Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Of Ashes and Angels!

Out of Bounds Angel
The picture above is one of a series of angels that I made using the pieces of an old icon calendar. The series is called "Out of Bounds Angels." This one has purple hair for Lent! I have been looking for signs of God's presence in the ordinary things of life. Thinking about Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain top last week I tried to put myself in the shoes of the other 9 disciples who were not there when Jesus met with Elijah and Moses. I can imagine all sorts of reactions to hearing the story of how Jesus was revealed to Peter, James and John. Everything from jealousy to anger to denial. But these 9 disciples had also seen "little epiphanies"; events that transfigured their despair and grounded their faith in Jesus. Of course multiplying the loaves and fishes, bringing the dead to life and walking on water seem like huge signs to us - way out of the realm of "ordinary" life in our 21st century. So what are those little epiphanies that enter our world to give us hope and solidify our faith? I think God reveals "Holy presence" to us in very personal ways. The God who created us knows the places in us that are open to "the Holy."
I was in seminary in Pittsburgh in 1985 when both of my parents were having some serious health problems. I decided to spend several weeks with them at their home in Blairsville, Georgia. I was "worried and fretful" about many things as I travelled through the hills of West Virginia and into North Carolina. As I drove across roads winding through the mountains I love the sun began to set. When I reached the top of a particular ridge I pulled off the road to view the most incredible sunset I have ever seen. I'm not sure I can even describe it, but it seemed as if someone had poured liquid gold into the already yellow and purple clouds. I stood and watched, truly transfixed and transfigured by the sight. I knew in the way one knows that this was a sign of God's presence. I laughed and cried at the same time and if there had been room on the side of that road I would have fallen on my knees. Instead I sat and watched until the golden light slipped down into the mountains. I went away comforted and encouraged, knowing that whatever happened at my parent's home and its impact for my future might be hard work but God would be with me in it.
That sort of "epiphany," or revelation of the Holy has happened since in other ways, some as dramatic and visual as the one I described above and others that were not. I suspect that it has something to do with my openness to God's presence, although it seems that God is pretty good at getting my attention! I hope that this holy time of Lent will be a chance for all of us to see, hear, feel, know God's presence. And most of all I hope we will come down from those mountains to tell others so that they will be encouraged as well.
Today we begin the journey of Lent with ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our humanity and mortality. The dark smudge of our fallen nature is there to remind us that we are set into a world for a period of time - this time. We have limits - not only to the span of our life but in our lives - we are not God. And God is not limited by time or space or "human smudges." This is a good reminder and a good thing...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Last Epiphany

The mighty Wabash floods again!
It has been over a week since I wrote here last. Our Annual Meeting was yesterday and I got caught up in that preparation. The Annual Parish Meeting is usually in January, but was delayed because of my sabbatical. I believe that St. Stephen's is in a good place. They have been a parish 168 years now and through good times and bad times God has been faithful to the needs here. Sometimes I wake up in the night and feel the weight of responsibility I have to the people of St. Stephen's. It helps a bit to know that my responsibility is really about being faithful to God in serving here. The ups and downs of parish life leave me breathless at times - I have never been good at roller coasters! It is so hard to see the top of the next hill when you are in one of those dips.

This Sunday is the last Sunday of Epiphany/ Transfiguration. I am so much like Peter in this story from Mark 9:2-10. Jesus and the "boys" - Peter, James and John go up on the top of the mountain. Suddenly Elijah is there and Moses! Peter says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for Elijah, one for Moses and one for you!" The writer of the gospel notes that Peter did not know what to say because he was terrified. Oh yes, I get that! I think that the great majority of life is lived on the mountainside and my preference would be to build some dwelling places there! Don't get me wrong, I love the mountaintop experiences (with or without Moses and Elijah) and when they come I relish them. But that journey down from the top can be sudden and slippery. I admit it! I like the day to day safety of the midpoint.

This is a piece of collage that I did recently. I have been using pieces of old calendars which have icons on them. The paper of the calendars is such a good quality I just couldn't bear to throw it away! I feel that way about lots of paper that comes across my fingertips; thus, my "stash" of paper is large. My fellow book artist classmates at Campbell realized my love for paper and left me all sorts of bits and pieces on my table. I love to look at them and dream about how to use them. The pattern for this cross was inspired by a book of Celtic art that I have. It is a lovely design and fun to play with. I like the simplicity of it. Here is another one from "icon pieces."

