Thursday, January 10, 2019

Meeting God in a Winter Landscape

          As I write this, the sun is shining, the winds are up, but no snow has yet to change the landscape of my yard.  According to the weather forecasters, that is about to change.  Snow may well affect Sunday morning worship.  If it doesn’t, snow will surely affect some schedules in the mid-Atlantic region before spring blossoms arrive.  This meditation is designed to be a reflective piece for when the snow falls.

          The Bible doesn’t reference “snow” very much.  Not surprisingly considering the geographic area that gave birth to our sacred scriptures.  Snow is possible but uncommon in Israel.  It is primarily confined to certain parts of the country.  The 1950 snowfall was memorable.  That said, snow would not be a common metaphor in biblical literature.  In fact only six references make the “most memorable” lists. 

          Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord.  Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow.  If they are red as crimson they will become like wool.   Isaiah 1:18 (Common English Bible)

          And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.  Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow.  Psalms 51:6-7 (Common English Bible)

          I am fortunate to live in a house that has a bit of a rural feel.  All the properties on our block are 1-1 ½ acres.  Many of the houses, including mine, are small Cape Cod style housing built in the early 1940s.  Others, on our adjourning block are houses built in the style of the 1950s.  It is only recently that some of our properties have been transformed into the popular large house with the manicured lawns.

          That means that even though I live a block away from the busy Beltway surrounding Washington DC, the view out my window includes trees and lawn and bushes along with deer and foxes.  When winter comes the lush verdant nature of the forest is replaced by barrenness.  There is  starkness in a winter landscape.
          That barrenness can be a reminder to us that we too are exposed in various seasons in our lives.  Sometimes we just know, whether we want to or not, that we can’t hide behind anything.  Just as the winter deciduous trees, we are robbed of our masks and our public coverings.  Our inner self and our inner attitudes are exposed.

          Let’s call them the 3 P’s – Prejudices, Presumptions, and Pride.
Oh, we keep the 3 P’s carefully hidden. 

          We say publically that we haven’t a prejudice bone in our bodies.  We love everyone, unless of course we decide they are a threat to us.  We don’t mine “diversity”, as long as “they” don’t get too close to us.  We have our prejudices, but we try very hard not to advertise them.  However our decision-making and opinions often betray us and we are stripped of pretensions. 

          We make our presumptions about how things should be based on our own life experiences.  That’s imminently logical.  Yet it is also self-defeating because we often find it difficult to hear and understand how someone else’s life experience is so different from ours.  We often quote “walk a mile in another’s shoes”.  Yet when it comes down to it, we don’t trade footwear.

          We say we are not prideful, yet we are adamant we have the right to prioritize our own self-interest.  What “I” want or think I need is a much stronger motivator than what “we” can do together or how “we” can share in the earth’s resources.

          Our winter selves stand barren against the world.  Our winter selves need to be reclothed in  God’s righteousness. 

          Into our winter world, (at least in some parts of our world) comes snow.  Quietly and silently falling, snow transforms the landscape.  Those barren trees are outlined in white.  Weeds are covered by a blanket of snow.  For just a moment, before the frenzy of shoveling, the noise of the snow blower, the sound of children playing, the world is made new. 

          In our spiritual lives we can look out at that winter landscape and see the work of God on our barren lives.  We too are covered by God’s Grace – coming silently and peaceably, settling on us and washing us free of the those three P’s that distort our relationship with God and with the world.

          Should the snow not come this weekend, or any weekend, take some time to look at some winter landscapes.  Get lost in the possibilities of that winter scene and allow it to draw you to God’s Grace. 

          Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord.  Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow.  If they are red as crimson they will become like wool.   Isaiah 1:18 (Common English Bible)

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara

Thursday, December 20, 2018


“One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.”
 Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

            Paulo Coehlo is a contemporary lyricist and novelist.  He is best known for his novel The Alchemist released in 2014.  That novel is a fable centered in following one’s dream. 

            At this holy time of year we are following the star – following the dream – that will lead us to the manger in Bethlehem.  There we meet Love Incarnate – Love Embodied.  There we are enfolded in that love – not because of anything we have done.  We are loved because we are loved.  That is the nature of the Good News.

            George Herbert (1593-1632) penned the poem “Love”.  The words speak to  us on our Advent journey:

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

            We stand at the stable door, tired and weary and looking for the wonder of the promise that drew us to this place and time.  Yet dare we cross the threshold?  We know we are unworthy.  We are hesitant to enter such a sacred place.  Who are we to experience this wondrous thing?  Maybe we should wait a day or two.  Maybe we should bring something to give to the baby and the family.  Maybe we should go to the Temple to pray about this whole thing.  We come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid making that commitment to walk into the presence of Love.

            Yet LOVE bids us welcome.  LOVE brings us across the threshold.  LOVE has no need for our excuses because we are already held in HOLY LOVE.

            Simone Weil writes of the power of this particular poem in her life:

            I used to think I was reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my becoming aware of it, reciting it had the nature of a prayer.  During one of those recitations, … Christ himself came down and took possession of me. ….
            In this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination played any role; I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love – like that which one can read in the smile of a beloved face.

            This wondrous season unfolds before us, drawing us more closely to the Christ Child.  The story is more than a nice holiday tale.  It is a witness through the ages of Christ coming to us and taking possession of us.  We are welcomed by LOVE.  Our sufferings, our questions, our busy lives are transformed by this presence of love.  We are no longer what we were.  We are ourselves born again into God’s everlasting Love. 

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara

Friday, December 14, 2018


“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
 Thich Nhat Hanh

            As we continue along our Advent path we have a chance to examine the paradox of this saying by the Vietnamese philosopher, Thich Nhat Hanh.  We all know that sometimes we are so filled with joy that we can’t help but smile.  There are those times though when we don’t feel like smiling, when we don’t feel happy about anything.  The very act of smiling is a door through which we can enter to tap into those moments of wonder, moments of joy, moments of grace.

            Consider Mary’s trip to see her cousin Elizabeth.  The timing was just after she was told she would become pregnant and bear God’s Son.  It must have been an overwhelming experience for her.  Here she was a young teenager expecting a baby without the niceties of a husband or a formal wedding.  She was on the verge of being shamed in her own village.  After all, who would believe the story that an angel had dropped by and told her of this miraculous birth?  She probably felt her own parents’ disapproval and skepticism.  She needed someone to talk to and her cousin Elizabeth seemed the best choice since they were close – and Elizabeth was experiencing her own amazing birth story.

            Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands.  She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises made to her.”

            The weight of concern overshadowing daily life – the smile of greeting – the joy overwhelming two women – the wonder of the holy births.

            Thich Nhat Hanh also cautioned us:  If you are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.

            That seems to be appropriate to us at this time of year when we long for the birth of the Prince of Peace.  We are particularly sensitive to the continuous conflicts as we wait for Jesus’ coming.  Some of those conflicts are manifested in wars and rumors of wars.  Other conflicts are those that continually erupt in our interactions with one another.  We want the security of everyone getting along with one another.  We long for peace.

            Yet we also perpetuate conflict by our uncompromising attitudes.  We are ever so sure that we are correct in all things.  We want peace by acquiescence to our way of thinking.  Sometimes we even become mean-spirited.  We become so angry we forget to smile.

            Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of the power of the smile.  A smile can unleash joy.  A smile is the beginning of peace.  And a smile is something we can manage.

            The Dali Lama tells us:   A simple smile, that’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to one another.

            Mother Teresa said:  Let us always meet another with a smile,  for the smile is the beginning of love.

            This Advent season let us open ourselves to wonder and grace through our practicing the art of the smile.

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara