Christmas Cousin Party

December 25, 2018


At eleven months, it was Amelia’s first time to circulate at our yearly gathering of extended family. This party features a host of folks from their eighties down to infancy.  We’re a numerous and fruitful bunch; although practically new, Amelia is no longer the youngest!  Be that as it may, most of the cousins were meeting her for the first time.  Such a joy for me to move around cousin Lisa and Bill’s place with a granddaughter perched upon my hip.  Somehow, it felt like we had both arrived.


Party clothes:  Upon Amelia’s feet, ruby slippers.  They looked quite fetching, but she was all too eager to shed them.


Speaking of slippers:  Amelia had gone away to another part of the party, upon the hip of one of her parents, and I was standing in the back yard, reflecting, and getting my wind back.  I looked up to the power line over the back fence and what should be looking down but a Snowy Egret, that small delicate entity nearly eradicated in the 19th century for its plumes.  There she stood, plumes in the breeze, Grace on slender black legs, bright yellow feet gripping the wire, wondering I suppose at all the human chattering below.  And I wondered at her—oh, those golden slippers!—and wished her a nice Christmas crawfish.


Her visit to the party calls to mind an essay from my book.


Snowy Egret


Those that seek Me early shall find Me.

Riches and honor are with Me;

yea, durable riches and righteousness.


Proverbs 8:17-18


Florida, Gulf side, 6:15 a.m.  Desire drew me early to the white-sugar sands, for a stab at riches.  To my consternation, a man was already headed in from the beach, his plastic bag drooping from the weight.  Destination:  the shell-washing station. What treasure he beat me to can only be imagined. My eyes narrowed. We didn’t speak.


Still, I found a few pretty specimens of my own.  My favorite was a rose-speckled scallop, with four golden sunbeams.


At 5:45 the next morning, aflame with determination, I was on the beach.


I had beat the man to the sugar sand.


Alas, it was still “slap dark”.  Too dark to see the shells.


So I strolled the white rim of the sea, enjoying the sound of the surf.


Suddenly I noticed a Presence walking beside me, just matching my measured pace.  She was a snowy egret, Egretta thula, engaged in a predawn search of her own.


(“She rises also while it is still night, and gives food to her household ….”)


How lovely she was, how small and slender, how white against the dark sea.  How elegant her lacy plumes, her long black legs, her suave yellow shoes.  Bright feet, stepping along in the shallows.  Neck tightly coiled, prepared to strike.  A dart, a shake of sea spray as she swallowed.


The sky lightened; two gazes met.


At my unveiled proximity, she took to the air.    Forty-one-inch span, so they say.  But who can measure snow on the wing?    Thirteen ounces, so they say.  But so much more, to me.  I was the richer, for rising early.


And I did get some cool shells.




The Star Rains Its Fire



Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“The Star Rains Its Fire”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

Tonight, to honor Christmas, we’re going to take a little tour of the stars.  We’ve had stars in our eyes a long, long time. In that spirit I thought it would be good to go all the way back to the beginning of the book of beginnings, Genesis chapter One [16-17]. Listen:

God made the two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.

The stars.  A thousand million billion trillion points of light. To continue our tour, you need look no further than our United Methodist Hymnal. Consider #249, from Josiah Holland, 1874:

There’s a song in the air! There’s a star in the sky! There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry!  And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a king!

Consider also #684, from (get this) the tenth century:

Christ, mighty Savior, Light of all creation, You make the daytime radiant with the sunlight and to the night give glittering adornment, stars in the heavens.

We’ve had stars in our eyes a long time.

I hadn’t meant to write about stars, but then they started raining down on me, and I finally got the picture, and threw away the dreary thing I was working on for tonight. Believe me, hitting that “move to trash” button was a favor to us all.

The star-shower started yesterday. My friend Kathryn is at sea, on her way from Australia to Tasmania, thence to New Zealand. She texted me as follows:

My favorite quote from an astronomy lecture today: “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” Sarah Williams

I am here to tell you that when I find the words “astronomy,” “lecture,” “soul,” and “perfect light,” all in one short text from the far side of the world, life doesn’t get much better.

