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author's baby

Provision

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 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….Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her…“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

(Luke 1:28-40, selections)

author's baby

Luke does not record
what the neighbors say
but the comments are there,

crouching behind the text.
When the messenger says, “Favored One!”
we can almost hear the echoing

“You?”

Luke does not
mention it,
but, guaranteed: Mary knows

it’s there. She knows
when it’s known
that she’s been known,

the greetings will change.
The power of God will not stop
the side-eye. Yet, perhaps

when this babe
opens a tiny mouth
with a vast hunger

and she is able to fill it,
for the time being, a grace
so consuming, a provision

so merciful will bear her
through pain and recoil, this gift
that she agrees to give Read more

A lined paper notebook sitting open to blank pages on top of some soil.

The Words

The Words
Fall 2017

A lined paper notebook sitting open to blank pages on top of some soil.

The blank page.

 

That they do not come is

a trouble to me,

And that trouble—at times stacked

carelessly among other troubles—

accuses me, like other aspects

of a self-doubting mind,

Of negligence to my vocation, of

insufficient time spent

on any given task.

 

And yet, I might not hear the

Call, proper, in time at all, but

only in retrospect,

As a song sung back from the end of all things,

to their beginning,

my ears picking up only

a faint melody

in any given moment,

which is, itself, troubling.

 

When I was laboring to birth a

child, I was permitted

To trust myself, to sink down into

myself long enough

and deeply enough

to get something born.

 

But, day to day, cries from the

surface dissolve the thoughts

before they are born

onto the page, their

intentions never

ripening, clarifying, or even

declaring themselves fully,

even to me.

 

“No one knows the hour, not

even the Son of Man.”

Indeed.

 

The surface, the moment, calls,

and thus is not given

what it needs,

A woman delivered of the words.

Making a Life from a Living in a Rural Church

Parsonage flowers in May of 2017 next to Port Royal Baptist Church

They will invite you to

live with them, really

live with them. Do, if you can.

You will learn, in time,

a spirituality

with a little give to it.

How else can the people live

between variable sky

and forgiving earth,

and belong to both,

and to one another?

 

Your salary, which will be

considerably smaller

Than some of your urban

or suburban counterparts,

but measurably larger

than some who pay it,

must go to good.  It should

stay, as much as possible

in the community where you work,

Local doctors, local food

from farmers you love,

or will grow to love

as you learn from them

how to taste and see

that the Lord is good,

the place is good, the

hands reaching out to

you are good, and

they mean you well.

 

Your work, which will not be more,

if you are well-loved,

than what they ask of themselves,

will be seasonal.

And you must learn to trust

the gifts of each season,

and plan for spring, as

your people do. And trust, foremost,

that seasons do and must pass,

that weathering them will

strengthen all the best

in you.

 

Despair might set in if you let it.

Do not let it.

Determine in your own mind

to go out and find the good

in your people, in your place,

and in your life together.

Trust that it will be together

that you will see the Lord.

 

Your call, and your fellow workers, and

the culture around you will shock you.

Let it. And yet,

explore each inner scandal in

your heart with love.

Make no quick decisions.

Bless people as they come

and if they should go.

Those who return

and those who fall away

will surprise you.

 

It will take years, but not

as many as you suppose

before you can be the prophet

dancing, as you must,

along and across and back past

the line that marks outsider

from insider. [Stay years.]

And if you stay, you

will learn to speak the

dialect, and yet

you must introduce

new words, but,

with a little wisdom,

the right ones. Read more

Sing A New Song! A Poem and Sermon for Advent

Editor’s Note: With many clergy spending time in the summer focusing on Advent and Christmas preparations, Sunday Morning and Beyond is featuring a poem and sermon from Advent to help get those creative worship juices flowing.  Happy Planning!

Sing a New Song!

Mary’s song – Luke 1 & Hannah’s song – 1 Samuel 2

Isaiah’s song – Isaiah 12 & Moses’ song – Exodus 15

 

Like Mary sang anew

the old, old hymn of Hannah

Like Isaiah drew new depths

from Moses’ song of salvation

Like this voice gives new voice

to cherished carols—sacred carols—

 

God’s Word

sings

creative energies

fertile

and ready to gestate

her next wonder.

 

Sing a Different Song – But Don’t Change My Favorite Hymns!

(Based on the text from Isaiah 12:2-6 from Advent 2009)

Our choir sang a Cantata during worship last Sunday.

Not only was it beautiful,

but for me it also evoked an unexpected visceral response.

Every cell in my body seemed to

echo the universal sacred heartbeat

encompassed in

organ,

brass,

percussion,

voice.

In those moments, I had an experience of the Holy:

God was present in each vibration.

My whole being – mind, body, emotion, spirit – was affected by that encounter with the Divine.

 

Music is one of the ways we encounter God with more than our very active brains.

Consider how many times scripture admonishes us to “Make a joyful noise!” or “Come into God’s presence singing!”

And how many times do we hear the song of someone expressing praise, sorrow, longing, anger, joy, thanksgiving? Consider which pieces of music never fail to draw you closer to the core of your faith,

which hymns help you sink

into the depths of

the Divine presence.

 

Christmas carols are like that for many people – evoking the spirit of the season with just a few familiar notes. This is why many of us tend to get upset when anyone dares change the words

because it’s part of our sacred connection.

