Sunday, December 14, 2014

Go Back? Never!

Go Back? Never!

Three years ago, a young woman came to our door handing out political propaganda and announcing the formation of a new political action group in our county.  She called the new group “The Patriotic Committee.”  The young woman said, “We’re going to take our country back!”  I didn’t respond  to her (she would not have heard me anyway) but my inner spirit has been responding to her statement ever since.  “Take our country back?”  Where “back” are we going to take it—back to what, when, and to whom?

Shall we go back; way, way back?  Since we are presently in the Christmas season, how about going back to the first Christmas when King  Herod massacred the Innocents of Bethlehem and Rachel wept for her children who were no more?  Or why don’t we go back to the Protestant Reformation or the Spanish Inquisition?  I understood what the young woman wanted.  She wanted to “take our country back” to some idyllic time when things were better.  (No one seems to know exactly where “back” or “better” is, however). 

Back to what, when, whom?  Shall we go back to the time of the Civil War, when brother fought against brother and this nation was torn asunder?  Take our country back to where, to what, to whom?  Back to the Twentieth century?  Back to World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam?  Take it back?  Back to what, when, to whom?  Back to the time when a people were enslaved in this country where all people are supposed to be created equal?  Or back  just a few weeks ago to the Grand Jury in New York or St. Louis?  Where “back” do you want to go?”

Do you want to go back to a time when women could not vote?  Or back to a time when people of color could not vote?  Take our country back to when, to what, to whom?

If nothing else, this idea of “taking our country back,” suggests how ignorant we are of history—the history of our own nation—the history of the whole world.  There has never been a better time than the present.  Every time, place, and leadership group of the past has been soiled. Every time, place and leadership group has had its share of darkness.

So, no thanks!  I don’t want to take this country back to any other time, place, or political leadership.  I don’t want to take this country back to any earlier day, or any other period in its complicated and often despicable history.  I want this country, this nation, to move forward.  I want to be a part of shaping a new history.  And not only do I want that for this land I love, but I also want the whole world to shape a new history.  I surely do not want to take this country or the world back to any other time or place.  I do not even want to hang on to the present time, for it too has its own darkness.  But again, I would repeat for those who can hear:  this country and world is better than what has ever been before.  Go back?  Never!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Storms Come....


There is a widespread notion among the followers of Jesus that if one has faith, all will be well and nothing will impede or threaten one's journey.  If you have faith enough, life will be smooth sailing (without any crucifixions).  If you have faith enough, God will cure all your ills (drive out the cancer or whatever) and guard you from all the dangers and pitfalls of life.  If you have faith enough, you will avoid the storms.

This notion I believe to be false.  Jesus never promised any of his followers a "rose garden" or an easy time.  What he did promise was that those who followed him would have to dance to the same tune that he danced.  A pupil, he said, does not rank above the teacher....the pupil should be content to share his or her teacher's lot.

What Jesus did ask of his disciples was that we should give up our fear and take on faith.  We all live in some degree of fear.  Faith reduces this level of fear.  Life can be paralyzed and restricted by fear.  Life is expanded and enhanced by faith.

Whatever life's vicissitudes may be, we can live in and through them victoriously (withstanding the storms that come) when our fear of them is reduced by a greater degree of faith.  In the biblical sense, faith is a belonging to a Person, the person of the resurrected Christ.  Faith is the assurance that he will never for a moment leave us.  In him we are safe and secure.  The Apostle Paul says, "Nothing--absolutely nothing at all," can separate us from this Love that has invaded us, from this One in whom we put our complete trust.

