Holy Week: Canceled?!

Louisiana is one of the states hardest hit by CoVid-19. Consequently, we are all under a “Stay at Home” mandate – even if the local Wal-Mart parking lot indicates otherwise. Everything has been canceled, even regular Sunday church services.  Like many others, our own Epiphany church has gone to online services, calling us to a new experience of community through technology. (As I often say, technology is wonderful…when it works. Plans for streaming a live service were abandoned when the wi-fi service inside of the church proved to be less than robust. Hence, it was recorded.)

As our choir director, Leon, is safely tucked away in a neighboring state taking care of his elderly and high risk parents, I received a call from Fr. Matt asking about help with music. So last Sunday, Fr. Matt, Deacon Andrew and I gathered for Morning Prayer in a quiet church. Andrew and I played guitars and sang, and  Matthew 18:20 became very real to me.

I was reviewing guitar translations of hymns and looking ahead. Palm Sunday. Easter. Holy Week.

Holy Week. Holy –!

I can tolerate Palm Sunday without a Procession of the Palms. I can even tolerate – barely – Easter without trumpet, choir, full-on-“smells and bells,” etc.

But Holy Week without my church family?

This…is gonna be a challenge.

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It’s not the music. While Maundy Thursday is filled with music I love, most of it is easily translatable to guitar. It’s not even daily church attendance, as I don’t make it on the Monday or Tuesday. I do love the Tenebrae service on Wednesday, though.

Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what it is, except that the prospect of missing it leaves me feeling a bit lost.

Well, maybe feeling a bit lost is what Holy Week is all about.

I should know that; I’ve written songs about it. Yet this feeling of loss and of being lost are different. I know it’s nothing like Christ’s disciples felt: After an enthusiastic welcome into Jerusalem, their whole world fell apart as they watched their beloved rabbi captured, condemned in a farce of a trial, tortured and crucified. They watched, helpless, without the knowledge of what was to come. How can my own feelings possibly have anything to do with what they were experiencing?

How can my own feelings be even remotely related to what Jesus suffered and what His followers felt?

Perhaps those are questions to ponder during this upcoming Holy Week.

Our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jacob Owensby (affectionately known as “Bishop Jake”) sent out an email to members of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana this week, stressing the need to stay home and reminding us that we don’t stay put out of our own desire for self-preservation. Rather, we do so in order to slow the spread of the illness and to not overwhelm our medical system. He points out “This makes it possible for those needing a hospital bed and life-saving equipment to have access to them. We will literally be saving our neighbors’ lives. That sounds like love to me.”

That sounds like love to me.

Amen.

Epiphany welcomes all to our virtual worship. I’ll be posting them here.

There is a Well

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, and their subsequent conversation. I’ve always been fascinated by the Samaritan woman (as you can tell from the title of this blog). She was pretty fearless.

She recognized first that He was a prophet, and when He began to speak of Spirit, she tested the waters (no pun intended) of the Messiah issue. She didn’t quite come out and say “are you the Messiah,” but spoke of the Messiah

Jesus confirmed that I who speak to you am He.

The woman left her water jar behind, a significant act in itself. Not only did she abandon her task (a critical one that had to be fulfilled on a regular basis), she abandoned her tool. Simply reading the words as written, we may get the impression that she set down her water jar and wandered into the city and chatted with some folks on the street corner.

I rather have the idea that she was blown away enough to drop everything and run. Wouldn’t you? How long had they been waiting for a Messiah? She had the proof she needed.  Not only had He spoken to her, He had spoken to her as an equal, an individual capable of grasping deep truth. He immediately treated her as a disciple.

She ran to the city. Can you imagine her breathless as she told people (the men, as John tells us, another important point) to come, see a Man who told me…could this be the Christ?

She must have had a reputation for being truthful, as people believed her words. Later, when they had seen for themselves, they came to believe what they had seen.

I wrote the lyrics first for There is a Well:

There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry;
a deep well that’s flowing inside of me, where my soul does lie.
Some days it’s clear fresh water
Some days it’s sweet red wine
That makes my head start spinning with a love divine.
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry.

Well, I left the village, to fill my jar
with a thirst throughout my very soul.
And I met a man (can you understand)
He said “my water will make you whole.”
He said, You been thirsting,
I know you’ve been looking
and you’re not the only one……
so go back to the village, and sing it on the streets
the Son of Man has come!

There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry;
a deep well that’s flowing inside of me, where my soul does lie.
Some days it’s clear fresh water
Some days it’s sweet red wine
That makes my head start spinning with a love divine.
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry.

