Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Blessed are the Peacemakers” Matthew 5:9

It’s one of Jesus’s most essential teachings. Many of us know it by heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” But if we were to ask the man or woman on the street what a “peacemaker” is, we might be surprised at the variety of answers we get and the diverging opinions about the things that make for peace.

Young people today, especially DC comic fans, will tell you that “Peacemaker” is a super hero, well maybe a little more like an anti-hero.  This “Peacemaker” grew up in a dysfunctional family with a violent, unloving father. Peacemaker made an oath to keep the peace, regardless of the means or how many people he must kill to achieve that peace. He acts as a vigilante, leaving a destructive trail of death and mayhem in his wake.  He’s popular enough to merit his own tv series, where he is played with tongue-in-cheek humor by former pro wrestler John Cena. This is not what Jesus was talking about.

Looming larger in the imagination of older Americans is the Colt single action revolver, dubbed the Peacemaker, standard Army issue between 1873 and 1892.  This Peacemaker has been popular with ranchers, lawmen, and outlaws alike, an iconic symbol of the Wild West.  It was carried by Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill Cody. General George S. Patton wore a leather gun belt that carried his Peacemaker throughout the second World War; Patton’s Peacemaker had ivory grips and was engraved with his initials and an eagle.  This is not what Jesus was talking about.

If super heroes and handguns don’t make you think peacemaker, beer might.  The Peacemaker Brewing Company in Canandaigua is known for their tasty and innovative craft beers. You can drop by the Peacemaker Brewery on Monday nights and sample the 1000-Yard-Stare Scottish Ale while you play Euchre.  Or, try Thursday night trivia with a Peacemaker Moon Perfume India Pale Ale.  January is stout month, so we have a few more days to sample the Peacemaker Ginger and Molasses Stout. This is not what Jesus was talking about.

It’s not surprising that people in Jesus’s day also had conflicting notions about peacemakers.  In the first century, the denizens of the Roman Empire saw themselves as makers of peace.  They boasted that the Pax Romana – the Peace of Rome – had brought stability and prosperity to their world. The Roman peace was achieved through violence. Caesar’s legions sailed and marched across the Mediterranean world to defeat local powers, depose their kings, and install their own hand-picked leaders, like King Herod and Pontius Pilate.  The Peace of Rome was costly. Troops were garrisoned in the countries they occupied, and an imperial tax was levied to cover the costs of that occupation. Challengers to the Pax Romana were met with brutality, including crucifixion.  This is not what Jesus was talking about.

Jesus’s understanding of peace was grounded in the Hebrew word for peace: shalom. Shalom has great depth of meaning, including wholeness, completeness, soundness or safety of body, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment, friendship in relationship, non-violence, and the absence of war.  Shalom is peace that comes from God and is found when we are in right relationship with God and neighbor.  You might even say that shalom abounds when we generously and selflessly love (agape) God and neighbor.

In Jesus’s understanding, the work of shalom/peacemaking is active and ongoing.  Jesus could have said “Blessed are those who are peaceful” or “Blessed are those who have peace.” Instead, Jesus’s blessing is more nearly but less eloquently translated: “Blessed are the peace-doers.”  We are blessed when we are actively seeking and working for the wholeness, health, well-being, and non-violence of our world.

God is a peacemaker. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul described what God achieved through the cross, saying, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile everything to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20). To heal the alienation that existed between humanity and God, God chose in self-giving love to become flesh and face head on the sin of our world.  The peace of God met the Pax Romana on the cross.  Instead of sin and death prevailing, God worked a miracle of life. Jesus rose and lives, always reaching out to us with love and forgiveness, so that we can in turn reach out to one another with love and forgiveness. As children of God, we are called to be busy with our Father’s work.  We are called to pursue God’s peacemaking.

