Cardinal Consolation

This week I came across a writing of mine from 2006, one of a series of weekly articles for our church newsletter. A sweet memory and good counsel, from my long-ago self:

Cardinal Consolation

Well, Sandy made it sixteen years.  She would be the last to want a sappy send-off.  Not cat-like. So we held her Holy Saturday funeral in silence.  Her younger brother the dog lay down by her grave and moaned, but other than that, no words were spoken. 

She had fallen silent herself the day before—she chose Good Friday to stop her awful railing against blindness, to stop walking in pitiful frustrated circles. 

As the day unfolded, she stopped all extraneous movement and sound altogether.  The bottom line for her was to settle against my heart, purring, and wait.  Enough for her to be in my arms, to know that Austin, Robert, and Rusty the dog were close by, keeping watch. 

And so Easter weekend was especially poignant this year.  I confess I am taking the death of this faithful little feline very hard. But I make no excuses.  She was dear, and sixteen years of friendship is a long time. 

This morning as I dressed to go to Bible study, I heard something outside, a voice close to Sandy’s resting place.  It was a male northern cardinal, singing his heart out, no doubt to attract a lovely lady of his species.  But I took it as a note of encouragement, a suggestion to give thanks, remember, and let Sandy go. 

The message?  “What? Cheer!  What? Cheer!  What? Cheer!”  There are friends gathering, a Bible lesson to be taught.  So one had best take heart, and get on with it. 

So it goes, in the life of a family, the life of a community, the life of a church.  There will continue to be long stretches of “ordinary time,” punctuated by surging joy, and body-blows of pain.  Through it all, we keep loving, trusting, and praying, often with sighs too deep for words.  We keep claiming the anguish of Good Friday, the hush of Holy Saturday, the glory and power and promise of Easter. 

And underneath it all, the everlasting arms. 

Interactive Centerpiece

My niece and I share our first name with a dear little bird called phoebe. So when planning a birthday supper for Phoebe it seemed fitting to make a centerpiece featuring birds. What a delight, playing with my treasures! See-through bird tower. Upended candleholder birdbaths. Clay pots—one squirrel-perch, one cave for a jeweled frog. Trees to frame the scene. Each time I passed the table I tweaked the tableau. I suppose there was some grocery shopping and cooking; there had to have been, right? But the heart of my planning was that centerpiece.

Came the night of the supper and two interesting things happened.  First, niece Phoebe did a resurrection. She was examining the Walgreens cardinal, whose battery’s been dead for years. Suddenly the cardinal came to life, happily singing, twitching its head for emphasis. “CheerCheerCheer. PrettyPrettyPretty!” Thus encouraged, Phoebe and others laid hands on the blue jay. No luck there. Silent he remains, screws to his battery door frozen shut. But still he charms my heart, as he did that rainy day in Walgreens when first he spotted me with his electric eye and I heard him shriek, “JayJayJay! Beedleeyoop!Beedleeyoop!” With emphatic jerks of that noble plastic head.

Next interesting thing: after all were seated for dinner, my eye went to the centerpiece. It had been transfigured. Trees crowded the tower. Creatures all in different places. More creatures from around the house, including an AstroTurf rabbit and a stuffed mountain goat. Quoth the responsible party, five-year-old Amelia, “Look, Honey. It’s a forest!” Soon other hands, adult hands, crept toward the centerpiece, making other changes. “And a little child shall lead them.”

I hardly remember what we ate. But it was good.

Drama on Evangeline

“As with ripest repast my being is sated, and with lips of glad song my mouth declares praise.” Psalm 63:5

As April 4th dawns, a voice gradually works its way into my sleepy brain: Catbird!   There he is on the power line above the crape myrtle, burbling away, improv punctuated by the occasional “meow.” I hate to tell him but the kitten next door he may remember from last fall is now a cat, and she visits our yard just about every day, and she spends a lot of time looking up into trees. Yesterday I caught her climbing the crape myrtle and with sinking heart I ran out and ordered her to come down. Amazed at my request, she climbed higher. Well, it’s a universe of hazard, heartbreak, and change. But we hear the good news of spring and we “hallelujah anyway.” Stay alert, little catbird, and keep singing.

Praise Song for Trinity, after Barbara Crooker

Praise the gentle dove of mercy,

praise the fierce hawk of justice.

Praise green trees, with healing in their leaves.

Praise the fire of the Spirit;

  praise the United Methodist cross and flame;

    praise United Methodist hearts strangely warmed.

Praise God thundering;

  praise the music of carillon and choir;

    praise the sound

      of sheer silence.

Praise the Jordan, and the Lake of Galilee;

  praise the Neches, and Lake Sabine.

Praise the mountain where Jesus shone like the sun.

Praise the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

Praise Beaumont, beautiful mountain, our own—

  elevation 30 feet.

Praise the smells of our sanctuary –

brass polish, furniture polish, flowers.

Praise the Trinitarians before us, still cheering us on.

Though darkness gathers, praise the things we love

and would like to keep.

Telling Each Other the Truth

Oh, the honesty of someone just turned five! Yesterday I was installing my granddaughter in her car seat. As I bent over the task of the straps and buckles, my face close to hers, she took one of my big “diamond” stud earrings in hand and remarked how much she likes it.  “See how it wiggles,” she said. “Oh wait, it’s not the earring wiggling. It’s your ear. That’s because you’re very old.” “How do you know?” said I.  Taking the side of my face in her hand, pointing to my neck, she then advised, “Look at your hand, Honey.” I looked. “See all those wrinkles?”  For some reason it was one of the most precious encounters I’ve had in a long time!

me, at five

Look How Carefully I Hold It

I hadn’t seen him in a couple of minutes, and it was too quiet. So I walked into the living room and there stood my grandson, age three, where I knew he would be. At the marble-topped side table. In his hands, one of my treasures, a small enameled alligator. One of his favorite objects, when he comes to visit.  “Look, Honey,” he said. “Look how carefully I’m holding it. Watch how carefully I put it back down.”