Oh I thought I lost out on Salvation’s call
because a sinner oh, that’s what I am
But I drank of his living water and I heard him say
“Sister, you’re a part of the plan.”
He said, It’s a hard life
That you’ve been living
And sister, I know you’ve got the blues
But it was a new day dawning, when you woke up this morning
So go out and tell the good news!

There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry;
a deep well that’s flowing inside of me, where my soul does lie.
Some days it’s clear fresh water
Some days it’s sweet red wine
That makes my head start spinning with a love divine.
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry…
There is a well inside of me, never gonna run dry.

The words came easily, but I struggled with the music for a while. Then, I realized:

She had five husbands. Obviously, this was meant to be a blues song.

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And a blues song it is. You can listen to the song here.

Greening the Season

It always makes me a little crazy when I see Christmas trees and greenery parked out by the side of the road awaiting garbage pickup – on Dec. 27. Good grief! Don’t they realize it’s TWELVE days of Christmas? I’m doing well if I have greenery in the house by Christmas Eve! And yes, it stays until Epiphany. While I’ve switched to a small “faux” tree in recent years, I do enjoy using fresh greenery. Living where I do, we have an abundance of it at hand. It’s become sort of a family tradition.

Thursday, the weather was good, and my brother, sister-and-law and I headed down the road to gather a few goodies for decorating. While south Louisiana isn’t home to lovely Fraser Fir trees and the like, we do have our share of evergreens.

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Cedar trees are everywhere. One Christmas, many years ago, we decided to cut our own tree. This was long before tree farms offered such a thing. We went along “the ditchbank” (a wooded area by the house) and chose a lovely cedar, cut it down, and brought it home. (Disclaimer: It was on family property. We weren’t poaching a tree.) It was fun, a new experience, and — very tall. About 2 feet too tall, so we had a bit of a bent-over tree, but what the heck.

Palmettos aren’t what you think of with “Christmas greens” (and neither is Spanish moss), but they are pretty handy.

Then, there’s Yaupon. This North American holly is full of berries, and grows wild along the road.

Greenery has been used since ancient times, and even before Christianity, to bring color into the homes during the darker days of winter. Even in our mild southern climate, we have a starker landscape – so we love our evergreens.

Who needs the decorating section of your local craft store when you have this amazing decor in your own backyard?

Using the same materials (OK, I skipped the palmetto), Greg and I had different styles on our doors.

But it was a fun afternoon, on the hunt for greens and “weeds” that would make the season festive.

I’ll be spending Christmas with family and friends, and plan to continue my own Christmas enjoyment throughout the season by spending time with people I love. I hope you’ll do the same, even if you can’t “visit everyone” on Christmas day. (Who can? Oh, yeah, the big Jolly Ho Ho Ho Guy. But he just drops off gifts, scarfs down milk and cookies, and takes off again, hopefully NOT leaving reindeer patties on the roof.)

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, and – dare I say it – a very American holiday. We’ve seen decorations of pilgrims and pumpkins, corn and horns of plenty. We’re used to our holidays being commercialized, and today is particularly a good day to reflect on what, exactly, this holiday means and how it began.

In 1789 (over a hundred years after “the first Thanksgiving”), George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. I think it is particularly important to consider this document, as we are inundated in the media by claims that “God had nothing to do with the founding of America.” A recent “man in the street” video piece by The College Fix asked students whether or not it was acceptable to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“ooo. I’m leaning towards no. I feel like with, you know, the historical context, the, kind of, you know, the really awful oppression of, you know, indigenous peoples, is like the holiday is really like, praised by I think, people more like the conservative side of things, to like uphold that sort of tradition…”

“Well, the entire thing is sort of based on indigenous peoples, and [shrugs] murders of indigenous peoples”

“Ummm, no. I mean, it’s probably not as bad as Christmas or Easter…”

The reporter was at a small Christian private college in Minnesota. Are you freaking out yet? I am, and not just because of the fact that these students obviously need to take Speech 101 and remedial English. Some of the students even admit that their “standard public school education” Thanksgiving story was this great meeting between the pilgrims and the Indians where “the Indians showed ‘em how to plant corn, and obviously that’s not true.”

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. I doubt that they learned about George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, issued 3 October 1789:

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“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor —and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

The Proclamation goes on to specify the date of the holiday, and then that the day “be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…”

Washington’s proclamation came a little more than a hundred years after the arrival of the Mayflower. He was closer to that history than we are, and no doubt was aware of the dreadful first winter the Pilgrims endured. He would also have been aware of the history of the native tribes that played a role in the lives of these early settlers and the warring between them. The Wampanoag did work with the settlers, and were no doubt glad to have help in their own struggles with the Iroquois (who were warring with the Wampanoag and others).

