Thursday, December 24, 2015

December Writings...

The end of the year 2015 approaches, and for the month of
December, I have been using a lovely little booklet of writing
prompts, courtesy of Jacinta and Cyndi of "Snapdragon Journal",
an on-line literary magazine ( ). Faced
each day with a meaningful quotation and an equally-meaningful
question, I have been writing...sometimes a little, sometimes a lot,
always from the heart, and today, I'm sharing some of these
scribblings with you, dear reader. Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday,
FĂ©liz Navidad, Joyeux Noel.
The Year's Last Red Light
I stand in the last red light of the year,
watching as the almost-setting sun
paints the sky in glowing hues
aware that I have journeyed far and long
and wondering just how long
          sunset will last.
       wondering when the light will go
           and darkness come
        wondering if I will welcome it,
            embrace it, if I will find within
            its velvet folds, moonlight and the shining of
            a million million stars
            to light my way- my final journey's way.

Year's End
Old resolutions, un-met intentions, drift away
from the burning flames of year's end,
   spiraling skyward, to disappear and dissipate
   far out of reach of mind and heart
I let them go, and in the blest release
   I breathe again, deeply,
   inhaling newly-freshened air
   alive with possibility and hope.

Only I can
Creativity, that elusive muse,
Slips between the pinpoint and the page,
And even as I pursue her,
Her ephemeral being taunts me
From the edges of my seeking mind.
"Make space," she whispers. "Make time," she sings,
As the drumbeat of my longing heart
Chants, "Only you, you, you can do, do, do it."
And I startle awake, convicted by the truth...
     Only I can use the gift
     Only I, I, I can...

Must I write?
The voice has not called out for so very long,
that mysterious, demanding voice,
disturbing my sleep, forcing me to reach
for pen and paper, lest the images dancing
in the forefront of my mind slip away
before I can hold them fast.
The voice has been silent for so very long,
that wondrous, creative voice,
seemingly silenced by a  too-busy life,
by a need for rest which causes sleep so deep
that the images once dancing, one alive,
have hibernated, frozen far out of conscious reach.

Growing wings
I want to leap- or do I? really?
Is this, instead, my fallow time, my time to
    relish the safety and comfort
    of my cocoon, confident that,
    safe within its shell,
I am growing iridescent wings?

From darkness to light...
The darkness of Advent
     holds and comforts me,
Pregnant, as it is, with
     the promise of new life.
The birth of the Light,
     illuminating my way into
     the creative hope of the New Year.

Here I am...
I. Am. Here.
Now. Fully. Present.
At age seventy-three- almost seventy-four-
sitting in my comfortable blue living room,
watching the struggle of the sun to pierce through
gray rainclouds and give celestial light to the day...
my day... my mostly-mundane day,
with errands ahead and paying bills and
answering mail and, eventually, sitting before my fireplace
with a cup of tea and a good book.
Fully present in my lovely, aging life...
and my heart overflows with thanks.
Providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from
fulfilling the ultimate meaning of our existence. Paul Tillich

"Ultimate meaning"?
Such momentous words,
carrying, as they do, the weight of importance,
the heaviness of a dusty tome
hidden in the dark recesses of a library's
research section and available only for
perusal on a well-scarred wooden table,
overseen by a be-spectacled, razor-thin gentleman
who seems certain of my intent to abscond with
his precious volume.
"Ultimate meaning" carries with it
such depth of responsibility, far more than
I am willing to shoulder on this winter's day,
when the simple joy of cardinals at the feeder
and carols on the radio and thoughts of family
and friends seem definition enough,
supply my meaning, ultimate or not.
December melancholy
The melancholy of December
Settles in around me, bringing-
As it does- remembrances of bygone days,
Of Christmases past
When they were all here,
The beloved ones- now gone, I know not where
Or why, only that I remain, pain-filled and
Hurt-scarred, yet strangely, peacefully, alive,
Still draining every drop from
The cup of life's glorious wine.

Christmas Letter
Dearest ones- friends, family, and those still to come,
You fill my heart and life with
Tenderness and joy, with hope and meaning.
Without you- each uniquely special one-
I would not be just who I am right now-
This independent, loving, determined, caring,
Opinionated, laughing person, for you have been
The potters of my malleable clay, incarnations all
Of the Divine Love in which we live and move and
Have our being. You are my life- past, present,
And future- and you have my love.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

And a Little Child will Lead Us...

