Chi who ly?

Morean Arts Center, St. Petersburg

Dale Chihuly is an American artist, best known for his work with glass. Chihuly is a pioneer in glasswork. As a Rhodes Scholar, he learned from master glassworkers in Murano, Italy. He later went on to innovate new ways of working. Chihuly utilizes gravity and centrifugal force to let molten glass find its shape in its own organic way. Asymmetry and irregularity is a defining principle of his work. His lifelong interest in architecture and gardens has inspired him to create site-specific glass sculptures for public spaces, museums, private homes, and gardens. Chihuly says, “I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in some way that they’ve never experienced.” (resource: https://www.chihuly.com/life)

“Ode to My Socks”

It was eighteen below zero in Saranac Lake when I took the dog out on Tuesday morning. I hear that we are headed back into the deepfreeze for the weekend. What better time could there be to savor the beauty and goodness of wool socks?

Poem for a Thursday — “Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda

“Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
two
cases
knitted
with threads of
twilight
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
by
these
heavenly
socks.
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that woven
fire,
of those glowing
socks.

Nevertheless
I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
keep
fireflies,
as learned men
collect
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
cage
and each day give them
birdseed
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
socks
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
beauty
and what is good is doubly
good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.”

in Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) had a long career in foreign service with posts as Consul in Burma, Argentina, Spain, and Mexico. He was elected to the senate in 1943 but was later forced out of office and into hiding for his communist views. When Chile’s government swung back to the center seven years later, Neruda again found favor. Neruda was awarded the International Peace Prize in 1950 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

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“Precious in God’s Sight”

Sabbath Day Thoughts — Isaiah 43:1-7

Curt lost his job on the assembly line, not long before the pandemic.  His employer made a big investment in new technology, and Curt’s work went robotic.  He found a new job, no problem, but it pays less, and the benefits aren’t as good.  Curt has a good ten years until retirement, so he now has a second part-time job to help with bills.  Curt always saw himself as a company man, but now he’s not sure who he is.

Monica was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  She’s a busy single parent with a full-time job and kids in middle school.  She has surgery ahead, followed by chemo and radiation.  Thankfully, her aging parents are on-hand to help out.  Monica puts on a brave face, but when she is alone, she is filled with fear and doubt.  Some days, it’s overwhelming.

George and Katherine met in their senior year of high school.  George says it was love at first sight.  Katherine said he wore her down.  They married when they were only twenty.  Over the years, they dreamed about one day being snowbirds, buying a little retirement place in Florida or Arizona.  But then Katherine got COVID, early in the pandemic.  George couldn’t even be with her when she died.  Now George feels like his dreams died along with Katherine.  The future feels uncertain, lonely, and scary.

We all have times when life serves up a double-helping of unwanted change, crisis, or tragedy.  The proverbial rug is pulled out from under our feet.  We wonder who we are now, how we will cope, and what the future will bring.  We grieve and lament.  We question and worry.  We fear and doubt.  We wrestle with big existential questions.  We wonder, “Where are you God?”  “Don’t you love me?”  “How can I possibly go on?”

The people of Israel were well-versed in unwanted change, crisis, and tragedy.  They were a conquered nation, living in exile in Babylon.  They had seen the defeat of their army.  They had watched as their city walls were breached.  They had witnessed their fields and homes being burned.  They had watched helplessly as their Temple was destroyed.  They had endured the countless unspeakable tragedies that always accompany war, the things that no one wants to talk about or remember.

Cut off from the land that they had loved, exiled from a way of life that had brought them meaning and purpose, mourning untold death and destruction, the Israelites asked themselves big questions.  Who are we? How can we cope? Do we have a future?  Beneath those big questions were sacred and existential queries that kept them up at night, questions that we know well.  Where is God? Does God love us? Can we be redeemed?

Our reading from the Prophet Isaiah allows us to listen in on a holy and intimate conversation.  God almighty speaks to the people of Israel.  God speaks to those exiles who feel they are going down for the third time amid a raging flood, who fear they are being consumed by unquenchable fires.  God speaks words of promise and consolation, saying “I have redeemed you.  I know you.  You are mine.  I will be with you.  You are precious in my sight.”  Those holy promises must have sounded to the exiles like water in the desert, a lifeline amid the raging seas, a healing balm for the gaping wounds of hardship and loss. 

Scripture tells us that God kept those promises.  God raised up King Cyrus of Persia.  His armies toppled mighty Babylon.  Then, Cyrus did the unthinkable.  He set the people of Israel free and gave them the resources to go home and rebuild.  From the north and the south, from the east and the west, God called the people home to the land that they loved.  They endured 500 miles of desert heat.  They forded the waters of the Jordan.  They returned.  Ruined homes were rebuilt.  Fields choked with weeds and brambles were cleared.  Neglected orchards were pruned and became fruitful.  City walls rose again.

