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!
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:
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.
A thrill for me all summer has been the pre-dawn planets: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. For weeks my adult Sunday school class has patiently watched as I sketch the latest sighting on the blackboard. They can’t fathom that I get up at 5:30. Me either. This Sunday just past, I came in from my planet gazing, sat down with my coffee, opened my email, and behold! My friend Jim had circulated a poem, “Star House,” in which he expressed how experiencing stars and planets in the night sky calls him to awareness and connections and creativity. And so it was that later that morning my class got to hear my own planet report AND a poem! One of my classmates liked it so well she asked how to join his circulation list.
After church I got in my car, un-silenced my phone, and behold, a text had come in. It was a thank-you from a colleague for a card I sent his wife, who is ill. He said her bed was now positioned so she could watch the birds at their feeder. He had opened my card for her, and she said the bird on the cover was pretty. I re-read the text, then drove home. I will leave it to you to imagine my state of heart.
Home, where I took up a poem I’ve been crafting. Subject: Prothonotary Warbler. A light verse about a little ray of sunshine I saw on a tree at the edge of the Neches River. People call them Swamp Canaries, for their color, and their custom of belting out incredibly loud song from the hot humid depths of thickets. I’ve seen and heard three or four in my time, always in the woods, or at river’s edge.
After a while I lay down the poem and moved to the sun porch, where I took up the Sunday paper, then Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. Presently I saw movement outside – not the swoopings and bathings and feedings of the usual crew. No, it was more like the erratic flutterings of a big yellow butterfly. Swallowtail? No, too all-yellow for that. Whatever it was seemed to be taking the measure of our backyard, in a kind of hyperactive way. I sped for the binoculars, tore off one eyepiece in my excitement, finally got them to my eyes, and there he was in a tree. Prothonotary warbler. In 38 years, first one I’ve seen in this suburban yard. There he was, briefly, and then, oh my, he flew straight to the window where I was, and hovered. We took the measure of each other. Then he was gone. All I can do is report my findings.
Mark Twain wrote, “There’s no accounting for human beings.” I, for instance, when mildly perplexed, go earring shopping. Somehow it steadies me. Another quirk: I had my Big Thicket Association editor’s earrings on today, figuratively speaking, and was enjoying a sprightly email conversation with someone about the pitfalls of getting people’s names right, in person and print. Eventually I turned from that to another task, only to find a poem about name-confusion struggling to organize itself in the rhyming room of my brain. I tried in vain to ignore the shouting and scuffling. Finally I caved, and entered that well-beloved room, and took charge. I mean, like new earrings, why not?