Friday, December 31, 2004

A New Beginning -- John 1; Phos Hilaron

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it.

A Sermon by Laughing Bird -- wonderful and healing.

My good friend Brad Sherrill's website -- he performs a one-man performance of the Gospel of John -- a good way to encounter the Word made flesh.

A new year -- a new beginning.

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the beginning of the new year,
and our eyes behold the light of the world,
we sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thou art worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified though all the worlds.

*based on Phos hilaron

A New Year

Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.
-- Gen 33:11

The new year will begin in just a few hours. I reflect on what this old year has been – I ask myself if I have done all that I was supposed to do, that I needed to do, that I wanted to do. And the answer again this year would be – no. I haven’t cleaned all the closets, gone through all the boxes in the garage. Projects and papers undone, unfinished, unstarted, unwritten. Weight gained, exercise programs abandoned. Prayers unprayed, sermons unpreached, I am such a perfectionist, I cannot ever believe that I have done good enough. I cannot believe that I have cared enough, loved enough, worked enough or been good enough.

And I reflect about the word enough. It literally means “an adequate quantity, a quantity large enough to achieve a purpose, as much as necessary.”* An adequate quantity. We don’t like to think about our efforts being ‘merely’ adequate. Adequate means (at least to us) that we haven’t tried hard enough. We want to be more than adequate. We want to be exemplary. The best of the best. We crave adulation and applause. Is adequate a bad thing? Adaquate means “meeting the requirements of a task, enough to achieve a purpose.”*

What here is my purpose? I love the Westminster confession of faith and the Larger Catechism. The very first question is: “What is the chief and highest end of man? Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Cross referenced is John 17:21-23 “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Purpose is glorifying God and enough is dwelling in God’s love. I have enough, I am enough. God has sent me, God has sent you. If we try to be sufficent, enough on our own, we will fail. God’s grace is what makes us enough. There will always be things undone – projects, weight loss programs, embroidery, writings, dishes, laundry. But this year there has been enough. Enough money that we have not been hungry. Enough shelter that we have not gone homeless. Enough love for me and my family, for my friends and my church family.

And I have tried to share that love that God has shown me – have I done that enough? I look at the reports from TV and see the death and destruction, I see homeless and hungry people, people dying from lack of cool, clear, safe water. And I grieve. I ask for God’s Holy Spirit to flow down on those that don’t have a sufficient amount, who don't have enough. I grieve when I see small graves for drowned infants or I see mass graves where the bodies are tossed like broken dolls, not even placed in their graves with love and care. And I grieve. How can I be so blessed and so many hundreds of thousands be suffering? I have no answer – I can hope and trust that God’s grace can be sufficient. But I grieve, I give what little I can and I pray that God can make it enough.

The baby came at Christmas and we hold Him in our hearts – the new year comes as soft and gentle as a babe. Let this new year not be orphaned.

* according to our friends at

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Morning Prayer -- A New Covenant

God, you said you would make a new covenant.
My heart lies waiting.
And time passes.
Where is this new covenant?
You pulled us out of oppression,
But why? Nothing changed except
We have become the oppressors.

You said that you had taken my Father and Mother by the hand
And led them out of their bondage –
But God, they were in bondage again before they left the room.

You said you would be our lover, our husband, our closest kinsman –
Where are you?
Your mountain is lost to me --
What obscures my vision?
I cannot remember your face.
It is lost in the mist.

My eyes cannot remember your face,
My flesh cannot remember the last time I felt your embrace.
My spirit cannot remember the caress of your love,
My ears cannot remember the sound of your voice.

You said that you would incise your law on my heart with a diamond stylus.
My heart lies waiting.
And time passes.
I would welcome the pain of your brand on my flesh, if I then would know that
You are there.