It wasn’t easy.  It took time.  It was hard work.  But the people knew who they were and whose they were.  They were precious and beloved children of the one true God.  They found hope in the promises.  They trusted that God was with them in all their hardship and heartache.  One day, the people gathered to worship in the shadow of a new Temple and wept with gratitude and humility for all that God had done for them.

On Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we remember the promises of God.  We remember the promises made long ago to those lonely and hurting exiles.  We remember the promises of Jesus’ baptism.  As our Lord emerged from the Rover Jordan, a voice from the heavens thundered, “This is my Beloved Son.  I find in him my delight.” 

Today we trust that those promises belong to us.  The promises belong to those who were sprinkled as infants in the care of parents and congregation.  The promises belong to those baptized as adolescents, who claimed Jesus as our Lord and savior as we were confirmed.  The promises belong to those who came later to the fount of every blessing, who came to faith as adults and laid claim to their belonging and redemption.  The promises belong to each of us.

If we listen with the ear of our heart, today our biggest questions find an answer.   God says, “I have redeemed you.  I know you.  You are mine.  I love you.  You are precious in my sight.”  God’s promises are for us, my friends.  Can you hear it?

When we live with the assurance that we are welcomed, loved, and will never be alone, we find the wherewithal to stand amid the flood and come through the fiery trial.  It isn’t easy.  It doesn’t feel good.  It takes time.  It’s hard work.  Somehow, like Curt, we are able to endure hard times at work.  Like Monica, we find strength for those challenges to our health.  Like George, we discover comfort in the midst of grief and unspeakable loss.  We trust that there is redemption for us, even when we are exiled and cut off from our better selves.

We return today to the waters where it all began.  We lay claim to those holy promises, and we find what is needed.  We remember who we are and to whom we belong.  Amid our worry and big questions, despite our fear and uncertainty, through the grief and anguish, hope is found and a way is made.  We are precious in God’s sight, beloved sons and daughters of an infinite and intimate God. 

Resources:

W. Carter Lester. “Pastoral Perspective on Isaiah 43:1-7” in Feasting on the Word, year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Kathleen M. O’Connor. “Exegetical Perspective on Isaiah 43:1-7” in Feasting on the Word, year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Valerie Bridgeman Davis. “Homiletical Perspective on Isaiah 43:1-7” in Feasting on the Word, year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship. “Baptism of the Lord” in Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018.


Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
    and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”


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Remember Your Baptism

Qasr el Yahud, West Bank Territory, 2017

On the second Sunday in January, Christians remember Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. I’ve visited two baptismal sites in the Holy Land. Yardenit in the north, near the Sea of Galilee, has plentiful, clear water that invites the pilgrim to jump in for a rite of baptismal remembrance. Qasr el Yahud in the south, near the Dead Sea, isn’t nearly so inviting. By the time the Jordan reaches Qasr el Yahud, the river has been hard at work, irrigating fields and orchards. I’m told that, until a few years ago, raw sewage was sometimes pumped into the river, making your remembrance unsafe. Nowadays, the river is relatively clean, albeit muddy. The vegetation along the banks is thick and resounds with the twitter of birds. This photo was taken at the end of April on the Israeli side. It was a blisteringly hot morning. Three new Christians were preparing for baptism. Across the river, Jordanian worshipers also gathered for baptismal remembrance. Soldiers in uniform, on both sides of the Jordan, kept watch with rifles at the ready.


Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”–Luke 3:21-22

“Boy at the Window”

Poem for a Tuesday — “Boy at the Window” by Richard Wilbur

Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.

in Good Poems, New York: Penguin Books, 2000. p. 319


Richard Purdy Wilbur published his first poem at age 8. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1957 and 1989. He served as the Poet Laureate of the United States in 1987. Wilbur was profoundly shaped by his experience in the Army during World War II. He once described how the war changed his writing, saying, “One does not use poetry for its major purposes, as a means to organize oneself and the world, until one’s world somehow gets out of hand.” He taught for decades at Amherst College and Wesleyan University. He died in 2017 in Belmont, Massachusetts.


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From Homage to Home

Sabbath Day Thoughts — Matthew 2:1-12

I was walking in the neighborhood on the day after Christmas when I saw it: the first discarded Christmas tree of the season.  Bushy and long-needled, it looked lonely curbside, stripped of its ornaments and lights.  Some home owner, eager to restore their pre-holiday order, must have risen early and cleaned house.

Some of us may, likewise, already be parting with our signs of the season.  The traditionalists among us will insist on keeping our trees until the sixth of January, the Feast of Epiphany.  A few Christmas fanatics, you know who you are, will hold onto their trees until the dropping of needles becomes unbearable.

