Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mary, Queen of Peace

I took the pilgrimage to West Jefferson and Glendale Springs yesterday to visit St. Mary's Episcopal Church and Holy Communion Episcopal Church. Both churches have frescoes painted by Ben Long. Long is a North Carolina native who after serving in Vietnam travelled to Italy to become an apprentice (in oil painting) to Pietro Annigoni. But Annigoni was no longer painting in oil but in the medium of fresco. Long decided to apprentice with him anyway. Long completed several frescoes in Italy. He came home to NC and in 1972 he met the Rev. Faulton Hodge. Hodge wanted Long to paint a fresco for a church in the mountains. In 1976 Long began painting a series of frescoes in the two churches in Ashe County (St. Mary's and Holy Communion).

These two churches have always been favorite destinations for me; usually visited after hiking some nearby trail in the summer. It was wonderful to go again and visit them yesterday. This fresco of Mary is probably my favorite although the one of John the Baptist below is so "gritty and real" that it looks like he will step down and start preaching!

Every time I see them I find something new in them. In this one of John the Baptist, I don't think I remember the dove at the top - representing the Holy Spirit. The one below which is at Holy Communion Church is of the last supper and I love the fact that Long put a dog into the picture (at the lower left). As you can probably tell the fresco is on the wall behind the simple wooden altar. You can see the pumpkins and straw for fall at the bottom of the picture which is actually on the floor in front of the altar. The fresco is so vivid it looks like you could step into the scene and sit down on the stool at the table with Jesus and the disciples.

But of all the frescoes my favorite remains Mary. It is such a different picture of her and she is pictured in red instead of blue. This is not Mary gentle and mild to lull us to sleep, but this is Mary who wants us to wake up to the reality of what is about to happen in our lives as we encounter her Son. We are going to get shaken up, stirred up in soul and heart. Mary (in this picture) does not bear comfort but rather she bears the one who will "discomfort" us with a challenge to live in peace with one another. She bears a message for our time for sure.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Winter is Coming!

This will be a short post with a lot of pictures. I'm back at the Public Library in Sparta...still no internet with Embarq! I woke up to the wind shaking the trees around the house. Of course the leaves are flyin! It is sunny off and on - really a beautiful day. Tomorrow will bring a taste of winter to the mountains - snow showers! I'll see if I can get a picture of the little flaky wonders as they flutter down.

It has been a restful weekend. I went to Christ Episcopal Church yesterday and really enjoyed sitting in the pew and just worshipping. They were having their Annual Parish Meeting after church and were gracious in an invitation to stay. I did not stay although the "pot luck" smells were tempting. They also do their children's Christian education during the service. Many of the children are acolytes and so they dismiss the children after the reading of the gospel by singing "Jesus loves me." They come back just before the closing hymn and process out.

This is a picture of 111 Ivy Lane in Glade Valley, NC. It is surrounded by mountain laurel bushes and as you can see lots of trees. Behind the house there are woods which slope down to a large pasture where there are horses. I go down to the fence and the horses come up to the fence for a nose rub. I have put out some pumpkins since I took this picture. I doubt that I have any trick or treaters - the house is not really visible and there are only a few houses on the lane.

The picture below is of baby Christmas trees! Alleghany County, NC is one of the largest producers of Christmas trees and the tree farms dot the landscape all around. These tiny, future trees are important to the economy of this area.

Well, I am off to West Jefferson and Glendale Springs to see the frescoes in the Episcopal Churches there. Going to those churches was always a favorite thing to do in the summer after we hiked the mountain trails. I will take some pictures...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Sabbatical - On Hold

I am at the Alleghany County Public Library in Sparta, NC. My high speed internet at home is being repaired by Embarq, who are my new best friends! I have been on the phone with them so much they get lonely when I don't call. Technology is... frustrating.

I have been resting and reading. Yesterday was rainy and dark - a good day for a pot of tea and a good book. Today is sunny and when I get home I am going to rake some leaves away from the front of the house. I will send pictures soon (I hope) of the leaves, the house and the mountains.

The landscape of God's creation is a cathedral of unparalleled beauty. I realize this often as I drive through the gentle landscape of southwestern Indiana. The fields are constantly changing colors and are a rich patchwork quilt of gold, green, orange and brown. The beauty stops me in my tracks, literally causing me to pull over to the side of the road at times to soak it in. When I got to Wytheville, Va and caught sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains for the first time I had the same reaction. The gentle, smoky blues of the ridges falling away over and over across the landscape stopped me once again. Such a variety of colors that God has created for us in this earthly sanctuary.

I will send pictures as soon as my friends at Embarq fix the cable or whatever is broken. Until then, Lucy the librarian here at ACPL will be helping me communicate. From Sparta....

Monday, October 13, 2008

The King of Love

Yesterday morning we sang "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" - its author is Henry W. Baker and it was first published in 1868. I have sung this hymn many times in many places, but by far the most memorable was in 1977. I was at Sewanee with my EFM class and we worshipped at All Saint's Chapel. All Saints' is far more than a "chapel." It is a "cathedral" of great beauty and grandeur. I remember this hymn so well because in the middle of singing it, I knew I was called by God.

The king of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.

In death's dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never:
Good shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house for ever.

