Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Life is real! Life is earnest!

It's the sixth day of Christmas and, for the congregation I serve,the day we say farewell to a pillar of the church and the community who passed away just before Christmas.

Along with passages from Micah, Colossians and Philippians, we have chosen Longfellow's Psalm of Life for the memorial service. One of the readings I will offer in my homily is by Mary Oliver. Beautiful pieces, both, which help to describe a woman who embraced life with passionate, sparkling love and concern for all.

A big ol' collection of food is heading to the food pantry today. I am ready for a full weekend of training new officers and celebrating Epiphany. I am ready to hop on a train later this afternoon for a trip to see my in-laws.

I am looking forward to a brand new year. I continue to hold hope for our president-elect to be an agent of change and reconciliation. My prayer is that we, as a nation and that other nations, too, can listen well, and be renewed in our own capacities to respond to the needs of the world with expansive hearts.

Wishing you deep peace in this new year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Quiet Joy

Our bizarre weather in Chicago has preempted some of the news of the governor of Illinois and his travails. From record cold temperatures and snow to tornado warnings and 60 degree weather with flooding, things are pretty goofy here. It's been a good few days to stay in, when church life doesn't call.

It's been a wonderful few days, with services that couldn't have gone better (a 5:00 p.m. family service that was raucous and joyful and filled with children and their families and an 11:00 p.m that was moving to the point of tears, thanks to a brilliant young musician who partnered with me for a homily that interspersed thoughts about making a home for God in our hearts with the Christmas hymn, "In the Bleak Midwinter.")
Today, DH preached, I assisted, we had more glorious music and very thankful hearts for the gifts of young musicians home from college who were willing to share their gifts.

Now DH, FBC and SBC are off to southern Illinois to visit with grandparents, cousins and their four dogs. I'm going to stay here to celebrate a pillar of the church who passed away last week. Her service is on Tuesday, and afterwards, I'm going to hop on a train and head to the city, hop on another train (thanks, Amtrak!)and meet up with my family for two days of board games and storytelling.

The dog and I are having a lovely, quiet afternoon at home. I'm making lists, slowly putting away some of the Christmas decorations, rearranging some books and making plans for the new year. The sky is clear and blue, the air is crisp

Hope you're doing well.

Pictopia photo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas peace

A tiny moment to blog.
'Tis the season.
Greetings, blessings and a prayer for heavenly peace to you and all whom you love.
I'm very grateful to have found so many friends in the blogosphere.

I've always been fond of the Frugal Gourmet's benediction---
"I bid you peace."

God's peace to you.
Peace quilt

Friday, December 19, 2008

I love this calling...

I love the privilege of ministry.

Just when the number of calls and prayer requests for hard, hard things and broken water pipes under concrete and worry about financial pledges being fulfilled would threaten to squelch any sort of Christmas joy, this week has also brought:

*two phone calls and two e-mails from four different folks sharing relief over benign medical reports
*a phone call indicating the end of a four-year real estate lawsuit against friends, with the ruling in their favor, clearing them of all charges
*sweet and thoughtful Christmas gifts from parishioners that whisper thanks.
*a major contribution to the church from a very happy father-of-the groom for an upcoming wedding

In the midst of snow removal, misplaced purple candles, several small Christmas pageant candidates vying for the special roles of dancing stars (love makes room), a beloved church member passed away very unexpectedly this week. We'll be planning a service of witness to the resurrection for this saint between Christmas and New Year's.

It is a privilege to be invited to draw near to folks as they experience God in all the highs and lows. I give thanks.

photo of beautiful New Hampshire real estate

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Here's a powerful meditative prayer from Brian Wren's outstanding book, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship

God, how can a baby change the world
even before it is born?
The proud seem quite secure,
the seats of power look unshaken.
The hungry are unfed,
and the rich take plenty away.
So how can a baby change the world?
And yet, when it stirs in the womb,
it changes somebody’s world,
and when a child is born,
our lives are changed for ever.
Who knows, at birth, what a child will become?
Did Mary sing her song when her son left home,
when he sat on a hillside, hung on a cross,
and shattered the tomb?
Then how can a baby not change the world?
Who knows what a child will become?
For when, in a home or a nation,
new life surges, strong as the incoming tide,
it changes the shape of the shoreline
so that even the castles of power
are like sand.