You said you would forgive my iniquity and remember my sin no more.
Have you forgotten me as well?
Valleys of dead bodies await your command or condemnation.
We lay here and rot.
How long do we have to wait, longing for something to live for?
When will you gather the dry bones together and breath life into the gaping skulls?
When will you take my bruised heart and write upon it your love?
My heart lies waiting.
And time passes.
--Theresa Coleman

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Evening Prayer -- How, O God ; Randy Day

How, O God, can we joyously greet a new year
When thousands of Asians lie dead on the shores?
How can we sing songs?
The earth shakes, and the tides roar, and children
Vanish from their mothers’ arms to perish in the deep.
How can we rejoice?
Homes and hearths are gone from Thailand to Africa.
Sumatra and Sri Lanka are islands of death.
How can we be happy?
Parents in India wail for their little ones;
Little ones in Malaysia search for their parents.
How can we eat and drink?
A generation of Indonesians vanishes in a flash;
We are numb with disbelief and agony,
How can we dance?

We cannot go on, O God, except for our trust in You.
The pain is too great, the tears too heavy,
We cannot go on,
Unless we hold fast to your love and find hope
In Your promises of eternal care and consolation;
Unless we anchor ourselves in the strength of faith.
The pain is too great, the tears too heavy,
Unless in faith we respond with love and care,
To the fathers who have lost their daughters,
And the sons who have lost their mothers.

How, O God, can we not greet a new year with
Thanksgiving and wonder at your steadfast love?
Even in times of bewilderment and terror
You go with us up the mountains and into the sea.
Without You, O God, we are nothing but tumbling
Stones upon the sand.
With You, O God, we find purpose in life and in death,
And greet tomorrow, greet another new year,
Confident in You through our tears and pain.
You alone, O God, are a sure foundation.

R. Randy Day
General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

Photo from UMCOR

Evening Prayer -- Lament for a Tsunami

“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."

What happened to your promises?
You have drowned the world again.
The day after the waters of birth
Bring hope to the world
You snatch it away with waters of chaos
And your sea swallows up your people.

Am I to be Bildad again?
How long will you speak chaos?
Were you not to bring forth order?
God, I believed that you swept across those waters,
And spoke peace
and yet
The dead mock me.
Doth God pervert justice?
We are but nothing?
They become yesterday – their days
On this Earth are becoming nothing but a shadow.

Our hope is cut off
Our trust but a spider’s web.

How long will it be ere ye make an end of words?
Mark, and afterwards we will speak.

Wherefore are we counted as beasts,
and reputed vile in your sight?

He teareth himself in his anger:
shall the earth be forsaken for thee?
and shall the rock be removed out of his place?

The light shall be dark in his tabernacle,
and his candle shall be put out with him.

The steps of his strength shall be straitened,
and his own counsel shall cast him down.

For he is cast into a net by his own feet,
and he walketh upon a snare.

My God! Have you forsaken us?

-- Theresa Coleman

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

UMCOR asks for donations

Latest figures show that 55,000 people have died from the Southeast Asia tsunamis, with the toll climbing ever higher. People of many nations vacationing in affected areas have perished, and local residents are devasted. Homes demolished, all possessions washed away, food and water gone, children dead. If we each give just a little, it will make a large difference.

The United Methodist Church is appealing for support – and offering an online site for donations – in response to the earthquake-related catastrophe that has struck parts of Asia and Africa.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is coordinating resources with international partners and organizations such as Action by Churches Together and Churches Auxiliary for Social Action, which have aid workers at the scene of some of the devastation.

“Currently, UMCOR’s response is focusing on empowerment – providing resources to local people so they can direct their recovery,” said Linda Beher, communications director for the agency.

“Cash donations are the most important contribution people can make at the moment,” she added.

UMCOR has issued an emergency appeal for donations to assist the survivors with food and shelter and to help control disease that often follows massive natural disasters.

People can support UMCOR’s relief efforts online at

Church Windows

I'm having a non-verbal day.
Here's some Church Windows.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Aloes and Myrrh

This is written last summer -- I edited it severely and used the story this last Sunday.

