Saints of God

Revelation 7:9-17 | Psalm 34:1-10, 2 | 1 John 3:1-3 | Matthew 5:1-12

This All Saints’ Day 2020, more than a few people are drawn to the beatitudes, especially “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Our lengthy necrology this year is a visual indication of the grief that all of us bear. Names might recall images and memories to those who loved them, and the stark reality of the fatalities by violence and injustice and the devastation caused by covid-19 bind us in our humanity, in our mortality. One day, we know not when, our names will appear on such a list, by those who love us well.

That’s why we grieve, isn’t it? If someone dies and we have no connection with them, not even an ounce of empathy in our connectedness in our common humanity or as part of creation, we don’t really mourn, do we? When we are sad that Sean Connery died, for instance, it’s not because we knew him personally (unless you’re so fortunate!), but because he meant something to us personally. We valued the presence he carried, the roles he played. When we have a physical reaction to the death of George Floyd and tremors that still erupt to this day at all that his death revealed, it’s not because we knew him personally, but that we realize our connectedness with him, his family, with our systems and institutions. Whether we identify with him as a Black man as part of a Black family or whether we realize our identity in the officers, we have reason to mourn deeply, not only for what has been lost but at what is still being killed every day.

And yet . . . our readings this day point toward a great multitude singing praise, consisting of those who have come out of the “great ordeal” and now worship before God who shelters them, provides for them, and “wipe(s) away every tear from their eyes.”

I’m still processing this, but when we mourn, it seems we’re not so much expressing sorrow for those who have died and who now presumably sing among the saints, but we lament our own loss, express regret over what we’ve done or left undone in relationship with the other, and/or question the meaning and purpose of it all. We have customs or traditions to help us deal with all of this in the moments after, and thankfully we have therapy for the lifetime of contending with the grief we carry, but once a year on this day (which delightfully falls on a Sunday this wild and turbulent year), we focus not on our own mourning but on all the Saints.

We are fortunate to carry all the Saints’ in our name, making this also our patronal feast day. I say we’re fortunate because it means we have great diversity in whom we focus on as our patronal Saint. We don’t have just one–we have them all! In a church where we focus on God’s love for all, this couldn’t be more appropriate. It’s also why our mural depicts different persons, harkening back to Saints’ of our past. But they’re depicted in contemporary forms. I’ll write this up more eloquently later so we can share it widely, but let me give you an overview of how it came to be and what it means.

When the idea of a mural was presented, the idea itself was already summoning a depiction of saints, though in the abstract. I happen to have a budding artist with a desire to do mural work, and trusting his creative process, I gave little description though showed him an abstract example. He drafted the image we voted on through our congregational poll, and we have the mural we see today, merely two years after we have moved into this space, and we have brought All Saints’ to life here.

He mentioned to me that he was pulling elements of traditional saint imagery, items associated with saints to persons in the mural. We didn’t talk about this. As he was getting started, I conversed with these images, asking them what they mean to me. I’m thankful for all the Lent Madness brackets I’ve read and all the Morning Prayers I’ve prayed through Mission St. Clare, which shares a commemoration of the saint of the day. Our Christian predecessors have amazing stories, even if sometimes they’re amazingly ordinary.

I started at the left, looking at the mural drawing. With the bishop crook, he’s named “Ed Curry.” Of course this shepherd to me recalled Bp. Edward Demby, the first Black bishop in the states (“The 1916 General Convention opened the way for African Americans to become suffragan bishops with responsibilities over African American churches in the racially segregated South.”). Bp. Demby was suffragan bishop here in Arkansas and among Province VII, given charge over the Black congregations in the state. He served from 1918-1939, and you can read a detail of his life in Black Bishop, a book our current Bishop Benfield commended to me for a project in a history class while I was in seminary. When I was showing the completed mural to family friends, one asked me if this was Jesus. I smiled and said, “It could be. We all have the presence of Christ to share,” and then I told him about Bp. Demby. I also said it speaks to our current Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Thinking on it now, it also represents the arc of our work toward racial justice and reconciliation. From 1916 when General Convention allowed Black men to be suffragan bishops to when Michael Curry was elected Presiding Bishop in 2015 is 100 years of ongoing work, perseverance, and faith. Our Vans-wearing bishop of the mural is pointing forward, in a gesture of blessing. We still have work to do.

“Maria is next.” Whether calling to mind the Holy Mother or la Virgen de Guadalupe, she also speaks to our Hispanic culture, its prominence and importance in our community. The Virgin Mary is usually accompanied by a lily and depicted reading a book. Hopefully our Maria empowers our Latinas, inspires us all to stand tall, not neglecting wisdom of tradition and learning nor our feminine expressions of God.

