The old church leans awry and looks quite odd, But it is beautiful to us, and God. ~Stephen Paulus “The Old Church”
The church knelt heavy above us as we attended Sunday School, circled by age group and hunkered on little wood folding chairs where we gave our nickels, said our verses, heard the stories, sang the solid, swinging songs.
It could have been God above in the pews, His restless love sifting with dust from the joists. We little seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting to grow toward the light.
Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside, an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp- edged shadows back to their buildings, or how the winter air knifed after the dreamy basement.
Maybe the day we learned whatever would have kept me believing I was just watching light poke from the high, small window and tilt to the floor where I could make it a gold strap on my shoe, wrap my ankle, embrace any part of me. ~Maureen Ash “Church Basement”
There could be so much wrong with the church overall, comprised as it is with fallen people with broken wings, looking odd and leaning awry, determined to find flaws in each other’s doctrine, rituals, tradition, beliefs.
What is right with the church: who we pray to, why we sing, whose body we comprise so bloodied, fractured, yet healed despite our thoroughly motley messiness~ Our Lord of Heaven and Earth rains down His restless love upon our heads.
The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.” ~Frederick Buechner from A Room Called Remember
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes on a pile of broken dishes by the house; a tall man too, says the length of the bed in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man, says the Bible with a broken back on the floor below the window, dusty with sun; but not a man for farming, say the fields cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.
A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves covered with oilcloth, and they had a child, says the sandbox made from a tractor tire. Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole. And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames. It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste. And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard like branches after a storm—a rubber cow, a rusty tractor with a broken plow, a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say. ~Ted Kooser, “Abandoned Farmhouse” from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems.
In 1959, when I was five years old, my father left his high school agriculture teaching position for a new supervisor position with the state. I didn’t understand at the time the reasons for his leaving his job after 13 years.
Our family moved from a large 3 story farm house in a rural community to a 1950’s newer rambler style home just outside the city limits of the state capitol. It was a big adjustment to move to a much smaller house without a basement or upper story, no garage, and no large haybarn nor chicken coop. It meant most things we owned didn’t make the move with us.
The rambler had two side by side mirror image rooms as the primary central living space between the kitchen on one side and the hallway to the bedrooms on the other. The living room could only be entered through the front door and the family room was accessed through the back door with a shared sandstone hearth in the center, containing a fireplace in each room. The only opening between the rooms had a folding door shut most of the year. In December, the door was opened to accommodate a Christmas tree, so it sat partially in the living room and depending on its generous width, spilled over into the family room. That way it was visible from both rooms, and didn’t take up too much floor space.
The living room, because it contained the only carpeting in the house, and our “best” furniture, was strictly off-limits. In order to keep our two matching sectional knobby gray fabric sofas, a green upholstered chair and gold crushed velvet covered love seat in pristine condition, the room was to be avoided unless we had company. The carpet was never to develop a traffic pattern, there would be no food, beverage, or pet ever allowed in that room, and the front door was not to be used unless a visitor arrived. The hearth never saw a fire lit on that side because of the potential of messy ashes or smoke smell. This was not a room for laughter, arguments or games and certainly not for toys. The chiming clock next to the hearth, wound with weighted cones on the end of chains, called out the hours without an audience.
One week before Christmas, a tree was chosen to fit in the space where it could overflow into the family room. I particularly enjoyed decorating the “family room” side of the tree, using all my favorite ornaments that were less likely to break if they fell on the linoleum floor on that side of the door.
It was as if the Christmas tree became divided, with a “formal” side in the living room and a “real life” face on the other side where the living (and hurting) was actually taking place.
The tree straddled more than just two rooms. Every year that tree’s branches reached out to shelter a family that was slowly, almost imperceptibly, falling apart, like the fir needles dropping to the floor to be swept away. Something was going wrong.
Each year since, the Christmas tree bearing those old ornaments from my childhood reminds me of a still room of mixed memories within me. I am no longer wary of the past, and when I sweep up the fir needles that inevitably drop, I no longer weep.
So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum in painted quiet and concentration keeps pouring milk day after day from the pitcher to the bowl the World hasn’t earned the world’s end. ~Wisława Szymborska “Vermeer” trans. Clare Cavanagh & Stanisław Barańczak
I am struck by the expression of so much widespread hopelessness: the earth is being destroyed by humanity. Our continued existence is causing the world’s end.
This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve felt such desperation about our relationship with the world. It happened long ago when we chose to eat the fruit of the one forbidden tree and as a result were banned from the Garden. It happened with the plague when careless exposures wiped out entire villages. It happened when our wars left behind no living thing, leaving the ground itself cinders. It happened with the threat of imminent nuclear holocaust as missiles remain pointed at each other.
Still the sun rises and the sun sets, day after day. We don’t know for how much longer. Only God knows as God put us here with a plan.
So we continue to pour the milk as a sacrament: quietly, with great concentration, as that is the work we do, day after day. We still milk the cows and raise the wheat for bread and conceive children and raise them up as best we can. As long as we continue to do the work of the Garden, even while we dwell outside it, we are not causing the apocalypse. It is God’s world, after all, and all that is in it.