The purpose of faith then, is to reduce our level of fear, not to get rid of, or avoid, the troubles and the storms of life.  Faith frees us to face whatever comes our way.  "In the world you will have trouble.  But courage!  The victory is mine; I have conquered the world" (John 16:33).  If Jesus has conquered the world, why fear what the world may dish up for us?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Country Music Theology

Ray Noble Price, "The Cherokee Cowboy," died of pancreatic cancer in 2013.  His baritone voice and his songs spanned sixty-plus years of country music and thus a good portion of my life.  When I was 17 years old, Price recorded an album entitled "Faith" which nurtured my young life then, and has continued to do so through the years.  The LP album is still boxed away somewhere, the cassette version was chewed up in the tape player some years back, and I now listen to the music on a CD.  There was one song that spoke to me in those early years and speaks to me still, even after years of theological study and reflection.  The song was written by Stuart Hamblin and sung by both Hank Snow and Ray Price.

"How Big is God"
Though man may strive to go beyond the wreath of space
To crawl beyond the distant shining stars
This world's a room so small within my Master's house
The open sky but a portion of His yard
How big is God?  How big and wide His vast domain?
To try to tell these lips can only start
He's big enough to rule His mighty universe
Yet small enough to live within my heart
As winter chill may cause the tiny seed to fall
To lie asleep till waked by summer's rain
The heart grown cold will warm and throb with life anew
The Master's touch will bring the glow again
How big is God?  How big and wide His vast domain?
To try to tell these lips can only start
He's big enough to rule His mighty universe
Yet small enough to live within my heart

A few years ago I  attended a Ray Price concert.  He was 82 years of age at the time.  After the concert I spoke with him.  I told him how much his album "Faith" and his rendition of "How Big is God" had meant to me through the years.  His humble response was "Thanks so much, but it's the words and the music that makes the difference, not the voice that shares them," and with a warm smile he autographed his photo for me.  I wish I had been quick enough to respond and say, "Perhaps so, but it was your voice that brought those words and music to me through all these years."

After all the theological books read, and after all the lectures and seminars attended, this one simple country music song still remains my theological stance.  I know it is simplistic.  I know there are serious intellectual flaws in it.  But it is for me the core of my theological thinking and experience.  "How big is God?  How big and wide His vast domain?  To try to tell these lips can only start.  He's big enough to rule His mighty universe, yet small enough to live within my heart."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Mysterious Mix of Life

An old preacher began his sermon with this introduction:  "This morning I'm going to explain to you the unexplainable.  I am going to define the indefinable.  I'm going to ponder the imponderable.  I'm going to unscrew the inscrutable."  How I wish I could do all that as I ponder the mysterious mix of life.

A few years ago an old friend stopped by to visit.  It had been thirty years since we last connected.  I hardly recognized him--the truth is--I did not recognize him.  Thirty years ago he had hair.  Thirty years ago he was in good physical shape, weighing in at about 170 pounds.  Oh, but you should see him now!  He weighs in at about 250 pounds and most of that is hanging over his belt!  Thirty years ago everyone thought he was on the road to a great career, but he didn't make it.  Some of this I suppose was his own fault, but what could he do about his loss of hair or the consequences of various decisions and chance happenings in his life, some of which he had no control over.  In life there is a mysterious mix of many things, some conscious, some unconscious, and many of these are totally outside one's control.  Various myths are inculcated; genes inherited, psychological issues are present, background plays a huge role, chance happenings occur, relationships are developed and lost, accidents happen, choices are made (some conscious, some unconscious) and opportunities are accepted or lost.  All these things play a part in the life of every person and very often these things control our lives much more than we know.

A study was done of 268 men who entered Harvard in 1936.  Their lives were observed over the next 70 years.  When the study began, the sociologists attempted to predict what life would hold for each of these men.  But the predictions were way off.  They lived out their lives in ways that defied all predictions.  Each life was unique--and while they all started at Harvard--and had somewhat the same opportunities--their life journeys were totally different.  Life's mysterious mix had much to do with it.  Some developed physical problems based on their family history; some made unwise choices; others were tumbled over by life circumstances beyond their control.  Life is a mysterious mix of many ingredients.

