At the start of spring I open a trench / in the ground.  I put into it
the winter's accumulation of paper, / pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments, / errors.  And I put in it
the contents of the outhouse / light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then, / and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins:  that I have not been happy / enough, considering my good luck,
have listened to too much noise, / have been inattentive to wonders,
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse / of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark, / the deathless earth.  Beneath that seal
the old escapes the new.
                               —“A Purification” by Wendell Berry

          The stories of our lives are all about birth, death, and resurrection.  In one way or another, this theme runs through everything in our world, everything we witness, and everything we know.  I don’t know a single person who has not faced some kind of devastating disappointment or loss.  I don’t know of a single blooming plant that doesn’t originate from the accumulation of previous deaths.  I don’t know any way that newness can emerge without acknowledging and releasing something of the old.  And ultimately, this is also the story of our faith.  God continually reaches out to us—no matter our pain, grief, uncertainty, insecurity—no matter what graves we may have dug for ourselves.  And God pulls us out and lures us forward—offering us new life in both astonishing and ordinary ways.  We are always being invited to take the next step, to risk loving, to risk losing, to seek belonging, and to trust that we are not alone on the journey.  Easter faith invites us to believe that death is never the end of the story.  We are held and accompanied by a gracious God who risked it all to stand by our side today.

See you in church,

We are a hospitality.

Living Stones

A group of grandmothers is a tapestry. A group of toddlers, a jubilance (see also: a bewailing). A group of librarians is an enlightenment. A group of visual artists is a bioluminescence. A group of short story writers is a Flannery. A group of musicians is — a band.

A resplendence of poets.
A beacon of scientists.
A raft of social workers.

A group of first responders is a valiance. A group of peaceful protestors is a dream. A group of special education teachers is a transcendence. A group of neonatal ICU nurses is a divinity. A group of hospice workers, a grace.

Humans in the wild, gathered and feeling good, previously an exhilaration, now: a target.
A target of concert-goers.
A target of movie-goers.
A target of dancers.

A group of schoolchildren is a target.
                     Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish

          We know that there are things that desperately need to change in our world.  In God’s world.  In this world that God has entrusted to us to nurture.  This season of Lent gives us an extra invitation to open our hearts and to pay attention to those wrongs we have done, as well as the good we have left undone.  God calls us forward and asks, How might we recognize, celebrate, and support the light we find in everyone and everything around us?  And how might we bring healing and hope to all we encounter?
          I hope that each one of us arrives on Easter Sunday a different person than we were on Ash Wednesday.  And to make this happen, we will have prepare our hearts, exercise our spirits, strengthen our resolve, and draw support from our community.  We can do this!  We are not alone, no matter how lonely we may feel at times.  We always have a deep source of hope, no matter how hopeless we may feel at times.  We are called as creative agents of God’s grace and love, no matter how depleted we may feel at times. 
          We are a group of Christians from FCCV.  We are a hospitality.

See you in church,

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

1.     Something came up / out of the dark. / It wasn’t anything I had ever seen before.
It wasn’t an animal / or a flower, / unless it was both.
Something came up out of the water, / a head the size of a cat / but muddy and without ears.
I don’t know what God is. / I don’t know what death is.
            But I believe they have between them / some fervent and necessary arrangement.
      2.   Sometimes / melancholy leaves me breathless…
      3.   Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source! / Both of them mad to create something!
            The lighting brighter than any flower. / The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.
      4.   Instructions for living a life: / Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.
      5.   Two or three times in my life I discovered love. / Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things / but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and / thoroughly, solved everything.
      6.   God, rest in my heart / and fortify me,
            take away my hunger for answers, / let the hours play upon my body
            like the hands of my beloved.
Let the cathead appear again— / the smallest of your mysteries,
            some wild cousin of my own blood probably—
            some cousin of my own wild blood probably, / in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.
      7.   Death waits for me, I know it, around / one corner or another.
This doesn’t amuse me. / Neither does it frighten me.
After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy. / I walked slowly, and listened
            to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.
                         —“Sometimes” by Mary Oliver

The Christian season of Lent begins this month on February 14, and will continue until Easter Sunday, on April 1.  This year, with so much going on in our world to distract, disorient, and scatter us, I invite us to heed Mary Oliver’s “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”  These instructions are quite similar to the words of Christian prophets through the ages: “Stay woke! Expect the miraculous. Speak your truth.”
Throughout this new year—and throughout this Lenten season—we will continue to walk in the ways of Jesus.  We will contribute our time and talents to building a compassionate and strong congregation capable of repairing the breach of care and grace and hope in our communities.  And by sharing our gifts with those around us, we will build bridges, empower those in need of support, and expand the possibilities of love.  Astonishing things are happening all around us.  Walls are coming down.  Blinders are lifted.  Hesitant voices are speaking.  Doors are opening. Hearts are welcoming.  Diversity is cherished.  Let’s be part of these miracles.  And let’s be sure we tell about it!

See you in church,