June 24, 2022
One of my favorite things about summer is seeing our grape vines flourishing, with beautiful green leaves and runners going in every direction. This is of course not how vineyards typically look. One usually sees rows upon rows of finely trimmed vines, with posts and wires that give the whole vineyard strength and provide the vines with room to grow. Our vineyard though consists of only three plants, and so we can be much less disciplined in our approach to how they grow.
What I delight in though is looking beneath the oversize leaves to discover the grapes that are growing. At first, the clusters look like small collections of green seeds. But then they are gradually transformed into small grapes, and of course finally grow to the size where they are ready to be harvested and eaten.
Every time I walk past our vines I think of Jesus, and the variety of ways in which grapes and vineyards figure into his life and his teachings. There are the parables of course, including the one about him being the vine and us being the branches. And there is the wine that is a central part of the last supper that he shared with the disciples, and of our observance of communion in remembrance of him.
As I took this photo, I was reminded of these things, and reflected on ways to incorporate them into worship times.
If your worship time is guided by a bulletin, one possibility would be to print photos of vines or grapes on the covers of the bulletins. Absent bulletins, it would work to frame and display images of grapes, and wheat, at the entry area to the worship space. Grapes of any variety, and wheat if it is accessible, could also be placed on the altar or communion table, or as a display in front of the table as well. Any addition to the worship time that connects with people in ways more than just through words will enhance the experience for people.
I hope your own creativity is sparked through these ideas.
June 17, 2022
From time to time I find myself picking up periodicals that contain poetry, or even pulling whole collections of poetry from my shelves, and spending time with three to five poems. Reading poetry though is not like completing a novel and feeling good about the accomplishment. Poetry asks for more from us.
Poetry invites us into the world that the poet is sharing or creating. In some ways, of course, reading poetry is not an efficient use of time. Poetry asks that we really hear, really experience the world that is offered to us. To do so, we cannot hurry the encounter.
While I say that we cannot hurry things, that is of course inaccurate. We can certainly read a poem as if we were perusing a news article, and can move on with a vague grasp of what was written. That is akin though to visiting a gallery in a museum, walking through it while glancing at the framed artwork on the walls, and then saying that we know the work of Monet, Van Gogh and others.
When we hurry through any experience, I would guess that if we were asked about our experience, we would be more apt to say that we disliked it than that we liked it, or even enjoyed it. I think that in visual art, the works of Picasso provide a good example for many people. If we take a quick look at his creations, we tend to see the chaotic, disjointed nature of them, and find them either strange or unwelcoming. But if we take the time to really look at them, to attempt to understand the imagery, to try to understand what he was working to convey, then while we may or may not "like" them, we can still walk away with an appreciation for them and a greater understanding of his art.
In the same way, even artwork that we are drawn to provides us with an enhanced encounter when we really spend time with it. This is true of visual art, sculpture, craft creations, and certainly poetry. With poetry, I find that most poets use a structure that is unfamiliar to those of us who haven't formally studied poetry. Yet, the structure can benefit us as we ask why the poet has made the choices she or he has, and in slowing down to ask such questions we are provided with the opportunity to understand more clearly, if not even the intent of the poet, at least our own understanding of what is before us.
Of course, everything I have said here is not just something to consider when viewing art or reading creative creations. These are metaphors too for how we choose to encounter life on a daily basis. Slowing down, spending time, engaging more deeply with life, will all reveal to us much that will bring us profound understanding, and most likely enhanced joy as well.
June 10, 2022
This is the time of year when there are many transitions taking place. Students graduating from high school or college are perhaps the most obvious transitions right now. And, while some teachers are packing away their classrooms for the summer, others are preparing to move from full school days to the summer school schedule. Families are beginning vacations, birthday and anniversary celebrations continue as they do all year, and some people are preparing to move to new locations, even new cities, in anticipation of what is to come next.
While we don’t usually speak of such transitions as rites of passage, for certain cultures have shown us that such rites are not always particularly healthy for individuals, these are certainly times of passage from one stage of life to another, from one moment to a new moment, and it is important that we in the church help to celebrate such transitions.
The Church has of course always known the wisdom of such cycles and their accompanying observances. The liturgical year always begins with Advent, moves through Epiphany and Lent, brings us to the glory of Easter, the power of Pentecost, and then envelopes us in the possibilities of Ordinary Time. And the Church repeats this cycle annually, so that we might both celebrate and stay connected to the multitude of expressions of our faith walk.
If we are not personally involved in particular transitions in any one year, we may allow such opportunities to pass without our being engaged in their importance. It is here that artistic creations can help us to experience the greater depth of such moments. When we are met with creativity, especially creativity that invites us to consider transitions from more than our usual viewpoints, then we are opened up to the beauty and wonder and possibilities that come to us as we reflect upon transitions, both our own and those of others.
In a sense, Jesus was about offering opportunities for life transitions in just about every instance where he sat down and spent time with people. Indeed, these transitions were not necessarily connected with larger life events, but rather with the life challenges that fill our everyday living. But, large or small, Jesus always welcomes us to experience new life, fresh perspectives, and new pathways as we come to transitions in our lives. Artistic creations can often open the doors for such encounters.
June 3, 2022
Pentecost Sunday is one of my highlight Sundays of the year. There are so many diverse possibilities for celebrating this day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. And there is indeed no wrong way of doing this in worship, for we are depicting the movements and presence and power of the Spirit, which is beyond depiction but whose presence is truly felt.
Sometimes people worry about how we can artistically represent biblical events and stories. People want to nail things down, and sometimes miss the contextual part of scripture. For example, biblical stories, for some, should be depicted in biblical times. That is a challenge without any photographic evidence, although archaeological efforts do give us some clues. But throughout the centuries artists have often chosen to depict such stories in their own time frame. Thus, we might see Jesus feeding the five thousand with a medieval castle in the background. Far from straying from the story itself, it has been a way of saying that the story has meaning and import in the context of the lives of the people of whatever time period. There is actually good theological grounding for such artistic representations. We do still believe that the words of Jesus are important in our lives today.
As we plan to celebrate Pentecost, we recognize that however we depict the movement of the Spirit is apt to fall short of the sheer wonder of it, and yet as we point toward the movement of the Spirit we allow people to draw the experience into their own lives.
We of course never see the wind, but we see and feel its effects. The use of air motion can be an effective way to present the power of the Holy Spirit. The presence of red, in fabrics, clothing, vestments and more is again something that points toward the Pentecost event, particularly keying in on the words of Luke about the “tongues as of fire,” but which surely only calls our attention to that part of the story.
One of the elements of our worship on Pentecost is the praying of the Lord’s Prayer in a multitude of languages. We have done this for many years, and people find it to be especially meaningful. What I particularly like about it is that the words do not occupy my attention when the prayer is offered in other languages, simply because I don’t understand them. I do of course know what is being said, and yet I am able to experience the power of prayer and the wonder of the variety of God’s family instead of just listening to the words.
However you choose to celebrate Pentecost, allow the experience to touch your spirit. For we are not just remembering a past event, but we are experiencing it afresh on this day.
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