When we choose to be makers of peace and live as children of God, we begin to move and think and act in ways that bring wholeness, safety, good will, and non-violence to our lives and the lives of those around us.  In a world where partisan politics have us drawing dividing lines, the work of peace demands that we stay in relationship with others, even when we disagree with them.  In a world that can often be bigoted and intolerant of diversity, we honor and respect others, regardless of skin color, gender identity, religion, nation, or physical ability. In a world where gossip, trash talk, and insults abound, peacemakers guard their tongues.  Those who follow Jesus in paths of peace refuse to return evil for evil; we turn the other cheek to those who do us harm and even violence.  These are the things that make for peace. This is what Jesus is talking about.

Those who would make peace learn to live into the prayer of Francis of Assisi,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

In a world where the name “Peacemaker” is more often associated with super heroes, hand guns, and beer than it is with God’s work of wholeness, healing, and non-violence, it is up to us as children of God to follow Jesus in ways of peace.  It starts with those everyday choices we make in relating to our beloved ones, co-workers, and neighbors.  

Those paths of peace continue in our efforts as a national church through Presbyterian Peacemaking. The program works in communities across the United States and around the world to promote the things that make for peace.  Today we are partnering with the IndyTenPoint Coalition in the city of Indianapolis to address record-breaking violence and homicide. One young man made a tearful confession about growing up in places like Indy, “I was living in a community that was so violent, it was forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do but felt like I had to do.”  The IndyTenPoint program serves as a support system, providing presence in the community, mentoring, job training, avenues to employment, and school help for kids on the street who may be more likely to get involved in drug trafficking and gangs, which put them on a pathway to prison.  In the neighborhoods where IndyTenPoint has boots on the ground, the reduction in the level of shootings, stabbings, and homicides has been a shocking 100%. This is what Jesus was talking.

Presbyterian Peacemaking is also at work globally to promote non-violence, healing, and wholeness.  In Greece, we have partnered with Lesvos Solidarity, which assists Syrians, Afghanis, and Iraqis interned at the Pikpa Camp refugee camp. Luciano Kovacs, the PCUSA area coordinator, says, “Lesvos Solidarity is a living example of how we can show love to the stranger and promote dignity among those who flee war and poverty. Helping those who leave war-infested areas is a peacemaking act.”  Lesvos Solidarity helps with practical things: finding asylum, permanent housing, and employment.  Even more, at their Mosaik Support Center, they focus on the sort of things that make for wholeness and meaning for life in a new land, like language classes, educational activities for children, computer classes, guitar lessons, yoga classes, literature workshops, human rights workshops, poetry nights, cinema screenings, and two choirs. These are the things that make for peace. This is what Jesus was talking about.

When we go forth as peace-doers, we get blessed, even as we are a blessing.  Our relationships with family and friends are strengthened, our communities are safer, vulnerable people find encouragement and support.  When we go forth as peace-doers, this world begins to look and feel a lot less like the Pax Romana and a lot more like the Peace of Christ.  Peacemakers working together forge a Beloved Community, that earthly Kingdom that God would have us build.  Let us go forth to make peace.


Jillian Engelhardt. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12” in Preaching This Week, Jan. 29, 2023. Accessed online at

Amy G. Oden. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12” in Preaching This Week, Feb. 2, 2014. Accessed online at

Eric Barretto. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12” in Preaching This Week, Feb. 2, 2020. Accessed online at

This sermon drew on my research from the 2013 study series that I led on The Beatitudes.

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

Matthew 5:9

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Photo by Ahmed akacha on

“To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian”

Poem for a Tuesday — Ross Gay “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian”

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the silk
of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator
the light catches
the veins in her hands
when I ask about
the tree they
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can
help me
so I load my
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a
sack so my meager
plunder would have to
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even
told me so
when I grabbed three
or four for
him reaching into the
giddy throngs of
wasps sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
it was hot his
head shone while he
offered recipes to the
group using words which
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.

in The American Poetry Review, vol. 42, no. 3.