I am not sure exactly which words of this hymn confirmed that call in me...it easily could have been verse 3. "Perverse and foolish oft I strayed" was an adequate description of my life at that point! As was the last part of that verse: "But yet in love he sought me; and on his shoulder gently laid and home rejoicing brought me." Perhaps it was those words confirming in me the truth of my life: I am a sheep who is loved by a Shepherd and this Shepherd will always bring me home...no matter how far I stray.

Yesterday we sang this hymn as the sequence hymn before and after the gospel lesson. As I placed the gospel book back on the altar, I felt overwhelmed with God's love. I could hear the congregation singing the words of the hymn and I felt the depth of their presence. I remember when I was ordained as a deacon in 1984. Although only the Bishop's hands were on my head, I felt the weight of the congregation's presence behind me. In my mind it felt greater than those gathered - it had depth that went beyond the doors of the cathedral and into the world. That was similar to what I felt yesterday.

I told a story for my sermon yesterday from the book "Tales of the Kingdom" by Bruce and Karen Mains (1985). It was the story of the little girl named Dirty. She comes to the place called Great Park where everyone loves the king. But she refuses to be one of the king's subjects and she goes to live with the pigs. She is "dirty." Dirty loves to watch the Great Celebrations while hiding in the trees, so no one will see her. At the Great Celebration all the king's subjects go into a circle of flames and when they "enter" they are changed - made real. After they "enter" there is dancing, singing and a banquet. A beggar finds Dirty hiding in the bushes one night and invites her to go with him into the sacred circle and be his guest at the banquet, but Dirty refuses. She tells him she would rather be with the pigs than with him. As she watches the beggar enters the circle through the flames and he is revealed as the king. This missed invitation by the king causes Dirty to want more than her pig stye. She finds herself crying for the first time and she runs away. She is found and brought to the Great Celebration where she enters the circle. She is clothed in white...made new from head to toe. She asks someone about this new garment and finds out that she has been clothed in kingslove.

I think that "clothing" is what happens to us from time to time. We are suddenly and unexpectedly clothed in Godslove. It falls over us like a soft garment and all the "knots and gnarles" within us are loosened so that we can not only feel Godslove but give it away. It is a good thing to remember those moments when God makes us new. For me it is a reminder that if God can make me new, and clothe me in his love, then he can do it for any and all of those people around me. It helps me not be so impatient with others or so eager to disregard those I disagree with or dislike. In words from "Tales of the Kingdom" - Dirty found that she could love even those who were "ugly" because she knew a king that could make them new. That's the task isn't it?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Praying for reconciliation

I've been reading the news accounts of the split in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I really makes me quite sad. I spent 10 years in that diocese (1980 - 1990) and it was a conflicted diocese even then. I don't really think that Gene Robinson's consecration was the "splitting issue." It felt then and now like the issue is biblical interpretation. I have come a long way since my roots at Trinity Episcopal Seminary in Ambridge. It was a great place for me in 1980, and it prepared me well for ministry. And I believe that the tools I received there helped me look clearly at scripture, and use tradition and reason to balance what I see there. So I view scripture with a broader lens, I believe.

Having said all that, I am in my prayers hoping that a spirit of generosity prevails among the Anglicans and Episcopalians in Pittsburgh. The remaining Episcopal Church has great leadership. The buildings and assets of the diocese are going to be argued and fought over with the zeal of two people going through a divorce. It is a divorce in reality and the persons on both sides have given themselves to those properties and assets over the years. My prayers are with those who make those decisions over the next few months. Pray for the energy in the midst of that struggle to do the work necessary in being "put right" with one another.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Celebration Begins

This is a picture of the wonderful group of people from St. Stephen's who put together the celebration yesterday. We had it at The Granary in New Harmony - it's a wonderful place for this sort of community reception. The upstairs is a performance / lecture space and downstairs is an open area with small kitchen. A restuarant in Evansville did the food and they chose foods that reflected the various parts of my sabbatical journey - roasted eggplant pieces wrapped around cream cheese with herbs and garlic, small biscuits with ham (spicy!) and a wonderful humus on crisp pitas. Those were just a few of the dishes and they were all yummy. A lot of our parishioners came and some folks from the community as well.

It was good to share information about my sabbatical with folks. I had a display about the the various parts of the sabbatical and of the events that will be happening at St. Stephen's. And I had made stars out of translucent paper to geive to each person. They had a few beads strung on each one and a paper with the Prayer of St. Francis and a reminder to pray for peace and reconciliation in all the situations of our lives.

Here's a picture of the stars:

I am hoping that these stars will help people think about their relationships and situations where there is a need to make peace and work on reconciliation. A woman at the reception yesterday asked me "What does reconcilation mean?" I thought it was a wonderful question. It is a hard concept to define clearly. We know when we are reconciled with someone or something, but how do we get there? What are the steps that lead someone from unreconciled to reconciled? We can forgive someone for a hurt but does that mean we are reconciled?

In 2 Corinthians Paul says, "All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18) He continues in verse 19 by saying: "that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us." So we have been given both the ministry and the message of reconciliation and it is supposed to look and feel something like the peace we have in knowing that God loves us in our sinfulness. We are "put right" with God. And if we have been entrusted with this ministry and message of reconciliation it must have something to do with enabling others to be put right with God and with others. This is a full time ministry! And it is work inside of ourselves as well as a ministry with others. I have a lot to learn.