Saying Grace

IMG_1063                      Our entire Satsuma harvest – but the tree is very small.
                                 
 As we move toward the end of November, our garden is a reminder of things that can be counted on: Gulf Coast Muhly fronds mound up like pink froth.   Satsumas are ready for harvest, Meyer lemons are hanging ready on the tree, the last of our okra and tender herbs fade as the first frost comes. Marigolds, chrysanthemums and calendula bloom gold and copper. Thanksgiving is less than a week away.  We will gather friends and family and favorite foods at full tables.

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Marigolds

I am remembering childhood meals around my Terrell grandparent’s table in Smith County, Texas. There were hearty breakfasts with farm fresh eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy,  dinners (at lunchtime) that often included  peas and tomatoes from their garden and an iron skillet of cornbread cut into wedges.There were suppers, often the same food reheated or a bowl of soup, and Sunday dinners after church. There were holiday meals at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas where the table and kitchen were both filled with chicken and dressing or a ham, plus those garden fresh vegetables which had been put up into canning jars. To follow, there would be an assortment of sweets – cookies, sweet potato, pecan, and mince pies, and often a pound cake. The food and occasion might vary, but there was always the same beginning: This, too, was something I could count on.  Papa Terrell would say grace. Today we may say a blessing or give thanks, but he always said grace.  The words were always the same, and rattled off so quickly I could never understand them.  But his posture spoke to my heart with no need for words.  Over 70 years later, now I see him clearly in my mind:  gray head bent forward and bowed in humility.

“We offer grace at table as a form of waiting with confidence…reciting such a prayer is sometimes referred to as a way of preparing to receive all that has been granted to us. We offer grace in amazement that even the good things we have rejected are being offered again. And then we eat, and the food meets an earthly need of our souls, and we are made whole.” – Cynthia Rigby, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary*

For me, the calendar days designated to Thanksgiving are a wonderful approach to  beginning of Advent exactly because of this waiting with confidence…preparing to receive all that has been granted to us. Our family will gather once again around the old oak table, the very same one that Grandma loaded with food and where Papa said grace.

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Pink Gulf Coast Muhly, a coastal grass

*as quoted by Wayne Slater in DallasNews, a Texas Faith Blog

Magnificat

100_0934When I find a feather, I have long believed that it is a sign –  God sending me a reminder that he is with me, and that small things can be important in helping me know that.  I find feathers often and in strange places.  Once, a tiny feather blew across and stuck to my windshield on a drizzly day. One afternoon when I sat on my back porch, praying through a troubled time, I looked up to see what seemed to be a snowflake because of the way it drifted down to the flagstone path.  I looked up to see a dove on the edge of our roof – her bit of breast feather fluttering to the ground.

No wonder then, that I like Luci Shaw’s poem, Magnificat, published in the collection titled The Angles of Light.  

“I am singing my Advent to you, God: How all year

I’ve felt your thrusts, every sound and sight piercing

like a little sword – the creak of gulls, the racket

as waves jostle pebbles, the road after rain –

shining like a river, the scrub of wind on the cheek, a flute

trilling – clean as a knife, the immeasurable chants of green,

of sky: messages, announcements. But of what? Who?

Then, last Tuesday, one peacock feather (surprise!)

spoke from the grass; Flannery called hers “a genuine

word of the Lord.” And I – as startled as Mary, nearly,

at your arrival in her chamber (the invisible

suddenly seen, urgent, iridescent, having put on light

for her regard) – I brim over like her, quickening. I can’t

stop singing, thoroughly pregnant with Word! ”

Lucy Shaw, Magnificat, part of collection published in  Angles of Light

Let Christmas Unfold

008In our garden we plant host plants like Milkweed, fennel,dill and parsley  for butterflies. Once the larvae ravenously feed on these and undergo the change to chrysalis, nothing much seems to be happening until, metamorphosis complete, the limp wet wings begin to emerge and struggle to unfurl.  During this process if there is any attempt to help or rush the struggle, averting the necessary conditions for growth and transformation, the butterfly will not fly or live.

In many ways, Advent is a similar process of waiting and transformation. We may be tempted to rush the slow but steady journey but we need to take the time to live and lean into the meaning and experience of the coming of Christ.  It is not yet Christmas.  It is Advent, a time to anticipate the story and meaning.  In her book Simply Wait, Pamela Hawkins suggests that we take a walk through our home, room by room, and say a short blessing in each space.  “Take your time, imagine how you will live in this time and place over the next few weeks in ways that could help you not to hurry Christmas.”

