Give Me Work!

June 29, 2018

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

At six months, my granddaughter is teething.  I had forgotten how challenging this is for everyone. Yesterday when I kept her she was out of sorts, and none of my tricks nor any of her teething devices did any good. She tried to be happy, she tried to smile. But tears welled up, she gnawed on her fist, and there was a piteous look in her eyes. My visiting friend remarked, “We all have days like that.” Which gave me an idea: Give me work!  I have mine, a baby has hers.  So I put her in her ‘office’ (her walker with toys attached to the tray) where she spent an earnest half hour, focused with all her heart mind soul and strength on manipulating the toys. With her right hand. Curiously, her left hand remained up. Invoking Heaven?  Enjoining silence? Or perhaps it was a right-turn signal?

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O thou small person, so dear: Blessings on the days ahead, especially on thy current work of growing teeth.

Love,

Honey

 

Proposal for a Bumper Sticker: How Is Your Log Removal Going?

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

Hearing this first-century wisdom preached in twentieth-century Arkansas marked a big step forward in my personal engagement with the church.  I was six years old, or thereabouts.  It was if a light turned on for me. It was as if I thought, ‘ This Jesus fellow makes sense. And he just gave me a delightful shock. Something to keep me awake and growing the rest of my life.  As for church, I think I’ll stick with it.’

I would enjoy many more trips to Prescott with my family, and much more training and nurture at First Methodist.   For me, it was holy ground.  Then my grandparents were gone, and not much reason to return. Years passed. My last trip to Prescott happened in 2013, when Uncle Paul died, and we needed to clear out his house.  Now the venerable matriarch of the group, I insisted we go to church.  I took some pictures.  Couple of years later, looking at the pictures, I remembered some unfinished business.  Listen:

At sixty-something and sound of mind

And long in the Methodist church

I remember how it started

Finding a place to perch

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Perch at the church with my grandma

When I was six or seven

We prayed, and oh! we sang the songs!

I was sure that this was heaven

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Creaking pews and ladies in hats

And me so young and small

Dark polished wood and walls of white

Fans whirring on the wall

Velvet on stately upright chairs

For preachers and bishops I guess

Should a bishop appear of a Sunday

We’d want to do no less

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And there above the choir

Knocking at the door

Stained-glass Jesus with his staff

Stirred me to my core

Robed in red, gowned in blue

Poised to hear if I heard

Him on the doorstep of my heart

Waiting with a word

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And then the preacher, Brother DeBlack,

He talked to us a while

And I remember the story he told

And how it made me smile

He offered a pearl of teaching

Before me bright it lay

It opened the heart of a little girl

And stayed there to this day

A log and a speck, how funny is that

How delightfully down to earth

I heard it in Prescott, Arkansas

Ground of my father’s birth

To me it made such perfect sense

That one can hardly see

To take a speck from someone’s eye

When in your own—a tree!

A log and a speck, a speck and a log

A sprightly thought for me

A verse I heard in the Methodist church

How lucky can one child be?

But hearing it is one thing

And practicing another

For often still I find a log

And hypocrisy? Oh brother!

Quick to note transgressions

And take your inventory

Not so eager to list my own

Examine my part in the story

I have so many blind spots

And miss important things

Stlll God loves me, this I know

God’s wisdom round me rings

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Wisdom, and friendly reminders

God woke me, that’s a fact!

To take the time to send my thanks

To Brother Alfred DeBlack

Not him of course for he is gone

But I found an address for his son

My email flew to Arkansas

And I hoped he was the one

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Why, yes he was, and he was glad

To have a word from me

He’d been that day to the grave of his dad

Under a lone oak tree

Looking back was Thomas DeBlack

When I reached out to him

Just two ‘kids’ looking back to their dads

Remembering Alfred, and Jim

Our fathers, and other dear ones

And precious days of old

When we were, as we are, beloved

Lambs in the Methodist fold

A lovely if sentimental thought!

For Tom may be a lamb

I’m sure he is—I have no doubt

But that’s hardly who I am

I’m a lamb not always lamblike

For I can hurl lightning and frogs

But I can be better if I can beware

Of lurking ocular logs

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The teaching of Jesus hits us where we live. We cannot stand as humbugs before him for one second. He educates us down to the scruple…There is no getting away from the penetration of Jesus. If I see a mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. Every wrong thing I see in you, God locates in me. Every time I judge, I condemn myself…I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God… You have to walk in the light of the vision that has been given to you and not compare yourself with others or judge them; that is between them and God.