Poet, professor, and essayist Ross Gay is all about joy. His four books of poetry include Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first collection of essays – The Book of Delights – was a New York Times bestseller. His current work Inciting Joy is a Publisher’s Weekly best book of 2022. Editor John Freeman says Ross’s work, “throws off so much light, I’ve often wondered if it was powered by a superior energy source.” Ross Gay teaches at Indiana University, where he gives out lots of “A” grades and invites students to wonder with him.

Photo by Zaid Ahmed on

My Beloved

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “My Beloved” Matthew 3:13-17

Researchers have found that the most important thing we can do to have healthy, happy, caring children is to love them.  Brain scans conducted over time at Washington University in St. Louis indicate that children with loving and supportive parents experience greater growth in the hippocampus.  That’s the region deep within the brain that is essential for memory, learning, and handling stress, all crucial factors in creating adaptive, resourceful human beings. 

Parental love is also critical for the development of self-esteem. Richard Filson and Mary Zielinski conducted landmark research in the 1980s at the University of Albany.  They learned that the most significant factor in a child’s development of healthy self-esteem is parental love and support.  Regardless of the child’s ability or aptitude, encouragement, attention, and constancy of love equipped children with a sense of competence and resilience.

Love is good for the health of our children.  Researchers at UCLA have found that children who experience low levels of love and affection, especially those who are abused, are at significant health risk, not only throughout childhood but also later in life.  Children who feel at-risk and little loved are exposed to toxic levels of stress that can affect every system in the body. Adults who emerge from an unloving nest are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and mental illness.

Dr. Barbara Frederickson of UNC Chapel Hill has determined that the experience of a loving childhood makes us better people.  Love enhances the social awareness of our children and their feelings of connection to others.  Well-loved children are more likely to have healthy relationships and feelings of oneness with others.  Children who have early loving relationships with their parents grow up to be more compassionate adults, better able to share love, empathy, and caring with those around them.

The social and scientific evidence is clear, children thrive on love.  They need our attention and praise.  They need our encouragement and kindness.  They need our willingness to engage, teach, and support. Our capacity to love our children makes a huge difference in every aspect of their lives.  When you consider the implications, our nurture and care have a powerful impact not only upon the child, but also upon our world.

In our gospel lesson today, we hear the voice of God, calling from the heavens as Jesus emerges from the waters of his baptism.  God sounds a lot like a good parent, doing all those things that it has taken researchers 2,000 years, countless hours of observation, and plenty of brain scans to figure out.  God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved. I take delight in him.” 

That theophany is a holy affirmation that Jesus belongs to God—God’s child, specially loved, a source of joy, deserving of praise.  As Jesus was baptized in the muddy Jordan, he hadn’t even begun his ministry.  Not one sermon had been preached.  Not one miracle had been worked—no lepers or paralytics healed, no demons cast out or blind eyes opened.  Jesus had not changed the water into wine, walked on water, stilled the storm, or multiplied the loaves and fish.  All that ministry and mission would lie ahead of him. 

Truly, in the eyes of the first century world, Jesus hadn’t done a darned thing to deserve God’s love.  On the banks of the Jordan stood a poor pious carpenter from a backwater town in Galilee.  But apparently Jesus didn’t have to do anything to earn God’s love.  God’s limitless and overflowing love was simply there in abundance, sailing down from the heavens, calling over the waters.  I like to think that as Jesus basked in that holy love, he found that he was filled with love, and he longed for his neighbors to also know their belovedness.

If, as all four gospels suggest, Jesus’ baptism is the point of departure from which his ministry would spring, then the most important faith lesson that we can ever learn is that we are loved.  Yet we live in a world where many of us are estranged from the belovedness that all the researchers say we need to thrive, grow, and be whole.

We may come from families where our parents were too stressed out, worn out, or down and out to share the sort of open and abundant love that researchers believe we need as children.  In our experience, love may be conditional, dependent upon the neatness of our room, the grades on our report card, or how well we perform on the athletic field.  Our love and trust may have been ill-used by a hyper-critical parent, or a significant other who has broken our heart, or a best friend who betrayed our confidence.  We may feel little love from our peers in a society where the measure of our worth isn’t determined by how God sees us, but by the size of our paycheck, the car we drive, or the title we bear.  Sometimes, we feel unloved because we haven’t been very loving ourselves, and we can’t imagine that others would still love us.  We’ve hurt others, sinned, or rejected God’s love for us. 