This past Sunday, the lectionary was in John. Phil taught a good, comfortable sermon. I had already had an exciting day -- an early start, a stalled car, a small fender bender, singing a solo at the offertory. I was looking forward to an interesting, comfortable sermon. Phil chose to teach about Nicodemus. I identify with Nicodemus. I too come to Jesus under the cover of night. I too do not ask the questions that burn within me, but ask obliquely, skirting around the issues. Jesus' words in John 3:16 are salve on my soul. It is the first verse that I memorized as a child and the first verse I taught my children. Phil went on to talk about the growth of Nicodemus in Chapter 7 and the last time we hear of Nicodemus in Chapter 19: 38 - 42. Phil read:

... Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. ...

Phil turned to the congregation and asked "Have any of you ever prepared a body for burial?" I raised my hand slightly remembering the day I did Polly's makeup and lipstick, because the funeral home didnít do it correctly. I remember straightening my grandmotherís scarf around her neck as she laid in her casket and powdering her nose like she liked it. I recalled combing my fatherís hair and tucking his favorite drumsticks in his hands and a picture of the children in his pocket.

Then it struck me like a blow and I gave an audible gasp.

Myrrh and aloes. My God, my God how can I bear it?

Her last week was also the last week of school. Monday and Tuesday, I was busy with getting things done for the end of school. I spent some time with her that last week, not much. On Wednesday, I was busy with embroidering bags for the teachers at the school. Thursday I took her to the hospital for her operation. We were running late. I dropped her off at the front of the hospital, parked the car and didn't catch up with her until right before she went into the operating room. She was excited about the surgery and was looking forward to having more mobility. She didn't "want to be a burden." When they took her off to surgery she said Yippee!

I meet Father Doug in the waiting room of the hospital and we talked about all sorts of things. About cameras and church, genealogy and theology. There were other people in the waiting room as well and I made small chit-chat. I was a little anxious but buried my anxiety with talking. Dr. Greenwood came in and told me that the operation went well. I remember his hair being damp with sweat from the cap he wore during the operation. I showed him my pictures of the kids and he pulled out his wallet and showed me pictures of his. In a little while, I was told what room Mama was in and I went on up.

She was not doing well. Her leg was bound to the continuous passive motion machine and her arm in an IV with an on demand morphine pump. She was groggy and disoriented. The pulse/ox machine kept going off like a klaxon. I was depressed and felt alone. I wanted Bill, but he was in California. I sat in that damned chair and worried. The klaxon would sound and I would tell my Mama to breathe. This just seemed to go on and on. I left only after it seemed that she was breathing better. I came home, ate and took a nap and went back after just a few hours. She drifted in and out of sleep. The program we were watching was about a plane -- Stardust -- that was lost in the Andes over 50 years ago and now is emerging from a glacier. The narrator made a comment about how one minute they were relaxed having cocktails and the next they were dead. Mama made a casual comment about how easy that would be instead of suffering. I left her sleeping -- I was worried but I thought that we had reached the end of the bad spell.

Saturday Bill got home very very early. I was tired but I hustled around getting ready for Lauren's birthday party. I remember Mama being there when Lauren was born and how depressed she was. She had no light in her soul. She was vacant and empty and lost. I remember finding her on the floor of her living room, sobbing and sobbing about losing my father. Since 1996, the year from hell, my Mamaís light had been rekindled. She was learning to live. She was looking forward to the summer. She was happy and content.

We got all the things ready for the Birthday party. We went to Pottery Bayou and all the kids painted little animals, we sang songs, we ate the cake, we opened the presents, we went home. I was tired. Amy was at the party, as was Joshua. She was tired and looked it. By this time, we both needed a break. Sunday, the 27th -- I canít even remember if we went to church. I wanted to stay at home in the afternoon but we went to see Godís Man in Texas that afternoon. Later that evening we went to the hospital. It was a good visit. She looked better. She loved on her grandchildren, kissing and hugging. I brushed her hair and washed her face with some cool water. She complained about her dry skin on her arms and legs. I got some aloe out of my backpack and smoothed a thick layer on her skin. I rubbed it on her face and let it soak in for a while. Then I spread a layer of the frankincense and myrrh lotion I had made for Christmas on top of the aloes. There was a lot of gold glitter in the lotion -- her skin sparkled in the light.

