Advent Activities

November 28, 2018


Tree-time!  I like laying out the ornaments by category. Note the grid afforded by the blanket.


And the result:


The plastic birds from my crib-mobile achieved antique status some years ago and are still going strong.


Moving from domestic to public I installed a ‘wealth of bells’ at church, to illustrate the seasons of Advent and Christmas.





Finally, it was my joy yesterday morning to keep my granddaughter at her house.  When she called me to her chamber, indicating it was time for her to rise from her infant bed, we prolonged the process:  while she engaged her morning prayers (rise to knees, prostrate oneself upon one’s blanket, repeat, repeat…) I opened the blinds on a crystalline day, which threw light onto her wall, which she examined by touching it.  We played peep-eye for awhile through the bars (slats?)  I waggled my grandmotherly thumb.  She turned her gaze thoughtfully to her own.

Finally I swooped her up and put her on her rug and she speed-crawled to her bookshelf, where she selected a board book called Women Who Changed the World.  My first time to see this one and oh it is excellent. We went through it several times.  She quivered, she shook her head not in negation but evidently to say this is so good it can’t even be real. When I did an especially nice job of dramatic reading, she turned and looked into my face with amazement.

In the background of the astronaut page, a spacecraft window through which one could see a tiny Earth.  Each time we came to this page she touched the Earth.

Well, my darling, the regard is mutual!





Closing in on Eleven Months

November 21, 2018


Yesterday morning my granddaughter was a little clingier than usual, resisting placement on the floor, wanting to be held.  Which was fine by me!  I served as obedient transportation from room to room of her house; clingy or crawling, she requires a full day’s impressions.


We found a bed with clothes on it.  She indicated she wanted a closer look, as in, put me on this bed.  She spent some time with two pair of her own leggings, stretching and waving them around.


Ah, and here’s a green knitted glove!  A limp thing,  to be sure.  But my darling girl, it has potential. Behold!  Here it is upon Honey’s hand!  Now it becomes inert again.  Now it lives again, on Honey’s hand!  Having taken this in, she regarded one of her own tiny hands.


We did some window-time. The front door window has two kinds of glass– patterned, and clear.  She seemed curious about this, moving her gaze between the two very different views afforded.  When she got tired of peering she did some glass-slapping, then some glass-squeaking.  It does me good to see the tactile intensity of almost a year.


Her granddaddy came for  visit.  After he left, she got droopy.  Like a knitted glove, she sat limply on the kitchen floor.  Empty.  Aha!  I realized she was hungry again.  So I put her in her high chair and attempted to feed her from a squeeze tube of baby food.  We didn’t have those in my day.  My maneuvers and her good-humored comments were pretty funny.   Like hers, my deftness is evolving.


My favorite part was when I offered the last bit of food in the tube and she turned her head firmly away.  She had been revived, and more would be superfluous.  May she remember this when she has a womanly figure to watch!



Takes a Village to Ring a Bell

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

“It Takes A Village to Ring a Bell”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker


Opening song, #660 God is Here; closing song, #730 O Day of God, Draw Nigh


Shout your praises to GOD, everybody!

Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!

Round up an orchestra to play for GOD, add on a hundred-voice choir.

Feature trumpets and big trombones. Fill the air with praises to King GOD.

Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause,

With everything living on earth joining in.

Let ocean breakers call out, “Encore!”

And mountains harmonize the finale—

A tribute to GOD when he comes, when he comes to set the earth right.

He’ll straighten out the whole world, he’ll put the world right, and everyone in it.    

                                                       from Psalm 98 [The Message]


The sea claps its waves, the fish their fins.

The hills are alive, with the sound of music.

The stones, the stones cry out for joy, because someone is coming,

to set everything right.

Psalm 98, a sweeping summons to sing.

Really? Seems if anything the sea the hills the stones

Should be and in fact are struck all the more wordless.

