In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Work of Christmas

A reflection on the readings for Christmas 1: Luke 2:41-52 by the Rev. Margaret Rose    
By the time Christmas 1 rolls around, I confess that I am ready for something new.

 This year, especially, at least on the East Coast of the US, it was a year of trying to make sense of all that has happened, of trying to see where our faith fits, where God engages, and where the incarnation makes sense.  Over the email airwaves there were multitudes of sermons about Hurricane Sandy and most especially about the killings at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut.  Where was God?  How could God let this happen?  All the questions which return  to us in the face of evil or tragedy or the incomprehensibly destruction of too many lives.  There were wonderful reflections from across the religious spectrum.   And one of the best came from Maureen Dowd in an  editorial in the New York Times on December 26.   ( You can find it on line, called Why, God?)    A priest friend of hers suggested that the meaning of the incarnation really has to do with human beings’  call to be love’s presence in the world.  That is who Jesus was and that is who we are called to be.  My own thoughts on Christmas Eve were similar.  That is, that in the face of life’s joys and sufferings, good and evil, what we have is the promise of God’s presence with us—Emmanuelle.  It is not a zapper God who fixes things, or who holds the puppet strings of the world, or who rewards us when we are “good” or punishes us when we are bad.  God is a god of presence.  And as the priest said, often experienced through other people.   God’s promise is “I will be with you, even to the end of time.”   

Often we know this and have glimpses of that promise, especially  when we are most in need, when there is only God to cling to.  And  those who reach out to us  in our circle of love and community.  Or even strangers as has been the case this year with Sandy and Newtown.   
My wish for something new was really a desire to move out of my thoughts,out of trying to make sense of everything, away from words or even the  deep spiritual work that is this season.  I am ready to get back to the routine, I suppose, back to the work of everyday.  In fact to the business that the incarnation calls us toward.  

In Luke’s  Gospel we have the wonderful story of Mary and Joseph heading to Jerusalem for the Passover. Upon their return,  traveling with many from Nazareth, Mary and Joseph  lose Jesus in the  crowd and discover that he has stayed behind. They go back to the city and find him  teaching in the temple.  Luke’s version has Jesus say that he must be in his father’s house.  Others, and the one I remember from childhood,  was Jesus replying to his parents,  “Don’t you know I must be  about my Father’s business.”   Such a response would be no surprise to any parent of an adolescent today.  And I certainly wonder how Joseph must have felt.  But for us perhaps it is the message of what is next. 

 As I think about this text assigned for Christmas 1, it seems that this is the “something new”.   It is time now to get back to business.  Not  perhaps the routine of life, but rather the business that God has called us to as we live into the reality of the Incarnation, of God with us.   It is, as Dr.  Howard Thurman wrote in his familiar poem which I leave with you as the reflection for this Sunday: 

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

May we look with hope toward 2013 with God ‘s promise of Emmanuelle and the work of Christmas before us.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent's Invitation: A reflection for Advent 4C

 A reflection on Advent 4C by the Rev. Dr. Katherine Godby

Advent this year has been a special time for me.  I’ve had a year of change—moving to a new job at a new church, and a year of dealing with health problems—provoking a rethinking of my identity as an embodied being with significant human limits.  So I found myself wondering these weeks of Advent: what exactly is Advent’s invitation?
In this season of honest reflection, I love the idea that Advent offers us yet another opportunity to give birth to the Christ within us. We’ve been created in the image of God, or Christ, but as we grow up, that divine image gets tarnished, diminished, or deadened by various fears. Giving birth to the Christ within us means allowing that divine image to once again flourish, and as I know from experience, it is a never-ending process.
Allowing the divine image within us to really flourish in our lives is, I think, intricately tied to Advent as the anticipation of the Incarnation, the coming of God into this world in human form. Can we see that God continues coming into the world, even now, through each of us? We are called to carry forward the Incarnation, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, to allow the image of Christ to shape how we live, how we care and relate, and how we love.
How ironic that the season of the year in which we’re called to contemplative reflection, asking ourselves important questions, is the same season that makes that calling difficult. Advent asks us to make contact with our need for salvation. But the culture of Santa Claus tells us that buying this and that will save us. Advent wants to know: What is that emptiness I keep trying to feed—with food, or fantasy, or excitement, or busyness? The culture of Santa Claus has the answer: stay busy with a million distractions and you won’t even know that you’re restless and empty!
But thanks be to God, that denial doesn’t have to last forever. The Holy Spirit keeps sending us two vital things: signals that we’re not being honest with ourselves and impulses toward the courage we need to face that dishonesty.
We have no need to fear Advent’s invitation. The prophet Isaiah writes: “A voice cries in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God”—we prepare for God by being honest about the desert of our own hearts . . . “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, her penalty is paid”—a message of reassurance and forgiveness.
Whatever we find when we honestly look inside our hearts is simply part of our life’s experience, not the totality of who we are. And in itself this act of honest reflection begins the birth of forgiveness, regained strength, healing grief—it begins over and over again this miraculous process of transformation toward which God calls us. Advent reminds us that our Savior is coming, and is already here, and the joy that is our birthright lies just beneath the surface of whatever concerns us.
So that’s a bit of what I’ve concluded about Advent’s invitation to me this year – what about you? 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent 3C, what can we say?

