We returned from our travels to find green had arrived in Goshen while we were gone, reminding me of a short song learned from a college friend on a long trip years ago:
To ope' their trunks the trees are never seen.
How then do they put on their robes of green?
They leaf them out.
Green's not the only color in sight, as flowers begin to blossom. Along the path we've been walking near the dam, there's the light purple of wild geranium along with the new spring green leaves. And there are the maroon bells of paw paw trees, with the maroon echoed in the trillium flowers below.
Creation is a song, a song that we can see,
a sacred gift from God, let's join the harmony.
This chorus has been singing in my head all week. We sang it at church Sunday, # 24 in Sing the Journey, to the accompaniment of a soft, steady drum beat. It was written by Doug and Jude Krehbiehl, inspired by the writings of Lawrence Hart, a Cheyenne peace chief and Mennonite, and by Cheyenne Spiritual Songs.You can hear Jude sing the chorus and first verse here.
The verses celebrate many scenes from creation and I find they trigger a treasure trove of memories for me. I sing The rolling of the oceans, and I find myself standing on Goleta Beach watching the waves roll in, or floating in the warm waters of the second beach at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. I sing the bubbling of a spring, and I am standing in the middle of the woods at Camp Friedenswald, watching the gentle simmer of clear spring water stir the fall leaves floating there. I sing the night sky filled with jewels and I remember a pre-dawn winter morning when I stepped outside to get the paper and the stars were strewn like jewels across black silk -- and then one star stirred to life and streaked across the sky. I sing a flock of beating wings, and I'm in a car with the family the week before Easter, traveling across Saskatchewan on our way to Edmonton, with the sky overhead a complex interweaving of rivers and rivers of birds migrating north, and the song A River of Birds, by Libana, appropriately playing on the tape recorder.
And here's a few photos to go with some of the other phrases:
And the last verse:
Every glowing sunset, every outstretched leaf
is witness to the glory of the One who sits as Chief.
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 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.
Yesterday evening, on June 24, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes' 38th birthday, just a little before 7:00, friends and fellow church members began gathering for a short song vigil and farewell to Heidi. Nine months ago we reeled at the news that Heidi, one of our co-pastors at Assembly Mennonite, had stage IV cancer and probably only months to live.
She has lived richly and eloquently, sharing her zest for life and her struggles with cancer and unsuccessful treatments. She, husband Mitch, mother Jan, and boys Theo, Adam and Ira, have generously, gracefully, and courageously shared their journey with the congregation and other friends, "daring to stare death in the face," as one friend admiringly put it.
As we gathered, we knew that this day of Heidi's birth was most likely also to be the day of her death, and her birth into a new life.
There were vases and jars for gathering the flowers people brought from their gardens, and a basket for cards.
We lit candles and passed around song sheets:
Let there be light
O Thou in whose presence
The Lord bless you and keep you
There were smiles and tears, and candle flames that danced wildly in the breeze.
People kept streaming in, on bike, on foot, and the small front yard filled and overflowed. Family members gathered on the front porch and watched from the upstairs window. Little ones ran to and fro.
And we sang Happy Birthday, and the three hymns, and stood together in silence, holding Heidi and Mitch and the boys in prayer. Someone began singing a slow, thoughtful Alleluia, alleluia, and we joined in softly.
There were hugs and tears, and people slowly dispersed. About the time most of the crowd was gone, Heidi began taking her last breaths. The family gathered around for that last fare-thee-well, and (from Mitch's message to the congregation and the CaringBridge community) they remained around her bed for some time, crying, laughing, reminiscing and offering words of blessing for Heidi’s new life with God.
Farewell, Heidi, as you rest in God's ocean of light and love. And God's peace to you, Mitch, Jan, Theo, Adam, Ira and to all who will mourn for Heidi, as we continue the journey here.
And holy is your name....
This was Mary's Sunday. We heard the story of Gabriel's visit to her, and then the Magnificat, her song of praise and prophecy. The story was read by a young couple whose little girl died shortly after birth a year and a half ago and who are now awaiting the birth of their son.
Darkness and light.
. . .through all generations. . .
Our benediction was the song My soul is filled with joy, #13 in Sing the Journey, the Magnifacat put to the music of the Irish traditional song Wild Mountain Thyme.
