Dear Folks,

It’s been a long time since the blessing “God be with you” disappeared into the word “Good-bye,” but every now and then some note of it echoes through us.

On opening day, a mom with a scarf tied around her neck hoists her six-year-old up on the first step of the school bus.  “Good-bye,” she says.  A dad on the phone with his freshman son takes him to task for poor grades and a party gone bad.  After his harangue, there is only silence on the other end of the line.  “Well, good-bye,” the father finally says.  When the young woman at the airport hears the announcement that her plane is starting to board, she turns to the friend who is seeing her off.  “I guess this is good-bye,” she offers.  The elderly fellow tries to look vigorous and resourceful as he holds out his hand to his school chum, now white-headed, too.  The noise of the traffic threatens to drown out the voices that once bellowed across playing fields or up and down hallways.  “Good-bye,” they each say, so nearly in unison that it makes them both smile.  (inspired by Frederick Buechner)  You hear it whenever we gather to pray.  A version of “God be with you,” begins most services, the preacher paradoxically preparing us to say “Good-bye” even as we say “Hello.”

I’ve been thinking about all of that, since the day Caroline told me that she would soon complete her time at Redeemer.  I’m mostly sad, to lose the daily-ness of our interactions, the nearly constant laughter shouted up and down hallways, the plans hatched at staff meetings, the bubbling ideas, the naughty comments, the confidences shared at the close of business and sometimes through the evening.  I’ll miss her courage.  Caroline is very good at drawing boundaries, but when one or more of us suggested some new way to reach out, or to lead worship, or to gather the community, or to nurture the flock, she never responded with “Why?”  Caroline always said, “Why not!” and we were off and running.  I’ll miss her humility.  Caroline prepares methodically, does her research, charts a road map, but she holds her plans lightly, ready to head in a new direction if the spirit calls.  Frequently, as we debriefed a class or a sermon, Caroline would say, “Well, I thought I was going to Pittsburgh, and we ended up in Philadelphia, but I think that’s o.k.”  I’ll miss her honesty.  With counselees, with colleagues, with friends, even with a bishop, it is not unusual for Caroline to say, “I’m going to speak some truth.”  She takes her lumps if others disagree with her, claims her insights as her own, and listens carefully for the wisdom of others.

I believe Caroline was set free by coming to her vocation as a priest as a second or third chapter in her life—after important work at Garrison Forrest, after degrees in counseling, after raising two children.  She was genuinely surprised by the invitation to be ordained, and that spirit of playfulness has served her and us and the Church so well.  She has had nothing to lose in her priesthood, nothing to prove, and so, almost anything has been possible.  Her legacy, then, is an echo of the blessing she continues to be: openness, freedom, possibility, play.  The joy of those lasing gifts is laid alongside my sense of loss and redeems it.

I spoke with another wise woman yesterday as we planned a memorial service.  Speaking about her loved ones, she said, “At this point I understand there are five more things to say: Forgive me, I forgive you, Thank you, I love you, Good-bye,” and she went on.  “I have taken care of the forgiveness work, and I am writing a thank you note to every person I’ve encountered in some significant way.  I’m saying ‘I love you.’  All that’s left is for me to say is “Good-bye.”  Me too.

Thank you, good and faithful friend.  My gratitude for working beside you gives me such joy, even as I navigate your departure and its inevitable losses.  God be with you.

Love,

David

P.S. Please join us on January 27 at the 10:00 service and a special coffee hour afterwards, as we celebrate Caroline!

The markers of completing my time at Redeemer are now fully on the horizon, no longer obscured by Advent and Christmas. Even Epiphany has come and gone. As I look ahead, my calendar is filled with pastoral appointments with parishioners, 3 mental health workshop trainings, a funeral, 2 preaching assignments along with the other ‘normal’ routines of parish life. The end is now measured in weeks, soon to be days. And the passage of time is only accelerating. I am feeling sad. I am grieving.

