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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Posted in Advent, Christianity, Contemplation, prayer, Epiphany, Evangelism, Spiritual Practices
Tagged amaryllis, evangelism, Isaiah 53:2, mission, Religion and Spirituality, Themes of epiphany, wonder
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand . . .
The animals were talking about taking a trip. The holidays were over. They had eaten their treats and chewed up their toys. A kind of malaise had settled over them. “Is this all there is,” they wondered, “an empty bag of kitty treats and a few shreds of raw hide doggie chews?”
Ahs, the collie dog, stretched and yawned. A few months back he lost his best friend, Amos Moses Wigglesworth. The exuberant pup gave Ahs a new lease on life. The two wrestled and tore about the yard, chewing up flower pots and dragging tools from the garage. Then one night while chasing rabbits Amos found an opening in the woods and followed the scent to the highway where he was killed chasing cars.
Seal, the grey cat, said, “I told you he was dumb as a stump.”
Her son Gavin, who avoided the ill-mannered canine as much as possible, came out of the woods, “Whatever. It was all so random. A dog comes. A dog goes. Hey, would you like to see my new tattoo? I’m thinking about getting my nose pierced too.” His mother sighed and wondered why he couldn’t be happy just catching mice like cats did when she was young.
Unlike Gavin, the black rabbit, Captain Midnight missed the dog. He shared his food with Amos, who had a taste for alfalfa, and Captain got a kick out of watching him chase the possum.
“Do you think I will ever see Amos again?” Ahs asked Captain Midnight. There had been altogether too many deaths and departures in the household for Ahs’ taste. Captain’s sister, beautiful Isabella Hepzibah died barely two years before of a virus. The girl who fed Ahs left last fall and didn’t come back for months. Creatures, coming and going all the time, who ought to stay put in the fold, were making him cranky. How could he keep track of things? And now there was a new dog, a big nosy golden retriever named Gregorian Chance, who wanted to be the lead dog.
That was how the idea of a trip came into his head. Maybe I just need to get away. Maybe I can find Amos. Then the star came out. After that it wasn’t hard to convince the others to go with him. A star tossed into the heavens like an enormous twinkling ball shone brighter than the full moon. Gregorian Chance said right away they should go fetch it. Captain Midnight said they should just follow it and see where it led them.
Gavin said, “Whatever.”
Seal said they had all that they needed right here and everyone would feel better, if they just had a little tuna fish and took a nap.
The season following Epiphany (January 6) to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent, moves us from the intimate scene of Jesus’ birth toward the task of sharing a personal truth with the rest of the world.
The lectionary scriptures for these Sundays emphasize that in God’s sight there are no distinctions that make some people clean and others unclean, nor differences that leave some people outside the embrace of God’s care. The focus is that Jesus came for all people.
The challenge today as well as in the first century is that Jesus is a gift many have no desire to receive or see any use for. Theologian Marva Dawn writes that “the major characteristic of the postmodern condition is the repudiation of any truth that claims to be absolute or truly true. ‘Christianity might be true for you, but not for me,’ our children used to say with modernist relativity – but now they are learning in their schools and from the media that any claim to truth is merely a means of hiding an oppressive will to power. The result is the malaise of meaninglessness, the inability to trust anything or anyone, the loss of any reference point or ‘web of reality’ by which to construct one’s life.”
Little appears in our postmodern culture to hold the human family together in a shared focus of purpose and meaning beyond the latest escape into entertainment or sensationalized news event.
Dawn says that the effects of postmodern life “on young people seem more like catastrophe, confusion and chaos.” She notes along with other scholars that “postmodernism has moved young people from the alienation of the 1960s to the schizophrenia or mutiphrenia (a legion of selves with no constant core of character) of the 1990s and 2000s. Having no point of reference, no overarching story, no master narrative, people don’t know who they are.”
Then the star came out. Of course it had to be something like that – something bigger than they, beyond their ken. It needed to be something they couldn’t chew up, pee on, or hide in the hay.
What they were looking for was something worthy of their faith, worthy of making the trip – worth the courage and energy it would require. They were looking for something to kneel before. Was there anything in the world to lay out their passion for like that? Was there anything commensurate with the largeness of their souls, anything worth being valiant and noble for?
Hearts are made for giving away, yet it seemed every time they did, something bad would happen. Usually it meant one of them would get lost or die or be betrayed. They were seeking one true thing – but they were afraid that the only true thing might be that there was no true thing.
The star glimmered in the bitter air. “That is so random,” said Gregorian Chance.
“Whatever,” said Gavin.
Would they hear the voice of the falconer?
Would they risk getting hurt again? Would they make the trip?
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