Life and personal experience wear us down, leaving us alienated and estranged, forgetful that we are beloved.  We fail to understand that God’s love is always there for us.  In our baptisms, God whispers to each of us, “You are my beloved child.  I take delight in you.”

The love of God that surrounded Jesus at his baptism was the great and driving force of his ministry. Jesus was all about love. He taught his friends to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  On the night of his arrest, Jesus instructed his disciples that they must love one another as he had loved them.  Jesus reached out to the world, his every act a miracle of love.  He dared to love those who were little loved: the sinner, the outcast, the Samaritan, the Roman slave, the uppity women.  You might even say that Jesus poured himself out in love, God’s holy love shining through him to heal and redeem our broken world.  Truly, the beloved son gave his life, so that we might know that God loves us enough to die for us. God’s love is always there for us in abundance, sailing down from the heavens, calling over the waters of our own baptisms, living and breathing in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

If we page ahead to the end of Matthew’s gospel, we hear the risen Lord giving a final great commandment to his friends, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  The theologians and masters of church doctrine like to debate what Jesus really meant with his imperative for Christians to go out there and baptize.  They teach that in baptism we are cleansed of our sins, grafted into the body of Christ, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. Those are good things to know.

But as your local theologian on this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, I believe it could be a whole lot simpler. 

I like to think that the Lord’s great commandment to go forth and baptize was all about love. In this world where too many people know too little love, Jesus wanted folks to know the immeasurable love of God that he experienced as he stood in the waters of the River Jordan and heard that holy voice, claiming, affirming, and loving him.  Jesus longed for the world to know God’s love, for the world to know his love. If they followed his great commission, then the disciples could be a little like spiritual parents, going forth to make that much-needed holy love known to a world hungry for it. The Lord envisioned baptism, like an unstoppable tide of love, sweeping over our world, from 1st century Palestine, across the Roman Empire, and down through the centuries to this day. 

On this baptism of the Lord Sunday, allow me to act in loco parentis.  May we hear the holy words that we all need to have healthy brains and bodies, sound self-esteem, and caring relationships.  This is God’s promise for you, “You are my beloved child. I take delight in you.”


Karyn Wiseman. “Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17” in Preaching This Week, Jan. 12, 2014. Accessed online at

Warren Carter. “Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17” in Preaching This Week, Jan. 8, 2017. Accessed online at

Stephanie Crowder. “Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17” in Preaching This Week, Jan. 12, 2020. Accessed online at

Jim Dryden. “Mom’s Love Good for Child’s Brain” in The Source, Washington University in St. Louis. Jan. 30, 2012. Accessed online at

Ronald B. Filson and Mary Zielinski. “Children’s Self-Esteem and Parental Support” in the Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 51, no. 3. August 1989, pp. 727-735. Accessed online at

Enrique Rivero. “Lack of Parental Warmth, Abuse in Childhood Linked to Multiple Health Risks in Adulthood” in UCLA Newsroom, Sept. 30, 2013. Accessed online at

Maryam Abdullah. “With Kids, Love Is in the Little Things” in Greater Good Magazine: Science-based Insights for a Meaningful Life. June 18, 2019. Accessed online at

Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Photo by Photography Maghradze PH on

New Year, New Verse, New You?

Sabbath Day Thoughts

On this New Year’s Day, I invite us to celebrate the birth of Christ and ponder his calling for our lives with some of my favorite poems of this season.

Susan Elizabeth Howe is a poet, playwright, and editor. Her poems have a keen attention to ordinary details that hint toward sacred truths.  Her favorite themes explore women’s lives and the natural world through the lens of faith.  Susan says, “Imagination . . . can be part of and lead to spiritual growth, and imagination is the natural province of the poet.” This poem was inspired by the promise found in a fortune cookie, “Your luck is about to change.”

