Shattering Snowglobes

Neither triumphal nor cozy, the Story is powerful and prophetic in its truth-telling.

Reflections for the First Week of Christmas

shattered globe
womb-water gushes out
mingles with sacrificed innocence
in war-wilderness streets
mama and daddy
smuggle their baby
across jagged borders
feet pierced by fractured pieces
of heart-pondered dreams
escape into broken reality
birth half-remembered blessings
beneath the light of a new moon

Anna and Simeon. Their faces map all that they have seen of life. Luke tells us Anna is 84 years old. People have come and gone in her life. Life and death have danced together and then danced some more as the earth has spun and spun again on its axis. Yes, Anna and Simeon have seen and heard and felt in their bones the hopes and fears of many years. Then, when Mary and Joseph appear in the Jerusalem temple with Jesus, Anna and Simeon burst forth in a Spirit-seasoned duet of praise.

After everything they have encountered over many decades—after all that has gone awry in their lives and world—how do they know that this stable-born child is “destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34)? What recognition stirs in Simeon to release from his spirit letting-go lyrics about his own mortality, his world-weary soul settling into a serene certainty about the future as he looks into the untested face of Jesus? What story still to be sung does Anna hear in the rhythms of Mary’s pondering heart? What truth does she imagine that baby holding in those tender, tiny hands?

Perhaps many of us ask questions like these during that space betwixt-and-between December 25 and January 1. What does it mean—the Advent waiting and Christmas caroling? Because the stories we hear in the Gospels after Jesus’ birth and before Anna’s song of delight in the temple? They fracture nostalgic Christmas dreams.

The Gospel stories just after Christmas unfold as Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to be blessed. The image is moving. Anna and Simeon have waited many years to see the sacred promise they glimpse in this child’s eyes. But we cannot delight in this hope-filled encounter in the temple—or see its prophetic truth—without journeying through the nightmarish readings for December 28.

In the Fifth Century, the Latin church instituted a day (observed on December 28 in the West) to remember and lament the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. The refrain of this remembrance? “A voice goes up in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children” (Matthew 2:13-23). Herod, wanting to protect his political power and fearing that the people would embrace Jesus as their king, orders the genocide of all baby boys under two years old. Jesus “grew and became strong”(Luke 2:40); Rachel wept (Matthew 2).

Rachel still weeps today, her inconsolable cries piercing our Christmas cradlesongs. Too many mamas and daddies today groan in travail for wounded sons and daughters. Too many children risk tender feet and hearts on streets littered by violence-shattered reflections of who they can—could—yearn to—be, if only…

The Gospel’s stories just after Jesus is born remind us. This is where Nativity happens—in an uncertain world where people face danger at the hands of death-dealing forces everyday—just as Mary and Joseph and Jesus did. Just as Rachel and her children did. This is where we see the live Nativity—in those half-remembered places just beyond the glow of the crèche where nightmares haunt innocent dreams.

So, the question again: what did it mean, the birth of the Christ child? What does it mean for our world today?

Perhaps Rachel’s counterpointing lament joins with Anna’s and Simeon’s duet and the three ancient voices together urge us to see the whole raw-edged arc of the Nativity. The snow globe is shattered, and Mary and Joseph and Jesus seek refuge in a real and dangerous world. Neither triumphal nor cozy, the Story is powerful and prophetic in its truth-telling. And this unabridged Nativity tale is relentless in calling us—the body of Christ—to break through life-limiting membranes to birth anew each day God’s grace and peace.

Somewhere in Our Silent Night

God is waiting to come home, home to our lives.

Note: I wrote the following for my church’s Advent choir and music Sunday. One of the pieces is titled “Somewhere in Your Silent Night,” arranged by Joseph M. Martin. That song inspired much of what I wrote and threaded through the music Sunday. Photo is by Sheila G. Hunter.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found
favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and
you will name him Jesus.”

It’s right there in Luke.
Mary says “yes” to God’s call,
and then she flees to the mountains.
To Elizabeth.
To home.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill
country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry,
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Listen. Do you hear the sounds? 
People in the mountain house,
that house whose porch light we have been following?
That house where Mary goes to find Elizabeth?
People in the mountain house are laughing.

Yes, it could happen. She could birth a child.
At home with Elizabeth.
Her friend.
Her kindred.
At home with Elizabeth, Mary could imagine it.
And later, when she looked out upon a silent night,
she would remember it.
Birthing a dream.
A promise.
A hope.