Clergy deal with grief on a routine basis. That is a ‘normal’ part of living even though there is not a normal pattern to the process. Everyone grieves differently.  It is hard work to grieve ‘well’ so the emotions are not masked or ignored. It takes time and patience. I am reminding myself of those elements now.

One of the most valuable lay ministries of Redeemer is our Sacred Space for Grace; an offering for those who have experienced loss, not necessarily of a person. We grieve the loss of a job, a relationship, a pet, a dream, a disappointment. Our society does not always hold up such losses as significant or having emotional/spiritual/ physical consequences, yet the reality is we each can suffer from such wounds.

Sacred Space for Grace is a 6 week small group program facilitated by Ruthie Cromwell and Nancy Bowen both trained in grief work. It is offered in the fall, winter and spring.The ‘curriculum’ includes such topics as What Does Grief Feel Like; Stress Reduction; Experiences of Grief; a Grief Counselor from Gilchrist; How Grief Transforms. The next session begins on Saturday, January 26 from 10-11:30. Email cstewart@baltimoreredeemer.org to sign up. This is a community offering so if you know a non-Redeemer member, please encourage them to contact us.

I appreciate the quote below as I think it holds such wisdom….and is a valuable reminder that my own ability to grieve will hold blessings ahead.

“It has been my distinct experience that our capacity for joy is in direct proportion to our capacity for grief.  The more we do the honest work of allowing our emotions free movement within us, the greater the possibility that joy will be one of those feelings that comes to visit or reside in us.”  Christine Valters Painter

Caroline

Dear Folks,

The wise men were trying to unravel the mystery of life.  They had studied the ancient books and searched the stars.  They had plotted their journey using the best techniques available to them and planned for a lavish reception at its conclusion, yet they almost missed the news unfolding before their eyes.  The magi were probably high-ranking political advisors to the rulers of their countries, modern day Iraq and Iran, so it makes sense that they would travel to Jerusalem, the capital city, and confer with the leader there, King Herod.  But the answer they were seeking turned out to be nine miles away, in a backwater town named Bethlehem.  When their wandering led them to a poor baby, born of parents in questionable circumstances, they probably bickered about taking a wrong turn somewhere.  What child is this?

Their everyday world was parochial and given to violence, so it must have been bracing to encounter this small tribe of people whose prophets spoke of beating their swords into ploughshares and welcoming the stranger as a holy visitor. In W.H. Auden’s poem, “For the Time Being,” the wise men say it this way: “To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.”  Who was the first to kneel in his sumptuous clothes at that impossibly humble manger?

Given their revelation, it comes as no surprise that the magi “left for their own country by another way,” according to Matthew’s gospel.  On a certain level the wise men were simply being careful as they traveled.  One or more of them had had an unsettling dream that suggested they better not retrace their steps or come into contact with Herod again, so they took an alternate route home.

But consider further who they are and how far they have traveled.  These counselors are learned philosophers from the so-called fertile crescent, whose libraries and religions are much older than that of the Hebrew people they have met.  They have followed a star for many months through a dark desert, carrying symbolic gifts for the one who would be king, and they probably had a pretty good idea of who and what they would find.  I imagine they expected the king to embody some version of “might makes right” or “only the strong survive.”  But the king they discover is vulnerable and arguably powerless, born in a borrowed room with animals nosing around him.  Of course these wise men will go home by another way—everything they were counting on has been turned on its head.  What will home be when they get there?

The star they are following illumines the deepest mystery of life: each fragile human person embodies the power to topple kingdoms of greed and violence.  Love is born at Christmas.

Happy Epiphany.

David

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
and here in this place
the excitement is rising,
in every child’s face.
 
The greens on the walls
have been swagged to and fro.
There’s holly and cedar
‘neath candles aglow.
 
The choirs are all practiced,
the ushers in line,
guilds altar and flower
have made this house shine.
 
The costumes are ready,
the lines learned by heart,
for Inn-keeper, Gabriel,
and Narrator’s part.
 
