We traveled east for Christmas, spending time with our daughter and son-in-law in Pittsburgh and then going on to join a couple of my sibs and their families in DC.There was good family time, most of which I chose to enjoy without a camera in hand.
This morning we were back in Pittsburgh before returning to Goshen, and woke to a winter snowstorm. The name of the coffee shop across the street fit the day well -- and we had a lovely brunch there as well.
As we waited for the storm to move on through before heading home, I enjoyed the effect of the snow on the rooftops seen from Beth and Jesse's third floor windows.
There is a multitude of the heavenly host on my living room bookcase, singing, blowing trumpets, and playing harps. I suppose even the stars are singing.If you come to visit and step closer, you'll discover the tiny creche at the center of this scene. Someone in the household compared the sizes of the creche and the angels and declared, "That must be why the first angels say is always 'Fear not."
Our daughter, Beth, made this creche years ago from Sculpey clay, in a period where she was having great fun with miniatures. We're still enjoying it.
The ordinary table match in the background is there to give a sense of how tiny these figures are. My favorite is the kneeling camel, though the cat beside the manger and the pair of sheep also make me smile.
I've been musing on emptiness today.
This grows out of some recent conversations, as well as my Advent reading. I've been dipping into A Child in Winter, a collection of excerpts from the writings of Caryll Houselander, as well as Caryll's book of meditations on Mary, The Reed of God. Caryll was a lay Catholic Englishwoman, a mystic, artist and poet who did much of her writing during the challenges of World War II Britain.
Here's one from her on emptiness:
The law of growth is rest. We must be content in winter to wait patiently through the long bleak season in which we experience nothing whatever of the sweetness or realization of the Divine Presence, believing the truth, that these seasons which seem to be the most empty are the most pregnant with life. Child in Winter, p 29
Caryll was intrigued with the pre-Advent emptiness of Mary:
It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it is intended.
It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destiny: to receive the piper's breath and to utter the song that is in his heart.
It is emptiness like the hollow in the cup, shaped to receive water or wine.
It is emptiness like the bird's nest, built in a round warm ring to receive the little bird. Reed of God, p 21
At the beginning it will be necessary for each individual to discard deliberately all the trifling unnecessary things in his life, all the hard blocks and congestions; not necessarily to discard all his interests forever, but at least once to stop still, and having prayed for courage, to visualize himself without all the extras, escapes, and interests other than Love in his life: to see ourselves as if we had just come from God's hand and had gathered nothing to ourselves yet, to discover just what shape is the virginal emptiness of our own being, and of what material we are made...
Our own effort will consist in sifting and sorting out everything that is not essential and that fills up space and silence in us and in discovering what sort of shape this emptiness in us, is. From this we shall learn what sort of purpose God has for us. In what way are we to fulfil the work of giving Christ life in us? Reed of God, p 24
What shape is your emptiness? Where are you pregnant with life? How is Christ being birthed through you?
If you stand on our front doorstep and look across College Avenue to the northwest, this is what you see -- the houses across the street and behind them, the Goshen College Music Center. On a gray day, it's nearly invisible, and we've been having a lot of gray days.
Last Friday, however, it was clear and cold. I walked my last directee of the day to the door, and as we said goodbye, this is what we saw:
"Alpenglow!" I exclaimed.
Years ago I sat on the porch of my uncle's cabin on Lake Granby, and watched as the sun set and the mountains glowed a rosy red. It didn't last long. Dad said it was alpenglow, an optical phenomenon that occurs after the sun sets, or just before sunrise, when the sun is below the horizon, but light is being reflected off of snow or ice crystals and creates that rosy glow on the opposite horizon.
I don't know if this was alpenglow, or just the last rays of the setting sun hitting one of the few high spots around. As my son once said, northern Indiana is rather geographically-challenged. We have to take our mountains where we can find them.
By the time my directee left and I had grabbed my camera and crossed the street for a clearer shot from the parking lot, the light to the east was fading.But the western horizon still glowed.
I grew up with the tradition of an Advent wreath -- four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, and a candle in the middle. In my childhood, the central candle was always a countdown candle, thanks to the artwork of our neighbor, Grace Krabill.
When our children were little, I went back to her and learned how to paint the candle with a spiral of numbers from 1 - 25 and a scattering of holly leaves and berries. At supper each evening, the children took turns lighting the countdown candle or blowing it out. Then on Sunday evening, we'd carry the wreath to the living room, turn out all the electric lights except for the little ones on the tree, light candles around the room, and ceremoniously light the Advent candles for that week. And we would sing the appropriate number of verses from "O come, O come, Immanuel."
Now that the children are grown and out on their own, we have a Christ-candle in the middle of the wreath, and we sing "O come" in other settings.
On this third Sunday of Advent, I'm hearing the third verse of "O Come" singing through my heart, with its rather mournful melody.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight.
I'm grieving the deaths in schoolrooms in Connecticut and China. I'm holding awareness of others' gloomy clouds and dark shadows -- illness and loss of loved ones, depression, work and family stresses, discord in home or church or nation, the pain of past events, the challenges of the jolliness of this season.
I'm savoring the words of Zechariah's prophecy from Luke 1:78:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The dawn, or in the words of the King James Version, the dayspring.
For those who sit with the shadow of death this day:
O come, thou Dayspring.