What other ways help you be present to this Advent day and let Christmas unfold?

Expecting

006Advent is a season of anticipation, of expecting, of waiting for birth.  My first response to the noun expectancy points to waiting in anticipation of important creation and change. I am reminded of my pregnancies – the anxious wondering of confirmation followed by wonder, amazement, and yearning for birth, then holding my sons to my heart.

Then, my grandchildren have been welcomed with joy in planning, preparing, making room!  For each of our granddaughters, I have begun writing a letter as soon as I heard the announcement of their conception.  I write that letter during our time waiting for them and give it to their parents when they are born to be kept until they are ready to keep it themselves.  I am journaling right now to the girl child who will come into our arms in the Spring. She is already in my heart.

Advent is like that journal for me – an expression of unconditional love and longing, a looking forward to the promise of a coming that will forever change our lives.

Waiting

006“Advent is a dance set to the rhythm of waiting. We wait for the holy, we wait for the birth, we wait for the light…Advent reminds us that we are a pregnant people, for God calls each of us to bring forth the Christ.”      Jan Richardson, in Sacred Journeys:  A Woman’s Book of Daily Prayer.

 

On the Way to Bethlehem

GrayClouds       The Advent calendar we used when our sons were little came with a book.  My sons took turns opening the windows of a cardboard Bethlehem where they would find a symbol.  That picture or symbol would then be found on a page in their book where a short story explained it.  I will always remember their fingers pulling the windows open to discover what was uncovered.  The very first window opened to a dark, menacing cloud, sign of the troubled times for the people of Judah  long ago.

Like those who longed for help and hope groaned under the darkness of oppression and fear, we come as Advent begins each year with our dark clouds of doubt and anxiety as we again seek hope and light.  I love the poetry of Ann Weems.  She wrote from a place of loss and vulnerability, with transparency and honesty sharing both her pain and her faith.

Yesterday’s Pain

 “Some of us walk into Advent
tethered to our unresolved yesterdays
the pain still stabbing
the hurt still throbbing.
It’s not that we don’t know better;
it’s just that we can’t stand up anymore by ourselves.
On the way to Bethlehem,
will you give us a hand?”
Ann Weems, from her book,
copyright 1980, Westminster Press

Looking Up

JeremyLight

I am indebted to my son, Jeremy Parker, for receiving this image.  Thank you for looking up.

” Each one of us somewhere, somehow, has known, if only for a moment or so, something of what it is to feel the shattering love of God, and once that has happened, we can never rest easy again for trying somehow to set that love forth not only in words, myriads of words, but in our lives themselves…we have scarcely any choice but to go on trying no matter what, and there is much that is beautiful and brave and true about it. Yet we must remember this other word too: “Unless you turn and become like children …. “-Originally published in The Magnificent Defeat by Frederic Buechner

We are hours away from the beginning of Advent.  My practice this year will be to record my journey here.  Jeremy’s picture helps me see new wonder and light looking not just through this piece of stained glass at my kitchen window, but following as it points upward to the light, helping me turn and become like a child in the expectant waiting of Advent.

Hints of Autumn

005In three more days, we can say that Fall has arrived because the calendar page turns and there it is.  But I can feel it coming from a long way before.  The leaves on our South Texas trees may not sport the vivid varieties of scarlet and orange and gold which we see in climates that have more distinct season changes, but there are hints. Crepe myrtle leaves begin to look different in morning light, even before they get touched with red.  Other leaves just begin to drop.  Mornings have the slightest hint of cool, and the light changes. I begin to look forward to baking more and spending more time on the back porch.  I check the supplies of cinnamon and nutmeg and maple syrup.  There are whispers of Autumn everywhere this week.

a pumpkin appears by my front door

I slice apples for dipping in caramel 

the ginger cat waits patiently

 

 

Seeing a Star

100_1854Of the many symbols which decorate our home at Christmastime, my favorite may be the star.  Our big tree is lit with tiny twinkle lights reminding us of stars, and is topped with a star.  A crystal star holds a candle on the kitchen table.  My grandchildren draw stars. Joe loves the Christmas Song  “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”  I love the deep mystery of the great star which led wise men to search for a baby.  How sweet, then, in this simple and sacred ordinary evening,  to slice an apple to float in the cider on my stove and find this star, marking seed and promise of fruit..

Star giver,

Light shiner

Promise keeper…

Come.

Quicken.

Emmanuel.