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The Mayflower Compact by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The travelers had set up an agreement based on Biblical principles that would establish how they lived and worked when they settled in the New World. Laws were established that would apply to everyone, regardless of political or religious beliefs, and all property would be community property. Basically, “from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs.” Sound familiar?

Well, after a dreadful, difficult voyage over, they settled in and got to work. And you know what happened? Their setup didn’t work. They had created this “group venture” so as to be able to repay their sponsors back in England, but it was failing, because there really wasn’t any personal responsibility.

And…this was happening with a group of Christians who believed in sharing and caring for one another. It wasn’t a bunch of criminals or shysters; if any group could have made such a socialistic setup work, it was this bunch. Fortunately for us, John Bradford, the colony’s governor, realized it wasn’t working. Instead of beating a dead horse (possibly not a metaphoric saying in this instance), he started over. Each family received a plot of land, and was able to use it as they saw fit. If they had surplus, they could sell it. If they didn’t have enough, they could buy what they needed. They had a basic capitalistic society, and it worked.

To be sure, the Wampanoag had pitched in to help them survive their first winter, and had a good relationship with the colony. But it was more than just their assistance that helped the settlers at Plymouth survive and build a colony. Religious freedom and the right to work and make one’s own success also had a lot to do with it.

For anyone disturbed by the “Americanism” of the holiday, I will remind you that while Washington himself had the good of America as his primary concern, he didn’t close out the rest of the world as he encouraged prayer to God:

“…to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Amen to that. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

To read George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation:

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0091

Life on the farm…

My brother jokes about that line from the old John Denver song,  Thank God I’m a Country Boy.  While I agree with that (Girl, in my case), I’m not so sure about this part:

Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back….

Hm. Sometimes, but not usually.

Friday afternoon I walked down the driveway to collect the mail. What greeted me but this scene:dead box

I let loose several choice (French) exclamations. Post…still standing. Mailbox…in the ditch. (The mail, fortunately, was still in it.)This wasn’t the work of a baseball bat, but a car – someone wasn’t paying attention and took out our mailbox, as well as his or her rearview mirror, which was found nearby.

Now, we had a few baseball bats when we first moved here (for me, it was moving back here), but quickly solved that problem with a little Cajun Engineering.

inside new boxTwo different sizes of mailboxes, one sunk inside the other with an insulation of cement. On a 4 x 4, sunk in more concrete. That put an end to joyriders with baseball bats. Can’t y’all respect other people’s property? And isn’t destroying mailboxes against some federal regulation?

Our rural Postal Carrier, bless her, brought the mail to my door on Saturday and asked about the box. Her eyes grew big when I told her what happened. She just shook her head and said “get off the phone and drive, huh?”

Even though the baseball bats have stopped, this is the third – or is it the fourth – cement-reinforced mailbox we’ve put up. Every few years, some drunk couillion takes the curve too fast and winds up in the yard or the ditch. Occasionally they take a mailbox with them. Although the curve is very well marked and drivers are given plenty of warning, there’s always that special someone who just doesn’t pay attention.

Like the guy who recently flipped his F150 pickup and landed on the top of a cane tractor across the road. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on the door and very politely asked if we knew anything about what had happened. Seems that the driver took off after the accident. I’d actually seen the truck earlier, but it was perched so perfectly I didn’t realize that it wasn’t quite intentional (you really never know around here).

Another time someone put their jeep through my cousin’s fence. He, too, took off. I don’t know if the penalty is stiffer for leaving the scene of an accident or for a DWI, but I’m sure those drivers found out.

It’s never dull in the country. And it’s not exactly laid back, either. A couple of months ago, David asked “did you see the alligator in the pond?”

My response:  “Another one?!?!”

Petey the Pond Gator stuck around long enough to be named, but took off eventually. Probably a good thing.

gatorThere’s always work to be done here, but pleasures and rewards are many. I walk to work in the morning to the song of birds and the view of the pond (with or without gator), with occasional egrets, blue herons or ducks (and even a pelican) dropping by.

CardinalThese are precious sights that keep me grounded and make me laugh about things like the gator and the mailbox.

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Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riddle….thank God I’m a country girl.

On the 12th day of Christmas…

When asking someone “how was your Christmas?” we often receive a reply along the lines of “it was lovely! And I’m so glad it’s over!” I heard that just this morning, and on this, the 12th day of Christmas, I was reminded of something I read recently on Twitter.

