Sunday, July 18, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
I know where the Raven went…
“Give us the father’s son,” we cried
and so the Son of the Father died.
The Lion of Judah picked up his cross
and went to his death like a man.
The Lamb of God picked up his cross
and went to his death as a man.
The Son of God picked up his cross and went to his death
as Adam did once, but this once, once for all.
So Lion and Lamb and God and Man lay down
(Is this the Peaceable Kingdom come at last?)
and stretched out his hands for the nails.
Not since Noah’s day has wood upheld
such a menagerie.
The raven was sent out and stayed away
unlike the dove who, flighty, like the wind,
came back to Noah twice, but then, the third time,
spurned his offered hand.
Perhaps she joined the raven then,
and circled with him overhead
until they saw the stretched out pierced hands
that waited for them both
upheld by different wood, upon a leafless tree,
while higher still above an eagle watched them all
with its keen eyes, then spiraled out of sight
of those below.
No leafy gift to bear back to the ark,
no cheery rainbow armistice with God,
but thorns and spear and rough cut wood
and women crying underneath this tree,
and gasping breath, and thunder overhead.
The raven and the dove were sent away
in hope of finding hope, and so they have.
God's grace and mercy fruited on that tree
and bear us up like eagle's wings, while
His breath breathes us in and out
with love and life.
He gives to us for us to give away.
“It is finished!”
So You say.
It has hardly begun.
(c) Allison de Kanel 2010
Edited a couple of times but done for now.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
In The Episcopal Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration occurs on August 6th. But the Last Sunday after Epiphany, the one I learned to call Quinquegesima when I was a little girl, is when most of us hear the story of the Transfiguration.
Depending on the year, and on whether we are using the lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer or are using the Revised Common Lectionary, we may also hear the story of how the face of Moses glowed after he spoke to the Lord on Mount Sinai. Or we may hear the story of the horses and chariot of fire taking Elijah away. Or perhaps we hear the story of Elijah waiting for the Lord, Who comes to him not in the earthquake or the whirlwind, but (as we used to hear) in "a still small voice." And then we hear how Jesus, too, went up a mountain to pray and spoke with Moses and Elijah and how he and his clothes glowed, while the voice of God spoke from a cloud. These are all stories of awe, about as far as we can get from a little baby sleeping in a manger.
The story of the Transfiguration is amazing and wonderful, and if we aren't careful sounds an awful lot like a science fiction story with an alien spaceship preparing to beam someone up - an image which got stuck in my head years ago, like an irritating tune that you can't stop humming. So when talking with the kids about the Transfiguration one year, I wanted to start with the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) story for the day. I can't recall if we were using the Prayer Book lectionary or the Revised Common Lectionary. But I think the story we heard that year was of Moses asking if he could see God, and of God's response that Moses could hide when God walked by, and then Moses could see God's back.
I started by asking the children why pirates wear eye patches. The answers were pretty impressive: "Because a shark bit the eye off!" "Because the eye was hurt in a battle!"
I said that I wasn't sure about the sharks, and of course some pirates were wounded in fights, but there was another explanation, too. I said that at one time sailors had to figure out where they were by looking at the sky. Sometimes they had to look right at the sun. Doing a lot of that damaged their eyesight, so eventually they wound up wearing eye patches.
Then I asked the kids if they knew what a solar eclipse is. (Some of the older kids did.) I said that the moon comes between the earth and the Sun, and we can see parts of the Sun that are usually hidden. But looking at the Sun can hurt our eyes, like those old pirates hurt their eyes, so we are not supposed to look at the Sun during an eclipse, ever. It is dangerous.During the time of Moses, people believed that - just like it is dangerous to look directly at the Sun - it is also dangerous to look at God. Not because God is mean, but because God is so holy and powerful. Looking directly at the face of God would be like staring at the Sun. That's why Moses had to hide when God went by, and then he could look at his back.
Now, when Jesus was born, all that changed. Jesus was God, but he was also a real human baby. He cried and he spit up and he peed and he pooped. (One little girl, very shocked, said, "No!" A boy asked why he cried.) Yes, I said, he was a real baby. He cried because that's what babies do. And he peed and he pooped because babies do that, too. He was God and you could look right at him and not get hurt.
Now I asked the kids if they ever played peek-a-boo. They all nodded. If they played peek-a-boo with someone, like their Mom, and she hid her face, did that mean she was gone? No. She was still there, even though they couldn't see her, right? Right. They knew she was still there, even though they couldn't see her.
So then, finally, I talked about the Transfiguration. Jesus and his disciples went up the mountain, and Jesus began to glow like the Sun. We can't imagine what Jesus looked like, but maybe it was a little like looking at the stained glass window of Jesus over the altar, when the Sun is shining brightly.
I think, I said, that in the Transfiguration, God was playing peek-a-boo with us. Jesus was really God, even when he wasn't glowing, but all that glory was hidden. But in the Transfiguration, God let us see that Jesus was God, just like when you see the face of someone who is playing peek-a-boo. They are there all along, but you can't see them. But you know they are there. I think that God plays peek-a-boo in Church, too. When we pray, or hear the Bible read, and especially when we take Communion, God is very close to us, even though we can't see him. But we know he is there.