Then I opened Bill Kerley’s lesson from last Sunday. Bill Kerley is a practicing psychologist, ordained Methodist clergy, and did I mention mystic who teaches Sunday school at St. Paul’s in Houston.  He has blessed my spiritual journey for many years. I’m going to give you a rather long quote from his latest lesson, which I trust will amaze you as it did me:

 For one thing, consider this: Early in 2016, Australian scientists, using a radio telescope in Western New South Wales, discovered a cluster of over 800 hidden galaxies behind the Milky Way. A third of these had never been seen before. Again: this was just two years ago. The report these scientists made about this discovery stated that our galaxy is being drawn to this cluster at a speed of a little over a million miles an hour. Hang on to that in one hand for a moment.

 The scientists who specialize in this sort of thing estimate that most galaxies contain around 100 billion stars. The current estimate is that there are between 100 and 200 billion galaxies in our universe.

I don’t think our minds can comprehend this: 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars all hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds. Galaxies like our own, the Milky Way, probably have about 17 billion earth size planets.

Our earth in the mix of these galaxies, stars and planets is, comparatively speaking, a speck of dust. And, if we were to blow ourselves up, the rest of the cosmos wouldn’t blink an eye.

Got this?

Let’s add this to the mix: … and we are [the] first generation of humans to know this … these galaxies, stars and planets, all of this makes up less than 6 percent of the universe’s composition. The other 94 percent is made up of what these scientists call “dark matter” or “dark energy.” It is called “dark” because these scientists can deduce that this matter exists but they can’t really detect [it]. 

Thank you, Bill Kerley.  The star rains its fire, while the beautiful sing.

Did we mention that the Maker of the stars is unknowable, robed in dark matter, and it’s our job to keep reaching for Him and singing to Him anyway, with all the science and soulfulness of creatures made in His image?

God made the two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.

This was how the writers of Genesis saw it.  We humans have been unpacking the mystery ever since, and I guess you could say we’ve come light years in our grasp of the facts of the matter.

But the mystery remains.

Mystery: Light and dark. Day and night.  The more I think about it the more I see the truth in the idea that we have two languages.

“Day” language has to do with facts—the amazing discoveries of science. “Night” language has to do with meaning, and mystery.

This is the language of religion, and poetry.

Do you see that for a proper grasp of reality, we need both?

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light.

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Sarah Williams wrote those words in the mid-nineteenth century.

A home-schooled young woman, she led a a sheltered English life, died in her twenties of a cancer she hid until too late.  But isn’t it good to know she died unafraid? I haved loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.  That one quote has inspired many and many astronomers—people of science who pursue the fact of stars with all the mystery of their souls. That one quote has found its way even onto their gravestones. Day language and night language—how dearly they need each other.

The stars were not finished with me.  In yesterday’s Enterprise, a lyrical piece about the passing of Riccardo Giacconi, Nobel laureate. Father of X-ray astronomy.

The prophet Amos [5:8] informs us: He who made the Pleiades and Orion and changes deep darkness into morning, who also darkens day into night…the Lord is His name.

The prophet Isaiah [40:26] commands us:  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.

And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing.

Continuing our star tour, from my Jewish prayer book:

To You the stars of morning sing, from You their bright radiance must spring. And steadfast in their vigils, day and night, the sons of God, flooded with fervor, ring Your praise; they teach the holy ones to bring into Your house the breath of early light.

A son or daughter of God, flooded with fervor, can change the world. You know, that little Jewish baby boy grew up to be a mighty fine teacher.  One thing he taught was that you should look carefully at the facts, the day language all around you.  Then, when you want to pray, you should go deep inside yourself, and shut the door, and rest in the night language.  Then, after you have prayed, you should open the door and go out into the day again and heal the world, whatever part of it is yours to heal.

Which brings me to another little star-explosion that rained down on me yesterday, in Father Richard Rohr’s daily meditation.  Richard was great friends with Father Thomas Keating, now of blessed memory, so it’s no wonder that when the subject is prayer, Richard quotes Father Keating. Listen:

The world desperately needs people, free of cultural illusions, who are undertaking a dedicated exploration of true reality, not just to know the material nature of things, but also to know the very Source of everything that exists. An unfolding contemplative practice eventually becomes total receptivity. In that receptivity, one is aware of a silence that is becoming an irresistible attraction. Silence leads to stillness; stillness leads to surrender. While this doesn’t happen every time we sit down to pray, interior silence gradually opens to an inner spaciousness that is alive. In this context, if we speak of emptiness, we are not speaking of just emptiness, but of emptiness that is beginning to be filled with a Presence. Perhaps we could say that contemplation occurs when interior silence morphs into Presence.

