Who needs matches?

Advent wreath, late afternoon sun.

One of the unexpected pleasures of spending as much time in church as I do is seeing the place at times other than Sunday morning, watching the light change through the day and the season, selectively illuminating details we sometimes overlook. And in the silence, becoming aware of that presence we often overlook in the busy-ness of worship. Of course I mean divine presence, but something more, too. Our own faithful presence over months and years leaves something cumulative behind even after we leave, I’m convinced of it.

The sweetness

Today turned out to be that one day a year when I let down my resolve and bu a sweet at Starbucks, indulging myself in a slice of the iced gingerbread that appears there only during the holiday season.

The first bite always produces an instant sugar rush, a not especially pleasant warning that I shouldn’t do this often. Then comes a rush of memories.

I think of the seminary adjunct who introduced me to Starbucks gingerbread, someone I didn’t spend much time with but whose teaching is with me still. I remember the out-of-season gingerbread served at the informal gathering for parents and kids days before my son started kindergarten, our first introduction to a community in which my family would be grounded for years to come. Those kids have kids of their own now, and we still see many of them. I’m reminded that my mother occasionally made gingerbread, and for some reason it wasn’t until I was grown that I realized how much I had always loved it.

Memories, so many memories, and what comes back most especially are all these people I associate with the flavors of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

Remembering these things is healing. Revisiting good times, recalling love, reaffirming that happy things past also are still with us now. Reminding ourselves of the fundamental truth that life is a gift, and it is good. And even in this season of Advent, when we embrace the darkness to remind ourselves of the promise of light, letting go of what doesn’t matter to remind ourselves of what does, there is healing in this simple indulgence of a single thick slice of iced gingerbread.

#AdventWord #heal

See the full community Advent calendar at http://adventword.org

Advent thoughts in passing

The building used to be a church; now it’s an expensive restaurant, and Jesus has been sent outside. Did the diners going in for a break from their shopping even notice the little family sheltered in makeshift quarters close by?

Walking past this iconic Nativity, I found myself wondering if it could possibly have happened this way, and not just because they didn’t have buildings like that in Bethlehem. Recalling my own experience as a new mother, I asked myself: would she have knelt, even for him?

Would she have knelt, or would she have wanted to take him into her arms and hold him close? She’d already waited so long to do that, to feel his warm cheek against her breast, to cradle his head in her palm. To begin to know him as a person, not just a promise. She’d felt the presence of this love all the while it was growing in her, and now it was real.

It’s like that for all of us, I think. We carry a seed of love close to our hearts. It’s what connects us to each other, and to the universe. We know it’s there and we’re hungry to experience it, but that can’t happen until we make it real by bringing it forth into this world, which is labor.

And the certainty that love is real and will be brought forth–that is hope.

So greetings on the first day of Advent from New Hope PA. I do love the name of my little town, love living in a place where hope is always new. May you find new hope in this season of love.

(You can walk past this manger, by the way, but you can’t park in front. The valet service needs those spaces, and anyway, these days traveling Wise Men might more likely arrive by Lyft than by camel, and surely they’ll want to be able to pull right up to the curb.)

Hope and silver

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I’m pretty sure I received one or two as gifts before I had any awareness of what a spoon actually was.

It was the custom in my family to start giving silver flatware to little girls as soon as they were born. There was no question of choosing your pattern; you got what your mother had, and probably your grandmother, too. This continued through childhood, so if you were a really lucky little girl, your Christmas and birthday presents would usually include a fork or two, or maybe a couple of knives. You can imagine—especially if you know me—how thrilled I was.

The intention was that by the time you were ready to marry and lay a table of your own, you’d have a full set of good flatware ready and waiting to be added to your mother’s when she passed them down. So what I see when I look at this picture is my parents’ expectations, just as shiny and new as they were on the day they were presented, never opened and yet unused.

Because as it turned out, on special occasions I use a different set of silverware that came down from another relative, and only when we are more than 12 at the table do I dip into my birthright to fill out the number needed.

And so most Thanksgivings I find myself face to face with my family’s hopes for me once again. I take them out, inspect them, appreciate them, and put them away again when the company leaves and the house goes back to normal. I don’t really use them, but I can’t get rid of them. That’s how it is with expectations others lay on you. I keep these rolled up in a plastic bag, deep in the cupboard that holds assorted serving dishes. What would my parents think if they knew.

A sermon for Christ the King Sunday

I remember being told as a child that God is everywhere. I think that was meant to be reassuring, although to tell you the truth, it could also be a little scary.

Now as an adult, I do hold onto that assurance of God’s enduring presence as one of the fundamentals of my faith, but I’ve also come to realize that there are places where I experience that divine presence in a way that feels especially real and immediate, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Some people might feel that way here in church, while for others it’s more likely to happen when they’re out somewhere enjoying the beauty of nature.

And sometimes it’s only later that we realize that we’ve encountered the living presence of God in a place where that was totally unexpected.

That’s what happens to Martin the cobbler in a short story called “Where Love Is, God Is,” by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy.

Martin is a humble sort of fellow, an honest man and a hard worker, but his life has been touched by grief. His wife dies, leaving him a three-year-old son to raise alone; all of their other children had died in infancy. He isn’t sure how he’ll manage to take care of this child by himself, and he considers sending the boy away to his sister, but then he has second thoughts. He’s worried about how difficult it would be for the child to live with a strange family, and so he decides to keep the boy and do the best he can to raise him.

* Sermon as preached isn’t exactly the same as the written text. Continue reading

This one leaf

This one leaf. This moment in time. Rain-glued to my windshield, the leaf will be gone in a flash once I pull out of the driveway. It’ll fly away with twenty-five, fifty, a hundred others the rain pasted to my car overnight, whirling and settling as if we were a tree moving through the wind. This moment in time. This one leaf. Neither will come again, but for this one moment, that leaf is all that matters.

I read these words by Joyce Rupp to start our time of silence before Holy Eucharist this morning:

Holy One, awaken my heart. Quiet my mind. Draw back the veil of my illusions to perceive your presence. Settle what stirs endlessly within me. Hush the voice of haste and hurry. Awaken my inner senses to recognize your love hiding beneath the frenzy. Enfold me in your attentiveness. Wrap a mantle of mindfulness around every part of my days. I want to welcome you with joy and focus on your dwelling place. Amen.

If a little flower could speak

If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.”

― Thérèse de Lisieux
Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

Bold as it might be to contradict Thérèse, it seems to me that even if the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, the rose would still be beautiful.

Strange November: So many leaves on the trees around my house are still green, and the roses just keep coming.

If a little flower could speak, perhaps it would speak of #hope.