Monday, December 15, 2008

walking a fine line...

Yesterday, my colleague preached an amazing sermon based on the Psalm 126 and Isaiah 61 texts from the lectionary on the recovery of joy. He polled the congregation via e-mail about what brings us joy and spent time reviewing his findings, along with helping us claim the texts for the morning as places where we can say nevertheless, even in the midst of great uncertainty. It was certainly a word I needed to hear.

Confirmation class, with a bunch of pretty insightful 8th graders, brought us discussion about "future grace", recognizing that we'll all need it. Then, about 40 children, youth and adults hopped on a bus and went caroling, a tradition that goes way back in our congregation. Visiting two memory units at a local assisted living facility was very difficult for me, as I thought about my own mom and this fist Christmas without her. After a soup supper back at the church, our usual Sunday evening adult forum looked at three excerpts from "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly" on topics as diverse as Hispanics and the Roman Catholic Church in the US, World AIDS day, and the rise of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

It feels necessary to me to focus on what is, rather than what itsn't this year. I am missing my mother terribly, am saddened at the thought of my dad being unable to be with us this year and opening presents alone. I am sad thinking about those who struggle to identify joy in their lives and it prompts me to spend a little time there, to pray and to offer a hand to those who confide in me that this season feels like an endurance march rather than a joyful dance. I am heartened to spend as much time thinking about what is: I have a dad I can call or e-mail anytime and the joyful task of findng just the right gift for him, as my mother would have done. It is good to have family close by to hug and love. I am blessed beyond words with great friends and colleagues.
I walk a fine line this Advent, between sorrow and joy, grief that is still new and real, and hope that the gift and task of ministry...of living....ultimately sorts out into blessing that outweighs the sorrow

Thursday, December 11, 2008

That which rarely has a chance

Tonight is a good, good night.

FBC is home for Chirstmas break. Seven final exams are behind her and she now has four whole weeks to relax. She's a happy nineteen year old and we love having her home.
My colleague is preaching this Sunday, which has made this a great week to look ahead and catch up, too. My in/out box is empty and pristine. I'm getting to visit folks who are not urgently ill. For tonight, life has a very nice, calm pace.

FBC, SBC and DH are all at choir practice, leaving me with 90 minutes to do as I please. I'm choosing to spend this time cleaning my desk, polishing the surfaces, tidying the knick-knacks, burning a gingerbread candle and enjoy an hour and a half of blissful quiet. I think this is peace.

In Sharing Silence, my favorite author du jour Gunilla Norris writes,
"A room devoted to silence honors and invites the unknown, the untamed, the wild, the shy, the unfathomable---that which rarely has a chance to surface within us."

I think I'll clean some more tomorrow...

Flikr foto.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chidren's Literature for Advent

Although we're halfway through Advent, I just received three wonderful books for children that are beautifully illustrated and convey helpful thoughts in this season.

The first, Who is Coming to Our House?, is a sweet board book for very young children. The animals in the manger anticipate the baby Jesus' arrival. The illustrations are simple and the message plain.

The next, Waiting for Christmas, is a lovely, large book and is part of a series of books about Christmas customs and traditions around the world. This nicely illustrated book written my my classmate and colleague Kathleen Long Bostrom, details the origin of the Advent calendar. It would be perfect for a child between 5-9.

Finally, Advent Storybook has really great illustrations and contains 24 short, meaningful stories for children who are anticipating Christmas. I believe that there's also an Advent calendar that can be purchased separately.

