Creation Seasin is a “Thing”!

When I was in Seminary, studying to become a priest, there was never, ever a single class in which we learned about “The Season of Creation.”  Not one.  Imagine my surprise when I came to this Diocese and learned that there was such a thing.  I’m still learning about it!

By my calculations, St. Gregory’s Church has celebrated this little known liturgical season for decades.  That’s quite a commitment!  I’m not sure what the prevailing wisdom was to begin this innovation, other than it coincided with an increased awareness of the environment and of the role human beings had in changing it –sometimes irretrievably.

I’m glad to know that, 25 years or so later, Creation Season is becoming a ‘thing.’   That is, an honest-to-goodness liturgical and theological nod to God as Creator and to the world as God’s creation.  This effort, largely coming from the Church in Australia, has been picked up in denominations across Europe and Africa, and received an extra push from the “Laudato Si” Encyclical on the Environment in 2015.  So, it seems, Creation Season is coming into its own, with liturgies, music, policy statements, initiatives and all sorts of ideas about how to participate.

What changed? I’d like to say that we did, but that’s not the case.  It’s more like the earth, the panorama around us changed and we began to take notice.  We began to notice that things weren’t as pristine as they once were.  We began to notice the impact of some of our decisions.  We began to notice that some of the basic things we counted on, became hard to get: clean air, water, decent food, unspoiled places for rest and relaxation.

St. Gregory’s Church proudly calls itself a ‘green church.’  This in itself is a result of all those years of participating in Creation Season.  It has challenged us on the one hand, to become environmental stewards, using our resources in ways that are ‘green-friendly.’  On the other hand, it has enabled us to become members of GreenFaith, an organization that helps us with programs and advocacy on issues of environmental importance. We embrace Creation Season as part of who we are in the community. We believe awareness leads to action and our belief calls us to care for God’s creation as an act of faith.

I’ll admit that it took me a while to learn that.  That caring for the creation is an act of faith. I had to be reminded that the earth has a lot to teach us, if we would only pay attention. I had to become conscious of the fact that I am but a steward of the world God made.  I had to be mindful of my actions.  I had to find out how to praise God for being ‘marvelously made’! Not everything we need to know is taught in school –or in Seminary.  The Good News is that we can always learn.  Come, celebrate Creation Season with us!

The Eclipse

Solar eclipse

I was in Jr. high school when the eclipse happened on March 7, 1970.  We had been told to prepare for this for months. It wasn’t like today when you have the ability to self-serve your own information via the internet.  Then we depended on government bulletins to tell us what to do.  The danger in an eclipse is the one of appearances: you can look at the sun because it’s no longer bright – but you can still burn your retinas.  What you can’t see, does hurt you.  Sometimes causing irreparable damage.

Because the eclipse not only happened during the school year, but also while the school was in session, millions of children were under the care of watchful teachers and principal who were responsible for us for the duration.  It was a total eclipse.  The moon blocked the sun long enough for the day to become night.  It wasn’t a passing shadow, it felt like so much more.

Not that I witnessed the event.  We were dutifully marched into the assembly hall and remained there, sitting next to one another, trying to be quiet, while the phenomenon took place overhead.  It was eerie and scary.  In part because nobody knew what to expect and kids, being kids, we had ‘heard’ about ‘things’ that could/should/would happen during that time.

The eclipse that will happen on August 21 will be mostly visible in the Parsippany area at a magnitude of 77—which from the diagram I saw means the sun will be mostly covered, but not completely

Still, part of me was curious to see the effects, if not the actual phenomenon.  I wanted to know if birds would stop chirping, if flowers would close… how would the natural world react to this loss?  I didn’t find out then because I spent the time in the penumbra of the auditorium, not quite believing that the world wasn’t coming to an end. Throughout history, eclipses have almost always been interpreted as omens, or portents, harbingers of dread. Although science has done much to de-mystify what happens, I think we can still ask, “What does it mean for us in 2017?” A magnificent phenomenon of the natural universe only? A sign from above? An omen or portent?