Oswald Chambers

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

Luke 6:36-37

And underneath are the everlasting Arms.

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Music of the Spheres

June 27, 2018

‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’                                                                                                                          —Psalm 139:13-14

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In the July/August 2018 edition of Atlantic magazine, Nathaniel Comfort reviews Carl Zimmer’s new book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.

My first thought, prompted by the book’s title: What if your mother disappears?  Daughter keening for mother is a force with potential to break our hearts, wake us to outrage, move us closer to wellbeing for all.  Wellbeing for all. It’s a vision, anyway. Without a vision, the people die.  Without justice tempered by mercy, without critical thinking tempered by tenderness, the people die. If we won’t wake up and stay awake, we die. All at once, or a little at a time. So the prophet said.  Poor prophets, never popular!  But still they call it like they see it, those daughters and sons of the living God.

I remember when my own mother died, sixteen years ago.  Her sprightly mind had been gone for a weariness of years.  It was time and past time to rest.  But when she left, I was bereft. Even at 48, full grown and philosophical, the soft animal of my body cried out for mother.03 baby Phoebe, 1954.jpg

reaching for mother, 1954

Back to the book review. Here’s a paragraph that charmed me:

All of the heredities—chromosonal, mitochondrial, epigenetic—still don’t add up to your entire you. Not even close. Every one of us carries a unique flora of hundreds if not thousands of microbes, each with its own genome, without which we cannot feel healthy—cannot be “us.” These too can be passed from parent to child—but may also move from child to adult, child to child, stranger to stranger. Always a willing volunteer, Zimmer allowed a researcher to sample the microbes living in his belly-button lint. Zimmer’s “navelome” included 53 species of bacteria. One microbe had been known, until then, only from the Mariana Trench. “You, my friend,” the scientist said, “are a wonderland.” Indeed, we all are.

Mariana Trench. That’s deep. Ha! I wonder if God is smiling at how long it took us beautiful rowdy children of mothers to investigate a belly-button and find a universe.  Life-long learning in service to God’s highest–that’s our heritage, and our calling.

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All the heredities, all the flora, adding up to ‘you.’  You, my friend, are a wonderland! Did you know that if we could take the DNA in your body and stretch it out in a line, it would reach all the way to Saturn and back—seven times! Or so they say.

Speaking of Saturn:  a few years ago my alert and ever-helpful brother informed me that the Cassini spacecraft had taken and sent back to Earth a close-up photo of a profound oddity, namely one of Saturn’s moons: Phoebe. He offered headlines: “Scarred, Cratered Old Surface Points to Checkered Past.” “Saturn’s Moon Phoebe: Old, Beaten, and Still Mysterious.”

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Enchanted, I hastened to research and write an essay about this eccentric skull-shaped moon of Saturn, keeper of cosmic secrets, veiled until now.  She of the  tilted, retrograde orbit, circling Saturn ‘backwards’. She who by some reports came from the outermost edge of our solar system, to join Saturn’s other moons. Part of the circle, but keeping her distance–keeping to the vulnerable outer edge, flinging icy debris with each hit she took.  The mother of Saturn’s rings!

So I’m thinking, what might my “navelome” reveal? I do have some thoughts on that.

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‘This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.’  And underneath, the everlasting Arms!

The Subject is Shells

June 26, 2018

New day on Evangeline. As I walk into my kitchen in search of coffee I notice an arrangement on the wall. Who put that there?? How lovely!

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Some long ago “I” made that shadow box. Here we have a clue to one woman’s mind. Evidently she likes to curate creation.

It cannot be said enough: ‘The art of life is to blur the line between work and play.’

Well then! One day on Evangeline I find myself supervising some repair project or other.  Housebound.  Time passes.  More time passes…

Flash of inspiration!  Out come the shells.  Out comes the shadowbox, bought for the shells, for that elusive day when things ‘ease up a bit.’  That day is here!  Go find the ruler, and the glue!

Oh precious work of creation. Sun in the middle, angel wings, ‘macaroni’ for interest. And how do you like the plaid? Some Creator, yes? Seems God likes pizzazz.

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Later, the shells attract more beauty:  card from Brenda, angel from Kate. And here it all is, prepared by me, to bless some future ‘me’ and precious others on Evangeline.

I hearken back to another day, on Deauville Beach, in Delaware. This was, oh, nine years ago. There I was with Janice and Brenda, three ladies of a certain age, reposing on beach chairs.  Sea breeze, sun on our heads. Our hearts were full, for sure.  Someone should capture this moment, put it in a shadow box!  One joy I did capture was a mother and child, at water’s edge:

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Is that holy, or what?? But wait, there’s more.