 

Those of you who are familiar with the UCC’s New Century Hymnal know what I’m talking about – we sing Good Christian Friends Rejoice rather than the customary Good Christian Men Rejoice;

and in It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

“peace on the earth good will to men from heaven’s all-gracious King”

becomes

“peace on the earth, good will to all, great news of joy we bring”.

 

Is it really okay to change the words like that?

 

I’m of differing minds with many internal contradictions on this question.

 

I feel strongly about inclusive language:

the language we use, whether we intend it or not,

creates lasting images in our minds and

develops either inclusive or non-inclusive understandings deep within us.

No matter how you say it,

naming God King or Lord

evokes a masculine image for our kids –

and that memory stays with us into adulthood.

 

Yet many of my favorite hymns and carols were written in a time when nobody thought about such things!

God most certainly was male

because that was the only way to comprehend God in relationship with us.

 

And so our songs come to us with a little historical baggage.

And I recognize that as I continue to choose to sing along with them on the radio,

reconnecting with my childhood,

reveling in Christmas sentiments that soaked in long before my brain began to

question parts of the faith I was taught.

 

Yes: I have an internal contradiction in my experience of Christmas carols –

I want both the words that I learned as a kid AND the faithful new words!

 

Last year, I adamantly told my partner, “I’m not going to worry about how completely opposed I am to some of the Christian sentiments on my favorite childhood albums! I’m just going to sing along without theological guilt, even if they’re sappy and pie-in-the-sky-baby-Jesus-brings-peace-to-the-world whatever …. I’m going to enjoy them.” She laughed, having teased me every year about those same albums.

~~~

The transformation of some of our favorite hymns and carols is a challenge –

but it’s not a new concept to rewrite a song’s words; there is biblical precedent!

 

The reading from Isaiah is itself a song:

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;

let this be known in all the earth.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

 

Isaiah offered this song to his people for their time and place – a time of struggle and discouragement.

And the people who heard this song from the prophet’s lips

would have recognized it immediately as one of their favorite hymns:

it was Moses’ song

following the Israelites’ escape from Egypt.

 

Listen for the connection:

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord…

‘The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him’” (Exodus 15);

 

and Isaiah: “I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might;

he has become my salvation.”

 

It was Moses’ song and a faithful favorite that evoked in Israel

memories of release from captivity,

a sense of God’s possibilities,

a feeling of hope.

The people knew and loved it – but Isaiah changed the words.

Instead of singing about Pharaoh’s armies being drowned in the sea,

Isaiah sings of joyfully drawing from the well of hope and salvation.

Why’d he change the words?

Because he understood that this familiar song evoked the core of the people’s faith;

it was known in their sinew and soul,

passed down through generations

like their very own musical genetic code.

 

Isaiah changed some of the words of this well-known hymn

because he knew the people’s current circumstances,

their new understandings of truths in their modern world.

The hymn of faith that takes them deep,

can speak to their current circumstances

and still hold them in faith.

~~~

Mary, whose Magnificat our choir interpreted so boldly in Cantata, did the same thing.

Mary sang her praise and hope and expectation all from her own immediate circumstances –

but she didn’t make up her song, either.

She reinterpreted a favorite hymn of her people

to speak to her current experience.

Mary’s Magnificat was also Hannah’s song:

it was the celebration of a woman

upon dedicating her son to God.

 

When Luke’s original hearers first encountered Mary’s song,

I wonder if they felt as uncomfortable or disjointed as some of us do

when faced with our own reinterpreted Christmas carols?

Or did they take it as standard practice

to take the familiar, the beloved texts and hymns and stories of their faith,

and reinterpret them for new experiences of God:

bringing the tradition and that which

already connects us with the Holy

into current understanding, present faith;

so that it cannot become antiquated,

appropriate for a corner pedestal

but not really be applicable to our lives?

 

Re-interpretation of tradition is an inherent part of our tradition.

 

We’re NOT just being politically correct by reinterpreting the songs of our faith –

we’re being faithful to tradition and our still-speaking God.

 

The UCC is a denomination that diligently questions the “truths” that our forebears handed down to us –

yet we still strongly need a deep connection to Spirit.

We need the relationship that comes when we experience God –

like in a visceral, spiritual response to the choir as it crescendos with Mary’s song of praise,

lovingly lifted from Hannah’s own experience of the Divine.

 

This is why we continue to sing cherished Christmas carols –

to keep us tied to that experience of God that goes beyond the brain.

And that is why we reinterpret them for the truths of our day, our experiences –

so we can be faithful to what we know of God

and God’s ever-evolving relationship with humanity.

 

This Christmas, sing the songs as your spirit calls to you – familiar words or new – but be faithful in doing so; be faithful to your experience of God in mind, body, emotion and spirit.

 

And sing!

With Mary and Hannah,

with Isaiah and Moses,

with one another in this place and time.

Sing your experience of God.

 

Sharon Benton nears the end of her “young clergywoman” tenure, having served in ministry since she was 23 years-old and nearing (gasp!) the close of her 30s. She enjoys writing, petting cats and being Associate Minister at Plymouth UCC in Fort Collins, CO. She graduated from Claremont School of Theology in 2000.

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