Painting by Dorothy Frager
To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say
‘I have seen spring in these
Woods,’ will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from. ~ John Moffit
I am looking at the blossom of a white amaryllis, rising on a thick green stalk before my window. Outside it is snowing hard.
A woodpecker drills at the suet cake, swinging from the feeder. A brown squirrel plows down the power line, shoving clumps of snow to the ground. I am looking long at the amaryllis and that green seam shading into pale yellow tracing along the underside of a blossom.
I look and look – at the milky, translucent petals, the flared green heart of the blossom, the seven curved stamens with their golden haired anthers, the fluted, serrated fringe at the tip of the petals, and that tiny pale shoot rising up between the two large petals – the pistil and three legged stigma. I look at the split sheath covering of the three large blooms. The two pieces now hang limp, shriveling, spent from such sundering.
And I am
with the wonder
Last evening my home was filled with teenagers. Thirteen kids crowded into my tiny den to watch a video about faith called Beyond Our Differences. Earlier we took a pared down version of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey, conducted last year, measured Americans’ knowledge of their own religions and their neighbors’ religions. On average Americans got only sixteen questions out of the thirty two correct.
The teens and I are learning about different religions this year in our desire to build understanding with our neighbors on this planet, discover points of common ground, and to become clearer and more articulate about our own beliefs.
On January 6 many Christians celebrated Epiphany, the visit of the wise men from a far away land with their gifts to the infant Jesus. Now we enter the stretch of Sundays after Epiphany that carry us all the way to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent.
Epiphany means a showing, a revealing and was applied early on in the Church to this event in Jesus’ life. The previously obscured and hidden God of the Jews unveils his divinity for all people in the Christ child, and folks from a long way out of town show up to see it.
The themes of the scripture readings which carry us through the next eight Sundays focus on the mission of the church as making disciples and reaching out into the world as evangelists. Some churches also use this season as an opportunity to foster fellowship, to repent of our sins of bigotry, hatred and prejudice, and work toward healing the divisions in church and society.
Soon after his birth Christ is introduced to his first cross cultural, interfaith experience in the form of the visitors from afar. Next, fleeing Herod’s wrath, he and his parents become aliens, refugees, in a foreign culture in their escape to Egypt.
History is full of stories of the church’s awkward, failed, and sometimes brutal and horrendous attempts to share what they have seen at the manger. History also is full of astounding stories of love, forgiveness, freedom and justice as the gospel has been shared.
At the beginning of Advent the youth group read Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming messiah:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53: 2
I held up a dry, flaky amaryllis bulb with a wad of pale spindly roots. This is where advent begins, I told the kids. This is where God begins to come into our world –through something ugly and apparently useless that you may think ought to be thrown out in the trash. God arrives as things appear hopeless, beyond repair, and we are realizing that there is no way we can figure this out and make things right on our own. When we realize we need help, we are ready to meet Jesus.
A few days later I planted the bulb in a green ceramic pot my daughter made. She would be embarrassed to see it in this pot. Not up to her standards, the pot has some flaws. I love it.
A month later, gazing at the blooming beauty heals my soul. I wonder what it would be to become those long smooth fleshy spears of leaves. I have been busy the past week with numerous contacts, encounters, preparations, and meetings. I have gazed into the pure white petals of many souls. Each person was stunningly beautiful and deserving of longer attention than I had time to give.
Today I gaze long upon the white amaryllis. A prayer wells up for those thirteen young people and for their parents and grandparents. I love them all like the mother rabbit I saw in a video once. The rabbit was chasing a snake away from her nest. She followed and pounced and picked it up, thrashing in her mouth, until the snake escaped and slithered up a tree. I want no harm to disturb the growth of these souls. I tremble too, at the responsibility entrusted to those engaged in the care of the souls of others.
I am not absolutely sure what it means to be an evangelist. I do think it has to do with telling the stories of what we have seen. We need to share with one another those epiphanies which bring us to our knees, call us to make long journeys, and inspire us to give away our precious treasures.
I also believe that being an evangelist has to do with offering the gold of our time,
with inviting the poor and needy into our lives,
and looking long and hard at each other
until we touch the very peace we issue from.
Thank you to Dorothy Frager, who looks long and hard, for permission to use her painting!
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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