We talked about the year from hell -- 1996. My mother taught me to see the good that intermingled with the bad. Her life verse was Romans 8:28 For all things work for good for those that love the Lord.... My mother and I counted the blessing that arose from the adversities that we encountered in that year from hell. She taught me this. We talked that night about me going back to school -- to seminary. We discussed what a call from God could be and what it could mean. I kissed her good night and left for home.

We received the call at 4:00 am.

I rushed to get dressed and to the hospital. I ran all the red lights I could, except for the one in front of the Lawrenceville police station. I put my head on my steering wheel and cried and prayed. I prayed the bargaining kind of prayers. Oh God, not this! Not now!! I looked over down a side street and saw First Baptist's steeple bathed in the light of a floodlight. I picked up my head and continued to drive to the hospital.

It was too late when I got there. Her flesh was still warm. There were gold sparkles on her skin and the odor of frankincense and myrrh in the air.

Aloes and myrrh. Myrrh and aloes. My God, my God how can I bear it? Just like Nicodemus had with Jesus, I prepared her for death.

Father Doug had his stole and oil and anointed her, but she had already been anointed.

The next few hours were a blur and the scab began to form.

It has been 3 days since the scab was ripped away from the wound and I am healing again. It is ripped away again and again and I know eventually the scar tissue will form. I take it one day at a time and remember the words that Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha before Lazarus was raised:

"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
I say, "Lord if you had been here, my mother would not have died."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
Jesus tells me, "Your mother will rise again."

Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
I say, "My God, My God. Aloes and myrrh!"

Jesus said to her
Jesus says to me
Jesus says to us, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Oh God, I do believe but help me in my unbelief!

Saturday, December 25, 2004


When I looked up, he had come in the sanctuary. All day he had lurked, hanging out around the back in the narthex. Earlier in the week he had asked if he could paint a mural on the large panes of glass in the Narthex and Wednesday I was amazed by the explosion of color and the detail. He had painted an angel – a large masculine angel that would need to tell me to “be not afraid.” There was a column of light streaming from the Angel’s mouth to an extremely well painted and detailed homeless man laying on a park bench. On the side panels, much smaller he had painted the traditional nativity scene and a Christmas tree. He surrounded the base of the painting with poinsettias and it looked oddly three-dimensional and as if it were floating on a sea of crimson.

Christmas Eve is always very difficult. Five worship service – 2000 people, communion, candles, acolytes canceling, acolyte substitutions, clergy canceling, clergy substitutions, ill-prepared lay readers. Spilled communion cup, the unexpected “screeeeech” of a tray being drug across glass during a prayer. And still he lurked. All day, never entering into the sanctuary. I didn’t know his story – still don’t know the complete story. 50ish, unmarried, what my mother would call “slow”, grizzled, one squared off yellowed tooth broken off – perhaps a fight, yet a paradox – he seems a gentle man. His best friend in the world died of cancer in October and the grief is still raw – perhaps too raw since his friend’s favorite holiday was Christmas. The friend even had a Christmas themed funeral.

He lurked during the first service. We left the doors open to the Narthex and I saw him stand in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot. Slowly shifting, then rapidly. Then slow again. I watched him from my seat in the Chancel. I could sense his alienation. He wrung his baseball cap in his hand. I’ve read that phrase before, but never really ever saw it. He twisted it between his two hands. I could feel his emotions – strong, even at a distance. At 4:00, during the children’s nativity, I was a shepherd with a large crook (and thought, so this is what they meant that I would have a big staff!) and I watched him skitter away from the children’s constant motion and activity. At 6:00, he was in the parking lot, then the children’s hall, then the parking lot – always moving. At 8:00, he took up his post at the doorway, shifting from foot to foot.