I commended his care, and the alligator’s beauty.  Said he, “Alligators bite, you know.”

The joy of a young mind, given just enough freedom to explore!

Later I thought of a young woman in Nazareth, looking up perhaps from the care of her one-year-old, because it had grown too quiet in the house. And there stood her three-year-old, holding one of the few treasures in that humble household.  “Look, Mother,” He said. “Look how carefully I’m holding it.”

A good thought for these troubled times.

Psalm for a Brown Thrasher

Praise for the brown thrasher

who by its nature

knows what to do with a host of dead leaves

after a killing freeze:

Thrash them, for tasty bugs.


Praise for the prophet, who left us this conversation:

Jeremiah: Why is my pain everlasting and my blow grievous, resistant to healing? You have surely been to me a dried-up spring, waters not to be trusted.

Adonai: If you turn back, I will bring you back, before Me you shall stand.

And if you bring out what is precious from trash, you shall be as My mouth.


January 3 – Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Like many in southeast Texas after the recent deep freeze, I’m adjusting to the stricken landscape. Azalea skeletons, mushy lilies … Still, we stayed warm in our house, and unlike some, we didn’t have to have the plumber out. Gratitude. And spring will come, with new green – oh how my spirit has to resist sometimes, when dragged toward existential despair! Thus my disciplined eyes this morning, watching … And here you are! Gray squirrel making his rounds. Sprightly in his silver coat, snowy front, and those mysterious touches of winter white on the backsides of his ears. Untroubled, hopping from one thin place in the grass to the next, pawing through the straw … Aha! A bite of breakfast. Morsel consumed, whatever it was, with relish. Thanks for the lesson, little friend!

Epiphany Sunday

First day of a new year, home with a head cold. Granddaughter turns five. I have to settle for my husband’s report that Amelia likes the Amelia Rose notecards we gave her. Perhaps not the most age-appropriate gift but I wanted to encourage her growing mastery of letter writing. At our “partner desk” at my house she’s dashed off several notes to relatives, my role being to write the address and lift her up to the mailbox. And oh there have been some delighted and mystified recipients of her hieroglyphic stylings. Now she can “write” on good card stock with hot pink lettering and aqua envelopes. If the spirit moves!

In my reading this afternoon l came across a little piece counseling writers to write a line or two every day, just to keep their hand in. Perhaps a haiku, or something haiku-ish? This stirred me, a little. Then I checked my email and behold, a friend had “liked” something I posted to Everlastingarms – three years ago.

Well, I may be germ-addled, but I still have a spark of life in me, and I know a nudge when I feel one or two, and I did see something out my window earlier. So here’s my haiku(ish) for January 1, 2023:

Regarding “bare” tree

Great jumping Jehoshaphat!

Hawk lifts into sky

Labor of Love

Trinity’s Faceted Glass Windows – lesson – October 30, 2022

Thank you for inviting me to share a project that’s grown more and more dear to my heart.  I’ve been around our sanctuary windows since they were installed in 1964. But being ten at the time I didn’t take notes.  As a focus of my attention since 1964, our windows came and went. For me, they were a given. Appreciated, but perhaps a little taken for granted. But one day last spring a member of my Sunday school class surprised me by saying he would like to understand our windows better.  He would like to better appreciate what the images mean. To understand, to appreciate, to love—this got me to thinking about how our minds and our bodies work together to discover meaning.  For instance, I’ve always been less interested in mastering our windows’ theology with my mind, and more interested in how our windows feel to my hand.  That’s just me. The colors attract me. I place my hand on a particular color, red for instance. Or cobalt blue. Or maybe purple. I place my hand on the glass, the cool smooth, the jagged edges, and it sings to me. I feel it. And when the sun spills through our glass in the morning, or the late afternoon, I’m just happy to be alive. If that sounds strange to you, well, the Apostle Paul said it takes all kinds. 

It takes all kinds to make up the body of Christ. And if we’re lucky we meet in a beautiful building. Our bodies, our buildings—what we see with our eyes and touch with our hands—this is a crucial part of how we’re formed in our Christian faith.  Made in the image of God we are, and meant to keep growing in wisdom and in strength. And so in that spirit I directed my mind to learn more about our windows.  The first fact I mastered is that our windows are made of faceted glass, also called dalle de verre. People started working with stained glass way back in the Bronze Age. For centuries it didn’t change much, though we got better and better at making it into windows. But faceted glass—dalle de verre—is a form of stained glass developed quite recently, which is to say, after the first World War.  So you can call our windows stained glass, but it’s much more precise to call them faceted glass. Dalle de verre, which to me has a nice sound to it.

Having more or less mastered the concept of what our windows are, I took a deep dive into the life of our designer.  Her name was Odell Prather. Billie to her friends. I never knew her; she died in 2001. But as with so many deep dives into a story, I fell in love.  I’m so happy to introduce you today to this extraordinary woman. 

Most important of all to me as a church historian, I’m counting on the work you’re about to see to connect us all more firmly to the story of our particular church in Beaumont, Texas, and by that means to each other.  It’s been my experience that the more we know and feel about a subject, the more dear we hold it in our hearts, minds, and bodies. So without further ado…our windows.