Thursday, December 25, 2014

In This Cold Darkening of Time and Place

In this cold darkening of time and place, this sharp season stripping bare the once full splendor of leaf and petal, you come to us in smallness, in weakness, with only a child's inchoate cry toward trust and hope, toward love, those gifts for which we also cry.

Little child, as you make your birth with ours this day, so make your life and death as well, that our cries may rise with yours, our hearts lift in yours, that we shall happily find those gifts you come to voice for us and all the world, thus joy resounding!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

As the Day-World Emerges

Most loving and merciful God, ever desirous to wake and greet us, to take us to that place so true and fair: as the day-world emerges from dark to light, by your grace may we as well, in heart and mind, in body and spirit; thus to know the gladdening hour you charge with splendor and hope, and all things made new and bright. Amen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stained Concrete

Here where I pass
late in the day, late in the year,
trees overhang the walk
with branches all but bare,
the concrete stained
from wet-fall of leaves,
crumpled remainders
of the protean hour
when photosynthesis
surged in cell and vein,
as if things in motion
could counter gravity
then, and even now,
here where I pass.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Keep Us, Lord, Toward Bethlehem: A Prayer in Advent

On this rough back of time, we plod the days toward Bethlehem. How long, Lord, until we get there? What will we find when we arrive? In the aging of the year, daylight pales and stoops before the cold and dark. And the ride jars and coarsens after so many, many miles. We long for welcome, for kindness, for some sort of rest. Will you be there, Lord? How will we know? A child leads us, but to what and for what? We bear our many wanderings, our fears, and, yes, our fervent hopes. Keep us, Lord, toward Bethlehem, toward a tender dawn and a mercy incarnate. Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Home Site

We have no special site for our home. We live in a modest townhouse complex amid comfortable single family homes in a suburban neighborhood in northern Virginia, the neighborhood being part of a growing county, and the county being part of the expanding metropolitan area around Washington, D.C. There seems no end of people, buildings, vehicles, and roads. Our home itself is at one end of a set of several townhouses, with other sets of townhouses close by, making up our little community within a larger, then that within a larger. The back of our home faces east; the front faces west; and the side which is the end of the unit faces south. Toward these three exposures we have ample windows. Just beyond our back doors and windows is a screen about five yards deep of trees and shrubs between us and the grounds of a day school for young children. There tulip poplars, beech, big tooth aspen, and hollies provide all manner of greens, yellows, and bare gray trunks and branches through the months. Then just beyond our front door and windows, along the townhouse complex's streets and parking areas and here and there in the little yards, is a scattering of maples, cherries, and oaks; and so more greens, yellows, and grays, as well as pinks and reds and browns, through the year. In all seasons, during the course of the days, especially when more sun and blue than clouds in the sky, both outside and inside we enjoy much light rising early in the back, moving in fullness around the side, and setting late in the front. We have no special site. Yet we do have these quanta of filtered light, exterior and interior, texturing with splendor the hours and days, the ordinary, if only we see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Loving My Neighbor

God loves me individually. Yet God does not love me exclusively or primarily. God loves my neighbor as well. My neighbor is the person next to me, whether familiar or strange to me. My neighbor is also the person distant from me, for no one is distant from God. In God, everyone is actually or potentially my neighbor, whether near or far. As God does, does God want me to love my neighbor.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sounds of Late Summer, Early Autumn

As late summer begins to turn perceptibly toward early autumn, yet before the entropy of the year cools this part of the universe to virtual stillness, the last strength of cicadas, katydids, and crickets, hidden in the tired greens and browns of leaves and grasses, swarms the blue air with vibrations, as if amplifying the otherwise unheard cosmic background radiation all around us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Letting Go, Taking Hold

I have been reading in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 of late. That reading and recent experiences in the extended life of which I am a part have freshly and deeply impressed me.

What we know is this life – laden with ambiguity. What we hope is the life to come – lifted with glory surpassing. As we ponder and approach our own passing, how will we let go what we know to take hold what we hope?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Were the Word of the Lord to Come

Ponder this phrase with which several of the prophetic works in the Old Testament begin, so simply, so directly: "The word of the Lord came to ...." There is an entire volume of theology, of sublime experience, to spilling over, in this unadorned declaration. It appeals and unnerves at one and the same time, as it should.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ecclesiology, Grace, and Redemption

Whatever we understand the church to be, that is our understanding of the nature and means of grace and redemption. Whatever we understand the nature and means of grace and redemption to be, that is our understanding of the problem at the core of human existence.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

That God May Have Mercy

Of late, in daily prayers for certain people deeply occupying my heart, I find I am reduced to asking only that God may have mercy. Such prayer seems woefully indeterminate. Yet, given life as it is and my faith as it is, I can neither imagine nor articulate any other prospect. So this has come to be the substance of prayer for me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Public Decency, Common Good