At 11:00, when I looked up, he had come into the sanctuary. He sat in the very last pew, close to the door. I didn’t really expect him to stay, but he did. He didn’t sing – during the carols, he just stared. He didn’t join the responsive readings but he did join the line for communion. My friend Jack gave him bread. I offered the cup – when he dipped his bread I covered his hand with mine and said “The blood of Christ, shed for you” and looked into his eyes. His eyes were large and expressive. He went and knelt at the rail, covering his face with his hands. Later, when he left the church, I shook his hand. In one jerky motion, he hugged me. I felt his hot tears on my cheek when he laid his next to mine. I asked him where he was going tomorrow.

“I’m going to my brother’s house. He is dying of Leukemia. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

I hugged him again and told him I would be thinking of him – praying for him. I couldn’t let him go. Others streamed out of the church and I had to split my attention. Oh, God! Where did he go? I looked for him and waved across the parking lot. He shuffled slowly away.

Why didn’t I pray with him right then and there? Why could I not boldly bring him to God in prayer? Why did I, too, hang back, shifting from foot to foot, not feeling welcome into that sanctuary?


i'm nervous. i am preparing to preach (again! twice in a week's time) tomorrow in my home church. my friends laughingly call it "national associate pastor's day" but many a jest is spoken in truth. i cannot decide if i should share a very personal piece with my congregation. how much is "connecting" with the congregation and how much becomes a form of exhibitionism? i tend to the very intellectual sermons. much more comfortable, but people can't relate. sigh.

Evening Prayer -- God Breathed You

O WISDOM, God breathed You, He spoke You, You reach from end to end. You bring me forth from my chaos, You order all things mightily and sweetly: thank You for teaching me the way of prudence.

O LORD AND RULER of the all the Houses, the Houses of Israel and Judea, the Houses of all the world, but especially the House for those who cannot find harborage, the House for those who yearn for Home, the House for the homeless -- O Lord and Ruler who appears to me in the flame of the burning stars, in the gentle breath of a baby, in the breaking of the bread: thank you for redeeming me with arms flung open wide.

O ROOT OF JESSE, You spring forth again and again from this brusied reed, You spring forth from the stump of my felled trees, You spring forth in the broken rose cane again and again. Before You I can only keep the silence and before You I shall be waiting in anticipation and supplication: thank you for delivering me.

O KEY OF DAVID, and Sceptre of the House of Israel, You open and no one can shut, You shut and no one can open: thank You for bringing forth this captive from her prison, for bringing light forth from darkness and the shadow of death that always haunts me.

-- Theresa Coleman, based on the O Antiphons

O EMMANUEL, God with us, My King, My Lawgiver, My Saviour, My Lover, My World -- the Word made flesh -- thank You for Your gift of life, thank You for Your gifts of bread and wine, help me to hold the baby close to my heart this Christmas, help me treasure Your Word in my heart and be a witness to Your light. I pray in the name of my Holy Infant, my Holy Child – Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Evening Prayer -- transformative

the oil on my forehead
marks me with a life that is not
mine but an existance/essence is that is transcendent in nature

and personal redolent
with perfume that is both healing
and funerary which recalls both the fragrance of life

and the
stench of death i am
I have become transformed immediately
yet the core remains the same the weight and

that is laid on me
is/is not a burden and to me
transformative in nature yet transitory is its passage

as perfume
oft is dissipating
on the wind or perhaps the
fickle breath that comes and goes and we

know not
transformative and
maybe it will mark me with a moment
of forever and that will be all that is necessary

for me
to be healed
transformed by that which is other
and yet that which is always with/within/above/beside/beyond

i become that aroma
that smacks of radical yet it seeks
to be before dispelled upon that breath is it forgotten

the next
day the spice/incense follows
me marking me for eternity or perhaps
just a transcendent remembrance of what it is to be healed

-- Theresa Coleman

Who Comforts The Comforter?

Tuesday night I gave my first sermon in my home church. It’s a hard place to try and be a pastor. Too many people remember me as a very young, very foolish, wounded woman. Too many are not really ready to give me the benefit of the doubt. Too many remember that lowest year of my life, in 1996 and too many remember how I did not carry that burden with grace.

