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Pink River

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This Great Outpouring

This Great River of Love

This Great Connection

of which we are all apart

and so easily forget –

we felt it that day

we feel it still

flowing

flowing

reminding

grounding

strengthening

centering us still

moving together

arms outstretched

gathering each other,

holding each other close

never forgetting

castaways and refugees

battered and bruised as we are,

and how we keep on

flowing,

flowing,

flowing,

 

 

 

 

 

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Morning Run

january-2017-120A man on a park bench looks

out at the solitary gull perched

on a log floating

in the middle of the lake.

 

A young man who has just started

to grow a beard leans

forward on the stone wall watching

the white sailboats rolling

in the waves, knocking

gently on the dock.

 

A woman with curly blond hair and a flowing

black dress strides

down the walk, right arm raised,

palm outstretched, shading

her eyes from the sun.

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A little girl in a pink dress holds

her father’s hand tight, leans

down to touch

the puddle, to stroke

the water with her fingers.

 

The puddle ripples.

 

A little boy holds

hands with his older brother and his mother, swings

back and forth, jumps

up and

down.

 

Hush now, hush, his mother says,

Give me a minute.

I’m just trying to figure out

which way to go.

 

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(The picture of that exquisite bird is from my friend Esther Elizabeth.)

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december-009It’s the Longest Night of the year and in a few hours we will gather here at University Congregational United Church of Christ as people will do in many other places, to light candles for where we need hope on this longest and darkest of nights.

I wish I had something big to offer, something large enough to meet the holes and the losses that this season is for some of us.  And yet the gifts of these holiday seasons are small.  Gifts that can seem all so inadequate, yet all that we are given.

What can I offer, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise one, I would do my part;

But what can I give you?  Give you my heart.

(In the Bleak Midwinter, verse 4

Christian Rossetti, alt.)

december-2014-021I have come back to singing “In the Bleak Midwinter” often this season.  It seems to be a carol written for times like ours.

And so I offer you a few small things, little things for the meeting of these days.   Mostly, and most importantly, my heart and prayer goes out to you and is with you this season, and will be with you these days. And I offer to you, all that I have, a few stirrings of my heart.

Like some of you, there have been years that I would just assume this holiday season be over.  Like many of you, there are years that I have looked back on many losses of many kinds.  Years that it feels a bit beyond me to imagine singing, “Joy to the World!  The Lord is come!” on Christmas Eve, just a few days hence.  How will I be ready to sing out “joy” this year?  In the Christian tradition, these weeks before Christmas are marked as Advent, a time of emptying as we prepare to make room for the Christ child.  And oh, we all have been emptied of so much this Advent season.  Lost so much.  Had so much taken from us and fear more being taken.  Deaths, job loss, terrorism, war, uncertainty, health crises, financial stresses…the list goes on.

In the various faith traditions of this season, little lights are lit – on the menorah, on the Advent wreath.  In Christianity, we traditionally light a candle each of the four weeks before Christmas – the candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of love, the candle of joy.  And finally the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, a sign and celebration that God is present here with us.   Just little lights.  And little words to meet the still growing darkness of these days:  “hope”, “peace”, “love”.  Words that seem all too fragile or even a little beyond us, like “joy”.

december-2014-043I remember this year, the little gifts that were given in times of crisis and change.

In time of war, enough oil given for the lamps.

In the midst of a season of oppression and death, a little child is born.

Little gifts that come in sad and trying days and times.

december-2014-036Not big gifts, but little lights and little words to meet us in these days. Little gifts I can often miss if I try to look for something too big these days.  Little gifts I can walk right by, stumble over if I don’t keep watch for them. Little things.   But little things that finally are what we are given, sometimes all we are given and that even can be enough.  Enough to meet us today.  Right now.  Where we are.  Not enough to take away the grief and pain now and forever, but enough for now.

And that is the hope and prayer of this season I fall back to.

That little things be given to us – little signs of holding and hope and love each day.