The seas that closed over the ships in the war to end all wars

the fields that silently pondered  the mustard gas

the mud and the blood the California hills burst into flames

witness the heart-cries of the bereft the dirges the slow tolling bells

the abdication of reason the chronic sullen posturing of mankind

which grinds on in pursuit of security with little more than lip service

if that to the health of our only home our sweet air our birds

fish choking on plastic and this all too evidently is us and little we know how to make amends.

Thus laden, why on earth would the earth sing?  And yet:


‘I am earth, earth / out of my grass heart / Rises the bobwhite. /

Out of my nameless weeds / God’s foolish worship.’

Thomas Merton

Psalm 98, this sweeping summons to sing,

is it just the lavish language of poetry, having little to do with reality?


I think we need to stop, we need to unlearn the idea that poetry and science, that sacred and secular are two different things.

I think the earth knows something big and is trying to tell us.

Even the stones cry out:

Death is not the end.  Brokenness will be mended.

Tears?  Gone.

Pain?  Gone.

Injustice?  Gone.

Cold hearts?

Lit up and strangely warmed with the Immense Tenderness

that encompasses all,

and always has.


And so …


People on earth, be filled with God.

Let loose and sing. Ring out for joy.


And all the more this time of the church year.


Why does the cat purr?

Why does the elephant rumble, in tones too low for us to hear?

What is that wave of music rolling through my heart, deep in the night?


I will tell you: Advent is coming. Love is coming.

The feet of the Beloved are on the road.


On the other hand, and this is a big on the other hand,

our present anguish needs to be acknowledged.

We need to let things hurt, maybe not be so quick on the fixing,

on the rush to the bright side, on the “hallelujah anyway.”

To hold the tension of pain and hope. This is a fine art, seldom taught.

There are teachers, though.

In 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow looked clear-eyed into a cascade of personal tragedies not to mention the hell of America’s Civil War

and he let it hurt.  He let it break his heart. Then he wrote these words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 

‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

the wrong shall fail, the right prevail

with peace on earth, good will to men.’


Henry Longfellow stood witness:

Death is unavoidable. Bells have power to give new life.

Here’s another quote from another poem of his:


For bells are the voice of the church; / they have tones that touch and search / the hearts of young and old.


Tell me this: what if Trinity’s carillon went silent?


Henry Longfellow was not the first to ring us to attention. Bells go way back. Listen to this passage from the Hebrew book of Exodus:


They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells

between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the [priest’s] robe … just as the Lord had commanded Moses.                              

 Exodus 39:25-26


A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, calling men to worship.


Other faith traditions ring us to attention.  Listen to Thich Naht Hanh:

Whether we can wake up or not depends

on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. The future

of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps. We have to hear the bells of mindfulness that are sounding all across our planet.

We have to start learning how to live in a way that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren.


Listen to Matsuo Basho:

The temple bell stops

but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.                


I want to ask your help with something.

It’s time to change the display case in the West Wing

from Ordinary Time to Advent and Christmas.

I have a vision, and guess what?

The vision is bells.

In the tall end-cases

I’m thinking to use the language of Longfellow’s poem,

from bells to despair and back to hope.

A seasonal cycle. Our human condition, yes?

What I have in mind for the center case is a wealth of actual bells.

Earthy bells, old bells, bells with practical application:

handbells, sleighbells, schoolbells, shop door bells, alarm bells.


We need bells. Do you have any?


I’ve already located one bell that means very much to my family.

By the back door of the house of our growing up hung a rustic bell

of unknown provenance.

From the clapper hung an old leather strap.

Many and many a time

our mother would summon us from our work and play in the far-flung corners of our yard, summon us to her excellent cooking.

Give us this day our daily bread!


In time the house came down.  But the bell was saved. Or was it?


When first I put out the call to my siblings for this remembered bell,

we could not find it. And then …

my brother found it.

Our heritage, restored.

It takes a village to find a bell.