Have you ever wondered what happened to your college classmates?  Where are they now forty or fifty years later?  How did they get there and why?  Who could have guessed?  Or have you ever wondered where you would be if you had taken another road than the one you chose?  Did you consciously choose that road or did it just happen?  Where would you be now?  Who could have predicted the many twists and turns of your life or mine?  Have you ever wondered why one person dies in a tragic accident or by fatal illness at a young age?  Have you ever wondered about how one person lives to be 95 and another 35?  Life is a mysterious mix--and despite our best efforts and fondest hopes and dreams, life does not always shape up the way we want or think it should.  Life is a mysterious mix of paradox and sometimes even wimp.

Some will say that it is all in the will of God.  Does God operate on a whimp, choosing this person above the other for success, for poverty, for destiny, for death, for accident?  I find that ludicrous and irrational!  Does a person then determine his or her own life journey?  No, that doesn't work either and is just as irrational.  Oh, how I wish I could explain the unexplainable, define the indefinable, ponder the imponderable, and unscrew the inscrutable!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Noticing the Other Person

I once read a story about a fellow who dies and finds himself in a shimmering realm.  He thinks to himself, "I guess I was better than I thought."

An angel approaches him.  The angel ushers him into a regal banquet hall in which an immense table is laid out with unimaginable delicacies.  He is seated at the table with many others and a choice selection of food is served.  As he picks up his fork and prepares to eat, the angel comes from behind and straps thin boards on the back of his arms so he cannot bend his elbows.  As he continues trying to pick up the food, he becomes aware that the boards prevent him from getting it to his mouth.  He cannot maneuver in order to feed himself.

Looking about, he notes that all the other people around the table have their arms similarly strapped to boards so that they cannot bend their arms either.  They are grunting and groaning as they attempt to get food into their mouths.

So the man turns to the angel standing beside him and says, "This must be hell?"  "Uh, huh," says the angel.  "What about heaven?" asks the man?

So the angel shows him into another huge banquet hall in which there sits another great table ladened with an equally delectable array of food.  "Ah," says the man, "this is more like it!"  And sitting down, he is about to help himself once again when another angel comes and ties boards to the back of his arms so that, once again, he cannot bend his elbows to feed himself.  Lamenting that this is the same maddening situation as hell, he looks about in his dismay and notices that, at this table, there is something different happening.

Instead of people trying desperately to help themselves, straining against the rigidity of their arms, each person is holding his or her arm straight and feeding the person on either side.  Each person is feeding the person next to him/her and everyone in the room is completely satisfied.

"So this is heaven!" the man finally realizes.  And the angel standing beside him says, "Uh, huh."

The difference between heaven and hell according to this little story is that hell is where one is wholly focused on feeding oneself, paying no attention to anyone else.  Heaven, on the other hand, is all about noticing, helping, lifting, feeding, and caring about the other person next to us.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Toxicity of Words

Human speech, says the writer of the Epistle of James in the New Testament, seems innocent enough.  After all, the tongue is just a small part of the body.  Yet despite its size, the tongue is like a bit that controls a horse or a rudder that steers an enormous ship.  The tongue can burn like a raging forest fire incinerating everything it touches.  It can corrupt both the subject and the object of speech.  What we say to one another can be "full of deadly poison" that kills.
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men and women, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth comes praise and cursing.  My brothers, my sisters, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?"   James recommends that "everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak."
In practice, most of us tend to be just the opposite, quick to speak and slow to listen!  The power of the uncontrolled tongue is a serious problem.  Our words have power--power for good or for evil.  What we say to one another can exclude or embrace, heal or humiliate, lift up or tear down.  Most of us still carry the wounds from criticisms heaped on us years ago.  Most of us can still remember a compliment given, even though it was given many decades ago.  The power of the tongue is an awesome power!
What we say to one another or about one another reveals more about us than about the person to whom or about whom we speak our words.  That's a scary part about toxic talk--it reveals the character of our own inner identity.  We project on others that which we refuse to deal with within ourselves.  We put other people down in order to raise ourselves up or to insure our own superiority.
Watch your tongue!  In the gospel of Matthew (12:34-37) we read that we will have to give an account for every careless word we have spoken.  Now that is really scary!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The (Reverend Dr. Martin Luther) King and I