“Your Luck Is About to Change”                                                       Susan Elizabeth Howe

(A fortune cookie)

Ominous inscrutable Chinese news

to get just before Christmas,

considering my reasonable health,

marriage spicy as moo-goo-gai-pan,

career running like a not-too-old Chevrolet.

Not bad, considering what can go wrong:

the bony finger of Uncle Sam

might point out my husband,

my own national guard,

and set him in Afghanistan;

my boss could take a personal interest;

the pain in my left knee could spread to my right.

Still, as the old year tips into the new,

I insist on the infant hope, gooing and kicking

his legs in the air. I won’t give in

to the dark, the sub-zero weather, the fog,

or even the neighbors’ Nativity.

Their four-year-old has arranged

his whole legion of dinosaurs

so they, too, worship the child,

joining the cow and sheep. Or else,

ultimate mortals, they’ve come to eat

ox and camel, Mary and Joseph,

then savor the newborn babe.

In Poetry, December 2002, p. 153.

Langston Hughes was an innovator of jazz poetry and one of the foremost poets of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a descendant of the elite, politically active Langston family, free people of color who worked for the abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. Hughes wrote from an early age, moving to New York City as a teen to attend Columbia University. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote plays, short stories, essays, and non-fiction. From 1942 to 1962, he wrote an in-depth weekly column in a leading black newspaper, The Chicago Defender. In 1960, the NAACP presented Hughes with the Spingarn Medal for distinguished achievements by an African American. As you read, “Christmas Eve: Nearing Midnight in New York,” attend to his use of the word “almost” and consider what Hughes might be saying.

“Christmas Eve: Nearing Midnight in New York”                            Langston Hughes

The Christmas trees are almost all sold
And the ones that are left go cheap
The children almost all over town
Have almost gone to sleep.

The skyscraper lights on Christmas Eve
Have almost all gone out
There’s very little traffic
Almost no one about.

Our town’s almost as quiet
As Bethlehem must have been
Before a sudden angel chorus

Our old Statue of Liberty
Looks down almost with a smile
As the Island of Manhattan
Awaits the morning of the Child.

In Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Vintage Press, 1994.

Ann Weems was a gifted and prolific Presbyterian poet with seven books and collections of poems written for use in worship. Ann was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and was married to a Presbyterian minister.  She served as an elder with her local church.  Ann believed that writing was “a spiritual exercise, a form of prayer in which one can imagine what might be and in the writing help it become true.” She was sometimes referred to as the Presbyterian Poet Laureate.

“Boxed”                                                                                              Ann Weems

I must admit to a certain guilt

about stuffing the Holy Family into a box

in the aftermath of Christmas.

It’s frankly a time of personal triumph when,

each Advent’s eve, I free them (and the others)

from a year’s imprisonment

boxed in the dark of our basement.

Out they come, one by one,

struggling through the straw,

last year’s tinsel still clinging to their robes.

Nevertheless, they appear, ready to take their place again

in the light of another Christmas.

The Child is first

because he’s the one I’m most reluctant to box.

Attached forever to his cradle, he emerges,

apparently unscathed from the time spent upside down

to avoid the crush of the lid.

His mother, dressed eternally in blue,

still gazes adoringly,

in spite of the fact that

her features are somewhat smudged.

Joseph has stood for eleven months,

holding valiantly what’s left of his staff,

broken twenty Christmases ago

by a child who hugged a little too tightly.

The Wise Ones still travel,

though not quite so elegantly,

the standing camel having lost its back leg

and the sitting camel having lost one ear.

However, gifts intact they are ready to move.

The shepherds, walking or kneeling,

sometimes confused with Joseph

(who wears the same dull brown),

tumble forth, followed by three sheep

in very bad repair.

There they are again,

not a grand set surely,

but one the children (and now the grandchildren)

can touch and move about to reenact that silent night.