However, it is my home. It is where I have chosen to do my internship. I choose to serve here, knowing that in ways it would be more difficult than an ordinary internship. I choose to serve under one of my best friends, knowing that it may transform and morph our friendship into something different, perhaps less. And it has been difficult. I know too much. I know who is sleeping with whom and I know too many of the sins that they would hide. It’s been difficult because people I have known for a long time, instead of including me in the small chit-chat suddenly become silent when I enter a room.

But it is home. And I was nervous. More nervous that I think I have ever been before a sermon. I knew there would not be very many people in the congregation. It was our Longest Night service – a service of hope and healing. I planned the service around the communion and healing services in the Book of Worship, with additional music, responsive readings and scripture. I played with the themes of light and dark, and the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” pointing out that Advent is a dark and lonely time for many. And yet the Light shines through the darkness and there is hope, if not joy.

The sermon went very well – only one small slip of the tongue, due to my natural stutter. I felt good about the service, the music was beautiful, the flow was fabulous. I had our senior pastor sing a solo – a treat for our congregation, seeing he doesn’t believe that it is appropriate for him to sing and preach during the same service. As we moved into the Communion service, I had anticipated holding the cup, as my usual practice. However, the senior pastor passed the bread to the retired minister in our congregation and the cup to our visiting pastor, so that he and I would be available to anoint with oil and pray over those who knelt at the altar.

I suppose in retrospect, it was the most expedient thing to do, but it was certainly out of my comfort zone. I have done it many times before – and never really been comfortable. It is hard and exhausting work. I never feel sufficient to the task. I feel a charlatan, an imposter to stand in front of someone, lay hands on them and pray when I cannot pray for myself – or even worse, to pray to God when I don’t know that I even believe in God. These moments of agnosticism come and go and I know that they are tied up in the image I have of God being father and conflating my earthly father with my heavenly father. Yet, these moments during the healing service seem to be potent moments.

I had prepared the oil the night before, infusing it with frankincense and myrrh and adding a generous amount of cosmetic gold glitter. The smell of frankincense and myrrh stir powerful emotions in me, as I had smoothed a lotion of gold, frankincense and myrrh on my mother’s skin just a few hours before she died. My senior pastor handed me a small goblet that glittered in the candlelight and I mentally prepared myself for the task at hand.

For the next ten minutes, people that I know and love come to the rail after they receive communion. I dip my finger into the oil and bring it forth, glittering with oil and gold. I raise the hair in their forehead and trace a cross with my index finger. I hold their head between my hands and put my forehead on theirs and we pray. Most of the time they cry. Most of the time, I cry. I know these people and I know their pain. It resonates in me and my soul vibrates with it. I pray in short sentences, never seeming to get enough air. Even though I have composed prayers in the past, and have read the service of healing just in the last day, the prayers slip from my conscious mind and I hope what is said and prayed is useful. After a couple of minutes, I don’t hear the music, I lose track of time and I become warm. In fact, it is the one thing that I remember the most vividly – this encompassing warmth and the gold glow from the candles. After the music ends and the last person has returned to their pew, I feel weak and washed out and I return to my chair as well.

I wonder why I cannot embrace this task with the same vigor I embrace my other tasks. Why is this so uncomfortable for me? Why is there no comfort in it for me?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Morning Prayer -- Always a Joseph, Always a Mary

There has always been a Joseph
There has always been a Mary

He was born a dreamer in a family of practical men.
He was loved, he was betrayed and
By chance, by fate, by design
He rescued his betrayers.

She watched the savior of a nation float down
A foreign river.
From the rushes she watched and waited.
Protector of the destiny the world,
She waited and watched him grow into manhood.
She waited and watched him kill and flee.
She waited and watched as he spoke to the bush
That burned with the Presence
And as he grew into greatness.
Then she danced and sang with abandon as he
Fulfilled his calling.

He was born in poverty to a people of oppression
Yet he was a man used to working at honest labor,
Used to working with his hands.
A man of principle
A man of strong belief
Father to a son not his yet
He raised the child with integrity.