I may have mentioned ‘ladies of a certain age.’   I don’t know why people, especially women, are so coy. In 2009 I was 55. There!

55 is a respectable age, a reasonable speed limit. Settled and sedate, less fleet of foot than we used to be, yes?  All the more remarkable what happened next.

Others were on the beach, younger, keener of eye. But it was I who saw the Miracle come tumbling out of the waves. Small form, growing larger.  I was transfixed, beyond speech. Why does no one see?  Is this moment really mine?

The Miracle leapt it sparkled it gleamed it rolled ever closer, seeming to say: “I am yours. Come and get me, my darling. If you want me.” Having spoken, it drew back, skittered back from whence it came. “I’m leaving now.  Come and get me. If you can!”

I was up like a shot, running like the girl I used to be, running to claim my prize.

‘Oh, be swift my soul to answer him; be jubilant my feet! Our God is marching on.’

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drying,  on a Delaware porch

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at home, in Southeast Texas

 

Her Life Lifts My Heart

June 25, 2018

Yesterday as we were circling up for Sunday school, the subject of trees arose, and took hold. This was not in my lesson plan! But one thing I’ve noticed and learned to love about leading a class: “The Spirit bloweth wild, high surging where it will.” As I pondered how I could work with the Spirit while easing us toward our lection—maybe I could say that Goliath towered like a massive oak over sapling David??—we spun tales of trees we love for their beauty and suffer for their messiness: limbs and sticks, drifts of dead leaves, gumballs on the ground, brown curlicues of pollen, yellow dustings of different pollen, brilliant red magnolia seeds smashed into driveways, magnolia cones thumping onto roofs—oh you magnolia! Good thing your flower is heavenly and your leaves so green, at least for some of the year. We spoke of the wisdom required to properly place a tree, that is, in a few years you will rue the day you planted a live oak close to your house. Naturally we couldn’t let the subject go without mentioning the sin of “crape murder.” Well, perhaps we accomplished as much in this preface to the lesson as we did the rest of the hour! For me, every moment was exhilarating.

Exhilarating. Life-breathing. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. So spoke the proverbist of old. Which brings me to my darling Chinese elm. Technically, she may be a lacebark elm. I don’t know for sure. I just know I love her! Listen to an essay I wrote a few years back. Listen, and see if it moves you to your own love song.  How dearly we need love songs about our particular corners of creation.  “A song, a chime, a chant sublime,” from our hearts, rising to heaven, for the healing of the world:

Chinese Elm

She has that certain something. Regarding her unusual beauty, people attuned to such things ask me what she is, where they can get one like her. Centerpiece of our small back yard, she’s a Chinese elm, thirty-five years old, arms outflung in wide embrace, to the fullness of her height.

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Springtime drops over those arms a shimmering frock of palest green, by which she captures hearts as surely as any Southern belle.

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In summer her greenery darkens. Her trunk and branches swell with vitality, flinging off gray curls of bark to reveal mahogany smoothness beneath.

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In the fall she sets seeds; they fly from her hands on brown-paper wings.

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In winter she composes herself to rest.   Her poise is a dancer’s, balanced, strong, her inclined stillness enlivened by a supple turn where she widens to meet the earth.   A bonsai master could not have posed her more charmingly.

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But it was Hurricane Bonnie, not bonsai, who shaped her when she was young, the storm twisting, then laying her flat. With hope, and help from neighbors, we hoisted her heaviness upright as best we could, staked her—and somehow she lived. Subsequent years brought more challenges—ice storm, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ike, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, severe prunings on her south side to render room for power lines. But in spite of all, this lady-tree grows more beautiful every year. Her life lifts my heart.

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She’s noted for her hospitality. Little boys enjoyed her shade; so did their dog, of blessed memory. In her branches, birds of every hue and feather—tiny wrens, fierce hawks—have sheltered, sung choruses, mated, or merely paused to catch their breath. You hear a northern cardinal? Look up. There he is, at her crown! Squirrels travel the highway of her arms.

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Yesterday I saw a curious sight: In the hot afternoon a squirrel was napping on one branch, smack in the middle of the highway, as if in his scampering he simply gave out—this far and no further. Maybe that droning cicada-music got to him. Who knows? Anyway, there he lay, spraddled on his stomach, chin on Mother Elm’s smooth skin, all four legs hanging down, tail stretched out behind. “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother…” After a time he sprang up and resumed his travels.