I was going through some of my poems this morning, ones written
several years ago, and I came upon this one, so very apropos to the
current political and world situation, and to my feelings about what
I see and hear. And so, I'm sharing it with you, in the hope that
somewhere, somehow, some heart will resonate with mine.

Christmas Pilgrimage
O God, though I have long lived with
more questions about you than answers,
of one thing I am certain-
from you flows all Creative Energy,
from you flows Life,
from you flows Love.
How, then, God of Creativity, Life & Love,
have we, your children, so perverted your gifts
that we can look at another human being, created- like us-
in the Divine Image, and see only differences,
permitting them to separate and divide us?
Beneath this thin covering we call skin,
beneath the surface appearance of uniqueness,
we are the same! We are one!
A beating heart enlivens each of us...
blood of red flows through arteries and veins...
intestines digest the food that nourishes us and,
with the kidneys, rids the body of what is not needed...
and, wonder of wonders, within each head resides a brain,
the seat of personality and thought, of the emotions of
Wonder and awe, but also, it seems, of anger and
hatred and judgment.
Why, Loving God, does the difference of the race or religion or
sexuality of someone else so threaten us?
Why do we so stridently demand the right to be who and
how we are, while at the same time, oxymoronically denying
that right to others?
Why is our sense of security so dependent upon
keeping the world we are meant to steward wisely
and well in such a state of fear and insecurity?
How do we justify kneeling at the manger of the one called
the Prince of Peace while within us and without, wars rage-
with our support?
Christmas approaches... and those of us calling ourselves
"Christian" will light candles, will raise our collective voices-
"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright..." as in our city,
our nation, our world, bombs explode, children cry from hunger,
people are tortured or driven from their homes because of
their ethnicity or gender or sexuality, whole nations live in
darkness, the rich become richer on the backs of the poor,
and the powerful plot to seize ever more power from the
My heart and head are heavy, Holy One, as I seek to find
a cause for celebration in the midst of chaos and
conflagration...yet even now, the faces of my grandchildren
flicker across my mind- their openness and awareness and
loving spirits, their acceptance and whole-hearted
appreciation of all they meet, their creativity and compassion-
and I am reminded that our hope, the hope of this troubled
world, lies in a Holy Child, in the holiness of children everywhere.
And so, I wipe my tears and breathe...
and walk haltingly on the path toward Christmas Day 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Grief Remembered...

    It washed over me like a tsunami, the wave of
overwhelming grief. Totally unexpected. Taking me
totally unaware. And there I stood, my tears co-
mingling with the water of my morning shower, as I
was bathed in the mellow strains of Annie Murray's
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" wafting up from the CD
player in the living room.
    I hadn't felt this way in many years... and yet the grief
was so raw, so present, belying the fact that the loss had
happened 37 years ago. It was Christmas Eve 1978 and
our family was gathered at the home of my parents for
our traditional Christmas Eve celebration, before going
to the Candlelight Service together. This had long been
a highlight of the holiday for all of us- my parents, my
sisters, and their families, and we were all eagerly awaiting
the arrival of my youngest sister, to complete the family circle.
    The kids wanted to eat so the gifts under the tree could be distributed and opened and Mother was worrying over the food, wondering aloud just where Rennie was. Outside, it was snowing, giving us he first white Christmas in many years. In the midst of the cacophony, the phone rang and my dad answered. When he came into the family room, his face looked grim but hopeful. "There's been a car accident. Rennie has been taken to York Hospital ER and they want me to come." My husband, Bob, immediately offered to drive Mom and Dad to
the hospital, and I insisted on accompanying them, unsure of what we would
find upon arriving there. I was a nurse, after all, the family "authority" on all
things medical, as well as being the eldest of four sisters.
    In the van, driving through the ever-accumulating snow, we were all trying
to put the best face on the matter. Rennie hadn't called herself because they
were working on her. They wanted us to come so there would be someone to
bring her home. But underneath it all, there was that small, niggling edge of
fear and trepidation, which we all were trying desperately to hide.
     Upon arriving at the ER, we were met by a kind-faced, white-haired woman
who asked us to follow her. She led us to a family room, where we saw
Rennie's estranged husband and his mother, both white-faced and unable to
speak. And the kind woman- who turned out to be the County Coroner- told us
that Renate had been in an accident, her car had caught fire, and she had
been killed.
    I don't remember what my mom or dad said or did. I only recall hearing a
shriek of, "No, no, no!" and realizing that it was coming from me. My husband
tried to comfort me, but I was having none of it. I paced that small room and
raged and wept until I was spent. I demanded to see her, but the coroner
gently said that I would not want to remember Rennie that way. And then, I
asked for a phone so I could call home to inform my other two sisters  and
the rest of the waiting family what had happened. As big sister, the eldest of
four, that was my job...and I had to do it. That was just the way it was, and
I could not leave that task to my devastated parents.
     Christmas Eve has never been the same again, though with the passing
years has come a lessening of the acuity of grief. But today, hearing those
poignant words- "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."- I was
suddenly and fully transported to another time, another place, and the stab
of grief was as fresh as it had been on that long-ago Christmas Eve.
     How easy it is to forget that grief has no time limit to it. How easy to fail
to understand how those memory triggers can put us back into the midst of
the perfect storm of emotions which hold us in their thrall, no matter how
much we would wish it to be otherwise. And yet...and yet...if weeping in the
shower on a sunny December morning in 2015 is the price to be paid for
loving and being loved, then I gladly pay it. And on this Christmas Eve,  as
once again we light the candles and sing "Silent Night", tears will streak my
face as I remember Rennie. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Word of the Lord Comes...Sermon for Advent 2