We were reminded that since it is 2020, what depiction of saints would we be creating if we didn’t honor our healthcare workers? “Lucas,” in his scrubs, channels St. Luke, the physician. Maybe someone was just discharged from the hospital after weeks on the ventilator, which seems like a miracle after all the charts he’s had to close with time of death. Maybe he’s just wrapping up a three-day shift, throwing his mask to the wind in the safety of his own yard. Maybe it’s 2023, and the pandemic is behind us, but we can almost hear him sing, “Amen! Blessings and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!”

“Hilda” plays and sings along with his praise. Hildegard of Bingen was ahead of her time in more ways than one. In the 12th century as a nun, she lived into her vocation fully, sharing her visions, her writing, music, and knowledge. Her creativity and pursuits extended into things dramatic and scientific, but she gives us an example of what it means to give glory to God for all our inspiration and direction, despite what adversities we experience. (Aside from being an intelligent, prolific woman of the time, it is also suggested that she suffered migraines.)

Kneeling as if at a prayer bench, “Pauli Harris” is praying us all up, leading the way for all. Pauli Murray was lawyer, women’s and civil rights activist, and Episcopal priest (the first Black woman in The Episcopal Church, 1977). Barbara Harris was the first woman consecrated bishop in the Anglican Communion (not just TEC) in 1989. As someone who had registered voters in Mississippi during her summer vacations and had been on Freedom Rides and to Selma with MLK, Jr., in the 60’s, the threats she received as a Black woman now bishop were likely not new to her. She was renowned for her outspokenness, a voice that we now have in memory as she died in March of this year (Murray died in 1985). Both of these women are depicted with their hair short and tinged with gray in their later years, and they radiate their love of God.

The burly saint at the end with his deer companion could be none other than “Francis.” With increasing climate turmoil, Creation needs our attention and care. While we focus on Francis at our pet blessing every year near his feast day on Oct. 4th, we don’t often emphasize his vow of extreme poverty. He turned away from a life of material comfort and turned completely toward Jesus Christ, proclaiming the gospel with his whole being.

Undoubtedly, those who knew these Saints in their lifetime mourned their loss–Bishop Harris still today. And yet, we celebrate them, commemorate them (show respect). We may not know what happens when we die or have complete faith in the accuracy or reality of John’s revelation, but we do know that this side of the kin-dom, we keep those whom we loved alive in our memories–not just our memories but in our lives.
What of grandma’s sayings do we still say or dishes do we make? What prayers do we repeat or beautiful lines do we quote? How do we stand strong in the face of oppression and persecution and still radiate the light and love of Christ? How do we inspire others to sing praise to God, delighting in the life that we know here and now, no matter how difficult and heart-wrenching it can be?

The communion of saints with whom we celebrate and feast with in every Eucharistic prayer is here and now. Stories of Saints centuries ago are not all that dissimilar from our contemporaries. We are more connected than we realize. We are not isolated or alone, not even in our grief. There is one Body and one Spirit. There is one hope in God’s call to us. One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all. May this be our comfort and our inspiration, now and forever more.

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Advent Series – Year C

Mainly for my future reference (and hopefully the links will hold true), I’m posting these links to the Advent series I led at St. Luke’s — Preparing for Advent through Art. I’ve tried to include links to the artwork on the slides, where sources could be found. Many thanks to all who attended and for the wonderful curators who make art accessible to so many and especially to Loyola University for their Arts and Faith Advent resources.

Advent 1: Be Alert

Advent 2: Dare

Advent 3: Listen

Advent 4: Receive

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Acceptance

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?  Isn’t that what we’re told?  Twelve-step programs have become mainstream, offering a wealth of information for anyone struggling with any kind of addiction.  Tried and true advice.  It can work.

What about admitting you have a gift being the first step to the rest of your life?

I’m reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit right now.  Synchronous, really, how I got it.  My husband and I went to our local bookstore to conclude our child-free days over the winter break.  One of the people I am glad to call a friendly acquaintance happened to be working there.  We got to talking.  Those of you who know me well know it doesn’t take long to get to reality, to what’s truly important when in sincere conversation with me.  We shared a bit of our lives with each other.  It was lovely.

I confessed to her that I am a writer.  I confessed that I really hadn’t read all that many books.  I confessed that my husband and I wanted to support our local bookstore more.  We spoke each other’s language.  I wasn’t burned at the stake.  In fact, as I browsed the shelves, she approached me again and put a book in my hands.  “You have to read this,” she said.  The owner of the store, working at a table behind me, assured me that is was a highly recommended book; the dance troupe last in town bought 14 copies.  This was Tharp’s book.

Within the past couple of months, I have come to the realization that if I am most honest with myself, I am happiest when writing.  At home, in the woods, at the park, in the doctor’s office — anywhere I can put pen to paper (or finers to keys) and be alone with my thoughts.  But I have more to learn.  I have discipline to cultivate.  I have unhealthy habits to overcome.