Have we as a society become so inured to coarse language that we have no inhibitions, no embarrassment, about public use and display of certain words, certain expressions? That we have little or no regard for the sensitivities, even the quality, of common life? Even more, do we who identify as followers of Jesus have no such inhibitions or embarrassment, or have such little regard for common life, for public decencies? "Edification" may or may not be a concept of much currency outside of the New Testament these days. Yet it seems to me that we who claim at least some continuity of heart and mind with the communities of the New Testament might want to consider the notion as a motivation for and measure of what we publicly express and do, with an unabashed desire to foster the quality of common life, of public decency.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Early on the First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

Early on this refreshed and refreshing June morning, clear and cool, the sun pours glory from the eastern horizon upon roads and buildings and fields and rocks and all manner of life. Even the long westward shadows of houses and trees seem to heighten, not lessen, the effulgence of light which we see most sharply and intensely in the things of this world, a profuse multiplicity which yet coheres in this streaming luminance. Thus met and loved in beauties, one original, one derived, are the divine and the created.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rock Hill Cemetery, Loudoun County, Virginia

In observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Washington Post has been printing articles on many facets of the war. The Post collected them in an e-book called "Civil War Stories: 150th Anniversary Collection." I have been going through it. I recently read an article on African-Americans from Loudoun County, Virginia, who fought for the Union, some of whom were buried in Loudoun either during the war or afterward. This morning Karen and I drove to the southwestern part of Loudoun to explore a cemetery mentioned in the article: Rock Hill Cemetery. It is one of numerous relatively small African-American cemeteries in Loudoun, indeed in Virginia and throughout the south. Of those in Loudoun, many are terribly neglected. Rock Hill stands out for the quality of its appearance due to the efforts of Vernon Peterson. Karen and I had the great privilege of being there this morning when Vernon Peterson showed up to attend to some chores at the cemetery. We introduced ourselves, and we spent a good half hour or more talking to him and hearing stories of his life, of his family and other people in the cemetery, and of his years of tending the grounds. Now in his 80s, Peterson has been caring for the cemetery since the mid 1950s as a true "labor of love." He has many relatives in the cemetery, as well as a headstone ready for his wife and for him when they pass on. He even has two granddaughters buried there, one who died of cancer when 8 years old, and one who died as a college student in the Virginia Tech massacre in April 2007. We also met a friend of his named Thomas who comes to help him from time to time. As part of our time, Mr. Peterson showed us the grave of Dennis C. Weaver, a black Union soldier from Loudoun County. He served in Company D, 1 United States Colored Infantry. Weaver was instrumental in the creation of Rock Hill Cemetery in 1889 as a resting place for blacks when they could not be buried in cemeteries reserved for whites. Vernon Peterson and Thomas, elderly African-American men from small historic communities in this part of Virginia, have lived through interesting times, and they have seen many changes in society. As they talked, it was as if we could sense deep undercurrents of the challenges they faced, as well as the joys they knew, in negotiating life in Loudoun County from the 1930s to the present. Now Vernon Peterson anxiously wonders who will care for Rock Hill Cemetery when he rests in the ground there from his labor. There is no figure on the horizon.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kwanzan Cherry Trees Past Peak of Blooms

Such a lovely litter
do wind and trees make
as petals loose from leaves
then swirl and sweep through air
always toward earth
there to cluster and clutter
yet still allusive of beauty
as what is felt but unseen
lifts and scatters them
across lawn and street
where another spring morning
our feet once lightly went

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A New-Sprung World

This world which was made by God,
Then unmade by us,
Is now remade by Christ,
That a new-sprung world,
In lilt of light and song,
Might surge with joy, crying "Glory!"

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Brief Apology for My Photography