In the seventh year of the Presidency of Barak Obama, when Pat McCrory
was governor was governor of North Carolina, and Larry Williams was
mayor of Rural Hall, during the term of ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth
Eaton, the word of God came to Nazareth Lutheran Church in Rural Hall,

   This is the way Luke introduces John the Baptist to us…setting the
imperial and political and religious scene. But- lest we miss it in the
midst of all the pomp and circumstance- there is this significant fact: the
word of God came to a nobody, a lone, strange, eccentric mystic and
prophet in the wilderness, in a wild, harsh no-man’s land far from family
and government and temple. There in that wild and threatening place,
John heard a voice not his own…God coming, as God does, to one of
God’s people, to one clearly outside the establishment of the day, to one
who would not be expected to be the bearer of God's word...Godspeaking and John listening... clearly, fully listening.      

   But John did not simply listen. John acted. Luke tells us that this out-of-
the-ordinary man of God went into all of the region around the Jordan,
proclaiming repentance, proclaiming forgiveness, proclaiming the
powerful presence and promise of God to those who would listen- as
well as to those who turned away, shaking their heads at this truly
bizarre preacher, clad in animal skins with uncut- and most likely
uncombed- hair, striding along in bare feet, and shouting out his altar-
call to everyone he encountered, according to the words of the prophet,

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the
Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every
mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made
straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the
salvation of God.’

   John was calling the people to repentance, to a change of life, to an
opening to permit the very God of Israel and all the nations to grasp
them and change them and bring the kingdom to full fruition in and
through them. ‘Present yourself for baptism’, John roared. ‘Let this
washing in the river Jordan be a sign of the washing away of your old
life, your old way of doing business and relating to others, your old way
of ignoring your neighbors in need- the lonely, the heartbroken, the
poor, the blind, the  lepers, the ones with AIDS, the homeless people on
the streets, the refugees fleeing a war over which they have no control,
those overwhelmed with grief- and open yourself to God’s presence here,
now…in you, in the world. Turn around. Go in a different direction.
Repent. The salvation of God is God’s gift to you.’
   And we are among that “all flesh”, aren’t we? The rough and crooked
likes of you and me. So, what would it mean this Advent season to have
our self-centered highs lowered, our self-deprecating lows raised, our
rough places sanded smooth? Will we have the courage to open
ourselves to the change of direction the word of God asks for? For that
IS the meaning of repentance- not just saying you’re sorry, but
CHANGING DIRECTION…going in a different way, living as a forgiven,
redeemed, re-formed, re-born, loved being…a child of the God who
creates and calls and comes...the God who always makes the first move,
whether it is through a wild-eyed prophet like John…or a singing group
like the Gospelaires. The word of the Lord comes.