Singly, in pairs, and then as a group of six, dancers presented the verses, and then returned to the same refrain.
. . .Everlasting is your mercy. . .
. . .to the people you have chosen. . .
. . .and holy is your name.
After the five verses, the refrain is played over and over again. The six dancers did it together, and then with each repeat, another seven or so dancers stood up in the aisles and joined them. By the last time through, there were dancers spread through the whole congregation -- including a few who joined in on the spur of the moment.
Linda, the choreographer, calls it her Mary's Song Flash Mob dance.
It was a joy to be part of the flash mob. I wasn't too sure about it when we started rehearsing before the service and there were only about five of us there to be the "mob." But additional participants kept arriving as we rehearsed, and by the end, there were enough to have the aisles well-filled.
Much sunlight throughout the day, and a lovely singing fire at Faith House Fellowship this evening, and some good quotes on light from Philip Newell -- but I'll save those for another day.
"Joy is a candle of mystery and laughter, mystery of light that is born in the dark..." (from Hope is a candle by Richard Leach, #15 in Sing the Story)
It's the third Sunday of Advent, and my moments of light today are snippets here and there --
-- the light shining on Karen's head as she sang the solo during communion
--light from the stained glass windows dancing colorfully above Wilma's head as she played the guitar
-- Carmen's and my shared laughter as she stumbled over this line in her blessing for me: "May your mouth be filled with laughter ... (from Psalm 126)
--candles, fire, and laughter at Faith House
--a just past full moon seen through the branches of the neighbor's trees
-- lights on the Christmas tree we put up yesterday
-- the wonderful illustrations in Julia Vivas' book, The Nativity, especially the angel, with his colorful, tattered wings and his army boots
". . .laughter at hearing the voice of an angel, ever so near, casting out fear." (from Hope is a candle)
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.
I spent the day at Pathways Retreat Center for a day of Gestalt Pastoral Training. The yellow maples glowed outside, and juncos flitted around finding food not too far from the building.
There were many moments of light inside as well, ones that I'll come back to in memory, but those are private for the people involved, so instead I'll share a visual. This one fits in well with this past month's themes of light and darkness, and with the past week's recurring theme of leaves. It caught my eye from across the room.
We ended with a song that has become part of our closing ritual and that done with hand movements created by the Assembly dance group, helps us to embody and celebrate what happens with Gestalt Pastoral Care:
God to enfold you.
Christ to uphold you.
Spirit to keep you in heaven's sight.
So may God grace you,
heal and embrace you,
lead you through darkness into the light.
John Bell and Graham Maule, Iona Community
May you also be enfolded, upheld, kept, graced,healed, embraced, and may God lead you through darkness into the light.
A moment of light from worship at Assembly Mennonite today…
The following paragraph appeared in our newsletter, and was also read to the congregation this morning, before we sang Adam’s beautiful song together.
Will You Hold Me in the Light. Adam M. L. Tice, associate pastor at Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church, sent us this note about "Will You Hold Me in the Light." He writes, "I don't know Heidi well but we are facebook friends. I do, however, have numerous friends at Assembly and feel a strong connection to the congregation. I watched the online display of candles holding Heidi 'in the light' and wanted to offer a song of comfort and healing to the congregation as a whole. I had passed the text to my composer friend, Sally Morris, who always does amazing things for me. Then last week, on Sunday morning, James Miller's death was announced during the sharing time. My wife and I immediately began crying for our good friend Lisa Rose. That afternoon I called Sally again to tell her that Assembly was in the midst of a second tragedy. She hummed what she had developed already for the melody, including some material still in need of text. By the next evening we had a completed hymn. I passed it on to several musicians at Assembly. Sally and I dedicate it to your congregation (hence the tune name) in the hopes that it can be a means of holding one another in the light during these dark times."
“Will you hold me in the light with prayer and song? Hold me in the light of God….”
As copastor Karl Shelly said, we are being held in the Light by people and congregations in many different locations, as he’s realized through messages and emails he has received this past two weeks.
A note to those who are visiting regularly….for the next five days I will be traveling and attending a Mennonite spiritual directors’ retreat in eastern Pennsylvania. I will continue looking for moments of light, taking photos and writing, and lifting Heidi, Lisa Rose and others to the Light. But I will be observing a technology retreat and will not post until I’m back in Goshen – come back and visit next weekend!
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"