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.

My Best Approximation of Radiance

I should say here that for many years I’ve been honored to be part of a rotation of lay speakers who give the homily at our church’s Wednesday night worship service, which we call Refresh.  Over the years, this work has offered  a delightful discipline by which I’ve gotten to know my True Self and what she thinks!  And if my reflections, offered with love, have helped the blessed community, so much the better. Below, what I wrote and presented for the start of a new year.  I was told by a spiritual teacher that he appreciated the poetry of it.  Which is why I’ve included it under “poems.”

Phoebe

 

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“Rise and Shine”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

Isaiah 60:1-3 [Tanakh translation]

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

The presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the Lord will shine,

And His presence be seen over you.

And nations shall walk by your light,

Kings, by your shining radiance.

 

Arise. Shine. Our covenant with God,

stretching all the way back to Abraham,

is to bless all the nations all the world all of creation

with our shining radiance.

Brighten the corner where we are,

trusting the brightness to spread from there.

Simple, yes? Maybe not.

I don’t know about you, but my shining radiance comes and goes.

Often it’s blown away by an ill wind of unreasonable and irritated,

a darkness of brow as I strain through my all-important list,

narrowly intentioned, feeling thwarted and overwhelmed.

Oh evil star that’s got me down

Oh swarm of troubles buzzing round…

 

Oh well. Eventually I lurch back to my best approximation of radiance.

Oh, to hold that vision a little more consistently!

To see how deeply essential it is. How I must work and work for it.

It’s a new year, a new day, and always we begin again.

Arise. Shine. There is a radiance. There is shalom, wellbeing for all.

By our every thought and action, we can help shalom, or hinder it.

Let us choose to help. Help more than we hinder!

 

Arise. Shine.

We are now in the season of the Christian church year called

“after the Epiphany.”

I would wager this season is not as well known to us as some.

In 2018, the season of “after the Epiphany”

will take us from Epiphany Sunday, which we just observed,

all the way to Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on February 14.

 

Just over a month. We should commit to use it wisely.

 

From now to Ash Wednesday

let us resolve every morning

to consider anew

this question:

 

After the Christ child has come into the world,

after those Gentiles from afar, those receivers of epiphany,

those wise persons, those dreamers who study the stars—

have traveled weary dangerous miles to Judea

to find a complete stranger,

a Jewish baby born to peasant parents,

after they have upset the establishment with their questions

after they have offered their strange gifts to the baby

after they have gone home changed by what they saw in his eyes,

what then? For their day, and for ours?

 

Isaiah’s prophetic persistent answer, to people living many centuries before Jesus, to people living many centuries after Jesus:

Arise, shine, your light has come.

 

Okay. But still, in our day as in Isaiah’s, darkness covers the earth,

and the people sit under thick clouds.

Under thick clouds, in the dark, how do we shine? What is the ask? What is our task?

 

For help, let us devote ourselves anew to the example of a master.

 

In a little town called Nazareth, Jesus grows up,

from child to carpenter to rabbi.

Leaving home, he starts his public ministry of cloud removal,

of teaching and healing and giving sight to the blind,

which as we know stirs up darkness and gets him killed.

And yet he keeps insisting:

Watch me. Follow me. Cultivate my way of being in the world.

For one thing, don’t you be puttin’ that radiance under a bushel basket!

It may feel safer that way. It’s not.

 

The wise ones knew Jesus for who he was,

and by their strange gifts they pointed to his mission:

 

Gold for a king.

Incense for a priest.

Myrrh to anoint the dead.

 

The season of “after the Epiphany” gives us several weeks

to think about that.

To think about what it takes for Jesus

and us

should we choose to follow him

to grow up into his gracious mindset

to take on his gift of committed citizenship

in the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God:

Gold for royal sons and daughters.

Incense for priesthood.

Myrrh for stewards each

of one precious life

to pour out in gratitude and service.

Myrrh, yes. We’re going to die.

On the other hand, as the psalmist says:

I end—but I am still with You.

 

Strange gifts. Daunting even.

Yet ours to embrace if we will.

 

And I hope we will,

whatever the cost in growing pains and boundary crossings.

For in truth, the cost of inertia, the cost of indifference and despair,

is greater.

Do we grow weary,

do we grow old in serving our particular corner of creation?

Of course.

Here’s something that might help you. It has to do with color.

 

In the spirit of teaching the Good News through the eye as well as the word:

 

The color assigned to “after the Epiphany” is green, the color of life. The color of growing things.

The color, we might say,

of Jesus growing from a babe to the fullness of a young man.

And so for us.

 

Green. The color of life.

As I move into the role of grandmother and tribal elder,

here’s a verse that gives me comfort:

 

Psalm 92:14 They will still yield fruit in old age;

they shall be full of sap and very green.

 

Full of sap, and very green. Amen?

 

As we all know, for green to happen, there must be light.

 

And so, for us, in the bleak midwinter, let there be light.

 

And there is light.

 

And what we learn in the season after Epiphany is

that the light keeps coming into the world.

Always and each new day.

And we followers of Christ must put on the mindset of Christ

and make like the leaves on the trees.

Which is to say, soak up the light.

 

Why? For our own sustaining and warming and hope, yes.

Also that we may be a light.

A calm, collected, disciplined, focused, persistent light to the world.