And here’s how I felt when I heard the news:


Fling, ye bells, your songs to heaven,

Ring your music to the sky,

Sing the everlasting Gospel,

Lift your hearts to God on high;

Christian folk afar shall hear you,

Saints above take up your song,

Praising God in one communion

Through the ages all along.



And that’s how I will feel when you bring me yourbells,

to live during Advent in the long glass case.

Let’s round up a wealth of bells, an orchestra of bells, to play for GOD.


Advent’s coming.  We have suffered this year, let’s not pretend,

and who knows what lies ahead.

But Advent’s coming, and with it, the gift of hope.

We are noble folk, made to hope.  In fact it’s our duty.

We CAN bear what we MUST bear

for the sake of what wants to be born. We can do it.

We are the beloved, preparing the way for Love.

So ring the bells that still can ring.

Don’t look away, feel what God feels, let your heart break.

And broken, let the joy rush in.

For Love is coming, to put the world right, and everyone in it.

Lift up your hearts!  Magnify the Beloved with me!

And pretty soon, before too long, even now, the whole earth …

is ringing like a bell.

Let it begin with us.

Ring them over again to me, wonderful bells of life.



The Child

November 13, 2018


I kept the Child this morning.  At ten months she’s moving fast, with clear aim.  But she does stop to smell the roses, that is, she makes time in her travels to experience each rug-pattern, as if she hasn’t experienced it a hundred times before.

When shown through the window the wind whipping the trees, she makes a whooshing sound, springing I suppose from desire.  It’s forty degrees today and sleeting, so no, Amelia, we cannot go out. But we can dream.

Such a close observation, such a cutting of her eyes at Grandpa from safe in my lap, sizing him up, and then to the ground where in her own good time she edges, edges toward him, eyes cast down but then oh so casually their hands ‘happen’ to meet and she’s in his lap.

Such a sizing up of her own state of being:  she takes an awkward tumble off a footstool onto her back, pauses to consider if she will cry.  She does.  Honey sweeps her up, but she’s almost through crying anyway.

She pulls up on everything, steps along on tiptoe, slaps tiny hands on table tops, drums on the shiny side of the kitchen trashcan. The dearest pulling up is when hunger or sleepiness catches her, and she crawls soundless to my feet and starts to climb my pants, knowing that Honey will provide what is needed.




Joy for a Sunny Afternoon

November 3, 2018

In our back hedgerow, flanking a run of boxwoods, are twinned ornamental pots.  Were I to tell you how many plants I have failed to grow in them, well…  So the other day, having ripped out the latest disheveled remnants, I had an idea. I have these two statues, you see, replicas of creatures. So I made plinths of concrete paving stones and gave the squirrel and the cat a new purpose in life.  I think they look rather fetching.


Fetching, but I began to think they might want softening around the margins.  With something easy care, and tough.  See, there I go again with the plants! The triumph of hope over experience.  So I commenced a ramble around the backyard, open to inspiration.  What should I spy growing where it’s grown for twenty years between a concrete slab and the back of the house but an airplane plant?  How many times I’ve pulled it up, for the sake of neatness.  It always comes creeping cautiously back.  And here it is again.  So I divided it and sprigged it around the statues.  But there wasn’t enough.  So I eased over to the backyard next door. For thirty years I’ve had visiting rights there, and I feel that the owners, now of blessed memory, are keeping the invitation open.  If I have an airplane plant volunteer, maybe they do, too.  Why yes, they do!  Or, they did.  Not the same variety as mine, but I made it work.  Or I hope I have. Time will tell.



So then I went inside and for the sake of science looked up airplane plant and found that its Latin name is Chorophytum comosum.  “Chloro” made me think of my chemical engineer friend, of blessed memory, who wanted people to be more aware of the miracle of green. But he didn’t quite know how. Perhaps I’ve helped.


And then I found that another common name for airplane plant is St. Bernard’s lily.  So I looked up the good saint and found that one of the poems he wrote during his doctor of the church work in 12thcentury France lives on. Perhaps you know it:


“Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills the breast; but sweeter still thy face to see, and in thy presence rest.”