   Luke, you see, Luke, that great and wonderful story-teller; Luke, the
erstwhile historian; Luke begins his story by making the outrageous claim
that God is at work in the weak and small and ordinary and unexpected-
babies and barren women and unwed teenagers and wild-eyed prophets-
to change the world. And God’s word and work continue today- still
through often-unlikely characters like unpopular teens and out-of-work
adults, through corporate executive and stay-at-home parents, through
underpaid shelf-stockers and night-shift workers and volunteer soccer
coaches and English-as-second-language teachers and nursing home
CNAs and even struggling preachers. Oh, it’s easy to miss, I grant you,
especially in this busy, fast-paced world of ours, especially if we’re not
paying attention- but it’s there, all the same, I promise you.

   A good friend of mine, an artist and photographer and worker for peace
and justice who, with his wife, recently moved to NYC, posted this
commentary on Facebook just the other day and I share it with you in
the hope that…well, here it is.

Riding on the subway just now, I sat and thought about what a civil
invention mass transit is. I have witnessed people being generous with
strangers while riding the subway; offering dollars for a heart-felt song;
giving a seat to the tired other. Two nights ago while riding to
Manhattan, I laughed with a man from Georgia (the country, not the
state), who spoke less English than he thought he could. We soon
figured out his route and parted with smiles and a handshake. Today,
I thought of the massacres in CA and searched for a sane reason why so
many Americans are expressing themselves through such violent means.
As I sat looking at the beautiful and varied faces around me, I could not
get a handhold as to why I would ever want to kill them. I walked up
into the Brooklyn daylight, staring first at the steam rising into the blue
sky from atop the old Brooklyn Bank tower. As my gaze settled on the
sidewalk, I saw two nuns stopping to talk to a homeless old man…As I
passed, I looked up to see a large black woman walking toward me,
wearing a black sweatshirt with the giant word LOVE written in white
across it. Sometimes God speaks softly from inside; sometimes She flat
out yells as She swaggers past.

    So- no matter how small, insignificant, or ordinary you feel; no matter
how small, insignificant, or ordinary your life seems, the word of the
Lord comes sidling up to you when you least expect it- or shouts out the
reality of Holy Presence right in front of you. Your part, my part, our
part, is to PAY ATTENTION…to see…to hear… to open our hearts to the
reality and challenge and difficulty of repentance, of change, of going in
a different direction.

    So- will we collaborate in our transformation? Will we hear and
respond to the call of the Baptist? Will we join the people at the river
Jordan, heeding John’s altar call to open themselves to God’s very
presence in their lives? For part of our life together as a Lutheran
congregation is the weekly “altar call” known as Holy Communion. The
invitation is issued by the presiding pastor, and as we come forward to
the altar, we are making ourselves available for the intervention of God,
for the reality and hope and wonder of the indwelling of God’s Holy
Spirit. We are saying, ‘I believe; help my unbelief’. Then, as we
consume the bread and wine, we take into ourselves the very presence
of the Christ…we welcome the Holy and open ourselves to the trans-
forming power of God’s grace-filled forgiveness…God coming TO us, in a
way we can neither explain nor deny…only accept, in gratitude and
wonder. And we leave the altar re-born, re-made, sent out to BE the
Christ in our world, to share the truth of God’s ever-presence- the Good

   Today, let’s ask ourselves, to whose voice have I been listening this
Advent season? If you, each of you, each of US, could take a detour
from your usual route, could turn off the clamor of this ever-present
and persistent world, would you? Would you bother? Would you DARE?
Turn OFF your cell phone. Turn OFF the TV. Power down all of the
internet-fed devices which link us to every bit of everything that is
happening everywhere. Turn OFF, power down, and listen…just listen…
and then- respond to what you hear…and see…and witness to the
truth of God present and active and alive in our world.

   And now, I invite you to do something just a bit different for a
moment…as I pass out these index cards and pencils, be thinking about
a place or time this week when you saw/were aware of God at work…
of God actively present in your life/your world/our world. Then, write
that on the card and when you answer the altar call of Holy Communion,
place your card on the blue posterboard so that, together, as a
congregation, as a faith community here in Rural Hall, NC, we can bear
witness to and affirm the reality of the Presence of God…God coming to
us...God at work in God’s world, in our world. And together, as a
congregation, as a faith community here in Rural Hall, NC, we can lift
our voices in prayer and praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God!