O come, O come, Immanuel.
Immanuel, which means God-with-us -- and which brings me back to the Christ-candle, and the phrase that the Children in Worship program has given us, the phrase that is always repeated at the end of their worship time, as the candle flame is extinguished and the smoke swirls through the room:
The Light that was in one place and one time
is now in all places and all times.
It feels very right to have a Christ-candle in the middle of our Advent wreath, and to be lighting it each evening, even as we also light the Advent candles one at a time, week by week, waiting to celebrate Christmas and the arrival of the Christ-child, the Light who was in one place and time, and now is in all places and all times, the One who can guide us into the way of peace.
The Brothers Grimm needed the help of a dwarf with a funny name to spin straw into gold, but around here, all we need is a good dose of sunshine and suddenly, behold, the old is given new life.
On a recent walk across campus on a gray, wet day, John looked at the gray, wet prairie plantings, and shook his head at how dreary and dead it all looked. It does rather bring to mind the Ghost of Prairie Past these days, especially when, as in the photo below, there's a flurry of snowflakes in the air.
A closer look foretells the Ghost of Prairie Yet to Come. I wonder how many seeds are held in all those seed clusters, of so many different shapes? There is a strong theme of ghostly gray and pale beige, and yet even on a gray day, glimpses of gold can be found.
When I was looking up the lyrics for Sunrise, Sunset for my last blog, I discovered that the first time the refrain appears the words are a variation from the later refrains.
swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
blossoming even as we gaze.
from Fiddler on the Roof
With the last couple days being gray and rainy, it struck me as a good time to look back to sunflower photos from last year. And given that this song is sung as Golde and Tevye are musing on their daughter's wedding, it is even more fitting that these are sunflowers that we grew for the wedding of our daughter, Beth, and Jesse, a day full of many blossoms, and both rain and sunshine.
The view from our front steps is a prosaic one most of the time -- houses, trees, telephone poles, college buildings, a busy street or traffic backed up waiting for a train.
The sky is still there though, and in recent days, the transition times have been full of color. This morning it was lavender and pink, turning the whole sky rosy.
As I walked over to campus to meet my sister for our morning walk, the refrain from Fiddler on the Roof kept running through my head, quite in keeping with the seasonal metaphor I've been exploring the last while.
swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
laden with happiness and tears.
And with light and shadow, dark and light. And color.
Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent, and also our annual Messiah Sing at Assembly Mennonite. As always, the lighting of the Advent candle was a light-filled moment. The fourth and fifth graders ushered the candle lighter in with a simple procession/dance; the banner and the table visuals were created by the MYF. Later the rafters rang as over 200 people filled the worship space to join in singing excerpts from Handel's Messiah.
I heard the Hallelujah chorus from the kitchen, where I was helping ready a plenitude of potluck dishes -- casseroles, crockpot concoctions, salads, breads, desserts, and more. Some dishes were familiar -- Dana's semeles with honey butter, carefully prepared by his Sunday School class, Steve's massive cooker full of rice and chicken, Lois' taco salad, Joy's quiches. Others were new and tempting --shrimp salad, lemon cardamon rice pudding, variations of rice and bean dishes from many lands. The wealth of diversity was echoed in the ages and faces of those that soon sat down to enjoy the feast. I wish I had photos, but I was too busy helping refill the tables.
Thinking of the seasonal metaphor I explored last week, Assembly is in the spring paradox stage. We've come through a period where death touched us closely and where new life has also been vibrant. We have ten babies born in 2012 among us, and several more on the way. Thanks to the baby boom and to newcomers to Goshen who have joined us in recent years, we face all the challenges and opportunities that such growth brings.
One of those opportunities has been "Assembly North." With the support of the Assembly Leadership Group, a group of about 20 people began meeting this summer to explore the possibility for another Assembly-related worship group. Rather than working out all the details ahead of time, we took on the mantra "The Way is made by walking" and set out to see what might happen.
This fall we began meeting regularly at 11:00 on Sunday mornings at Faith House for a time of worship and a simple meal together. During the month of November, about half of us shared about the invitations from God that we've sensed as individuals, and ways that we are living those out, or new invitations we're beginning to glimpse. It has been a good way to learn more about each other and the 'sparks sown in us like seed,' to borrow a phrase from "What is this place," the first song in the Hymnal Worship Book.
A week ago we culminated that sharing with a candle lighting ceremony. Erin placed the peace lamp/Light of Christ in the center of our circle and invited each of us to light a tea candle from it on behalf of the person to our left, with the group joining in to say, for example, "May Sally's light shine." Each person was named, as well as those who were out of town celebrating Thanksgiving with their families. We had time to sit with the Light, noticing the way the tea candle flames all leaned in towards the lamp, and the way that the lamp flame danced in response.
What Assembly North will become is still unknown (a 2nd Assembly campus? a house church? a new congregation?). It is good to be part of that unfolding, just as it was good to be with the whole Assembly yesterday, joining in with song and feast. Here, too, what we will become is still unknown, as we continue the journey together. But both are places of light and welcome, and the Holy Spirit blows in our midst, bringing comfort and challenge and transformation -- a fitting awareness to carry into this Advent season, as we wait and we watch.
"Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
I've taken on a prayer practice of looking for the moments of light in each day, whether actual or metaphorical, and then writing or posting photos of what I find.