I have nothing to say today. Do you? Let us all know.

This is all I know. A friend from my seminary class is the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newton, Connecticut. Another friend told us that the child of a college classmate of hers was one of the children killed. Knowing those people, even distantly, brings me, all of us, close to that terrible day and time and place.

I found these things on Facebook:
Steve Charleston, wise elder, spiritual leader, Episcopal bishop, posted this on Thursday night:

Standing alone at night, beneath a curious moon, I searched for that single star, the one that would be my sign of hope. But instead, I saw a field of stars, cast shimmering across the heavens, a countless sweep of stars, more than I could carry. Hope and you do not hope alone. Love and you do not love alone. Like stars our dreams are cast to high heaven, some to lead us to all we imagined, others only to watch over us on our way, but all shine together, all share the same beauty. We do not pass this way alone, but journey in light, beneath a curious moon.

From my friend Joyce, an art history professor:

… these things always seem to happen in northern/capitalist/Protestant countries. I am still waiting to hear about the problem of adolescent mental illness and social marginalization that is at the cause of all these shootings, on top of the easy access to guns. There is something about the loss of community and social support that leads to this level of despair. I also don't think that it's an accident that shooters often target children and/or carry out violence in schools.

A parishioner, T., who is a drama major, performed this semester in a production of A Thousand Cranes, that was performed in all the area school. The play concerns the bombing of Hiroshima, as seen through the eyes of a little girl. T. writes:

Coming off of A Thousand Cranes, I wish everyone would take a moment to contemplate how we treat each other. After the violence that has occurred in the last few weeks and over the course of the year it is clear to me that it is more important now than ever that we all treat each other with respect and dignity. Show others the same amount of love that you expect to be given and where conflict arises take a step back and try to see the problem from other angles so a compromise can be made. Remember, it is not the length of life or number of achievements that make a life rewarding but instead it is in the way we treat others and the world around us. Now go fold some Cranes and have a safe and happy Holiday.

A. is in high school. She wrote:

Let me just ask what the hell has this world come to, where a man can walk into an elementary school. Filled with CHILDREN, each wondering what presents they will get for Christmas, what they ate at snack, things little kids should be concerned about. 18 children as of right now ranging in ages from 5-10 years old have lost their lives. Their friends have lost classmates, and teachers; and in turn their innocence, sense of security and will most likely suffer these effects for the rest of their lives. Their parents have lost the loves of their lives. Horrific. Disgusting. Unbelievable. Those words don't even begin to explain this tragedy. And let me just say, I pray for that THING that caused all of this pain. RIP

C., who is a film company executive, posted:

Within a few days, we will know their names. We will know their faces. We will know what they liked, what they were looking forward to about the holidays, what their favorite subjects were in school, what they wanted to be when they grew up. We will know the twenty names with which, in a normal and sane world, we would not necessarily cross paths - unless they did something truly extraordinary  with their lives. And now, inexplicably, horrifically, they will never get that chance. Now, we must find a way to hold their families, teachers, and friends - in a way that we would want to be held were the tables turned - even if it is only in our hearts. There is no sense to be made of this, but we need to do right by the ones who are left behind, whose lives are forever altered. My hope would be, for this moment and those in the days to come, that these are the people on whom we'll choose to focus.

That is what the people say, full of grief and longing. The challenge to us is, what do we, the preachers, say?
Among Jenee Woodard’s resources, I found this from Diana Butler Bass from nearly two years ago, after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. In Speaking for the Soul, she chastised preachers for leaving people hanging, people you are yearning with their very beings for a word of guidance, a way to make sense of the senseless, a hook, a frame, some way to put the unspeakable into the story of God among us.

At their best, American pulpits are not about taking sides and blaming.  Those pulpits should be places to reflect on theology and life, on the Word and our words.  I hope that sermons tomorrow will go beyond expressions of sympathy or calls for civility and niceness.  Right now, we need some sustained spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans–how much we’ve allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we’ve allowed our discourse to become, how little we’ve listened, how much we’ve dehumanized public servants, how much we hate.