I don't know if any of the children who sat with me that day remember what we talked about. But I do. For me the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus will always remind me - not of an alien spaceship about to beam someone up - but of pirates and sharks, of solar eclipses, and of a mother playing peek-a-boo.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Skittles is our youngest cat, a little over 8 month old now. She is black and white, and my husband and I delight in her style as she bounces around the house. She prances, too, when she has something in her mouth that she is carrying around. Look, she says to us, I caught a scrap of wrapping paper! Look, I caught a toy!
Skittles is blind. Really blind: I took her to a veterinary ophthalmologist. When she was just a month old, she suffered a blow to the head, follwed by coma and a grand mal seizure. Both of her pupils expand and contract when a light shines in either one. In other words, her eyes talk to each other, but they don't talk to the visual center of the brain. We were briefly afraid that she was deaf, too, but she isn't. She can hear - she comes straight to her food bowl when she hears me open the cat food container. We (my husband and I) regularly turn to each other to ask, "How does she do that?"
Sometimes, when I tell people she is blind, they don't believe me. She zips around the house, and hardly ever bumps into anything. She always knows where she is and where she is going, which may be why she doesn't like to be scooped up. But sometimes, when she is playing, she loses track of her toy. There it is, right in front of her, but she can't see it.
Every step Skittles takes is into the dark. Every step. That may explain the prancing: she is checking the space in front of her for obstacles and testing the stability of her next footstep (or pawstep, I should say). But I'm not convinced by that explanation - as near as I can tell, she is fearless.
Into the Dark
For several years, it was my privilege to offer the children's sermon (or kids' talk) at church, alternating Sunday by Sunday with our rector. On the weeks I was scheduled, I'd check the lectionary for the coming Sunday, read the lessons carefully, and maybe do a little research on line, or using some reference books I had. Sometimes I read those lessons over and over. I was trying to find something that would grab the attention of the children and help them remember what we talked about.
About a year ago, the Psalm was a portion of Psalm 25. Some of the verses caught my attention.
"Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, ... Gracious and upright is the LORD; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly. All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies."
All right, I have to confess: these verses reminded me of a story I had read in a science fiction magazine, about a man running through a zone in which the area behind you is in the past, so you can turn and see behind you, but the area in front of you is the future, so you cannot see ahead.
On Sunday morning, I asked the organist to play some "dance music" when I signalled him during my talk with the kids.
I sat down with the kids, greeted them, and then I stood up and backed up a few steps. "I think we all go through life like that," I said; "We can see the past, but we can't see the future. We see the past when we remember, but we don't see the future before it happens, unless maybe in a dream, but dreams aren't always true."
I sat down again. "So, if we can't see the future, how can we know what the path of the Lord is? How can we choose the Lord's way, if we can't see where we're going? I've been wondering about that, and I thought of something."
I pulled out a picture I had printed from the Internet. It was a picture of two ballroom dancers, probably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I showed it to the children.
"There are lots of kinds of dances, right? I bet we all know different kinds of dances." I asked a couple of the kids to get up and dance a little. They are not shy about this.
"In this kind of dancing, one dancer goes forwards, and can see where the couple is going. We say this dancer is 'leading.' The other partner goes backwards, and can't see where they are going. We say this dancer is 'following.' If you are following, you have to trust the leader to keep you going in the right path, even though you can't see it.
"I think that if we want to walk in the paths of the Lord, we have to dance with God. We have to let the Lord be our leader.
"Of course, you know what happens when a good dancer dances with someone who isn't very good. The good dancer's feet get stepped on a lot. I think that sometimes when I dance with God, I step on his feet. But he doesn't give up on me."
I stood up again, and picked up the Jesus Doll that we use in Sunday School. It's a pretty large doll, but not too big for me to carry comfortably. "Now, let me try this," I said, "are you ready, Lord?" and one of the boys started muttering, "Oh, no, this is going to be bad. This is going to be bad."
I asked the organist to play, and he did. It was a waltz, it sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. I started walking, or waltzing, backwards down the church aisle, holding the doll in front of me, and trying to hold it high enough so the doll could "see" behind me . I asked the children to follow. I suggested to the Jesus doll that we might try a twirl, but was gently reminded that a twirl would break the rule about not seeing the future, so we couldn't do it. And then I recognized the music that had being playing. "I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus." The organist didn't know what I'd be saying; he picked the hymn because it was a waltz. . . . I recognized it too late to sing along, but it was perfect.
Like Skittles, we all walk into the dark every day. Every step we take is into the dark, only we don't realize it. We think we can see where we are going, but who can see the future? Skittles doesn't know she is blind, either. If I call her, and she wants to come (she is a cat, after all) she doesn't hesitate. I may place a toy right in front of her, even tickle her paws with it, but she won't play with it unless she is ready to do so.
I wonder what gifts God has given me, that I fail to see. I wonder how many byways I have taken, trying to be the leader and not the follower, before God could lead me back. How many times I have bounced around and stepped on God's toes? Yet God loves me, and keeps calling me to the dance.
Ah, that is what Skittles is doing. She dances.