I think it is stunning how these three very different pieces form such a lovely cross. The two pieces for the horizontal crossbar look like heads butting! It is so easy to forget when we are butting heads that God is in the middle of it. Last week I took communion to one of our lovely older members. We read Psalm 46 and the words: "Be still and know that I am God" jogged a place of need inside of me. There is a wonderful way to pray these words:

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be Still


I have been running up and down these words over the past several many days and it is a great comfort. Like the cross it reminds me that God is in the middle of all the things I am doing and if I can "be still" instead of running headlong into everything I might just come to rest in God's presence.

Here is a fun picture of the cat that shares this home with Katie and me. In her words she would probably say that we share her home!


Both Katie and Pumpkin have been "clingy" since I came back from sabbatical. I suspect that they like me miss Sugar's sweet presence in the house. I do miss her so much. Pumpkin has mellowed into a lap cat which is something new for me. She will actually let me knit while she is stretched out across my lap, but occasionally wakes up long enough to bat the yarn around. I never thought I would have a cat....

Friday, February 6, 2009

Of Saints and other things

Millard Fuller died this past week and was buried at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga. Fuller was the founder of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat builds houses for people who have limited resources. They do this by allowing the prospective owners a chance to do "hands on" investment in their homes thereby reducing the cost. Utilizing volunteers as the builders, Habitat is able to build stable homes for people who never dreamed of owning a home.

Millard Fuller in Zaire (1974)

Fuller, a native of Alabama, graduated from Auburn University and with a friend founded a marketing company. He was so successful that by the time he was 29 he was a millionaire. Becoming a millionaire was exciting but costly. His wife Linda had asked him for a divorce and Fuller's health was not good. These crises caused Fuller to reevaluate his life. He and Linda both renewed their commitment to Christ and began to live in a radically different way. They sold everything, gave all their money to the poor and moved to Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga. At Koinonia they met with Clarence Jordan and others and decided to start a ministry in housing. Their effort was to provide, at no profit, homes which were financed by no interest loans. In 1974 they moved with their 4 children to Zaire to test this concept in a housing development there. Habitat for Humanity was built from these early efforts. Over 300,000 homes have been built since its beginning.

We don't think in terms of "saints" much anymore. A saint is someone through whom we see God's hand at work. I am voting sainthood for Millard Fuller. He allowed God to take him out of the swift current of worldly values and placed him in the wild and wide stream of God's love. So St. Millard, thank you for giving us a vision of greater things.

Today I got an e-mail from my niece Bretta and she has started her own blog. She makes me very jealous as she shows off her wool yarns died with Kool Aid! Check her out at I am so proud of her. She gives me such joy and inspiration.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Epiphany 5

Isaiah 40:28-31
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God does not faint or grow weary. This is very good news! The greater good news in this passage is that God will give strength to those of us who do grow weary. Growing weary seems to be endemic these days. I grow weary as I hear about the growing unemployment rates. Each interview with a recently laid off person, and every news story about greed at the corporate level saddens our heart and saps our strength. It is hard to believe that we who wait upon the Lords will be renewed. We would have very little to hope except that history gives us reason to trust Isaiah's words. The people of Israel were at the bottom physically, economically and spiritually. The people of Israel were in exile in a foreign country. They were in trouble, they were down with little hope of being raised up. But God did raise them up and they were brought home. This is the pattern for God's people throughout history. God is always and forever reaching out to us.

St. Stephen's in the Snow

This is the snow and ice which came last Tuesday. Beautiful but lots of trouble! There are thousands of people still without power. New Harmony residents were not as affected by the power outages as much as the people in Evansville and surrounding places. The main roads are clear but the side roads are icy. Snowfall has a way of making everything look clean and new. It would be nice if all of the messiness of life could be cleaned up so easily and quickly.

This is the cake from yesterday's welcome home party at the Barn Abbey. It was a wonderful celebration of the sabbatical time. The food was great (as it always is at St. Stephen's) and we spent time catching up on the things that have happened in the 3 months of the sabbatical. I am so grateful to the parish for enabling this time of rest and renewal. They are a gifted parish whose abilities for ministry are outstanding.