When the others return,

we will wind the music box on the back of the stable

and light the Advent candles

and go once more to Bethlehem.

And this year, when it’s time to pack the figures away,

we’ll be more careful that the Peace and Goodwill 

are not also boxed for another year!

In Kneeling in Bethlehem. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1980, p. 87.

The Rev. Dr. J. Barrie Shepherd is a retired Presbyterian minister, who pastored the First Presbyterian Church of New York City.  Shepherd has fifteen books of poetry and has published over 600 poems and articles in publications both sacred and secular. He has preached and lectured at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, and other universities, colleges and seminaries. In 2000, while I was serving Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, Rev. Shepherd joined us for a special 3-hour-long Good Friday service that featured his poetry. As you read “Forest Snowfall” listen for his description of the Kingdom of God, which dwells within the world, there for us to see and serve, if only we have the courage.

“Forest Snowfall”                                                                               J. Barrie Shepherd

(Before sunrise)

It is as if the light that is to come
had taken on a flake-like form and substance
laid itself, in silhouette, along, against,
the windward part
of every naked trunk and branch.
The ground below lies cloaked,
each blade of grass or bracken
with its glistening garment,
so that, even at the darkest hour last night,
a luminescence shone as if reflected
from whatever burns within.

Might the bright, promised realm
lie here and now revealed,
its last impediment
my faltering fear to enter in?

In The Christian Century, Dec. 19, 2019. Accessed online at

Joyce Rupp is well-known for her work as a writer, international retreat leader, and conference speaker. She is the author of twenty-eight bestselling books on spirituality. A member of the religious order known as the Servites or Servants of Mary since the age of nineteen, Joyce received the U.S. Catholic Award for Furthering the Cause of Women in the Church in 2004.  She has played a significant role as a “midwife” for women’s spirituality. In 2007, I attended “Writing from the Soul,” a writer’s workshop with Joyce in Chicago.

“A Christmas Blessing” (responsive)                                                 Joyce Rupp

May there be harmony in all your relationships. May sharp words, envious thoughts, and hostile feelings be dissolved.

May you give and receive love generously. May this love echo in your heart like the joy of church bells on a clear December day.

May each person who comes into your life be greeted as another Christ. May the honor given the Babe of Bethlehem be that which you extend to every guest who enters your presence.

May the hope of this sacred season settle in your soul. May it be a foundation of courage for you when times of distress occupy your inner land.

May the wonder and awe that fills the eyes of children be awakened within you. May it lead you to renewed awareness and appreciation of whatever you too easily take for granted.

May the bonds of love for one another be strengthened as you gather around the table of festivity and nourishment.

May you daily open the gift of your life and be grateful for the hidden treasures it contains.

May the coming year be one of good health for you. May you have energy and vitality. May you care well for your body, mind, and spirit.

May you keep your eye on the Star within you and trust this Luminescent Presence to guide and direct you each day.

May you go often to the Bethlehem of your heart and visit the One who offers you peace. May you bring this peace into our world.

In Out of the Ordinary, Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2000, p. 36.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was regarded as the chief representative of the Victorian age in poetry. He was the fourth of twelve children. His brilliant but mercurial father, George Clayton Tennyson, was a country clergyman, who struggled with addiction to alcohol and opium; his mother was the daughter of a vicar.  Plagued by poverty, Alfred never graduated from Cambridge University. Despite hardship, he persisted in his efforts as a poet. In 1850, Queen Victoria appointed Alfred Poet Laureate, a distinction that he held until his death in 1892. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. “Ring Out Wild Bells” expresses the fervent hope for a better year-to-come and our ability to shape the year with the choice for truth, right, and love.

“Ring Out, Wild Bells”                                                                       Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light;

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more,

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife;

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

In In Memoriam. London: Edward Moxson, 1850.

May we go forth into the New Year to “Ring in the love of truth and right, ring in the common love of good.”

Psalm 148

1 Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
    old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And he has raised up for his people a horn,
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

Photo by Jill Wellington on