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.
Singing.

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–
beckons
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
hello

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

​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

PHOTO BY SHEILA HUNTER, USED BY PERMISSION

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.

Hands.

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?

Who?

Who?

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?

Who what?

Who is that?

Who am I?

Who?

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—

—listening.

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

Who?

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.

Preparing for Winter

The berries are like Mama’s shade-shifting lipstick.

Autumn is here. Sheila says our backyard holly tree is in panic mode over whatever winter weather is to come. The holly is ensuring that all who are hungry will have berries aplenty for the cold months ahead. She has prepared a winter feast.

Holly’s berries were green
then pinkish orange,
color deepening now
with each day that
the sun sleeps longer.
The berries are like Mama’s

shade-shifting lipstick, I
think, waxy green in the
tube, transformed to candy
apple red on her lips. “Don’t
you think you’re overdoing it,

a bit?” I asked Holly. I have
never seen so many berries.
She must be getting tired from
wearing all the jewels summer
has draped over her spindly arms.

Her only response is to blush
in the autumn light while mama
wren sticks her head out from
the inflamed branches and offers
up a scolding winter prelude.