Maybe just a time to reflect on what the absence of light means.  What does it mean to be in darkness? Can we use it as an analogy?  “In Him there is no darkness at all…” the corona of the sun will still be visible, “the darkness cannot overcome it..”  We know that, too!  The eclipse is a shadow, specifically, the moon’s shadow, and we know, we know! How much smaller the moon is than the sun.

That in the moment of the eclipse it appears to cover the sun, is a transitory thing.  A moment in time.  Disorienting, scary perhaps.  But the sun remains constant, steady.

Pulitzer prize writer Annie Dillard has a fantastic essay about an eclipse she witnessed and how it affected her.  It is powerful and nightmareish at the same time, but profound. Total Eclipse in her book Teaching a Stone to talk. Here is a short excerpt from a conversation she recorded”

“Then somebody said something which knocked me for a loop.  A college student, a boy in a blue parka who carried a Hasselblad, said to us, “Did you see that little white ring? It looked like a Life Saver. It looked like a Life Saver up in the Sky,”

A life saver… Not the harbinger of death, but life.

Blessings,

Susan

To read the entire essay, follow this link: https://home.ubalt.edu/ntygfit/ai_05_mapping_directions/ai_05_see/ad_total_eclipse.htm

Summertime!

I grew up reading the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson and his “Summer Sun” poem (below) always comes to mind at this time of the year.  The sun is so brilliant and we forget how hot it can get! There’s nothing like the summer sun.  It drags us to the beaches for fun and makes us dream of snow even in July…we are so fickle!  In the summer, we want it cold; in the winter…

As Stevenson’s poem reminds us, the sun has his own work to do: “to paint the rose, to please the child.”  There’s a graciousness about this work that the poem reveals, and that’s what I like most about it.  The sun sneaks into the room by a keyhole, it shines into the darkened mass of an ivy bed.

This summer, as we soak in the sun, think about the areas of your life could that could use a little light. Maybe not a full-on laying out bare to the scorching rays, but rather the “warm and glittering look” the poem suggests.

As we know, the sun can do a lot of damage (don’t forget your sunscreen!) but a little sunshine might be just enough for your spirit to be renewed.

Blessings,

Susan+

Anchored by Hope

Anchored by HopeRecently, while reading the Daily Office, a line from the Letter to the Hebrews,  really caught my attention:

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.” Hebrews 6:19

I have never, ever, thought of hope as an anchor!  An anchor is something that weighs you down, keeps you in place, doesn’t let you drift away.  For me, hope has always been more along the lines of Emily Dickenson’s poem:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all…”

This idea of hope being an anchor really challenged me.  What is the writer of Hebrews trying to say here?  Well, maybe just that the soul can be easily unmoored, and perhaps what we would like to think of as hope, is really just wishful thinking and not hope at all.  Maybe the writer is challenging us to go deeper in our hope.

So much of shallow wishful thinking ends up in disillusionment. We pin our hopes on thinly veiled desires : “nope, nothing can be done about my life, my problems because I didn’t win the lottery this week.”  This leaves us feeling weak and disappointed.  Hope is like a bird –but one that flew away!

Hope as an anchor for the soul, changes how we see ourselves and our surroundings.  I am indebted to Spiritual writer Eugene Peterson for his transliteration of the same passage:   “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post.” (The Message)

We “grab on with both hands and never let go… to an unbreakable spiritual lifeline,”  is the operative sentence here.  The anchor doesn’t weigh us down, it gives us life!

Today as I daydream about summer vacations and far-away places, I’m glad to have happened upon the difference between wishful thinking and hope: one brings me closer to the heart of God, the other well…

Blessings!

Susan+

The Force of Nature

I have a very wonderful view from our office window, from which I often write and indeed, from the church itself, where we worship.  We are blessed to have lovely grounds surrounding us, planted with a variety of flowering specimens.  There are daffodils, lilacs, dogwoods, forsythia, magnolia… all taking their turns blooming.