On Epiphany day, we are still the people walking. We are still people in the dark, and the darkness looms large around us, beset as we are by fear, anxiety, brutality, violence, loss — a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.
We are — we could be — people of your light. So we pray for the light of your glorious presence as we wait for your appearing; we pray for the light of your wondrous grace as we exhaust our coping capacity; we pray for your gift of newness that will override our weariness; we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust in your good rule.
That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact your rule through the demands of this day. We submit our day to you and to your rule, with deep joy and high hope. ~Walter Brueggemann from Prayers for a Privileged People
Unclench your fists Hold out your hands. Take mine. Let us hold each other. Thus is his Glory Manifest. ~Madeleine L’Engle “Epiphany”
“Like Mary, we have no way of knowing… We can ask for courage, however, and trust that God has not led us into this new land only to abandon us there.” ~Kathleen Norrisfrom God With Us
Today is celebrated the Feast of Epiphany (His Glory revealed and made manifest in all lives).
Even as weak and crumbling vessels, God is made manifest within us. It is not the easy path to say yes to God: it means sacrifice, abandoning our will for His will so His glory is illuminated by His Light, not ours.
And so, we, like Mary, shall say yes. His Seed shall take root in our hearts.
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load. Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled, The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne. ~Malcolm Guite “Refugee”
…as you sit beneath your beautifully decorated tree, eat the rich food of celebration, and laugh with your loved ones, you must not let yourself forget the horror and violence at the beginning and end of the Christmas story. The story begins with the horrible slaughter of children and ends with the violent murder of the Son of God. The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.
Look into that manger representing a new life and see the One who came to die. Hear the angels’ celebratory song and remember that sad death would be the only way that peace would be given. Look at your tree and remember another tree – one not decorated with shining ornaments, but stained with the blood of God.
As you celebrate, remember that the pathway to your celebration was the death of the One you celebrate, and be thankful. ~Paul Tripp
There can be no consolation; only mourning and great weeping, sobbing that wrings dry every human cell, leaving dust behind, dust, only dust which is beginning and end.
He came to us for times such as this, born of the dust of woman and the breath of Spirit, God who bent down to lie in barn dust, walk on roads of dust, die and be laid to rest as dust in order to conquer such evil as this that could terrify masses and massacre innocents.
He became dust to be like us He began a mere speck in a womb like us, so easily washed away as unexpected, unneeded, unwanted.
Lord, You are long expected. You are needed You are wanted.
Your heart beat like ours breathing each breath like ours until a fearful fallen world took Your and our breath away.
You shine through the shadows of death to guide our stumbling uncertain feet. Your tender mercies flow freely when there is no consolation when there is no comfort.
You hear our cries as You cry too. You know our tears as You weep too. You know our mourning as You mourned too. You know our dying as You died too.
Only God can glue together what evil has shattered.
We will know His peace when He comes to bring us home, our tears finally dried, our cells no longer just dust, as we are glued together by the breath of God forevermore.
the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
An annual rerun of this poem (and of course “It’s a Wonderful Life”)!
“ZuZu’s Petals” ~Lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”~
Our children had to be convinced Watching black and white holiday movies Was worthwhile~ This old tale and its characters Caught them up right away From steadfast George Bailey to evil Mr. Potter- They resonate in our hearts.
What surprised me most Was our sons’ response to Donna Reed’s Mary: ~how can we find one like her? Her loyalty and love unequaled, Never wavering…
I want to be like her for you. When things go sour I won’t forget what brought us together In the first place. I’m warmth in the middle-of-the-night storm When you need shelter. I’m ZuZu’s petals in your pocket When you are trying to find your way back home.
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic, Time takes on the strain until it breaks; Then all the unattended stress falls in On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
The light in the mind becomes dim. Things you could take in your stride before Now become laboursome events of will.
You have been forced to enter empty time. The desire that drove you has relinquished. There is nothing else to do now but rest And patiently learn to receive the self You have forsaken for the race of days.
You have travelled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight, Taking time to open the well of colour That fostered the brightness of day.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you… Ezekiel 36:26-27
We are divided people; not just liberal and conservative, believer or not, capitalist or socialist.
Believers are also a divided people; we cannot agree about much of anything, so sure we alone have the best understanding of who God is and what He expects of us.
We forget that there is much that is still mystery, unknowable for God’s good reasons. Yet He does not leave us directionless. He has given us a roadmap.
Instead we travel too fast over false ground, expecting it will take us to the right destination as we ignore God’s signposts along the way telling us about the bumps ahead, or when to reduce speed, or to turn around as the road is washed out.
Instead of heeding the signs, we set out heedless, our hearts hardened in self-protection; so many tears, so many harsh words, so many sleepless nights when we face daily conflict and division.
Yet this is exactly what we must give up to Him: He became flesh so that we no longer cling to our heart of stone. Our priorities are changed.
We become full with God, our heart of flesh delivered safely to our Deliverer.