Perhaps my new yard art is bringing St. Bernard a smile. And the One he describes as “hope of every contrite heart, the joy of all the meek”?  Perhaps he too likes my project.  He who loved creatures and green things and people.  Be that as it may, the thought fills my breast with sweetness. May it do likewise for you.



Turn Me to Deeds That Bless the Living

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

“My Heart Leaped for Joy”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker



Psalm 122 A pilgrim song of David, verse one:

When they said, “Let’s go to the house of GOD,”my heart leaped for joy.”


My heart leaped for joy.

On the back of one of my Bibles, a question:


What would happen if you received a letter from God?

Would your heart pound? Would your mind race?

Would your life change?

With The Message,

Eugene Peterson’s best-selling paraphrasing translation of the Bible,

you can join millions of readers who have experienced God’s word

in the form of a personal message.


Presbyterian Pastor Peterson’s passion

was to bring us all into the house of GOD.

By way of a fresh rendering of the Bible,

he hoped to make the house of GOD alive,

the word more accessible to everyone.

He wanted more hearts to leap for joy.

It took him a long time to accomplish this work.

In 2002, the final part of The Messagewas published.

Nine days ago, Peterson died, an old man and full of years.

Well done Eugene, thou good and faithful servant.


Four days ago, another old man died.

Eleven years ago, I heard him say these words:


By centering prayer,

we are being trained in the art of death and resurrection. 

The false self is dying.  The true self is awakening. 

The obstacles are being evacuated, spaciousness for the Spirit is opening up. 

Our attitude of consent and rapt attention

moves out into every part of our life … The Kingdom is here! 


The Kingdom was here, in the form of Father Thomas Keating.

Way back in 2007, when I heard I was to meet him,

my heart leaped for joy.  I was blessed to have known him,

blessed to have encouraged him to go back through the supper line

for more chicken, because he was still hungry.

Well done, Father Keating, thou good and faithful servant.


When they said unto me last week,

“You will preach in the house of the LORD on Halloween,”

my heart leaped for joy.  Even more than usual.


After all, Halloween is short for Hallow’s Evening.

Hallow is akin to the word holy, and it means saint,

which is what we are. Sons and daughters of the living God.

Robert Louis Stevenson said that saints are the sinners

who keep on trying. We do, we keep trying.

We press forward, obstacles being evacuated,

spaciousness for the Spirit opening up.

The task being urgent, we use our time as wisely as we can,

for the sake of God’s house.


When they said, “Let’s go to the house of GOD,”

my heart leaped for joy.”


Tomorrow will be All Saint’s Day.  This coming Sunday

we officially celebrate and remember the precious Trinitarians

who have died this calendar year.  Our hearts will be heavy.

Our hearts will also leap for joy that such saints lived among us.


For me, that’s what Hallow’s Evening is: an invitation to remember,

and give thanks.  “Let’s go to the house of the Lord, and remember.”


On the other hand there is Halloween as practiced by our culture.

I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go unto the haunted house.”

Um, no thanks.


Catharsis, yard decorations, spooky fun for the little ones?—I get that.

But the billions of dollars spent, the excesses

by people who should be grown up by now? Not my favorite.

I do not wish to be a spoilsport.

Although, Jesus and the prophets often were.


I don’t have to “like” cultural norms,

but I willtry to turn as quickly as I can

from the negative of disapproval to the positive of dedication,

dedicating myself and my energy

to looking for a better way.

I will try to turn as quickly as I can to deeds that bless the living.


Deeds that bless the living.

I am little interested in correct believing,

even less interested in proclaiming correct believing.

What does interest me is the act of prayer.

Not by virtue but by nature I am a roving prayer reporter.

I like to move about the world

—not very far, you understand, for I’m a homebody, a hearth cat—

I like to notice where prayers are rising, and see what it’s all about.


These observations and participations feed my soul,

which moves me in turn to tell about it.

I can only hope my reporting is useful.


Once I did go far in the world, for me anyway.