The mountain house surprises weary eyes.
Mary and Elizabeth dance a wild dream of justice and grace
while the porch light flickers–
invites us to remember
turn and return
imagine in hope–

I guess that’s what Elizabeth and Mary talked about in the mountain house.

The Creating One–
Breaking through our resolve
Our logic
our best-laid plans.
The Unexpected One–
Breaking through all of our defenses
With love and light
to be cradled in our arms
And in our hearts—

And Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

At home with Elizabeth,
a song finds Mary.
A survival song.
A justice song.
A song of hope and light.

Mary sings. 
She sings to the night.
Even though she can’t be certain what tomorrow holds.

At home with Elizabeth–
on the mountain with her kindred–
a song of belief 
beyond belief finds her.

“And Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.”

Mary returned home,
carrying light from the mountain in her eyes,
the song of promise in her heart,
a drumbeat of new life in her feet.

Traveling alone, like every prophet before her, Mary sets out on her first journey, to her cousin Elizabeth’s house, to share her truth.  There will be more journeys: to Bethlehem; to Egypt and back; to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve; to Jerusalem when he is crucified, to a tomb—

God is waiting
to come home, home
to our lives.
To our world.
Let us join Mary on the journey home–
in the name of God who calls to us
somewhere in our silent night—Amen

beginnings and endings

We begin at the end—or do we end at the beginning?

This is advent

Isaiah 11 offers a peculiar vision of wolves and lambs and leopards and goats frolicking together on God’s mountain of peculiar peace. All of this year’s Advent lectionary texts turn expectations upside down. Sprigs grow from dead stumps. Crocuses blossom in desert places. And a little child leads God’s people into a peace-land of radical love. That is a gift of Advent—God invites us to see life in new ways, and I, for one, am eager to encounter the new way of God’s upside down, inside out peace and love.

The shortest distance
between two points?

a straight line—
begin here;
end there.

But the straight way?
Not the only way.

Beginnings cradle endings—
​first drop of rain
page one of a favorite novel

Endings are the womb of beginnings—
last line of a poem
one lingering summer tomato

​This is incarnation.

Sharp sword edges
learn to plow fertile soil.
Lions and lambs 
choreograph a dance of peace.
Green sprigs grow from
axe-worn roots.
Tender crocus shoulders push
up through winter ground—

This is Advent. 

We begin at the end—
Or do we end at the beginning?

Or do we pause just now
held in a promise— 
God with us.

Grow, Green Sprig of Jesse, Grow

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse,
 and a branch shall grow out of his roots. . .

Another Advent Porch light poem based on Isaiah 11:1-10


We have followed the porch light
to the house on the mountain
See the plowshares and pruning hooks?

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

“Sow life into rocky ground;
trust what is tender to be tenacious;
trust new life to shoulder up
through hard ground,
roses to break through concrete walls. 

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

The mountain house surprises weary eyes.
We gather around a stump to dine together,
to savor the sweet fruit of God’s wild hope
while wolves and lambs choreograph a song of peace.

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

God calls us to tend an unexpected root, one that emerges from life-stories that have felt the sharp cut of the axe. God calls us to see in unexpected places, God’s promises of justice and peace. 

Grow, green sprig of Jesse, grow.

Advent Porch Light

Turn on a porch light and welcome somebody home.

Where is the porch light?
We long for its steady promise
to appear somewhere out there
as we journey wintry roads.

Longing for light, we wander.

Someone has lit a lamp.
An obligato flame dances,
comforts aching eyes,
choreographs bone-tired feet.

Seeing the light, we follow.

The mountain house keeps vigil,
Watches through the night.
Waits up for heart-weary travelers
to find their way home.

Sharing the light, we wonder.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah offers our first image for Advent this year (see Isaiah 2:1-5):

2The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. . .[C]ome let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Isaiah 2

In the prophet’s vision, we see a mountain in the distance and crowds of people streaming toward a house on the mountain. A lush garden surrounds the house (at least as I imagine it). The garden has been cultivated by swords and spears that have been refashioned into plowshares and ruining hooks.

What does this mountain house image mean for the 2019 Advent season?

I am always glad when I come home after dark and Sheila has turned on the porch light. When I drive up and the light is on, I know that someone is waiting for me. Watching for me. When I drive up and the porch light is on, I know I am home.

I hope this year’s Advent waiting includes a porch light liturgy for those whose hearts and bodies ache for home. What do I mean by this? I hear a double call to action in Isaiah. We are called to keep seeking home—God’s home where the walls are built of justice, love, and peace. We cannot settle down and abide anything less than this. We are also called to keep vigil. We are called to watch through the night for homesick travelers who need for-now dwelling places.