Gail Collins wrote this in Saturday’s New York Times, reminding us that despite the remorse surrounding each incidence of gun violence, no one in civic leadership, from President Obama on down, does anything to change the law.

America needs to tackle gun violence because we need to redefine who we are. We have come to regard ourselves — and the world has come to regard us — as a country that’s so gun happy that the right to traffic freely in the most obscene quantities of weapons is regarded as far more precious than an American’s right to health care or a good education. We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear.

If nothing else, we Christians have at the core of our story another story that is too unspeakable to bear. We are preparing this month to remember the birth of the child who will grow to bear that burden. Surely God, who gave us all, wants us, once we have prayed for the dead and comforted the grieving, to do more.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Advent 2C

Reflection on Luke 3:1-6 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig

Even more than usual, the themes of Advent are striking a particular resonance with me this year.  This time of waiting, of the in-between and the “not-yet” has become very familiar.   The wilderness too, that wild and unfamiliar place that takes us to our edges and, if we let it, to places of transformation and new beginnings, has started to map its landscape onto my heart.
John’s familiar message strikes a ringing chord as well.  While it’s true, as always, that I cannot hear the passage from Isaiah without hearing Handel’s beautiful melody Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God, every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain,” this year I am hearing the words themselves anew, with sharp and clear images about just how much difference we are talking about in this altered landscape, as well as the amount of effort, movement and, yes, probably pain, would be involved in such change.

I’ve been watching the building of a new bridge in my town.  It started a few years before we moved here and it won’t be all done until December of 2014.  It has involved the moving of tons of earth, the removal of buildings, the rerouting of lanes of traffic, and actual changes in where roads come and go. Places that were once flat are now sloped and places that were steeper have been graded down.  Men spend days just grinding on pieces of cement to make them smooth and precise so that things will fit together in just the way they need to for safety and endurance on the new structure.  When the new bridge is all done, the old one, which has been a staple of the town landscape for almost a century, will be demolished, and a new pathway with four wide, smooth lanes of traffic will take us back and forth across the river. The bridge builders are very proud of the fact that there have been no fatalities during the very daunting task of constructing this bridge, but certainly there have been people injured, and there have been accidents as drivers have not adapted to the changes caused by the construction. Traffic has been slow and congested at times and it’s been difficult, irritating, and a general source of frustration for many people for several years as we wait for a new bridge to come.

Personally, too, in the last few years, there have been a lot of changes in the landscape of my life. Since 2010, there has been a wedding, with its combining of households, two more complete moves of house and town, the ends and beginnings between my husband and I of six jobs, and a return to school for him, the aborted attempt to sell a house, and recently the re-start of that effort, the beginning and premature end of a CPE program, a small stint in a parish begun in hope that did not work out, and one that seemed to have much promise that never even got off the ground.  Of late, there have been some of those “close calls” with medical tests.  You know the ones, where you get the call-back, “something is there, and we want another look.”  So you go, and they look, and you wait, and you worry, you hope and you pray.  And, even though, thanks be to God, all has been well in the end, during the waiting, at least if you are me, you go to that wilderness of worst-case scenario, every single time. It seems like it’s been the Advent of my life for quite a while now, and I’m finding myself trying to make some sense of it, and to answer the “God questions” in the midst of it.

Change and transformation do not usually happen without effort and, most often, not without some level of pain and discomfort.  Being in the wilderness, by chance or by choice, often pushes our limits and taxes our endurance.  Sometimes we take it on by choice because we want to grow or change and we know somehow that we need to be in an environment that will enable this.  Sometimes the wilderness seems to find us, and the choice becomes what we will do while we are there.  Because there is always a choice for us.  Unlike the mute dirt and rock of the valleys and mountains, we get to choose whether we will listen to the message of the journey, whether we will allow ourselves to be changed by it. We decide whether we will let the wilderness do its work upon us to straighten out the kinks in our thinking, open our hearts to encompass a wider scope of emotion, smooth the rough places in our souls. We can turn and choose to see how God is present in this time, this moment, or we can hide under a rock, lost in the fear.  We can open ourselves up to a new vision of things, a changed landscape, a different path, or we can cling stubbornly to “how it was, is, or should be.”   We can stretch ourselves a bit to allow space for whatever new thing God might be doing in our corner of the world, or we can curl in and remain small. We can participate and co-create in the process of things being made new, or we can refuse, the choice is ours. 

We are invited into the ongoing process of preparing for the coming always and again into our own wilderness of the One who is ever here/ever new. Sometimes, as my husband reminded me recently, I have to be “encouraged” to do things for my own benefit. I need to be reminded sometimes that just a little effort on that landscape will likely pay off, and might even bring joy! Prepare the way of the Lord, he is coming!