuning our attention to the places and spaces where God might be at work. 

There is another way of reading think verse of the Psalmist :to be still and know that I am God.” The Psalmist is saying that God has the capacity to say to the tumult of nations and the earth:Stop, desist: BE STILL! God can bring wars and warfare to an end and quell the tempestuous of nature.

Be still and know that I am God. 

I will be exalted among the nations.

The Psalmist is making a claim that God is ultimately in control. There has been lots of ink spilled about what it means to say God is in control. Does God so throughly determines everything that happens that humans have no freedom? Does God have so little control over what is happening that He is stuck in the muck of human suffering right along side us? 

The middle view in my mind is one that see God—in the words of the Psalmist-- as“ever present” Constantly at work…. Not controlling the acts of humans or nations, but working continually to bring goodness, grace, life, light and truth. 

And the wonder and the mystery of this is that we can participate with God in the work of bringing life out of every kind of death.

This week is filled with lots of anxiety as we await the election. I pray that we can find the deep stillness, confidence, and hope that find in resting in God’s promise to be very present with us in trouble 



Friday, June 26, 2020

The Bend in the Road


I recently finished Anne of Green Gables with Sam.  We cried together at the death of Matthew Cuthbert.  Okay, I cried--copiously enough that my tears ran down Sam's cheeks as well.  

There is a chapter right after Matthew's death called "A Bend in the Road."  Before Matthew's death Anne's future is clear and bright.  She has just won the Avery scholarship and will be attending University. She seems well on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer.  But then a string of calamities. . . . 

Matthew's Death
The bank failure
Marilla's failing eyesight. 

It looks for certain that Green Gable will have to be sold and so Anne makes a decision.

Anne went to the east gable and sat down by her window in the darkness alone with her tears and her heaviness of heart.  How sadly things had changed since she had sat there the night after coming home!  Then she had been full of hope and joy and the future had looked rosy with promise.  Anne felt as if she had lived years since then, but before she went to bed there was a smile on her lips and peace in her heart. She had looked her duty courageously in the face and found it a friend--as duty ever is when met frankly.


Anne turns down the scholarship.  She will teach school to help earn money for the family and she will stay with Marilla so that they can keep Green Gables. 

As a pre-teen,  I understood this passage somewhat....  Being betwixt and between childhood and adulthood I was equally drawn between going out into the world and staying close to home and understood the loyalty and dedication that would lead Anne to choose the way she chose.  

But I always struggled with the later books in the Annes Series--after she gets married to Gilbert.  It seems that the bright future that Anne dreamed of having was foreclosed upon.  There is even a vignette in one of the later books where Anne fears that Gilbert doesn't love her any longer.

I don't think my mind has changed about those later books, but as an adult I now see the seeds of the later books being planted in this moment.  There will be many good, happy and exciting things that happen in Anne's life, but she will never become a writer. In the last decade many details of L.M. Montgomery's life have surfaced--most shockingly that she chose to die and left a suicide note and that she and her husband were both seriously addicted to barbiturates.  

Knowing this now I can't help but see Montgomery trying to write herself into a more optimistic and hopeful outlook on the world through her beloved character of Anne.  Montgomery might not have ultimately succeeded for herself, but she certainly helped countless other people.  

Today I find inspiration in the last paragraph of the book:

Anne's horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen's; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that the flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. The joy of sincere work and worthy aspirations and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams.  

And there was always the bend in the road.

God knows I would like to be on another road, and yet I know God walks this road with me.