She Knows

Need ideas for the lectionary (RCL) text this week?  Go to “Menu” and “Lectionary Sermons” for my weekly posting.  

this-is-the-starIt was a fiercely cold, December Sunday afternoon when my four-year-old granddaughter Rydia spent a few hours with me, stirring batter for Christmas bread, listening to the Advent IV Bible story, hunting for objects in an “I Spy” book, playing you can’t catch me.”  We pulled This is the Star from the holiday stack of books to read together.  It is a beautifully illustrated rendering of the nativity in a “this is the house that Jack built” type of poetry.

I couldn’t resist reading it the way my mother read another poem to me as a child.  It was a piece about a pig that couldn’t get over a stile, with all sorts of characters pitching in to help.  Mom would go faster and faster as she made her way back to the first line: “Pig can’t get over the stile and I shan’t get home tonight!”  Just so, I sped up as I got to “…that saw the star in the sky.”  Rydia enjoyed this little game.

As we turned the final pages, we paused to marvel at the picture of the tiny baby, as the authors wisely abandoned the verse form and wrote simply, “This is the child that was born.”  A moment of wonder as we looked over the shoulders of the holy family, a magus, a shepherd, and a cow to see the baby nestled in the hay.


We continued to the last page, then the endsheet and pastedown, where I sensed that the illustrator had us looking through angels’ wings to glimpse the special star.  Rydia asked what it was.  I said, “I think they are angels’ wings.  What do you think?”

“It’s the inside of the baby.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  It’s the inside of the baby.”


Knock, Knock. Who’s There?


“Somebody ought to do something.”  How many times have you said that to yourself as you marked yet one more piece of evidence that our society is floundering?  I’m just as guilty as the next person of despairing over circumstances, then pushing my anxiety aside, filing it into an overstuffed file of “things I can’t do anything to change.”

Except this time we’re not pushing it away.  Last night several of us gathered for the first of what we hope will be many evenings of dialogue about issues that matter.  Note the word “dialogue,” not debate or argument or unfriending.

If recent years of growing tension in the public square didn’t show us that we have to find a better way of being together, the presidential campaign did.  We are a society of sound bites, Facebook memes, and internet trolls.  I believe that we all yearn instead to know one another more deeply, and to be known.  Our fast-paced lives are dominated by busy schedules and information overload that leave us little time for meaningful relationships.  Yet those relationships are what give us life.  The only reason we dare add one more item to our schedules is because this is an investment in becoming citizens of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “beloved community.”

Exactly one week after the 2016 presidential election, I had what seemed like an epiphany.  I was mulling the idea of a dialogue group after discussing it with my friend Wendy.  The words “Knock, knock” inserted themselves into my consciousness.  I have learned to pay attention to these occasional stirrings, recognizing them as gifts from the Holy Spirit.  (Most of the time, anyway.  My inner compulsions have their voices too, but I can usually tag them as pesky gremlins and move on.)


Knock, knock.  Well, who’s there?


Who’s there?  We have spent so much time debating the issues and the failings of the candidates, letting the fever pitch of the media invade our personal relationships, we have forgotten to care about the person behind the position.  We have caught the insidious disease of demonizing and objectifying our neighbors instead of asking them why they think and feel the way they do.

We have forgotten that each person has a story.

On the day that I got knocked on my noggin with inspiration, I traveled a few hours to Des Moines to hear Krista Tippett speak at Drake University.  She is the host of “On Being,” one of my favorite podcasts wherein she interviews people from different disciplines about spirituality and the art of living.   The page is described as “Taking up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you’ll love to meet.”

I have been reading Tippett’s latest book, Becoming Wiseso I wasn’t surprised when she proposed the need to create spaces for civil conversation in our country.  She is bold to assert that the word “love” has been absent from the public square, but it needs to be brought front and center as the ground on which we grapple with issues and listen to each other, probing to understand what is at stake for each person so that we can work together to make thoughtful decisions about our common life.

An epiphany, and a lecture by a wise teacher.  It felt like a calling, then, when these events converged.  It gave me the courage to move ahead with the idea of creating a space where people can come together to talk about political issues, societal concerns, and questions about the meaning of life in a gracious atmosphere.