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In Hebrew imagery, that which lifts the heart, reinvigorates, restores high spirits, is called a Tree of Life. According to Proverbs, Wisdom is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are those who hold her fast. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. What do you think? Can one’s back yard contain Wisdom—an invitation to prayer, to the perfect stillness of divine embrace? I believe so.

 

In the Pink

June 23, 2018

For now, the rains have passed. For now, I can get out in my back yard and see such pleasant sights as met my eyes this morning:

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Pink, a lovely color! When we say ‘in the pink’ we mean in the best possible condition, especially of health. Energetic, upbeat, with glowing cheeks. As for me,

I wish I could say I’m ‘in the pink’—

that rosy thoughts are all I think—

Rosy for now, but in a blink

My face grows pale—my spirits sink…

Such an observation calls to mind another definition of ‘pink,’ familiar to you seamstresses and gardeners out there: ‘to cut or to pierce.’ Think pinking shears, and the cut-edges of dianthus petals.

I  am learning, as an awake person should, that life is not always ‘roses, roses, roses,’ and it does more good to work with this fact than resent it.    It’s like this:  I’m feeling sprightly this morning—grateful and alive, in my garden and energetically about my work.  Yet here come the waves of ‘cut and pierced.’ One reason: the soul-shredding of current events.  But chiefly because someone important to me has died.  My heart is missing my good friend and fellow teacher, who is no longer around to help me in the work we did for many years. When I check attendance in Sunday school tomorrow, one person will be missing. His spirit is with us, but his dear face? No more.

The fullness of these realities is what I have to work with today.  Today being all I have, and more than enough!  The poet Mary Oliver:  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Write an excellent Sunday school lesson, that’s what.  And present it well.

These body-blows of pain are our companions, yes? And increasingly so as we get older. As Willie Nelson sings, “It’s not something you get over, but it’s something you get through.”

And so pink can be our angel today. What heavenly news does it bring?  “Rosy cheeks and wounded hearts, intertwined. Life is lovely, and multi-faceted, and ever-evolving.”  As my friend of blessed memory put it, “We are enfolded in an unfolding mystery.”  And as I like to say, quoting Moses:  “Underneath are the everlasting Arms.”

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing!

May 21, 2018  “Is there anything else that wants to be said?” Why yes, there is, and what fun to to be able to share with you!  I haven’t worked out yet exactly how often to post, or exactly what.  But on this day when we in Southeast Texas have been afflicted once again with days of torrential rain and rising water, when our world is afflicted as ever with ‘storms within and storms without,’ it seems good to press forward with the aim of this website: to re-enchant the world.  Re-enchant not in the sense of magical thinking or dreamy other-worldly passivity, but in the robust sense of restoring to our anxious minds “a voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good will to men.”  And so I’m going to go ahead and give you my Refresh homily from last month.  With pictures!

-Phoebe

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

“Wild Thing”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

Songs: #111 “How Can We Name a Love”/ #113 “Source and Sovereign “/#688 “God, Who Madest Earth and Heaven”

 

Psalm 147:1-5

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
How beautiful it is when we sing our praises to the beautiful God,
for praise makes you lovely before him
and brings him great delight!
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers up the outcasts and brings them home.
He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.
He sets his stars in place, calling them all by their names.
How great is our God!
There’s absolutely nothing his power cannot accomplish,
and he has infinite understanding of everything.

 

We humans are all theologians. Did you know that?

We all say words—logos—about God—theos.

Theologians. You and me.

 

Made in God’s image, how can we help but wrestle with that image,

work to find words for the song we all sing?

 

As someone asked an atheist:

“Describe for me please this God in whom you do not believe?”

 

Even an atheist is a theologian! Of the God-wrestling persuasion…

 

Obviously, the person who wrote Psalm 147 was a theologian.

He gifted the ancient people Israel with words about God,

words to sing as they made their pilgrim way to their holy city.

 

And still we sing their ancient song.

As we make our pilgrim way.

As we evolve. As we learn, as we part the curtains

with our science, and our dreaming,

And God smiling to see just when we will find the wonders God has prepared. Just as a baby finds her hands, and her feet.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor is a contemporary theologian of some renown. She says this about God:

 

In Sunday school, I learned to think of God as a very old white-bearded man on a throne, who stood above creation and occasionally stirred it with a stick. When I am dreaming quantum dreams, what I see is an infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a luminous net. It is made of energy, not thread. As I look, I can see light moving through it as a pulse moves through veins. What I see “out there” is no different from what I feel inside. There is a living hum that might be coming from my neurons but might just as well be coming from the furnace of the stars. When I look up at them there is a small commotion in my bones, as the ashes of dead stars that house my marrow rise up like metal filings toward the magnet of their living kin.