And that we live in the hope and promise that tomorrow little things will be given as well.

Enough to meet us for today.

Enough to meet us for tomorrow.

december-2014-032I pray that we all may keep our eyes open, our hearts open, our wonder open to the surprise that comes in little gifts.

Little gifts that even, and finally, may be the greatest gifts of all.   Gifts that are sparks of the eternal – those gifts of that hope, and faith, and love that cannot but spark out and be found in many surprising ways.  Even now.  Even tonight.

There are times when

all the stars are torn from our skies,

and the morning will not come.

We try to make our way in unlit passages,

frightened, desperate and despairing.

We cannot see,

for wherever we turn

the night continues.

And yet, it is

into this impenetrable night

that the Child is born.

Tearing through the seams of darkness,

the Morning Star appears

in our eyes and in our hearts.

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great Light.

( “Morning Star” from Searching for Shalom by Ann Weems.)

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Along the Road

imageSome of the best gifts of travel are the surprising gifts of the people I meet along the way.

And in this season of Advent when we are waiting for the One we are told is coming, I remember the short conversations, chance encounters on sidewalks, in fields, at the side of the road, over café counters – the surprising gift of who I have met along the way this year.

People like Justin staffing the famous “Elsie Volunteer Fire Department Biscuits and Gravy” Food Tent out in what feels like the middle of nowhere on the “Hood to Canal Relay Race.”

It’s early this Saturday morning, recovering from my last run, and while looking for something to eat, I spot an unusual sight – a small boy in a firefighter uniform.

 

img_5548Are you are a firefighter? I ask.

Yes, he says.

I’m Peter.

Justin.

We shake hands.

What year are you in school?

I’m going into fifth grade.

Fifth grade?  And you’re really a firefighter?

Yes!  And my sister Rebecca is too.  She’s going to be a sophomore in high school.  We’re part of the Elsie Fire and Rescue.  Our Dad is the Captain.

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That’s just incredible.  You mean you really put out fires and all that?

He smiles.  Yes, car and forest fires and all that.  I can’t go into buildings until I’m older.

You must be the youngest firefighter around!

Maybe? 

He smiles.

Hey, I write a blog post and I wonder if I could take your picture and share your story.

Sure!

Later, just before we leave, Justin comes bounding down the field.

Hey Peter, do you like the Seahawks?

september-2016-018It’s meeting people like Mark Bryant – sitting next to me at lunch at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  I’ve come here after the worship service is over to pick up Tsuneko – and indulge in the great coffee hour lunch they serve here including Mel’s famous chili today.

I sit down next to Mark.  I’m told he just won a national championship for weight lifting.

I introduce myself to learn not only that he won the national championship but had started weight lifting in his thirties and was now 58.  And had his hip replaced a few years back.

“You had your hip replaced and weight lift!”  I exclaim.

“Yes, most people say they can’t believe I do it.”

september-2016-020Mark does it.  And as I hear snippets, highlights of his life I hear about a man who keeps doing it – keeps moving forward into life.

“How did you find this church?”  I ask.

“Because of…” and he points out three elders in the room.  “They are all in an exercise class I teach in Rainier Beach. They invited me to church a few months ago.”

Connections, encounters, surprises at lunch or at the gym. Perhaps such meetings that can turn a day, open our imagination are around us every day.

He hands me his two medals.

“They weigh a ton!” I exclaim.

Thanks Mark!  Thanks Justin!  You’re for Real – and really inspiring to me.

Inspiring me to get out on the road and find the story, meet the one waiting to meet me in the faces of those along the way.

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Jesus, help us this Advent to see you in the faces of those we meet out on the road today.  Amen  

 

 

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Falling into Thanksgiving

december 2014 068I had Sunday’s Thanksgiving sermon all planned or as “planned” as mine usually gets by Sunday morning.

However, at the hour before worship when I was just about to sit down and go through it once again, the word came:  Sue had died unexpectedly last night.