Spring is wonderful, colorful, bright –It’s like fireworks bursting into light every single day—and it’s a privilege to watch.

It belies the fact that these blooms were just waiting to pop.

As I monitor their growth I am always taken aback by the contradiction each of these flowers represents.  For they are beautiful and, though they seem very fragile and delicate, it takes enormous power and energy to bloom.  I imagine that if we could hear them bloom, it would sound like a firecracker going off: pop, pop, pop, and a few bang, bangs here and there!

There’s enormous energy required to bloom.  We mustn’t forget that.  In this season of resurrection The Great 50 days of Easter last the whole month of May) we must not take for granted all the ‘hard work’ assumed by it.  It begins with the days in between, in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when we believe Jesus descends to the very pit of death, before he rises again.  This is the saving power of God bursting forth from the tomb.  Neither death nor the tomb are strong enough to hold Jesus back, and he “blooms” with the same energy of those lovely blossoms.

What a privilege to bloom again this Easter – may we continue to flower in God’s love.

On the Brink

“Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,

Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green”

John M. C. Crum  (Hymn 204, The Hymnal 1982)

Mother Nature seems as unpredictable as ever.  The church grounds have both early daffodils and piles of snow.  One day it feels almost summer-like; the next, we’re reminded that winter isn’t going to go without putting up a fight.

Change is coming, though, we are on the brink of it.  Soon all traces of the former winter gloom will pass.  This sense of something coming, rising, changing brings with it a sense of hope, a sense that what comes next is somehow better.  Being on the brink of spring is like beholding a promise: we know where this can lead, even if we can’t quite see it yet.

This serves us as a good metaphor for the coming season of Easter, I think.  We are so attached to what has been, the way we are used to being, that we won’t let go without a fight even though evidence of new life is springing up all around us.  Easter asks us to stand on the brink between sin and despair and the promise of the Resurrection.

Let go.  It’s here.

The Joy of Lent

I am going to suggest something that might seem impossible:  the joy of Lent.

Lent is usually the chief penitential season of the Church.  It recalls the journey to the Cross, literally week-by-week, as if we were reading a chapter book and had the opportunity to read about and think about all the things that lead Jesus to that unimaginable destiny.

We know the ending already, and still, sometimes it comes as a surprise.  Did it have to go the way it did? Couldn’t some adjustments have been made to save the situation, to have a different outcome?

All are fair questions.

That’s where the ‘joy’ comes in, in finding out.  There is satisfaction that comes from wrestling with some of the largest issues of our faith: trust, fear, truth, sin, salvation.  There is also profound joy in knowing that we are not alone, that we don’t go it alone: we accompany Jesus along the way, as he is part of our journey as well.

There’s help along the way.  Resources and events that help us answer or even go deeper in our questioning.  You can sign up for daily meditations from the diocese or from Forward Day by Day.  You can pick up a ‘Lent in a Bag’ kit that will have a Scripture study guide and some suggestions for meditations.  You can take up the idea of a mite box or a reverse Lenten calendar to help you be mindful of the needs of others as you make your way.  There will be weekly soup and …… prayer and discussion.

Joy isn’t usually associated with Lent, but you might enjoy it anyway

Susan+

Here’s another ‘joyful’ way to appreciate Lent

Jesus invites us to a way of celebration,
meeting and feasting with the humble and poor.
Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus beckons us to a way of risk, 
letting go of our security. 
Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus challenges us to listen to the voices
of those who have nothing to lose. 
Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus points us to a way of self-giving, 
where power and status are overturned. 
Let us walk his way with joy.

Jesus calls us to follow the way of the cross, 
where despair is transformed by the promise of new life. 
Let us walk his way with joy.

-Jan Berry

 

 

 

Winter Spirituality

Outside my office window I can see several trees.  There’s a magnificent maple in our neighbor’s back yard.  We have a couple of dogwoods and a lovely magnolia tree planted by girl scouts when the church was new.  Right now, none of them look like much: they are bare.