She was young and trusting, faithful.
Too young to be the mother of God.
Too young to understand what it meant,
But old enough to remember and store up wisdom in her heart.

He was an old man, not used to change.
Shifting political climates meant little to him.
He took risks only at the end of his life,
Burying a young radical from the country in a new tomb,
Bringing expensive perfumes and aloes to the grave.

She was a woman of mystery.
But He loved her.
She was the first after the Sabbath to go to the tomb.
She was the first to see the risen God.
She was the first to run and proclaim his resurrection.

Is there a Joseph today? Is there a Mary?
Could it be you? Ah my Lord, could it be me?

-- Theresa Coleman

Moving the Furniture

Just at twilight this evening I staggered out onto my front porch and dropped into my rocking chair. I exhausted myself today by sorting through my mother's house. My sister and I made significant progress dividing the furniture and china. The work was exhausting not only because of the physical work involved, but because of the emotional energy the task required. I escaped from the chaos of the living room and the blaring television to sit in the thickening darkness. The sky was a deep wedgewood blue with a lacy scattering of clouds threaded by an arcing ribbon of a plane's contrail. Jupiter graced the evening sky and I was amazed again that stars actually do twinkle.

I sat there as the air became chilly and the silence was like a balm on my bruised ears. I heard the violin song of the cicadas sweeping from right to left and then left to right, accented by the percussion of birdsong. The trees became black silhouettes against the sky decorated by cobwebs of fireflies, their fire flickering on and off in some mysterious and cosmic morse code and I was able to make for myself a quiet prayer space. I could smell the honeysuckle from the back yard as well as damp earth from under the porch. I closed my eyes and rocked. As I thought and rocked, I realized that I had done nothing for the last few weeks except move the furniture.

I literally moved furniture around my house these last couple of weeks. I have been incorporating my half of my mother's possessions into my own household. Each thing that I have saved from her house is steeped in memories. Even things that might seem small and insignificant to other people can trigger memories. Especially things that she made with her own hands. There will be no more afgans crocheted, quilts sewn, geneologies written, meal cooked or memories made with my mother. All I have left are the fruit of her creation -- the product of the creative act, not her living beautiful creative spirit. That is no more - I am left moving the furniture around.

These last few weeks, I haven't created much myself. There hasn't been any art project, sewing project or writings really complete, really done. I have edited a couple of essays and written small things, but that again is just moving the furniture around. I find myself being overly sensitive to criticism, touchy, irritable, blue and depressed because I haven't been able to create - really I haven't been able to come to completion. Acts of creation are for me as necessary for life as breathing. I cannot function without some completion and creative time. I know that I am suffering spiritually right now. I think of God as the God of creation. I believe that we work through our salvation, we become more Christlike when we participate like co-creators in God's creation. For some that might be being an artist, playing the piano, acting in a play or for some being really good plumber. For me, I need that time to make a tangible item - something I can hold in my hand and feel and look at. The act of creation can carry me beyond myself, I can lose my conscious sense of self and act in the manner of my true self, the self that God created. I leave man-time and enter God-time and create around and in me a prayer space. And I relfect that somehow, these ideas themself have become just moving the furniture around.

Or as another preacher said a long time ago:
"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains for ever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Christmas Memory

In one of my earliest memories, I am an angel. Not a real one, or course, but one in a Nativity play at church. I was 4 years old and very excited to be an angel for Christmas. My friend Missy was an angel as well. I said, "Glory to God in the Highest!" She answered "Peace on Earth to men of good will!" At the time I thought the line meant the men at the Goodwill Store where my mother and I dropped off items for the poor of Atlanta. I wondered why we didn't want peace to the women of Goodwill as well. It was a mystery, but 4 year olds are used to not understanding everything and just accepting that the adults seemed to know what they were doing.