The grandmas are swooning,
the moms a bit tired,
The dads do their part
‘cause the children are wired.
 
All praise for Miss Maggie,
Miss Viv and LaPlant,
who loved us and taught us
to never say “Can’t.”
 
On Drama! On Donuts!
On Scripture! On time!
Kids teaching each other
makes chaos sublime.
 
And what do you think
Of the Ravens these days,
With Jackson as QB
And running the plays?
 
We’ve got the momentum,
The defense, the spin.
And Harbaugh has said,
“Baby, we just need to win.”
 
But it’s been a tough year
for many nearby
with sisters who passed
and brothers who died.
 
The schools need our help
with funding, in-kind,
so each child progresses
and none left behind.
 
Some streets are too dark,
some jobs are too few.
But B’more can rise
with me and with you.
 
We’ll marshal our forces
and build where we can.
We invest in the future
when we reach out a hand.
 
So we sing the old carols
and tell the sweet tale,
of shepherds and angels
and Jesus’ Noel.
 
He was born in a stable
where the animals fed,
with straw for a blanket
and a manger his bed.
 
And wise men arrive
with gifts that they bring.
What swaddling child
could be praised as a king?
 
But the story is clear
if you listen real close:
the least and the last
meet the heavenly host.
 
And Christmas arrives
when enemies wed,
when the poor are brought in,
and the hungry are fed.
 
It comes without ribbons,
or boxes, or bows.
It comes without presents,
or stockings, or shows.
  
It comes when we welcome
the stranger as guest.
It comes when we offer
each other our best.
 
It comes when there’s peace
in our hearts, in the land.
Christmas comes when we love
each child, sister, and man.
 
~David

Today the PreK – 3rd graders played some Christmas games in Hale Auditorium while we waited to see the Drama and Donuts class production of “The Visit of the Magi”.  I know, I know – it’s not Epiphany yet. But their version was so sweet, such a gift from them to the younger children, that I can’t get caught up in those kinds of details.  They enjoyed performing it and the younger kids enjoyed watching and then getting to participate the second time through as they are always invited to do.

I get it though. The wise men from my crèche at home are still very, very far away, all the way across the room from Mary and Joseph in the stable, waiting to join them on January 6. The baby Jesus won’t be in the manger until I go to bed on Christmas Eve. I always tell my husband where I have hidden him when we set up the crèche so that hopefully one of us will remember. 

The kings had such a long way to go to seek the Lord. I was struck this week by the contrast of their special journey to find the new king with Mary and Elizabeth who were both just going along with their everyday lives when God came to them with the blessing of a new baby. And truth be told, their story resonates with me more than that of the Wise Men. It may be because they are women or because they are from a “lower” station in society than the learned Magi. But I think I relate to them more because of what has been my experience of God. My “a-ha” moments rarely happen when I set out to seek the Lord. They tend to blindside me right where I am at.

I confess that this job does not come as naturally to me as teaching Algebra did. I do a lot of googling! And during this time of year, I come across a lot of Advent calendars in my net surfing. A particular one that was developed by a non-profit design company, saltproject.org, seemed to be in use by quite a few churches of different denominations. The design was sweet, but what drew me were the suggested meditations for lighting the different candles on the Sundays in Advent and the Christ candle on Christmas Eve.

Hope looked down and saw despair. “I will go there,” said Hope.

Peace looked down and saw war. “I will go there,” said Peace.

Joy looked down and saw sorrow. “I will go there,” said Joy.

Love looked down and saw hate. “I will go there,” said Love.

God looked down and saw you. “I will go there,” said God.

I loved Caroline’s message today about blessing every circumstance, both expected and unexpected. Being asked to do this job for our parish was a bit unexpected for me, but today I very much want to bless the circumstance in which I find myself. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve the families of this parish. I am very happy because you trust your children with us each week. God has shown care for me by meeting me and blessing me right where I am at!