I was some days into a Caribbean cruise.

Evidently there were to be no religious gatherings other than Bingo.

And then, O LORD what a morning!

Right there in Saturday’s options for the day,

a Sabbath service that very evening.

Finally, officially, there will be prayer.


When they said, “Let’s go to the house of the LORD,”

my heart leaped for joy.

And so, to the ship’s library.

A cozy room, and quiet.


I was early:

love shows up on time.

I closed the door and took a chair, a little apprehensive,

heart strangely warmed,

and through the porthole watched the sun sinking toward Sabbath.


Then a handful of women and men walked in, saw me sitting there.

“Are you the Rabbi?” one asked.  I said, no, I’m Phoebe Dishman.


One man said,

“Fishman! Fishman! Are you one of the Philadelphia Fishmans?”

We humans are always hoping for connections.


We got Fishman/Dishman straightened out,

and then they were confused as to why I was there.

It seemed enough for me to say I just wanted to be with them.


They were too few to make a minyan—

the minimum number of Jews for an official prayer service.

But one of the men led us in prayer anyway.  Unofficially.


That was a long time ago, but I remember.

Religion:  To re-member. To bring together for good.

For thus we are enjoined.


In some sense I will always be Phoebe Fishman,

she who follows a rabbi, she who rejoices when they say to her,

we are going to the house of the LORD.


This Saturday past I heard an ax had been laid to the roots

of the Tree of Life,

a house of the LORD in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Rogers‘s old hangout.  Won’t you be my neighbor?

My mind slipped sideways.

I wasn’t ready to know.


Early Sunday morning I absorbed the details.

All three of my brains—heart, mind, and body—

grew pale and would have shattered

but for the kindly protection of shock.


So what could I do but put on my Tree of Life top

and some black jeans for mourning

and ever so gently and carefully take my three brains and my Sunday school lesson up to the house of the LORD at Nineteenth and Harrison, Room 105.


What could I do once I got there but write a prayer on the board,

then walk the perimeter of the room, around and around,

with the Mourners’ Kaddish playing on my smart phone.

What could I do but bless the remnant of the house of the LORD.

Then David Moore walked in, found me in a state,

I leaned my head on his shoulder where I shed a tear or two.

Then his granddaughter called him back to the hall

and we all took up our official Sunday morning duties.


Our Sunday morning duties.

I love this line from my Jewish prayer book:


Help me to endure this night of anguish.

Help me to walk through the darkness with faith in tomorrow.

Give me comfort; give me courage;

turn me to deeds that bless the living.


Turn me to deeds that bless the living.

Thank God for the strong container of what we’re enjoined to do,

and the strength to carry it out.

Thank God for the house of the LORD, a people on pilgrimage,

a people knit together, enjoined to gather and pray.


The psalm says we are enjoined to gather and pray.

Enjoined, but not forced:

Like I said, I’m little inclined to proclaim correct belief.

But I do know what I know…and my heart breaks for our cultural norms,

aimless and ungathered.


Still there are remnants of rational, pockets of sunshine, and sanity.

We had a wonderful Sunday school class.

It was about David and Job and Blind Bartimaeus,

about suffering, and redemption,

how when released from suffering

we should remember that we’re not just released from.

We are released for.

That is to say,

we are expected to take up deeds that bless the living.

By the way, we were ten, which is a minyan.  So we were official!


The rest of the day was good, too.

Good enough, and rich with family.

I kept my Tree of Life shirt on all day.


But something was wrong with me.

By evening’s end I was so sick in body heart and mind

I could hardly stand.


This is just how it is.

There is only so much strength in a day.


So Monday morning came and I was strong again,

time to write Refresh,

and what on earth to say to you my dear ones tonight

on Hallow’s Evening, with eleven new dead to remember?


Well my goodness gracious, that’s what psalms are for.


Psalm 122 A pilgrim song of David


When they said, “Let’s go to the house of GOD,”

my heart leaped for joy.”


And here we are!