I never met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Never marched with him or heard him speak.  We both graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary.  King graduated in 1951.  I graduated nineteen years later.  King and I both heard the lectures of Dr. Kenneth L. Smith, Crozer Professor of Christian Ethics, who urged his students to work for social change.  I met King's wife Coretta at the Philadelphia airport years ago, and I once talked with his daughter Bernice on the telephone.  I've listened to his recorded speeches and I've read most of his writings.  Not much of a connection to warrant the title, "King and I."

Yet there is a deeper connection.  That connection has to do with our common commitment to the Christian faith.  King and I are soul-mates at the point of our commitment.  King and I, and that great cloud of witnesses, who have gone before us, and who are yet to come, affirm that we are called to "overthrow the existing order!"  We proclaim that the world as we know it is broken.  A little mending here and there will not do the trick.  A new world is in the making.  Even now we experience "the birth pangs of [that] new creation."  It is not just a change within an individual life (though it must begin there) but it is a new order that overcomes the existing inequalities of our society--both here at home and abroad.  There are so many!  King and I share a dream.  It is a dream that sees beyond today and looks to the future from a mountaintop.  From that vantage point we can see a day coming when everyone will have equal pay for equal work, when all shall be accepted (regardless of race, creed, or gender) and given an opportunity to be all that they are meant to be.  There are times when, standing on that mountaintop,  my eyes fog up and I have difficulty seeing.  Can this dream really be?  Yes, it can be and it will be.  It is happening now, and will be happening tomorrow.  Will you be a part of "overthrowing the existing order" and bring this dream to reality?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Epiphany Dream

Epiphany's dream is that all people (Wise Persons from the East, Jews, Gentiles, Shepherds, yes, even King Herod, and the children of Bethlehem too) are to be accepted and valued, not because they hold a particular faith, or hold my values or yours, and not because they adhere to the same laws as you and I do, but simply because they (we) are all human beings.  If we give credence to God creating man/woman, then we must, or so it seems to me, accept the Quaker notion that there is "that of God" in all persons.  We are all human!

The distinctions or categories we have made up:  Us/Them; Democrat/Republican; East/West; Christian/Jew/Muslim; Black/White; Male/Female; have no place in the Epiphany dream.  Indeed, these separations are really ludicrous!  We are all human!

Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the words penned by Shakespeare in the "Merchant of Venice":

"Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?  If you prick us do we not bleed?  If you tickle us do we not laugh?  If you poison us do we not die?"

You can substitute any of your categories in place of the word "Jew" and it still gives the same message.  The Epiphany dream could become REALity if we would simply accept and value one another, and work hard to avoid our made-up categories.  We are all human!  We are meant to become community.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Born To Be Odd!

There was nothing anyone could do about it.  Some tried.  Mrs. Constable, a second grade teacher made an attempt.  It failed. Mrs. Morse, a fourth grade teacher also tried unsuccessfully.  Nothing could be done.  I was born left-handed!

Being odd is not easy.  Mrs. Morse told me I'd never be able to write with a fountain pen.  You see I write with my left-hand turned upside down.  This creates smudges on whatever I have written in the lines above.  That doesn't work well when using a fountain pen.  Mrs. Morse's comment stayed with me for years.  Then, in my college years, I took up the challenge and began to write with a fountain pen and I still do.

Growing up being odd created many problems.  Every instrument, tool, and even spiral notebooks are made for right-handed people.  I tried to play soft ball.  I'd catch the ball, pull off the glove on my left hand and then throw the ball with my left!  I soon gave up that sport after much teasing.  There is a glove for left-handed people, but I never had one.