It was a retweet of something posted by @theodramatist: “What are some ways that we can start reclaiming/celebrating ALL 12 days of Christmastide?”

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How can we keep the magic of Christmas?

Responses to this tweet included ideas old and new, and some great ones at that. While the Christmas theme continues in church until Epiphany, the secular world has mostly moved on. Retailers put Christmas stock on sale Dec. 26th, and – for the most part – wishes of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” has become “Happy New Year!”

Christian churches do, of course, stick to the liturgical calendar. And while I understand that Christmas is a busy and exhausting time for staff, how about keepin’ it “high church” for a while if that fits your congregation? (Um, incense is optional.) I had a crazy idea of a midweek carol sing – a week after Christmas. (Why not? Everyone finally has time for it!)

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A Nativity scene made from cypress knees on display at Epiphany Church, New Iberia (2018)

In recent years, my church has started doing the children’s Christmas pageant as an Epiphany pageant, which I think is a great idea. My own home decorations stay up until Epiphany. Here in the the sugar country of south Louisiana, families whose lives follow the calendar of grinding often find alternative dates to celebrate when grinding isn’t finished by Christmas (often the case).

But the feeling of relief that “Christmas is over until next year – WHEW!” is a little sad and bittersweet.

To be sure, Christmas IS a sad time for many, filled with bittersweet moments for nearly all of us. We are reminded of loved ones who are no longer with us; we are reminded of the changes in our lives and the lives of those around us. We look at the changes in the world, and (human nature being what it is), we focus on the things we lack and the things we miss while often glossing over the positive changes.

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a handmade clay Nativity displayed at Epiphany last year

Even the wonderful things about the Christmas season (time with loved ones, community worship, giving) tend to overwhelm us, and I think it’s because we try to squeeze it all into such a short period of time!

Shouldn’t that be a good reason to remind ourselves that yes, there are twelve days of Christmastide, and we all pretty much get started celebrating Christmas during Advent anyway. So why all the stress?

Maybe it’s because we want to ignore the things that hurt us, the painful memories, and the wondering-what-next-year-will-hold. The sad irony is that the very gift of Christmas, the miracle of the Incarnation, should be the healing salve that tends the wounds of the less-than-Hallmark-perfect holiday – and so often we forget about that miracle.

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One of the many Nativity scenes displayed at Epiphany church on our feast day

I’ll be packing up my Christmas decorations today and tomorrow, with the exception of the Nativity. (After all, the wise men don’t arrive until tomorrow, anyway.) As I do so, I’ll be revisiting the memories of Christmas past and be grateful for them. I’ll challenge myself to bring the beauty and miracle of the Incarnation into all of 2019. Tomorrow, I’ll watch our Epiphany Christmas Pageant, sing Christmas carols, and enjoy the first king cake of the season – and maybe find a plastic baby Jesus inside the cake.

I’m welcoming baby Jesus into my heart, and hope that you do, too.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us everyone.

Love came down at Christmas

Last night at the Christmas Eve service, Fr. Matt gave his usual children’s sermon about the young boy, Emmanuel, who wanted to know what language God spoke. The answer, of course, is that God’s language is love. The “grown-up sermon” changes each year, but we’ve heard Emmanuel’s story before and I’m always glad to hear it again as the message remains fresh.

Some years Christmas is hard. For some people, it’s always hard. It’s a time marked by memories and traditions, and traditions change out of necessity as life changes us and our circumstances. The season smacks us in the face with happy-ending-miracles on the Hallmark channel, and we are drenched with messages of the perfect family and the happily-ever-after. Real life is so much more messy, as families deal with dysfunction, illness, division, poverty, and those loved ones who are no longer there. (Then, there are those who have no family.)

Christmas whispers in God’s language to our weary souls, and it can be hard to hear those whispers over the din of the season. Christmas whispers of hope in a broken world. Christmas reminds us that in the face of all of the messy-ness, the smallest, most seemingly inconsequential event brings love and light. I think that God often hides miracles in plain sight. Maybe Christmas will bring healing to the sick, dignity and sustenance to the impoverished, and reconciliation to the divided. Or, maybe not just yet.

If we listen, though, Christmas brings hope, light and love. We are broken, and remain in this human condition. The media’s message of Christmas is perfection in an imperfect world; the real message of Christmas is love and redemption in spite of our imperfection.

Love came down

What a relief. I invite you to let go of the “if onlys” and the “what ifs” this season. Think about God’s gift of love to the world, even if it doesn’t seem very evident to you

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; Love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign. – Christina Rossetti, from “Love came down at Christmas”

May you have a blessed Christmas, filled with love.

image from the Graphics Fairy blog