This Presence, once established in our inmost being, might be called spaciousness. There is nothing in it except a certain vibrancy and aliveness. You’re awake. But awake to what, you don’t know. You are awake to something that you can’t describe and which is absolutely marvelous, totally generous, and which manifests itself with increasing tenderness, sweetness, and intimacy.

Thomas Keating, From the Mind to the Heart (Temple Rock Company: 2017), pages are unnumbered

Thank you, Father Keating. And so my friends, as Christmas approaches, consider this: You are made of stardust.  That is a day-language fact.  And the night language? Built into you, an irresistible attraction, a tender spaciousness, a certain sweet aliveness, an intimate star-song for the living of your one precious life. Think on these things, and give thanks.

Moon and stars with silvery light

Praise Him through the silent night.                            

 Joachim Neander, 1680


How Christmas Works

December 17, 2018

Add a tiny tree to a corner of our kitchen,  and I see a little better the nested nature of Creation.


Pair Lady Wisdom with my mother of blessed memory, and I see a little better how love flows.


Catch a fake tree in the sunshine, and I myself am caught by a quiet leap of joy.  L’chaim!


Bring my homemade manger scene to church to decorate a fellowship supper, and a friend notes that one of the camels is clearly a girl camel, because she has pearl earrings. I created these camels twenty-plus years ago and never realized I made them male and female. Now I see, and behold, it is good!


A Thanksgiving picture finally catches up with me and I see what I’ve been suspecting:  My granddaughter is lit up with life, and wants very much to speak, and is determined to find out how mouths make words!

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Upward Bow-Pose, Anyone?

December 11, 2018


All of a certain age know this feeling:  I’m still young and relatively nimble of mind and body.  So what’s with all the generations piling up behind me?? They tap their toes impatiently at the inexplicable delay:  The good news is I’m invisible!


I lead a very small yoga group at the gym.  And yes, we’re of a certain age.  The advantage of our age is that the young employees do not question our twice a week hour-long commandeering of the big workout room, where I climb upon a chair and reach high above my head across an ominously towering rack of weights to put a yoga DVD into a video rig set on a tiny shelf in the rafters, so to speak.  You have to want it.


I was not always the leader.  Until last year a friend even older than the rest of us was the keeper of the DVDs and the decider of what we would practice.  I used to whine when he would say, “Today, we’re going to do Yoga Burn.”  This particular DVD is just what it sounds like: Fifty minutes of not-fun. Before he died he left me this heinous DVD, along with a host of other easier ones.


So yesterday I had to laugh at myself. (We should pray daily for that experience.) My group had all checked in by text, with regrets.  I pondered which DVD would suit a solo session.  And lo, Yoga Burn insinuated itself to the top of the pile.  I have to believe it was the work of our former leader, looking down with a wicked grin from Heaven. I heaved a sigh, climbed the chair, inserted the Burn, and bowed my neck to the experience.  I practiced in solitary splendor, anchoring a huge dark space, freely embracing what I used to avoid.  Each time I was tempted to cut corners, especially as the hour wore on, I remembered the precision of him who used to lead us.  And I made it my own.  A couple of muscle-men working on the main floor just outside the glass door peeked in a couple of times, wondering I suppose at the diligence of a former young lady in silver earrings.  May they be fortified by my example.


Here’s a young lady who when released from her crib this morning headed straight to her books. This is promising.  A period of reflection, then watch out world!  Interesting developmental note: as she later approached a place she shouldn’t, I mildly used a certain word, for the first time, just to see what would happen.  Can you guess the word? Two letters:  “No.”  She turned to me, surprised, and burst into the most delighted smile.  I guess because it was a new word?  Oh, what I have I wrought?  Of course she would have thought of it herself, in another five months.