When I was forty years old a friend gave me left-handed scissors.  For years I found using scissors (right-handed scissors) a real chore and avoided the use of them.  I enjoy wood-working, but every table saw, band saw, hand saw, and most other wood-working tools are made for right-handed people.  Even automobiles are made for right-handed people, as are lawn mowers, chain saws, weed whackers, etc.

Have you ever seen a right-handed person and a left-handed person paint together?  It's hilarious.  The right-handed person sets the ladder one way (the right way) and starts in the "right" corner.  The left-handed person sets the ladder just the opposite way and starts in an opposite (that is, odd) corner.

So, I'm odd.  I've been this way for threescore and ten years.  I don't count it a disability.  I've managed to survive in this right-hand world.  I just wish Mrs. Morse could see me writing with a fountain pen!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Prayer That Went Flat!

The old '67 yellow VW bug moved right along that morning as if it knew the importance of the mission:  to open the State Legislature with prayer.  Just a short distance from the Harbor Tunnel, however, that little "yellow canary" began to hum and to sing, and then to wobble and shake.  A flat tire!  No problem.  It could be fixed quickly and I would soon be on my way and make it to Annapolis on time.  Unfortunately, my teenage son had borrowed the lug wrench and forgot to return it.  Now what?  The last exit before the tunnel was behind me--only an on-ramp was available to avoid driving through the tunnel with a flat tire.  So I backed down the shoulder of the on-ramp with the buses, trucks and cars going the right way giving me welcoming horn toots and other signs.

Frantically, I looked for some place where the tire could be fixed--and at last, found one.  It was a non-descript gas station that appeared to do small auto repairs.  I went in, extremely frustrated by then, and told the attendant my story.  "I'm on my way," I said, "to Annapolis to give the opening prayer for the State Legislature this morning.  Can you fix this tire right away?"  He looked at me strangely and with a slight smile, nodded and agreed to put on the spare.   The minutes were ticking by.  Finally the "bug" was ready to go.  I asked, "What do I owe you?" and thanked him profusely.  He replied, "No charge.  I can't charge someone who can come up with a story like that praying in Annapolis business."  I assured him that it was not a joke.  I really was going to give that prayer and would like to pay him for his trouble.  "No," he said, "you go on and make that prayer a good one.  Those government people in Annapolis need all the help they can get."

The VW bug purred on to Annapolis and I arrived a half-hour late, missing the photo shoot and the opportunity to get together with the law-makers before the session began.  Several security guards were watching for a "yellow VW bug" to arrive and escorted me into a parking slot, and rushed me into the building.  With great relief, the delegate who had invited me to give the prayer, was there waiting with bated breath.  She had called her staff together to help her write a prayer in the event I didn't show up!  It was time for the prayer--the session was about to begin.  I failed to compensate the nice fellow who fixed my tire, who had urged me to make a good prayer to help those people in Annapolis.  I fear that prayer went flat.  There were no signs then and no signs now, as far as I can tell, that there has been any divine guidance given those "government people."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reconnecting: The Joy and the Pain

Bing and I first met in a Sunday school class in 1953.  We connected again in high school graduating together in the Class of 1960.  Then we went our separate ways.  Bing joined the Navy.  I enlisted in the Air Force.  He went to Morocco.  I went to Crete.  The years went by, each of us living out our unique journey--marriage, vocation, children and grandchildren, and the experiences, struggle, and cares as life tumbled in on us.
On February 5, 2012, fifty-two years after our graduation from high school, Bing and I were reunited.  Realizing we could not share all the happenings of those many years in a single phone call, we agreed to communicate through Email.   We wrote day after day of our experiences through the years.  Bing wrote that he had been diagnosed with cancer some months earlier and was receiving treatment.  I wrote that I would be in his area in March and perhaps we could meet.