It is my turn to “do something.” And so “Knock Knock” was born as the pilot group met last night and gingerly began discussing an excerpt from an “On Being” podcast titled “How to Live Beyond This Election.”  Those participating shared their longing to understand their family and friends, to navigate discussions thoughtfully and with curiosity instead of devolving into anxious argument.  We tried listening for understanding, and it felt wonderful.  It was only one dialogue, but we were smiling, and asking questions, and verbalizing our concerns, and experiencing a small measure of healing.

Each time we meet, a “Knock Knock” will get our discussion going: an excerpt from a podcast or blog, a news story, a song–an item that gets us thinking and talking.  We will ask what it is in our own stories that resonates with it.  If it is an issue that requires political action, what is at stake for each person?  We will ask the why beyond the what.  We will pay attention to “who’s there.”

With this beginning, we will gain momentum.  We will wade together into the messy issues of our time with tools for dialogue that I believe will be more than civil.  As we shared our hopes and concerns in a wine bar on a cold December night, we all agreed that we have to start somewhere. What better place to start, than with love?

To learn more about starting your own group, go to “The Civil Conversations Project” online, created by Krista Tippett and her On Being staff.  Choose “Act” in the menu.  Go for it!  





Advent Oil

Need ideas for the lectionary text this week?  Go to “Menu” and “Lectionary Sermons” for my weekly posting.  


In Jesus’ conception, there is one virgin being prepared.  In a haunting parable (Matt 25.1-13) about the end times, there are ten virgins, five of whom are properly prepared.  In the manner of armchair lectionary critics, I might have placed the parable in Advent.  But there are only four spots to fill, so second-guessing is easy.  Regardless, it has a primary place in my own Advent season this year.

Having been introduced to Malcolm Guite by a colleague, I find myself captivated by his sonnets.   This year I am reading his Waiting on the Word, his selection and exposition of poems for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  Today’s reading (December 3), is John Donne’s “Annunciation.”  The richness of this tribute to Mary is unpacked expertly by Guite, but even my own slow reading of the piece yields precious insight.  The incarnation is mystery enough to behold for a lifetime, if only by pondering the last line:

Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.

In this year’s Advent, my imagination juxtaposes the annunciation with the parable of the ten virgins.  I have always understood the oil in their lamps to be a symbol of preparation for the Day of the Lord.  Be faithful.  Be alert.  Move on to another parable.

But what is involved in preparation?  The lamps must be refilled.  The wise ones brought
oil with them, but they only had enough for themselves.  The foolish ones had to find another source elsewhere.  They missed out on the advent of the bridegroom, because they did not have enough oil.
Oil in the Scriptures is both a staple and a sign of God’s provision and blessing.  It is used for healing, for lamps, for anointing, and refreshment.  Where there is oil there is life and goodness.

I am in a season of life that is not unlike Advent, so the mood of Advent itself feels especially intense this year.  For some months I have sensed a preparation for something that is to come.  God’s Spirit seems to be painting provocative designs on the walls of my imagination.  My prayers are often wordless yet profound.  I feel a great potential stirring.  A parable about oil lamps being refilled resonates.  Poems and images of Mary bearing a secret touch a deep cord.

The Messianic secret is one of the mysteries of the gospels, yet it rings true for me right now.  There is the oil of life, and also the image of the seed, which in Mary is the beginning of God’s “new thing.”  (Isa 43.19) The small seed of God’s inbreaking needs time in the darkness, time to germinate.  It must take in the nutrients required.  There is no need to hurry; indeed, pushing it to yield its fruit too soon will spoil it.

We bear a secret, disciples of Jesus Christ.  We share Mary’s role as Theotokos, God-bearer.  The substance of the secret is the Love that formed the universe.  As such, it is not only secreted (hidden) within us, it is also secreted (generated or released) from us in myriad ways.  The “immensity” of God is borne into the world in the tiniest of ways, by a thought or a glance, a soft touch, a word fitly spoken.

And so one more secret bearer is imagined.  Mary poured oil on Jesus’ head (Jn 12.3) at a dinner given in his honor.  Judas objected to the extravagance.  He could not see that her gesture came from a deep place, where love had been pulsing and expanding until it had to find expression.

At Christmas time—at any time—when God’s love is made manifest, may we be ready, filled with the oil of God’s life, so that the flame may be lit and we may see it.