Last night's snowfall and today's clear skies made for many light filled moments today, starting with sunrise in the parking lot. Then there was sparkling ice on fences and trees, full of beauty even when it weighed branches down. I spent more time knocking snow off branches than taking pictures, and the top of the arborvitae is no longer bowed down to the ground. Ice was everywhere.
There's a large flock of sparrows that normally shelters in our privet hedge. The hedge was half its normal height even after John freed the branches from snow. While they slowly recovered, a portion of the flock settled in our locust tree instead, their wings catching the light as they landed. The geese, on the other hand, flew overhead, heading towards the sun.
This morning's gentle rain put beads of light on our bare Japanese maple -- take this photo and multiply it by ten to get a picture of the whole tree. My eye could see all the beads of light when looking at the whole tree, but the camera couldn't.
By early afternoon, the rain shifted to snow, seen here on the last two leaves left on the maple.
And the snow continues to fall -- when I look out the window, the sky and the yard are full of light, held by the snow, though now it is well after sunset.
Here's our first Advent candle lit and burning, just before I closed the curtains, at that time of day when light and darkness mingle, in this season of the year where we're thinking more about darkness and light.
Yesterday's lectionary passages included Isaiah 64:1-8, and the children's time at Assembly picked up on verse 8: Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Eric, an art teacher and potter, brought along three pieces that had symbols and patterns to share with the children. Here they're passing his favorite mug around.
He also brought this mug, with its doodle of a fish symbol. I was delighted to see it.
A number of years ago, a friend of ours got married, and at the reception in Goshen, the newlyweds gave a gift of a mug to each guest. Eric made the mugs for them, and he kept this one as a memento of the project.
The mug that I took home from the reception was my favorite mug for years. I liked the blue color, it fit my hand well, and the smaller mouth seemed to keep my tea warm longer that a straight-sided mug.
A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to make my morning cup of tea. Reflecting on how much I enjoyed using that cup, I wondered who had made it. I picked it up to look on the underside for a potter's mark and somehow knocked it off the counter. It fell to the floor and smashed into pieces.
A few days later I saw Eric at the potter's guild sale, and as I picked out a mug and a Japanese-style tea cup to buy, I asked him about the blue fish mugs, and if he knew who had made them.
"I did," he said, and I told him about my mini-tragedy, wondering if he might be able to make me another.
"I can't get that color of glaze anymore," he said. "But you know what? I've got an extra mug that I kept from that batch. And we've got plenty of mugs in our cupboards. I'll bring it to church for you."
And sure enough, this Sunday, after the children's time, he gave me the blue fish mug. Definitely a spark of light for the day.
And seeing Eric at the front, talking about being a potter, reminded me of another time when he also helped us better understand what this image of God as potter is about.
During Lent 2000. we worshiped with a theme of Broken and Blessed. One image for our worship was the line from Psalm 31:12: I have become like a broken vessel; the other was God who seeks to make all things new. Worship committee invited Eric to help us more fully understand these images.
He brought a large, narrow-mouthed vase that he had made to the front, and there, in the middle of worship, he broke it. We put the pile of broken pieces on the table in front -- an unforgettable image of a broken vessel.
Then slowly, week by week during Lent, he returned to the front, and began mending the vase, gluing it back together piece by piece, as the congregation read a prayer of confession that included the repeated refrain
We come as we are, O God;
We acknowledge our brokenness;
We look to you for restoration.
By Easter it looked like this, transformed rather than restored to pristine condition. The cracks still showed, and the narrow-mouthed top was left off, and it stood wide open, filled to overflowing with a wild bouquet of spring flowers.
Today it stands in a corner of the counseling room, a symbol of being broken and blessed.
And Eric, in his potter's role, has now given me multiple images of the holy, healing, generous God, who recognizes and receives our brokenness and continues to work for restoration. Thanks, Eric!
One of the hymns we sang this morning at church was "O Savior, rend the heavens," #175 in the Hymnal Worship Book.
The second and third verses brought visuals to mind for me, all photos I've taken in the last couple days.
dew from heaven send. As gentle dew,
O Son, descend.
Drop down, you clouds,
and torrents bring,
to Jacob's line
rain down a King.
(This is one of four stained glass windows in our meeting space, made by Wilma Harder. It was also raining outside, and there are light-filled raindrops on the bush outside the window, though it's hard to see in the photo when it is this size.)
in flow'ring bud be seen,
clothe hill and dale in garb of green.
(Our forsythia has buds flowering totally out-of-season.)
O earth, bring forth
this Blossom rare;
O Savior, rise
from meadow fair.
(A rare fall bloom on this normally spring-blooming violet in our yard.)
The kids are home for Thanksgiving and this afternoon we went for a walk to enjoy the surprisingly warm weather. Plenty of late afternoon sunshine lighting up dried plants, fences, and mushrooms
_ Late Wednesday evening John dropped me off at the South Bend airport and went off to park the car. We were there to pick up our son, and since his bus wasn’t in yet, I wandered around the waiting area. I ambled over to the vending machines, not hungry, but curious about what they offered.
There was an African-American man with a trim, salt-and-pepper beard looking over the selections. When he realized I was looking at the same machine, he stepped back with a word of apology. “I was just trying to find the prices,” he said. “I’m not really buying.”
I nodded. “Me either.”
We contemplated the cookies and potato chips and saw the prices at almost the same moment.
“Damn!” he said, and a beat later I said, “Goodness!”
At the same time, he caught himself with a “Sorry, excuse me,” and went on, “Yeah, goodness!” and chuckled.