This view reminded me of the work of spiritual writer Stephen Foster, who, in his book “Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home,” comments on the trees in winter saying,

“…As the leaves drop, one by one all of the irregularities and defects of the tree are exposed.  The imperfections are always there, of course, but they have been hidden from my view by an emerald blanket.  Now, however, it is denuded and desolate, and I can see its real condition.”

Winter preserves and strengthens a tree.  Rather than expanding its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth.  In winter a tougher, more resilient life is firmly established.  Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish.

To the outward eye everything looks barren and unsightly.  Our many defects, flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections stand out in bold relief.  But only the outward virtues have collapsed; the principle of virtue is actually being strengthened.  The soul is venturing forth into the interior.  Real, solid, enduring virtues begin to develop deep within.  Pure love is being birthed.”  (p. 65)

That’s how it feels right now—at least to me.  Winter has a way of making us feel bare, bereft, fragile, stripped of all those things that usually make things lovely.  But we need to be reminded of what goes on underground, underneath, hidden.  Roots are strengthened, muscles are built up, the core is made more resilient.  Yes, freezes are uncomfortable, shoots and even branches may snap off, but real work is going on deep inside.

Every time I look out and see the sorry landscape I’m reminded that this isn’t where the story ends.  A new chapter is about to be uncovered.  Soon enough we will witness the goodness of the earth, soon enough we will be asked to get in touch with our own inner strength and bloom.

Always, in Christ,

Susan+

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A New Year’s Resolution

Most of us still honor the change over to the new year with the traditional count down and ‘ball drop’  though that doesn’t mean we become aware of the change itself.

For me, the change begins with the first check I write.  Because it has to reflect the new date and that means remembering that the year has changed.  But how I hang on to last year!  I keep forgetting to change the date, sometimes well into February!

Stuck in 2016 or any part of the past is never good.  Not so much because it’s the past, but because of being stuck –often stuck in the worst parts of the past, repeating the same mistakes, worrying about the same issues, grieving the same infractions.  We’d like to stop but that means changes.  Changes, large and small is often difficult.  It is hard to let go of what we are used to, of who we are used to being.  The challenge –and the hope– of a new year is to do just that,  to accept that with the drop of a ball, the stroke of a pen, the passing of the last second, change happens.

A familiar passage from the Book of Lamentations, Chapter 3, verses 22-23, tells us that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…”  This encourages us to get unstuck from the past and embrace the future with new hope.  If this can be done every morning, it can certainly be done in the new year.

I’m not one for resolutions, simply because I’m just as bad at keeping track of them as I am at changing the date on my checks.  But I do resolve to let God renew me in love at every opportunity, so that I can let go of the past with grace and live into the future with hope.

Always, in Christ,

Susan+

Great Tidings of Comfort and Joy

What’s the best news you’ve had all year?

We are living in dramatic, and for many, difficult times.  Each day seems to bring one sorry news story after the next.  As many of us get our information across different types of media platforms, we are bombarded by graphic content, fake news, advertisements thinly disguised as news, hyped-up gossip called ‘infotainment’ and so forth, all demanding our attention and concern.  When it’s “all bad news all the time,” our instinct is to hide and take shelter, tune out of everything or worse, share the news of doom and gloom –because misery loves company!

Which is why I think it’s time to focus on the best news of the year.  We know the worst news stories already: the ones about ourselves, our environment, our relationships, our world.  God knows this, too.  So look for the good news, the “great tidings of comfort and joy” as the old hymn says.  While it may seem that the good news is hard to find because it is buried in the mountains of bad news, the truth is that it can be found wherever people are willing to make room for it.  So don’t tune out this holy message and try not to hide from what is happening even now.

What is the best news you’ve had all year?  It’s the best news ever:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…”(John 1:14) and that’s news worth sharing!

 

Christmas blessings,

Susan+