I wish you and your children a wonderful Christmas holiday full of hope, peace, joy, love and the presence of God. I hope to see you in a couple of weeks when we celebrate Epiphany!

Kathy

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment

I hesitated

on the threshold.

For the space

of a breath

I paused,

unwilling to disturb

her last ordinary moment,

knowing that the next step

would cleave her life:

that this day

would slice her story

in two,

dividing all the days before

from all the ones

to come.

The artists would later

depict the scene:

Mary dazzled

by the archangel,

her head bowed

in humble assent,

awed by the messenger

who condescended

to leave paradise

to bestow such an honor

upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you

it was I who was dazzled,

I who found myself agape

when I came upon her—

reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,

I cannot now recall;

only that the woman before me—

blessed and full of grace

long before I called her so—

shimmered with how completely

she inhabited herself,

inhabited the space around her,

inhabited the moment

that hung between us.

I wanted to save her

from what I had been sent

to say.

Yet when the time came,

when I had stammered

the invitation

(history would not record

the sweat on my brow,

the pounding of my heart;

would not note

that I said

Do not be afraid

to myself as much as

to her)

it was she

who saved me—

her first deliverance—

her Let it be

not just declaration

to the Divine

but a word of solace,

of soothing,

of benediction

for the angel

in the doorway

who would hesitate

one last time—

just for the space

of a breath

torn from his chest—

before wrenching himself away

from her radiant consent,

her beautiful and

awful yes.

—Jan Richardson 

There is someone shouting in the desert:“Prepare the way for the Lord. Make the road straight for him… Change your hearts! And show by your lives that you have changed.”      Luke 3:4b, 8a (Easy-to-Read Version)

Dear Parents,

Last week we heard about the birth of John the Baptist. This week we heard about the man he grew up to be, a messenger who came to help people prepare for the coming Messiah. We talked about how it was not just an outward preparation with baptism but that he wanted us to prepare our hearts. We took a crumpled up pipe red pipe cleaner and “made it straight” and then shaped it into a heart to remind us of John’s message to share what we have with others, work without grumbling and to be honest and kind. We also shared a snack of “bugs” made with donut hole bodies, pretzel stick legs and antennae and chocolate chip eyes!

This week right when my mind was full of John’s message because of preparing the lessons as well as lighting the peace Advent candle each night, something that rarely ever happens for me anymore happened. I had a fight with the love of my life, my beloved husband of 32 years. I wish I could tell you that it was over something of huge significance. It wasn’t. It was over something small at the end of a long, somewhat annoying day for both of us. We were tired and hungry and trying to get dinner on the table, and seemingly out of nowhere, we each said some unkind things and hurt each other. Dinner followed in an unbearable semi-silence only broken by brief, monosyllabic conversation. It was awful. Inside I felt I was in a desert, dying of thirst, yet so caught up in my anger and hurt that I couldn’t seem to find the way out. I thought of John’s message, and slowly began to try to see my husband’s point of view. It prepared me for when we sat and talked the next morning to come from a place of understanding and compassion instead of anger and pain, and he responded in kind. Our relationship was healed and I would argue stronger than it was. 

Leaving all my friends and family in Texas and coming to Baltimore where I knew no one felt like a desert too. But every time I walk through the doors of Redeemer, I change and I grow in this wonderful community that has welcomed me in. As David said in his sermon this morning, I am learning to turn from my small mindedness, my hardheartedness and my fear. What am I being prepared for here? God with me.

We challenged the children to think of one change they could make this week to share with or be kinder to someone else. You can reinforce this at home by noticing when they do and acknowledge how they are living out their faith. Maybe you can also pick something that is currently difficult in your life, and allow yourself to have a positive perspective shift and notice if anything changes.

I wish you a wonderful week full of joy and hope to see you Sunday!

Kathy

Editor’s Note: Each week that Sunday School is in session Kathy LaPlant, Director of Children’s Ministries sends an email to parents of young children through grade 3 as a follow-up to the morning’s lesson. We will publish them on this blog on Monday mornings.