I hadn’t really heard what either of us had said till then, hearing instead our common meaning that the junk food was way overpriced, but something about these parallel but opposite exclamations continues to amuse me.
“Damn” is actually quite appropriate. I’m reminded of a Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman story in which a personified Famine is the CEO for the Newtrition corporation, which produces food made of “spun, plaited, and woven protein molecules, capped and coded, carefully designed to be ignored by even the most ravenous digestive tract enzymes; no-cal sweeteners; mineral oils replacing vegetable oils; fibrous materials, colorings, and flavorings.” The end result is a food that looks like any other food except that it costs more and you starve to death eating it. And Famine’s goal is quite literally the damnation of those who eat the food. The vending machine choices weren’t from the Newtrition company, but cost and nutrition-wise, they were near cousins.
So what about my “Goodness” exclamation?
It comes from childhood training and a continued adult commitment to not readily use swear words -- if I'm going to say them, I mean them. Mostly 'goodness' was just a sound. I certainly didn’t mean there was anything much good about either the food choices or the prices.
Perhaps at a deeper level it is a prayer, a blessing. Instead of a “damned if I’ll eat that, or pay that,” perhaps it can be “may goodness and mercy abound, even here, despite overpriced junk food.” Or maybe at some level it is a plea: “Goodness, come rescue us!”
The man and I strolled back to the seating area, he shaking his head. “Buying two of those would be more than I’m paying for my Thanksgiving dinner.” I laughed, agreed, and went off to join John.
And goodness did abound with our Thanksgiving dinner, shared with family and friends who brought much good food, conversation and laughter.
Here’s some sparks of light on the cranberries, encountered during my preparation of apple-cranberry pie, just before I added the crumb topping.
What a difference the sun makes! I had reserved a turkey at one of the farmers' market stands, and this morning I drove towards Elkhart to pick it up. I went over some of the same roads as yesterday. What was bland gray then was transformed by sunshine. And yesterday's non-stop rain left everything feeling fresh and bright.
Back home again, as I carried the turkey in to the house, the sunshine highlighted a thriving violet by the corner of the garage. The plant has obviously been there awhile, but I've never noticed it before. And now, at the end of November, it's blooming. Surprise!
I drove over to Elkhart for a meeting this morning and took the country roads, past fields that a few days ago were golden with sunshine. Not today. Today there was a thick gray cloud cover, and the bare trees were dark gray, the harvested soy fields were rusty gray, and the harvested corn fields were dun, with scarcely a ghost of pale gold remaining.
It wasn't a landscape for sparks of light, at least not photographic ones. It occurred to me that it is easy to find sparks in full sunshine -- so easy that we quickly take it for granted. And in darkness, the light stands out in vibrant contrast. The real challenge is finding light when life is gray, and all energy and life seems bleached away.
I thought I'd probably be writing about moments of light from conversations or from my visit to the seminary library, and I certainly could do that with memories from today. But I'll save some of the reading sparks for another day and post the one photographic spark I did find.
I came out of the seminary library into a downpour and hurried to my car. No glory of gulls today. But these berries on low bushes by the sidewalk were dripping light, thanks to the rain.
One of the electives during second hour at Assembly yesterday was a Taize-style song and prayer service. The room was dim; the rough wood cross was on the floor again, swathed in a fabric of deep blue with gold highlights; the Christ candle was lit, and terracotta platters of sand stood ready to receive our small white candles.
The service moved peacefully through scripture, silence and song, with musicians contributing their skills on piano, recorder, guitar, cello and violin. The last song, the one we sang over and over as we lit the small candles and prayed around the cross, was Within our darkest night, which includes the line, you kindle the fire that never dies away.
Something in the music sounds Spanish to me, though the composer is French, and I think of St John of the Cross, the medieval Spanish mystic and poet who drew on flame imagery to describe his experience of encountering the divine, in his poem Llama de Amor Viva -- the living flame of love.
The living flame of love. Light in the darkness.
In French, the song is not so much a statement as a prayer -- dans nos obscurites, allume le feu qui ne s'etaint jamais -- in our obscurities, our darkness-es, light the fire that never goes out.
We are coming down to the dark time of year -- the gray days, the long nights, the cold winds. Amongst those singing were those wrestling with a personal dark season -- illness, loss, grief. One young visitor struggled with tears.
I don't know what each one there carried in their hearts, what sorrows, what hopes, how they heard the words. For some, the darkness might seem overwhelming. But they were there, holding the candles, praying, being held by the song.
Light in the darkness. The living flame of love.
November pulled up a gray cloud blanket last night, making today a good one for writing about a memory of light.
Three years ago, almost to the day (11-21-2008), I came out of the main seminary building at AMBS, heading towards my car, and had the great good fortune to witness an incredible combination of birds and sunset. I've tried finding words for the experience several times. Mary Oliver's Snow Geese almost fits, but also inspired me to try my own poem version.
Glory of Gulls -- Sally Weaver Glick
“Oh, to love what is lovely and will not last!”
from Snow Geese, by Mary Oliver
Mine were not geese,
a white-winged swirl,
against dark clouds.
I turned to look
no end, no bound, no
one last bird
only more and more
a glory of gulls.
ever flowing from the south,
dim grey ghosts
in a grey sky, till
caught by the light
into bright life
and fly on
a flurry now of golden notes
dancing a silent song,
a thousand flickering flames,
tongues of fire,
scattered by the setting sun. I
catch my breath,
and drink delight.
The gulls have gone
and I've gone on, yet
and breathe out
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"