There is an older sense of "apology" which denotes a defense of some idea, perspective, or action. This older use, less common today, does not necessarily carry the notion of regret for an idea, perspective, or action. It may simply indicate a defense of something against skeptics or critics. The word "apologia" -- for example, John Cardinal Newman's "Apologia Pro Vita Sua"-- serves this meaning and clearly does not suggest regret. As it happens, though, I think I use the word "apology" in reference to my photography in both senses: defense and regret. I find that, in any given photographic excursion and in such excursions over time, I tend to take similar photographs. For example, this mid April day I took a long walk in the early morning to the Potomac River in Loudoun County just above Rowser's Ford. I love this walk and make it frequently. It involves trespassing on a private golf course to get to the river, but I usually do it early in the day and do no harm to the property. I transgress benignly. Along the way I often find many birds, a fox or two, flora in all stages depending on the season, smells and sounds, and the river as the destination. There and back, I take photographs. Almost by definition I take similar photographs repeatedly. I know that, and any who look at my photographs would know it. But -- and here is the defense -- the experiences are similar yet new every time. The same things -- herons, foxes, trees, river banks, the Seneca Acqueduct across the river, moving and still water, reflections -- change by the hour, the month, the season. Precipitation or its lack changes how things look. The season changes how things look. Light in particular changes how things look. And the light changes moment to moment, day to day, month to month. In only a short time on the same day the water or the trees or the acqueduct takes on new qualities of color and form as the light changes. How much more do qualities change and manifest over weeks and seasons? I find the colors and forms fascinating. I find the play of light on all things wondrously and endlessly interesting. So I iterate similar photographs each excursion and over time, always with the urge to express new nuances of what can be seen. But -- and here is the regret -- I know that some of my repetition of photographic subjects owes to lacks in imagination and discipline in the exercise. In terms of imagination or vision, I tend to seek the same experiences repeatedly. I do not push myself to extend my range of photographic subjects. In terms of discipline, I tend to photograph without sufficient intention and effort. Greater purpose and attention in the act of photography would yield better results. Also, I tend to keep and show too many photographs rather than paring those of lesser quality. Editing in photography, as in writing, requires a certain asceticism, especially with respect to what to possess. And so I offer an apology for my photography with the desire that the photographs -- to the extent they succeed, with regret where they fail -- will please and enhance the lives of any who view them. I pray that I do not make and show them to put myself on display, at least not primarily or finally. Rather, I hope the viewer will see what I see, which is a world of wonder and beauty in myriad forms, in things small and large, in things broken and perfected.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

God is First the Answer to Our Being

"Revelation is not mere information. Revelation is God disclosing his intimate self to us as a lover to his beloved." Ruth Burrows, OCD, in Love Unknown. || God is not first the solution or answer to the truth. God is not first the solution to the good. God is not first the answer to the beautiful. God is first the solution or answer to being. And being is not abstract, not monistic, not quality-less. Being is irreducibly personal and intrinsically relational: the triune God. Hence, God is first the answer to our being, and that is why our rebellion against and repudiation of God, of our relationship with God, lead to untruth, sin, and chaos, and ultimately to death. God in and through Christ restores our being -- personal relationship with God -- and in and through the Holy Spirit nurtures that relationship such that truth, goodness, and beauty fruit in and from us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

If We Do Not See Our Own Sin

In the daily devotional book I use regularly -- Hour by Hour (Forward Movement Publications) -- Wednesday morning prayer begins with 1 John 1:8, 9. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Rich in meaning, these two verses deserve our sustained attention and meditation. As we engage the text, one point, having to do with our approach to sin, is clear and worthy of deep-shaft mining to the core of our being. Namely, to the extent that we prospect to locate and expose sin in the world, we must begin with and focus primarily on our own claim. We must find and work to excavate our own sin first, not that of our neighbor. To shift to the biblical metaphor, acknowledge the plank, first and always. Then the speck may be seen. In spiritual and ethical terms, the confessional must precede and inform the prophetic.

Monday, March 24, 2014

To Be More Like a Dog

To Be More Like a Dog

On a recent Sunday, driving to early church, we saw a man, perhaps in his 40s, with a dog, a black Labrador Retriever, on a leash. They were walking along the sidewalk in a modest semi-urban neighborhood. The dog, stretching its sphere to the length of the leash, even gently pulling the man to extend the edge to a new sphere, moved attentively over the concrete and yards to investigate everything within sight, touch, sound, and especially smell. Never really stopping, even when paused at some point to inspect and sniff more closely, it found every object, every spot, to be of at least some interest, and certain objects and spots to be of intense interest. Exploring the world about, the dog seemed to consider nothing unworthy of attention, whether in passing or in thorough-going investigation, to the fullness of its canine capacity.

One could do worse than to be more like a dog in discovering the world around and about to be so absorbing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Mystery Concerning Love

If true and sufficient love were simple cause and effect of returned true and sufficient love, we would all be living in Eden still.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reluctant Leadership

At every level of social organization, we need leaders who do not want to be in positions of leadership.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

This Senseless Pattern

On Sundays we drive to early church and pull to the curb to park on the street. This spot, close to the entrance to the chapel where the liturgy is celebrated, is next to a utility pole. As I exit the car and round the front of it to ascend the steps, I walk under a guide wire that angles from mid way up the pole down to its anchor several feet away in the ground. Each time, taking this marginally shorter and quicker route, I enter this triangle of bounded space and nearly chafe my scalp against the the thick taut wire. I only realize the danger, though I do this weekly, at the very instant before my head would meet the wound metal, whereupon I quickly duck and barely miss a painful encounter in my passage. And each time, I mutter dark words at myself at the repetition of this senseless pattern. Why do I not see the risk, the potential harm, and bend well before I go under the wire? Even more, why do I not adjust one direction or the other to go around the pole-wire-ground constriction and thus avoid the hazard altogether? In this moment, regularly, I find myself stymied within, knowingly and unknowingly, in pursuit of a better way. This would all be chiefly humorous, albeit personally abrading and embarrassing, were the only instance this potential scrape to my head and pride in a relatively minor set of relations.