My friend Missy was very special to me. She and I were born on the same day at the same hospital. This connected us at a strange and primal level. We were closer than friends, but not quite sisters. Missy moved when I was 6 years old and I remember the pain and anguish I suffered. 6 year old children can feel grief as acutely as adults and have less skills to process the loss. I could only trust the adults that told me that time would heal and hoped that they knew what they were doing.

We practiced our play every Sunday after Thanksgiving. We worked on the songs and our lines and were fitted with costumes. The older children were Mary and Joseph, the wise men and the shepherd, but Missy and I had a very important part. We were to stand on our boxes on either side of the manger, hold our hands up and say our lines. I remember wondering why I didn't have a wand. I confused fairies with angels. It was year' before I realized that they were different. I was so sad that Tinkerbell wasn't really an angel.

Missy and I practiced our lines and practiced going down the aisle and standing on our boxes. We never saw the entire play -- we concentrated on learning our lines. The night of the performance was very cold and dark. Our little church didn't have a narthex like modern churches have -- we had a small vestibule. To get to the vestibule we had to leave the warmth and the light of our Sunday School room and enter into the cold and dark world outside. My father picked me up in his strong arms and carried me to the front of the church. He didn't want me to stumble on a rock or damage my angel wings. We waited in the cold, dark December night for our cue in enter into the sanctuary. I put my head on his shoulder as he pointed out the stars in the night sky. "Look! There's Orion. And next to him is Taurus the Bull. There's the moon. Isn't it beautiful tonight?" The moon was hazy from the cold and high clouds. We looked at the stars for several minutes, shivering and getting thoroughly chilled. When it was time to go in, I was basked in the warmth of the vestibule and the glow of the red carpet in the light. My father put me down and took his seat. Missy and I held hands as we walked down the aisle. The little church was very full that night. I trembled with stage fright. I didn't realize that there were going to be so many people! I stopped when I realized that they were all looking at Missy and myself with smiles on their faces and with eyes of love. They were so very quiet. We took our places on the boxes. I was on the left and Missy on the right. We began with the reading of Luke 2. At the appropriate places, the older children would say their lines. I had never experienced the story told this way. I looked at the baby in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the wise men and the shepherd. I could feel from the congregation waves of warmth, of love, of reflective contemplation and most of all of worship. There was the smell of the candles and fir, there was a warm glow from the dimmed overhead lights and the candles, there was the silent attention from the congregation and I felt worship. When I said "Glory to God in the Highest", I glorified my God. At four years old, I knew the Glory of God. It was a mystery, I didn't understand how a baby so small could be God, but I knew the Glory of God was in that manger.

There was reverent silence after we finished. There was no applause -- it would not have been right. My father gathered me up in his arms, took me back to the pew and placed me between himself and my mother. I stood in the pew as the light was passed from candle to candle and the overhead lights were dimmed. We sang Silent Night and I cried from the beauty of it. I still cry at true worship. I long for the pure innocent experience of worship I felt when I was four. I long for the warmth and the light of that little church, standing as a beacon in an cold dark world. Worship is why I am here. Worship is what I was made for.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tyger Tyger

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tyger the poem reads,
You burn bright
And like that fatalistic moth of old,
I am consumed by that flame.

My plumage is fiercely colored,
Jewel tones of emerald, amethyst and carnelian
Long flowing feathers stream behind me
Unconstrained by any boundary and I am
Facile in movement and song,
A glorious splatter of color against the brilliant blue of the sky.

Attracted by that brightness,
I am captured into your consuming presence
And I burn to ash

Only to rise again into my natural splendor.
It is ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but I am caught in a never-ending cycle
Of color and ash, song and sorrow, completeness and brokenness.

Are we stuck in this lifeboat?
You and I? We have, between the two of us
Fascinated and used up all in this boat with us.
Your charisma and my obsessions have either burnt them up
Or driven away all but those whose armor is strong
Or senses are dulled.

Will your essential tygerness and my volatile nature co-exist?
Will my forest continue to be friendly? Or will I have to leave?
Yet this lifeboat is all I can hang on to until we reach land.

You are no pussycat
And I am no owl.
A Tyger and a Phoenix went out to sea…