The Creative Habit comes along, and right off the bat she’s talking about the importance of routine.  She can’t make me get up at 5:30, but she states quite clearly that her morning starts out at 5:30AM.  She does it.  Others do it, and artists have for centuries.  They are extremely productive.

Almost in passing, she refers to a moment in time when she thought she could have been a painter; she has a talent for the visual arts.  She let the thought go as quickly as it came.  She’s a dancer.  She goes on to say that it’s almost better to have one clearly defined talent in your life.  It’s harder for those who can do many things well.  The discernment of your best gift is only harder the more choices you have.

Did she know I was going through this right now?  That for some time I’ve been wondering if the crafts I’ve been making were actually good for my creative process or an accomplice to my nasty habit of procrastination?

I am in process of organizing my craft supplies.  Some I need, some I don’t.  Scraps of fabric are going to my sister-in-law who makes clothes for children.  I’m keeping the bulks of fabric for skirts for myself and for the girls.  Good skirts are hard to come by and expensive should you actually find them.  Necessity and creativity are good companions.  Now I need to organize my stamps.  Which ones do I need and use?  Which stationary do I need to keep.  What will nurture my writing, encourage me to write?  It needs to be an accessory to my writing, an embellishment.

Inasmuch as I enjoy doing other things, I have to accept the fact that I’m a writer foremost.  This is the greatest part of my priesthood in this life.  I believe that through my writing, I have the potential to reach others and convey to them some of the Truths in this life.

The page is my blank canvas.  The Love of God is my muse.  With every word I bare my soul and make myself vulnerable, but I have nothing to lose.   As sure as the cold brings the beauty of snow and the grips of death, I trust that this experience of life is meant to be shared.  For some, it’s meant to be shared through dance, sculpture, painting, music, or any of the arts, but for me, I accept the fact that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to put into words that which is completely inexplainable.  I’ll enjoy every moment of the painful growth as I stretch my imagination and probe the depths of experience.

Whether a gift or a curse, I accept it with a smile.  May I remember this at 5:30 in the morning.

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Native Crafts

We spent Saturday and Sunday in Tahlequah at the Cherokee National Holiday, and I’m so glad we went.  I thought I might post yesterday with some reflection, but there’s still processing going on in that department, so I’ll wait a bit longer.

smithsonian-cherokee-basket-1090605-l.jpg
While there, we browsed through all the arts and crafts booths and art shows.  There’s lots of jewelry, but I get a feeling that basket weaving and pottery were main crafts.  Also, there were delightful gourd masks, beautiful wooden flutes, drums and dress.

The pottery has inspired me.  I’ll admit that watching the hand-building and seeing the works in the art shows convinced me not to give up on pottery altogether.  Maybe I just need to work off the wheel.  I also feel like we could try to pit fire some pieces (after first firing them in the kiln to give them a better chance of making it!).  Here is one example of Cherokee pottery, but most at the art shows were done in the blackware style, I guess.  (Both are examples from Joel Queen, who apparently is a prominent artist in this tradition.)

I’m hoping that all the jewelry inspired my daughter, who has lots of jewelry-making supplies.  Or maybe she’d like to try basket weaving.  The demonstrator said she used commercial dyes on commercial reeds, but on natural reeds, she used natural dyes just because that felt right and was in line with what she was taught.

I believe that creating is in all our heritages.  Beauty of creation itself is a gift and one we have the privilege of sort of re-enacting . . . on a very small scale.  Our real gift may just be the conscious appreciation of the act and the joy in sharing our divine inspiration with others.

(basket photo by cherokeebasketweaver from everystockphoto.com)

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Even If You’ve Seen This Before . . .

It’s worth seeing again.  Brush up on your art appreciation, or just appreciate the art itself.  Imagine the story each woman could tell, that each image does tell.  The creator of this video, eggman913, deserves full recognition.  I love this.

Women In Art

(I’ll embed it after I learn how to do that . . . again!)

Have a beautiful day.

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Time to Sew Something

Today I’ve felt the inclination to attempt a new sewing project.  I have material out that I envision becoming a skirt.  Here are some links that will serve as inspiration.  I love wearing a long, roomy skirt.  It at once enhances your femininity and makes you look “dressed up” even if you’re only wearing it because it’s comfy.

My other sewing option is a baby’s quilt — the one for my almost two-year-old!  All in due time.

While I’m gathering up the momentum to whip up a complete project, I am enjoying reading The Feminine Face of God.  Wonderful read thus far, and I’m only half-way through. I’ll elaborate later when I’m finished.

Enjoy whatever projects you devote your time and energy toward!

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