All of us in the coming days or weeks will say goodbye to our holiday decorations.  We’ll box up the ornaments.  We’ll carefully coil strands of lights.  The nativity set will be shrouded in bubble wrap and sequestered in the attic.  Eventually, even the evergreen wreath will disappear from the front door.  Our thoughts will turn away from the season of Christmas and focus instead on the year ahead.

This Sunday, we celebrate the arrival of some final guests of the holiday season.  Like family members who celebrate first at the in-law’s house, they arrived late.  Although we like to welcome them on Christmas Eve, Matthew’s gospel tells us that the Magi arrived long after the shepherds had gone back to their flocks and the angels had stopped singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  Royal astrologers who scanned the night sky for heavenly portents of earthly events, the wise ones had seen a singular star rising in the east.  It was a star that heralded the birth of a Hebrew king.  The magi compared notes, organized a caravan, and embarked on a long overland journey to Jerusalem in hopes of confirming their hypothesis.

They didn’t find exactly what they were looking for.  Indeed, when they arrived at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem, there was no royal infant swathed in silks and surrounded by luxury.  It must have felt like a disappointing end to their long travels.  But then the guidance of scripture directed them onward, to the Judean hill country.  As they turned their backs to Jerusalem, that portentous star that had risen in the east guided them to Bethlehem, like a big heavenly affirmation.

In the City of David, they found more than they had ever hoped or dreamed imaginable, a holy child, deserving of their reverence and awe.  Matthew tells us that the Magi paid him homage.  They fell to their knees in humility to worship the newborn king.  They gave their costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in response to the greater gift of the Christ-child himself.  They knew that God’s priceless love had been made flesh in the guise of this tiny peasant babe.

Christians have long called that eye-opening visit of the wise ones to the Christ-child Epiphany.  That name was first mentioned by the Patriarch Clement around the year 200.  The name Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, which means revelation or manifestation.  It had been revealed to the Magi that the star that they had seen at its rising was a heavenly sign of God’s new outpouring of light in Jesus.  The wise ones took one look at the holy child and knew without question that the unstoppable light of God shone in the world’s darkness.  William Danaker Jr., the Dean of Theology at Western Ontario University, teaches that on Epiphany Sunday we “raise our hearts to the shining beauty of eternal light.”

On this Epiphany Sunday, we especially remember that the beauty of God’s eternal light continues to shine in our world’s darkness.  It cannot be quenched by COVID-19.  It is not dimmed by the untimely death of our beloved ones.  It is not deterred by Capitol Hill gridlock.  It shines even above the threat of violence at the Ukrainian border.  It outshines our mounting years, declining health, frayed marriages, and workplace worries.  The light of Christ shines on in our darkness.

God’s great outshining love finds us where we least expect it and when we need it most.  Light comes in the smile of an infant.  Light comes in the sharing of communion together for the first time since March of 2020.  Light comes in the sparse gathering of those who would worship on a low and snowy Sunday after the New Year.  Light comes even as we worship virtually in the quiet of our own homes amid the post-Christmas clutter.  Christ’s light shines in our darkness.  Thanks be to God!

On this Epiphany Sunday, we recall that Jesus, who is light, saw his followers as light.  He taught his disciples, “You are the light of the world. . . Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:14, 16).  The light of Epiphany shines in us whenever we go forth in Jesus’ purpose. 

In our simple acts of kindness, light shines in the darkness. 

As we share the good news by praying for others or inviting them to church or sharing a sermon, light shines in the darkness.

When we make a healing difference in our families, light shines in the darkness.

As we nurture our children in body, mind, and spirit, light shines in the darkness.

When we care for the least of these, our vulnerable neighbors, light shines in the darkness.

That holy light that brought the Magi to their knees on that distant night in Bethlehem continues to shine through us, if we will let it.

In the coming days, our Christmas clean-up will continue.  We’ll see more trees curbside.  Our holiday keepsakes will return to the safety of their attic cubbies.  The last stale cookies will be nibbled or trashed.  Our thoughts will turn away from shepherds and angels.  The Magi will retreat to distant Persia until next Christmas. 

As we turn away from Christmas and step into the New Year, don’t pack away the light, my friends.  It longs to shine in you as it did in Bethlehem all those years ago; it longs to dispel the darkness that plagues humanity still.  The stars sing on in the night.  May the Christ-light that God shone at Epiphany kindle our hearts and send us forth to illumine our world.  Amen.

Resources:

John Calvin. “Commentary on Matthew 2:1-6.”  Accessed online at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom31.ix.xix.html

William Danaher Jr. “Theological Perspective on Matthew 2:1-12” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, volume 1.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Barbara Brown Taylor. “Homiletical Perspective on Matthew 2:1-12” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, volume 1.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.


Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”  When Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


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