We are approaching the winter solstice—the longest night of the year. People in our lives—people in our world—are bone-tired from wandering uncertain roads. One part of our Advent liturgy—of our work as God’s people—may just be to turn on a porch light and welcome somebody home.

Whose Hands?

Let the favor of God be upon us
and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

A 6 a.m. walk. The sun—stretching, yawning—ready to look out upon a new day. Owls, those melancholy canticlers of the night are getting drowsy, ready for robins and finches to take over the morning shift of harmonizing.

Photo by Jill Crainshaw

An edge of summer, edge of autumn walk. Days are getting shorter. Nights longer. And the stars? Just before dawn? Luminous. Incandescent. Dancing with glee on the edge of the morning then fading into the heavens’ unbounded mystery.

I walked through my neighborhood at daybreak. The earth was awakening to a new day, and what a day. The last of summer’s blacked-eyed Susies turning their faces to the heavens. Chrysanthemums beginning to unfurl their paintbrushes, eager to color the world with the oranges and yellows of autumn. In the dawning wonder of an August morning I saw–the hands of an artist, the hands of a musician, the hands of God.


Psalm 90 speaks of hands:

Let the beauty of God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands.
O prosper the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

I hear these words and I wonder–

What about our hands? My hands. Your hands.

Whose hands will chip away the falsehoods that hide God’s wisdom?

Too many hands in our world break and destroy. Too many hands injure and scar.

Whose hands will hold broken hearts with gentleness and compassion?

Whose hands will paint the colors of God’s grace on landscapes of injustice and despair?

For me, these are the questions of faith that really matter. How do our hands—my hands and your hands—do God’s work of shaping justice and peace for all people?

Let the beauty of God be upon us,
and prosper for us
the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

Psalm 90–“Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us, and prosper for us the work of

our hands.”

When autumn comes and with it harvest celebrations, I think about the work of God’s hands. God’s hands creating beauty even in the fading and dying of summer leaves. God’s hands bringing forth from the earth good food to eat.

Photo by Jill Crainshaw

I think too of human hands—

farmers who plant and plow and harvest;
workers who process foods from the fields;
cooks whose hands prepare banquets for us to enjoy every day.

How do we serve God with our hands? What touch do we offer? What do we create?

My hands. Your hands. All of our hands—blessed and beautiful. All of our hands holding within them promises of God’s grace. Our hands—the hands of God. . .

Who Indeed?

Who will save us?



Penny and Bella have ears to hear
what I cannot—

We cock our heads
toward the tree outside the
living room window and listen
for the Monday morning cry:


Who what?

Who is that?

Who am I?


So a day in the life begins
with barking dogs and sleepy-eyed
gazes up into backyard trees—

Who indeed—

At work we wonder together
over coffee in a morning
of magical meetings,
ponder tangled tree vines
of abiding belovedness,
wander around in each other’s stories,
while time stops, just for a moment—
who are we?

Later, a different we WebEx-es to Peru;
who can save rainforests from goldrushers?
A river of life runs through those trees—
“Madre de Dios”—
who will save us?

Later still, another we
praises the power of mighty oaks
to bend down close and breathe
beatitudes into broken bodies; then we
cheer as a third-grade drum major
rehearses his moves right there
in the middle of the office floor,
tubas and trumpets and trombones
blaring out from an iPhone
plugged into the wall.
We—celebrate mighty oaks and
relish who he is,
imagine with joy
who he will become.

Home. Facebook remembers.
I do too. One year ago today
a communal we made a
pilgrimage to Temple Emmanuel.
Lit candles.
Held vigil.
Held hands. Prayed
for the Tree of Life and
for lives lost to violence.
Who will save us?

So it is night. We—Bella and Penny and I—
are waiting—


An owl.
Settles into the nook
of a stalwart tree out back.
No cheerful aria.
Instead a melancholy cry—


Who am I?

Who are we?

Sleep comes and
with it a prayer:

Who indeed—

Note: Wake Forest University has an amazing research partnership in Peru called Cincia—Centro de Innovacionetr Scientifica Amazonica. I met the director of the program, Luis Fernandez, through WebEx today. Cincia is working with a wide range of partners, including local Peruvians, to combat deforestation in the Peruvian rainforest. Madre de Dios means “Mother of God” and is a region in the south of Peru covered by dense Amazonian jungle.