 

A living hum. A small commotion in my bones. Yessss!

Do you feel the joy? Hallelujah!

 

As for me, I have written a different response to Psalm 147.

With thanks to the Troggs, circa 1966,

and my own impressions so far of life on planet Earth,

it goes like this:

 

Wild thing, you make my heart sing

Wild thing, beyond which there is nothing and no greater

You are:

 

Surge of joy

Burst of creativity

Flash of inspiration

 

You are blessing

You are breaking

 

You are Divine Dance

You are love outpoured and ever refreshed

You are wine you are bread you are living water

You are community

You are engine for peace and fuel for justice

You are fire

You are dunamis, dynamite

You are purpose and passion and praise

 

You are Will

To be done on earth as in heaven

 

And we, made in your image

Oh my we are

Wild Things

You make my heart sing

For we are cherished

Precious

In all our imperfect particularity

 

Particularity, yes

The little things of every day

The little things

 

You are a wild darling of a baby rabbit, flushed from the liriope

By the intrusion of my water hose

A wee furry rabbit, wild and yet so young and trusting

That it allows me to touch

Its shining fur

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You are the wild flower my sister saw on Beech Creek

You are the camera she captured it with, the love she shared with me

You are the wild science of shape, and color, and name

You are the religion, that is, the meaning

we brazenly assign to a humble flower:

Purple of Advent, trinity of petals, fleeting life,

nestled in the arms of eternal glory

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                                                                             [photo by Kate Hambright, May 2018]

You are, when I need a new car

And I’m pretty sure I want the same sedate silver

I’ve driven for years

But what I drive home

Is ruby red

A prodigal Pentecost

An extravagance

A praise

You are

A wild thing

In a red car

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You are my friend who was stricken

Who said to me, I don’t know how to be this sick

And then the dread of a deeper problem

And the relief when it was not so

You are the joy of my friend, who says, I’m better

I’m back!

 

You are my friend and friend to many who asked us to ‘say more’

You are his smile

You are his body now ashes—or is it stardust?—and you are his voice now gone. Or is it?

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You are the wild red cardinal in my back yard

the day my friend died

And you are my shattered heart as I watch the cardinal

The eternity in its ‘cheer cheer cheer’

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You are my reverie

And you are my shriek as I see a movement at my feet

And I look down to see an enormous king snake

Who shrieks right back at sight of me

Silently shrieks

and speeds away across my feet

into the azaleas

 

You are Jesus the teacher his voice now gone—or is it?—who said

Be ye shrewd as snakes

And harmless as doves

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                      [medallion designed by John Wesley for his chapel in London]

You are the ones who love that man

The play of his mind, the stories he told

You are the ones who follow other ways of kindness and compassion

Of repairing the world

 

You are my new granddaughter

Growing every day

Her smiles her inexplicable storms

Her small body nestled in our arms

 

You are life new life

Ever emerging

In new and wondrous forms

 

And we circle up and say to a newborn:

We love you and support you on your journey

 

And when the darkness falls on one of ours

We circle that one and say

We love you and support you on your journey

 

And you, you are the circle of the words we speak to each other

At the beginning, through the journey, at the end

 

You are us, made for each other

 

You are sprightly treasure

And noble delight

 

You are pilgrim way

 

You are now

Forever you are

 

Creative purpose

And the possibility of things going wrong

 

You are the courage to love what will surely die

 

You are resurrection

The kiss we crave

The loss we dread

 

You are birthing and bearing what we must bear

 

You are fullness and emptiness

You are gutted animal keening

and you are logic and sober reflection

 

You are the remnant

The rallying of the reasonable

That which may—or may not—

emerge from disruption and chaos

 

You are stardust flung out

The strange attraction

The song in our bones

 

You are the river moving in us

Our reason to get up in the morning

Our comfort as we close our eyes

 

You are our mystification

And our joy

 

And you know what?

I think the love is mutual

 

Wild thing

 

You are I AM

far beyond our knowing

 

You are closer than our breath

 

You are the everlasting arms

 

You are the Eternal One

 

Hallelujah!

 

All praise to our beautiful God.

 

Postscript:

 

Every sermon should ask you to do something.

So here it is:

Go thou forth from here, my wild things, my darlings.

Find some words of your own for God.

And be ye constrained

By nothing less than Love.

To live any smaller than Love may be sufficient.

But it’s not complete. We need to be holy. We need to be whole.

 

Amen.