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.
My walk got delayed a bit this (yesterday) morning, because this friendly fellow was splayed on the screen door to our porch, and I had to take his photo. Something about his fresh green oddity, and that amazing leaf-look just makes me smile.
I did a little internet sleuthing and found this link to the katydid's song.
Listening to it gave me a little aha! moment -- we've been hearing katydid's in the regular night chorus.
The moon was nearing the trees to the west as I crossed campus -- and looked twice that big without the camera.
A little way down the bike path, the morning glories were trumpeting a blue hallelujah to the dawn.
And the darker purple morning glories are an embodiment of the Inner Light.
I’d gotten that much written last night, but waited to post. Yesterday evening, Assembly’s worship space was available for people to gather in silent prayers around the cross. I knew it would be a time of light in darkness, and it was.
The worship space was dark, except for the lights on the banners and front table, where the flame of the peace lamp burned steadily. Closer to the entry, two semi-circles of chairs embraced an open space. In the center of that space, the rough wood cross that we use for Good Friday services lay on the floor, with two terracotta platters full of sand at its head and foot. A few small white candles stood in the platters already, bright flickers of light in the darkness. Others were held by people silently praying in the chairs, or kneeling at the cross.
John and I lit our own small white candles at the Christ candle, and joined the silent prayer.
It was a restful moment of light in the darkness. And in the middle of it, there came another spark of light. We had been there for awhile, in the midst of that prayer-filled place. There was quiet movement, as some left and others arrived, and I hardly noticed when Bethany, chair of our worship committee, got up and quietly opened a nearby closet. She brought out a small side table.
She disappeared into the worship closet. While she was out of sight, one of the older members of the congregation got slowly to his feet, his cane in one hand and burning candle in the other. He moved forward to place his candle in the platter at the head of the cross. I wondered how he would manage to get down and back up again, but just then Bethany arrived with another sand-filled platter. In one graceful movement she set it on the small table and put the table near the cross. With a gentle smile, she helped Hilary set his candle in the sand.
It struck me as such a lovely, attuned-to-the-moment gesture, a small act of kindness that captured the spirit of so many small acts of caring that are happening in this community, sparks of light as we struggle with the chaos of one act of violence.
I’d end with that, but I want to add the quote that I saw repeated in several facebook entries and a few emails yesterday. Karl Shelly, one of Assembly’s pastors and Adjunct Professor of Peace, Justice & Conflict Studies at Goshen College, wondered what to say as his “Transforming Conflict & Violence” class gathered for the first time since Professor Miller's death.
Here’s the quote. “Two things I know to be true: this world is filled with remarkable beauty and love. And this world is filled with unspeakable violence and pain. We live in between both; with glimpses of heaven and of hell; of darkness and of light. As one who seeks to transform conflict and violence, I will live by the proposition, and walk in the hope, that violence and pain never have the final word ...”
Amen and amen.
For months our congregation has been lighting a peace lamp each Sunday. We hear about one of the world’s troubled spots, light the lamp and respond to the leader’s “The light shines in the darkness” with “And the darkness cannot put it out.” (John 1:5)
This past Sunday one of our pastors, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes, shared with us that she learned earlier in the week that the cancer she had ten years ago was back. On Monday she had further tests and the news was bad. Not only is it back, but it has spread to several new locations. Radiation treatments started on Tuesday. Heidi, her husband Mitch, their three young boys, and their network of friends and family are still reeling.
There are many tears, and many prayers, and many photos of candles posted to Heidi’s facebook page. “The light shines in the darkness.”
It was raining Sunday as we heard the news, a slow, steady, relentless rain. As we anointed Heidi, we sang "Rain Down, rain down, rain down your love, God of life." (Jaime Cortez, OCP Pub)
It kept raining all day. It has continued raining all week, interspersed with moments when the rain eases. Yesterday brought one of those breaks in the rain, and the sun even came out. I seized the opportunity to get outside and walk around my yard and garden, checking on things.
My attention was caught by the splendor of sunlight reflected in rain drops scattered over burgundy rose leaves. The sight seemed to capture something of this week’s spirit of tears and of hope, of God's light shining in the darkness and in the midst of lament.
It occurred to me that a good practice these next weeks would be to look for the daily moments of light, and to try and capture them in a photo or words. And having just gotten this website up, a blog seems a good way to structure this prayer of hope and attention. I won't post every day, but I will keep watch, with my eyes and with my heart.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"