Lots of material here for use at home, Sunday School, children's sermons, and one's own enjoyment!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Inching Along

The best laid plans....

I did get a lot accomplished yesterday, and have a pile o' stuff to tackle today before heading downtown to beautiful Fourth Presbyterian for our stated presbytery meeting. It's a crazy, full docket, with some pretty heavy business, but we often have our December presbytery meeting at Fourth, and it's always delightful to worship there and to feel the bustle of the city all around as Advent Two moves on.

Fourth's location on Michigan Avenue is such a reminder of the presence of the church in the midst of a busy, distracted, hurried culture. I look forward to singing great hymns today and paying my respects to the sheep they display at this time of year, another nod to the glitz all around of a different way to observe this season.

I'm inching through Advent, despite the galloping pace of December, trying to be a good listener, a patient servant and a watchful messenger.

flicker photo

Monday, December 8, 2008

In-Between Time

Yesterday I preached about John the Baptizer as an example of an in-between person, one of hopes and dreams ad prophetic understanding, who was firmly rooted in his understanding of the past and who worked diligently in the present.

Today's an in-between day for me. Monday is my day off from church, but I'll be pushing hard at home to finish decorating, because Tuesday (after Presbytery) is tree day. FBC gets home from college on Thursday, so I'm planning to have her room in a decent condition. Beginning tomorrow at work, my hope is to complete, by the end of the week, the bulletins for the the Sundays and special days through January 4. That's a lot of preparing Him room, but I know that my heart will be all the more ready for the Christ Child if I can get these things done.

The congregation I serve seems similarly poised. We're planning and dreaming and putting the finishing touches on a lot of celebratory stuff, and also providing space for a wide range of needs (the hungry, those grieving, the prisoner). We had a great program last week from this group and I've heard it's transforming the holiday giving of several who attended the compelling program.
freephoto photo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Advent Longings.

Sally asks this for the Friday Five at RevGals:
What do you long for this advent? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your prayer today?
In the vein of simplicity I ask you to list five advent longings....

1. I long for peace in every shape and form, for all.
2. I long for the world to be captured by hope.
3. I long to be keenly aware of folk who truly have glad and generous hearts.
4. I long for a community that sees itself as pregnant with possibility.
5. In my own life, I long for simplicity.

Art: Simplicity by Trefor Ball

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Winter cold, Advent hope

While the economy continues its dreadful ride, here the winter weather isolates and raises the anxiety of those who would be prone to fear. Antidote? For me, prayer, silence, more prayer and the best non-anxious listening I can muster seem to help weather all kins of storms. Gunilla Norris helps, too.
..."when time is marked differently (than on our calendars) when it is a way of attending to the moment, we will experience the beginning of winter... Winter begins with a deathblow. Something is absolutely clear-- we are not in charge. The trees are stripped. Only the evergreens are left with their blue-green darkness.
Now is the time for no thing. We are invited to enter this mystery. Frost is the teacher that shows us we would not survive a day without a home and heat. And our souls, too, know something our outer selves do not register most of the time: in winter we have the chance to enter a clear, empty space. Whenever something ends, something else has begun. Our souls can dive into the biting cold, into darkness, into bare being. The unknown is there. There is no calendar, no time. No self-definition. Winter is a womb in which to grow...."

Gunilla Norris, The Mystic Garden, p. 9.
Flickr photo.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


We have several inches of snow on the ground already, and the forecast is for more today.
I'm reminded of this wonderful poem by Ann Weems:

I was surprised
in January
by a crocus growing
right outside my kitchen door:
a splotch of spring
that burst through winter's veil.

Surprised again--
in just two weeks
I couldn't find
the crocus for the snow,
fresh fallen,
the last laughter in winter's fling.

It is buried now,
my crocus;
hidden, but not forgotten,
for I know it's there...
hope growing in winter,
shalom beneath the snow.

Hope Growing in Winter by Ann Weems