long-night moon

December 21, 2018. Winter solstice. The longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This last moon phase of the year is sometimes called Long Nights Moon or Cold Moon. The gift of this year’s Long Nights Moon? A waxing full moon and a meteor shower will light up the skies tonight and over the next few nights.

For many people, this year has been a year of transitions and mournings. As rainclouds begin to dispel (finally) in my neighborhood, I celebrate the celestial gifts of light on this longest night. I also celebrate the promises of sacred light woven around the Christian season of Advent as we wait with hope even when nights are long and shadows are deep. O come, O come, Emmanuel.

long nights moon

i wonder
as I wander

if the owl that once in a blue moon sat
on the reformed church-eave next door
will weather a december damp eve
to wait with me and the tiny terrier for
the sleeping beauty of this solstice night
to lift her yellow-gold head up from
a wintry horizon and cast her spell
one more time upon a world
running away from the sun

i wonder
as i wander

if the waxing advent moon will peer
through disrobed arms of wintering trees
she who full and overflowing
pours out light like wildflower
honey over purple mountaintops
and spills silver tears onto
too-new burial places

i wonder
as i wander

if the owl will call out
across midwinter cedars
then take flight with stardust

beneath a flooding long-night moon
as the tiny terrier
throws her head back
and howls and howls




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Snow Globe: A Reflection for Advent 3

News stories have troubled my spirit during this third week in Advent. We celebrate God-become-vulnerable child even as a 7-year-old Guatemalan refugee dies from dehydration and exhaustion at the border. 

Jesus is born into a real and dangerous world. Neither cozy nor glittery, the Story of Jesus’ birth is powerful and prophetic in its truth-telling about who God is and who we are. And this unabridged Nativity tale is relentless in calling us–the body of Christ–to break through life-denying membranes to birth anew each day God’s justice and peace.

O come, O come, Emmanuel. . .

Reindeer perpetually landed
on the rooftop of the house
inside Aunt Julia’s snow globe.
The little girl on the road out
front never stopped
gazing with beguiled eyes
toward the festive front door,
and I never let the snow
stop rising up and falling
back down inside that dome
while the grownups’ voices
rose and fell all around me.
After all, I held the weather
in my hand and could
orchestrate a tiny
winter wonderland,
dreaming of Christmas Eve
sleigh bells chiming
merry gladness outside
my little yellow bedroom.

Cloudiness now obscures
the cheery panorama
constructed in that globe.
No more swirling snow.
Stalled reindeer.
Magic evaporated.
And the girl?
Toppled over.
Something about her
broken. I shake the globe.
Shake it again. Lie
awake. Keep vigil
for a world trapped
forever in winter.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel…

Wilderness ways

Lectionary readings for the second week in Advent feature Luke’s telling of the story of John the Baptist. These reflections for our times emerged from that ancient story:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every 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; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’          Luke 3:1-2

God’s Word came
To the wilderness.
Through an unfamiliar voice
In an uncertain place.
God’s Word came
To the wilderness.

Not to Emperor Tiberius
Or Pontius Pilate
Or Herod
Or regional rulers
Or even priests—
God’s Word came
To an unknown wilderness wanderer
A path-clearer and way-maker
A rabble-rousing outsider.

God’s Word came
To the wilderness.
Through an unfamiliar voice
In an uncertain place.
God’s Word came
To the wilderness.

God’s Word comes today
Through brave voices speaking
In hard places
Wilderness people
Ginkgo people

God’s Word comes today
To our wilderness places
Hopes and fears of all the years
Meeting in us;
Through our voices.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

A Prayer for people who seek hope amid tumultuous fears:

God of Advent Longings,

Prophet bards of old foretold it—
Give us courage
to embody the promise.
Give us courage
to journey into wilderness places,
Believing that in the most unexpected
Faces and voices—
The hopes and fears of all our years
Meet—learn to dance—together
Weave a cradle to birth again
Your ancient-new song of life and love.  Amen.

The hopes and fears of all the years. . .

Old Salem Bridge, by Sheila G. Hunter

Advent is here. We are called by Advent liturgies to watch. Wait. Hope.

And yet—“the world is too much with us” (Wordsworth)—as our earth’s most vulnerable ones weep at the border…from tear gas. As too many of God’s Beloved Community fall asleep at night unsafe or uncertain even about surviving another day.

Advent is here, and what I think I fear most about the season within myself is waking up on that first Sunday in Advent to discover that I’ve stopped believing. Faltered at hoping. Lost my nerve for standing strong in faith against what I know is unjust in our world. I fear that fear is chasing away my confidence in hope. 

So an ancient carol calls to me—maybe to many of us—across the years and from a war torn West Bank city: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee…

 

hope journeys from bethlehem by starlight
night creatures singing what they’ve heard

a woman wails then weeps then coos
her own heart birthed and beat-
beating in a straw-lined cradle

the baby is here

fear crouches at the border watching surveillance spotlights
dip and weave wind bruising itself on unmusical concertina wire

a woman wails then runs choking smoke licking at her feet
her own heart cradled
in a patch of tear-soaked blanket

the baby is here

“so we finally meet” hope reaches out a hand 
fear looks up “i am lonely and the hour is late”

a child cries forsaken into the night “i want to go home”
fear and hope be—hold each other and an almost-
forgotten lullaby falls from their lips 

the baby is here



The hopes and fears of all the years meet wherever we are most vulnerable. At borders. In killing streets. In our own hearts. In the manger. Perhaps Advent—and whatever possibilities for healing and renewal live within us—begins at these meeting places. . .