A breathing, a transpiration, an energy, a feeding, a nurturing, a repairing…

‘A song, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, goodwill to men…’

Beginning with ourselves, then outward to our circles of care.

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

The presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the Lord will shine,

 

Notice the darkness is not banished.

It still covers the earth.

 

Name your darkness. Tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine:

 

The darkness of disappointment.

 

The darkness of things I did, or did not do.

 

The darkness of unexpected calamity.

 

The darkness of diminishment and frailty and disease.

 

The darkness of pain, division, anger, and fear.

 

The darkness of generation after generation of the powerful

exercising coercion,

all in the name of certainty and quick resolution,

which sometimes seem to us so much easier

than the hard work of community and reconciliation.

 

The darkness of ignorance:

They say that for all the information available today,

in truth we have forgotten how to think. We have embraced technology but forgotten who we are and what we owe the common good.

We have grown ‘smupid,’ that is, smart but stupid.

 

So. So it is for us.

So it was in post-exile Israel, when Isaiah lived.

Name your darkness now, they shared it then.

Don’t forget that post-exile Israel had returned from captivity

to a shadow of their former glory,

that they were beset on every side,

that they were poorly resourced to make Judea great again,

that they couldn’t even agree what great again means.

This felt really bad.

They were tempted to indifference, anger, despair…

 

And what did Isaiah say to his poor suffering people?

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

 

Arise, shine.

Renew your shalom-covenant with God.

Go with the light you have.

Go with the light you have.

Go with the light you have.

Or, as someone has put it, Hallelujah anyway.

 

To me, this implies a pretty big ask.

And a pretty big confidence in our capacity.

 

Here’s something I recently came across:

 

“We are directed to look out into the darkness of the ever-longer nights and say, ‘I am not deterred.

I will answer this darkness with light.

I will remove a portion of the darkness

and inspire my neighbor to be empowered to remove some more…

We are not allowed to give up.

We don’t have to dispel all the darkness.

We simply have to do our part.”

 

Why? Why should I have to do my part,

when others are so clearly unable and/or unwilling?

 

Because I am not my own.

I am part of ‘an inescapable network of mutuality.’

 

Because something there is in me that feels a duty to hope,

in covenant partnership with the One who wills,

“Let there be light.”

 

Light for helping.

Light for repairing.

Light for mastering each and every day my own tumultuous self.

Light for everyday miracles.

Light for criticizing the bad by the practice of the better.

Light to move past the tyranny of trivia

into the glory of partnering my deep gladness

with the world’s deep hunger,

all according to the will of the One who gifted creation

from the beginning

with light.

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

The presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the Lord will shine,

And His presence be seen over you.

And nations shall walk by your light,

Kings, by your shining radiance.

 

Amen.

 

 

Welcome!

This site is currently under construction.

For now, my purpose statement:

 

The eternal God is our dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

[Deuteronomy 33:27]

 

We are enfolded in an unfolding mystery. The purpose of this site is to offer essays and creative imaginings in a way that wakes us to our place in mystery and re-enchants the world.

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Enchantment: Learning the Birds

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;

and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.”

Job 12:7

My granddaughter is five months old. As the world comes alive for her, she seems to be especially drawn to birds. Only the other day we were together on her back patio, closely observing a nearby arbor covered with confederate jasmine, our attention riveted by an invisible cheeping of mockingbird chicks. As we watched, one fledgling head popped up. Stretch of stubby wings, then its whole self. It clambered out of the nest—so bold, ready to get on with things. As it swaggered across the broken trellis-top of the arbor, I said, “Be careful little one, lest you…” As if on cue, it fell through the trellis to the ground below. Oh well, no harm done, save to the feelings of its vigilant parent.

 

Having hit the grass and regained its poise, the chick leapt into action, striding on strong legs—straight toward us! Parent mocker didn’t like this one bit, but the chick kept coming, until it stood close to my feet. On my lap, my granddaughter stared down, taking this in. If she can hold the image long enough, it will make a good nature report for school.

 

Oh my darling girl, my heart is full to find myself in this world and you in my lap as I tell the good news: This baby bird you behold is Mimus polyglottos. Mimic of many tongues. His bird-family is called Mimidae.

 

Mimidae. There’s something about a mimid! Southeast Texas yards abound with these long-tailed songbird cousins. Mockingbirds, gray catbirds, brown thrashers: In common, their gift for midrashing on the songs and sounds of other birds. Also their diet; all three forage for fruits and arthropods. As to personality [per-sonare: a unique sounding forth!] they are different.  In a mocker, we have a zealous military type, winging resolutely about his realm, flashing territorial. No visible sense of humor. Catbirds skulk in hedgerows, veiling their persons and their opinions. Ditto for thrashers. But thrashers will emerge from stealth-mode long enough to visit a birdbath, or sit atop the occasional lamppost, radiant in their chestnut, and their golden eyes.

 

And oh can a mimid sing! You will come to know the outpouring of a mocker, how he finds a rooftop or a power line in plain view where he pours forth phrases he’s invented or learned from others. His rule is to repeat each phrase several times, with a significant pause between series. It’s quite regimented. A thrasher or catbird, on the other hand, is more circumspect in his perch, and free-form in his vocal offering. As to catbirds, think burbling brook as the world wakes up. I’m not so familiar with the thrasher-song. We’ll have to ask your great uncle, who’s made a study of the matter.

 

In physical form, all three mimids have a clean-lined elegance I admire.