What a joyous time we had together!  We talked and talked for hours.  After that visit we continued to connect electronically and by phone.  The radiation and chemo treatments, the frequent hospitalizations and surgeries often made that communication difficult.  Some days Bing would call, barely able to speak, but needing company.  We planned to meet again in September, but Bing was too weary to do so.  Still we continued to communicate with the means available to us.  Bing put up a mighty fight, winning some battles, but he could not win the war.  He died, just one year and 23 days after our reconnecting, on March 1, 2013.

The joy of reconnecting with a friend of the past is an experience beyond words to express.  The pain of reconnecting with Bing, my friend of the past, makes the following words of poetry poignant.

Here are the struggles and striving;
Here are the cares and the tears;
Now is the time to be smoothing
The frowns, and the furrows and fears.
What, to closed ears, are kind sayings
What, to hushed heart, is deep vow?
Naught can avail after parting
So give them the flowers now!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Story of the "Flying" Squirrel

I went to the woods one autumn day to check on the cabin.  As I opened the door I was surprised to find it inhabited.  There were scurrying noises everywhere and from the loft and the rafters tiny black eyes stared down at me.  As I closed the door with a bang, little brown bodies began to fly everywhere over my head. "Flying" squirrels!  They don't really fly, but they have a flap of skin between their fore and hind legs which allow them to leap great distances.  Taking a jar from a shelf, I captured one of these creatures to take home to show my son.

That very summer we had caught a caterpillar and placed it in an aquarium.  We fed it milkweed leaves for weeks it seems.  The caterpillar ate and ate, leaf after leaf, until one day it began to wrap itself into a cocoon.  We observed the beautiful monarch butterfly emerge some time later.  Luke was fascinated and I just knew he would enjoy seeing the rarely seen nocturnal flying squirrel.

Luke was thrilled.  A few days later we carried the aquarium with the squirrel back to the woods to release it.  But that squirrel would neither leap nor fly; it would not budge from its corner in the aquarium.  We tried to force it out, but it refused to accept its freedom.  After several attempts, we used a stick to lift the squirrel up a little and found attached to her tummy three tiny hairless infants.  Now what were we to do?

We carried the mother and her children back home much to my wife's chagrin.  A large cage was built and placed on the back porch.  The cage even included an exercise wheel!  We gathered corn from the fields and acorns from the woods to insure our "flying" squirrels had appropriate nourishment through the long winter months.  What fun it was to watch that mother care for her infants and the infants grow into an adulthood.  When spring came, both mother and offspring were released back into the wild.  I don't remember what happened to the fancy cage!  I do remember the poem Luke wrote many years later:

The Art of Lifting Stones
Lifting rocks in the forest marsh,
I smell the decrepit moss
and the life of the underneaths
of things as the earth's crust crumbles.
Insects flee the light and cold air
like criminals under search-lights,
except a slug who creeps away
aloof as a glacier.
Ant refugees scurry from my eye,
tugging their larvae like luggage
over a ravaged countryside.
But they do not perceive me,
only the fear, fragmented light.
My father taught me this:  to turn
over rocks on banks of streams, to glimpse
crayfish stirring in clouds of mud mist,
to watch turtlebugs ball up like porcupines,
or panic, darting into crumbling tunnels
like dreams upon waking.  But this above all;
to return gently all stones, to allow dampness
darkness, to let dreams creep
hidden under sleep, to leave things
as they are, snug in the body of God.
But I searched the streams dry
and tossed all shadows aside;
I wanted God to have no place to hide.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany Moments [Not to be confused with Senior Moments]

Today is Epiphany, a Christian festival celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Christ to the Gentiles.  In the west, it is normally represented by the story of those wise persons of long ago who had sense enough and faith enough to follow a mysterious star!  In the east, it is represented by the baptism of Christ.  Epiphany has come and now is the time to "show forth" or "manifest" that divine birth of Love that has happened to some degree within every human heart this Christmas.  The real work of Christmas can now begin.