 

 

 

 

 

A Ginkgo at Thanksgiving

The Ginkgo tree is considered a “living fossil,” unchanged in two million years. Ginkgo trees are survivors. A-bombed ginkgo trees (sometimes called Maidenhair trees) still grow in Hiroshima. I am thankful for Ginkgo tree people who stand true through this world’s injustices to bring beauty and hope.  


She lulled me
onto her honeyed dance floor
butterfly fans swirling
sun-kissed before twirling
                          down
                                    down
to brighten autumn’s browning ground

“How many Thanksgiving dawnings
have you goldened? I asked
the wrinkled keeper of
ancestral driftings
                        skitterings
                                  plummetings
yellowed leaves history-haunted

Wizened Maidenhair, friend of dinosaurs
Hiroshima’s great-grandmother and
neighbor to rush-hour suburbanites,
I marvel to witness your spectacular falling
                                                                  relinquishing
                                                                             surrendering
entrusting your harvest to cemetery sidewalks

She invited me to her ritual of
remembrance and return
each leaf giving its journey to the next
spring greening
                    resurrecting
                               new-birthing
I said “yes” and abandoned myself to her dance

Ginkgo at Home Moravian, God’s Acre.


Name That Tune

            for Maureen O’Donnell Monen

“I can name that tune in—

One note
Giving rise to
The sound of
Music
A song
A symphony

Life’s long lovely melody
Begun with a sunrise
Sunset sounding
Too often too soon

“I can name that tune in—

One note
Giving rise to
Guys and dolls singing
In the rain by the light
Of a silvery moon where
The wind comes sweeping
Down the plain

Hymns from somewhere
Over the rainbow
Smoothing careworn brows
With familiar refrains from
My favorite things

“I can name that tune in—

One note

Defying gravity
Transposed
Musical redux
The music of the night
Tomorrow
When you
When I
When we

Name that tune in—

One note:  love

Summon the Wailing-Women

                                                

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“Lamenting Woman,” by Sheila G. Hunter. Taken at God’s Acre, Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Come Lament.
Bring your tears.
​​​Scatter them along rocky trails,
​​​dissipating petals of unrefined truth
​​​to water dry paths.

​​​Lean in close, Lament.
​​​Place your wizened head
​​​on weighed down shoulders;
​​​whisper-sing in aching ears.

        –Jill Crainshaw

Three public acts of violence shattered innocent lives this week. Pipe bombs were sent to political leaders and news agencies. A white man shot and killed two African Americans at a grocery store in Kentucky. Another white man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire on worshipers at Pittsburgh synagogue. These acts of hatred and others like them across our nation summon us—yet again—to consider what we can do each day to resist the culture of violence that is growing in our nation.

These acts also summon us to lament, for the resisting work we need to do begins, I think, with human communities learning again how to lament. People in ancient communities like the prophet Jeremiah’s community understood lament. Lament was a way people of faith cried out to God in the face of pain and loss that seared hearts and battered souls. Lament was a communal act. Lament was a ritual act passed from one generation to the next. Why? Because the heartache that accompanies great loss is deeply personal and the cloud of witnesses, both historic and contemporary, that surround those in pain—to listen, hold vigil, weep with—prevents weeping from being an isolating experience. Lament arises from and returns to communities of faith and trust, and because of this communal dimension, lament—and lament’s wordless, soundless contortions of pain, anger and grief—is sometimes the only thing that keeps people going when everything good about life seems lost. The very fact of our humanity—its fragility and mortality—needs lament.

As we face the violence in our world today—against black and brown bodies, against immigrants, against people in the LGBTQ community, against women and children, against religious communities and others—and as we seek ways to respond, acts of lament are necessary. Lament is a vital and even revolutionary act because it refuses to hide the raw realities of life beneath a veneer of sentimentalized spirituality or triumphant overcoming. Lament turns her eyes and looks with grief-ravaged love on the violated bodies and weeping family members we see too often in news-feeds from towns and cities across our land. Then, Lament beckons us to see the pain and hear the heartbreak, to repent and seek God’s grace. Lament beckons us to stand with each other. Weep with each other. Wail in grief and rage with each other. And then work with each other across our differences to resist hatred and restore love and grace.

Hear these words of lament from the prophet Jeremiah in the Hebrew Bible:

7 Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Consider, and summon the wailing-women to come;
  send for the skilled women to come;
18 let them quickly raise a dirge over us,
  so that our eyes may run down with tears,
  and our eyelids flow with water.
19 For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion:
  ‘How we are ruined!
  We are utterly shamed,
because we have left the land,
  because they have cast down our dwellings.’

20 Hear, O women, the word of the Lord,
  and let your ears receive the word of his mouth;
teach to your daughters a dirge,
  and each to her neighbour a lament.
21 ‘Death has come up into our windows,
  it has entered our palaces,
to cut off the children from the streets
  and the young people from the squares.’     Jeremiah 9

Indeed, death has come up into our windows and entered our palaces, and we wail. But our weeping is not enough. Our heart-brokenness is not enough. When Lament is allowed to live out loud as a part of faith, people have the freedom to express not only their deep sorrows but also their outrage and protest when violence, death, and injustice persist. To embody lament as a community is to resist as a community those systems that perpetuate hatred. To join Lament’s journey is to walk into tomorrow and the next day and the next determined somehow, by the power of God’s persistent Spirit, to make space for God’s promises of peace and abundant life for all people.

 

". . .if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?"