We’d all been keeping Sue and Jerry in our prayers in the months since her leukemia diagnosis.  She’d survived a stem cell transplant and 100 days of treatment.  We were hopeful, she was hopeful, she would soon be back at church.  But then Saturday, trouble getting up and dressed in the morning led to a 9-1-1 call that led to the hospital emergency room, a heart attack and her death last night.

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I had a sermon – and now the shreds of it before me – shredded in my own shock and tears as I talked to Jerry on the phone.  Shredded as I thought about sharing the heartbreaking news with the congregation in a few minutes. Whatever my sermon was all sounded too pat and too sure – a sermon that hadn’t been tested against a grief like this.  I hung up the phone and stepped out to tell the choir about Sue.

What to do for worship?  Cancel Thanksgiving?  Read together the texts that I read at memorials after times like this –The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, (Psalm 23), I am convinced that neither death nor life… , (Romans 8:31-39), In my father’s house are many rooms…(John 14:1-4).  It all felt like too many words – too much, too soon.  Perhaps better to leave space for stunned silence.  Perhaps carry on – but how?  How to worship without just pushing through?

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I shared the sad news at the beginning of worship greeted by gasps and tears.  I said a prayer and invited us to let worship carry us that day.  It certainly would need to carry me.

I stumbled into a sermon about vulnerability.  I wondered if the disruptions and dislocations in our lives are the best chance we have of meeting all we mean by Jesus.  Perhaps, I shared, we need to trust in staying here in our vulnerability – that place where we’d rather not be – I’d rather not be.

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But as I struggled to find an ending, the sermon was already being lived there in the back pew.  Jerry and his son Peter had come to church that morning and were being surrounded by hugs and tears.

Whatever this struggling preacher was trying to say in so many words about the God who might meet us and remake us in our brokenness was a message long ago received in the back pew by two grieving men embraced by a grieving church.

As I joined others to embrace Jerry and Peter after the service, I fell into Thanksgiving.  In this most broken of places, Jesus had indeed been here all along – meeting us in that amazing grace we call each other.november 2014 060

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We will not fear
though the earth shall change
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea
though the waters roar with its tumult…
Be still…(Psalm 46)

Join us tonight:

6:00 p.m.

A Post-Election Restorative Gathering

University Congregational United Church of Christ
4515 16th Avenue NE in Seattle

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Amidst the changes of this election that we may long for or fear, we will gather tonight to begin the slow work of healing  after a bitter and tumultuous political season and as we face the road ahead for ourselves and our nation.

Tonight  amidst all the feelings we may hold,

we take time to be still,

light candles,

sing,

hear words of hope,

be together – a community of strangers and friends united across all that separates us.

May today be the beginning of the possibility that we might meet the weariness, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger in our land and within us with the larger holding of a wider love, a deeper grounding, a present hope.

We keep you and our nation in our prayers in these changing times.

 

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A Wider Hope

imageWhile political pundits tweet
that on the day after the election
nearly half of America will wake
believing we are doomed,
I hold a wider dream.

The possibility that indeed we will awake
remembering our souls,
remembering who we are to each other,
that is, our need,
across all the bounds that keeps us apart.

The possibility that it is not on the results that we depend
but upon what is at work in the unfolding –
this fall containing the bright blooms of spring,
this death holding the surprise of new life,
these challenges and possibilities in this present now.

imageThe possibility that this 240 year old experiment
called the United States of America
is an experiment worth remembering,
reworking, recalling to strength
to work together
for greater love, deeper justice, a wider hope.
Remember that it is in the struggle
that we are called to change.

Huddled here in the dug out
in the rain delay,
may we remember who we are
and what we live for –
that the game is not yet over –
perhaps, we’ve just begun
as on the day after the election
each must rise and ask –
What kind of person do I want to be?
What kind of relationship do I want with my neighbor?
What kind of nation do I pledge to dream together?

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Peter Ilgenfritz
November 7, 2016

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