The word, epiphany,  also describes an experience of sudden, unexpected and striking revelation or realization, which often seems to come from outside ourselves.  It is a moment when we are struck with a sudden recognition of truth, either about a problem, situation, circumstance, or even some truth about ourselves.  An epiphany moment occurs when out of nowhere we gain a new and deeper perspective of what is real, or what is true.  It is an eye opening, mind opening, spirit opening, and often a life changing experience.  Epiphany moments come to us when least expected.  We cannot make such moments happen--they just happen!

One such epiphany moment is found in this excerpt from Nikos Kazantzakis', Zorba the Greek.

"I dressed and went down to the water's edge. I walked quickly.  I was gay, as if I had escaped from a danger or a sin.  My indiscreet desire of that morning to pry into and know the future before it was born suddenly appeared to me a sacrilege.

I remembered one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in his case and preparing to come out.  I waited a while, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient.  I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it.  I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life.  The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled.  The wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them.  Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath.  In vain.  It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun.  Now it was too late.  My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled before its time.  It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience.  For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature.  We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

I sat on a rock to absorb this New Year's thought.  Ah, if only that little butterfly could always flutter before me to show me the way."

Ah, if only we could have more epiphany moments.....

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas.  Tomorrow the work of Christmas must begin....

The Work of Christmas
[Howard Thurman, The Mood 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 (and sisters),
    To make music in the heart.

Our best human resources will fall far short.  This work will take more than our own power, ambition, commitment, money, desire or belief to achieve.  The work of Christmas requires something far greater than we can muster.  It requires a new burst of  energy, a "divine birth" within us of a Love that exceeds our own limited capacities.  It is the purpose of Christmas to bring this burst of life, light and love to every human heart.   On this Twelfth Day, "Christmas," as Thurman puts it, "is waiting to be born:  In you, in me, in all humankind." 

Walnut carving, 1986
Photo by Nancy M. Reynolds
"Our best resources fall far short for
the work of Christmas."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

Today is the Eleventh Day of Christmas. 

Have you heard your annunciation yet?  Have you revisited the Bethlehem within your heart?  Have you found the Child? Are you following the guiding star?  We are always more apt to work with the outward stuff of Christmas rather than the inner stuff.  We prefer to deal with the trappings of the season rather than its real meaning.  The real business of Christmas is that something is supposed to happen and it is suppose to happen in us.  Love is meant to be born in us in some new way--a "divine birth."

I know this sounds preposterous, but the annunciation to Mary was preposterous too.  Indeed the whole Christmas narrative in the Gospels is a bit preposterous!

This Is the Season of Promise
[Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas]
Let the bells be silenced
Let the gifts be stillborn
Let cheer be muted
Let music be soundless
 Violence stalks the land:
    Soaring above the cry of the dying
    Rising above the whimper of the starving
    Floating above the flying machines of death
        Listen to the long stillness:
      New life is stirring
        New dreams are on the wing
        New hopes are being readied:
Mankind is fashioning a new heart
Mankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the Season of Promise.   (Preposterous?)

Woodcarving in oak, 1980.
Love is at the heart of all things,
waiting to be born anew in us
this Christmas.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Tenth Day of Christmas

Today is the Tenth Day of Christmas. 

"Christmas is a time when we are invited to revisit Bethlehem and to reconsider its miracle.  Bethlehem does not change and the miracle does not change, but we change, and the eyes with which we are able to see change.  Hence what we see from year to year is not the same, which makes this annual visit an adventure rather than a routine pilgrimage (Douglas V. Steere)." 

There are two more days of Christmas to experience.  There is still time to revisit Bethlehem, which is not some far off place, but rather the Bethlehem within every human heart.  It is here in this inner place that we will find the Child into whom God poured out His very being; all His love--demonstrating in human flesh His passionate care for each of us and the world in which we live.  Here, in this Bethlehem of the heart, we will find the Child, who became the Son of Man--being and doing what man and woman are called to do--letting God's passionate love shine through His life.  When we find the Child, we begin to know at a deeper level that Love is at the heart of all things.