Thursday, December 8, 2022

Falling in Love with a Tree

You may or may not remember that one of the sessions for my Religion and the Arts class involved a time of sketching outside (for more, see this blog post).  I spent an hour sitting in the same spot sketching the same tree.  

I've felt a fondness for that tree and kept an eye on it as I made my way to chapel or to class.  I had wondered if the tree's leaves would change colors since it didn't change colors for weeks and weeks. After the other trees had lost their leaves, and it still hadn't changed much, I began to think it might be some sort of evergreen.

But after Thanksgiving, it had changed:

I need to do some research on this tree.  I don't know what kind of tree it is.  I haven't returned to sketch it again.  It's been cold and rainy.

I love this shot of the tree outside and the Christmas tree inside:

Here's the Christmas tree by itself:

And here's a close up shot of the leaves on the outside tree:

I do feel more of a fondness for this tree because I spent an hour in September sketching it.  It makes me think we should spend more time sketching.  Would we feel more of a bond with the planet?  Would we work harder to save the natural world if we had spent time sketching every week?

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Benediction from a Professor

Yesterday was the last day of my Tuesday classes.  I realize I say this often, but how can it be December already?  I have been trying to be observant of the passage of each day so that I don't lose a moment, so that I appreciate every scrap of time that I'm here, a seminarian, which in a way is existing out of the regular rhythms that most 57 year olds experience.

But yesterday was indeed the last day of Tuesday classes.  It seems like just yesterday that I came into the classroom, the first in-person class of my first week of Fall 2022 term, just yesterday that I was grateful for the air conditioning during a DC heat wave in late August.  I watched my professor wrestle with the technology, and I thought, OK, it's not just me who has trouble with the classroom technology--different campus, same struggles.

My professor soon captured my imagination, and that class, Foundations of Preaching, has never let me down.  I'm always happy to have attended; I always leave enriched.  Last night was no exception.

Last night concluded our second round of sermons.  I feel like we've really come into our own, or as our professor says, "You've all found your preaching voice."  One of my classmates preached her first sermon in English just six weeks ago.  Last night, you would never have known she was so new to preaching in English, as she preached again.

Our professor had some final words, and then she said, "I wasn't going to say this, but it came to the surface, so here it is:  God did not make a mistake in inviting you to do this work."  I started writing down her words, and she repeated them.  I let my tears well up and spill over as she said, "You are not here by mistake."  I was not the only one--many of us wiped our eyes.

She had advice for us as we fulfill our call.  She said that one of the most prophetic things we can do is to tell our people that God loves them just as they are.  She said that we might be surprised how many people have never heard that God loves them.  She concluded class by saying, "Never miss an opportunity to tell them" (her emphasis).

I left the class feeling blessed in all sorts of ways.  I felt like I had gotten a specific benediction and a blessing, a laying on of hands without the actual laying on of hands.  But I've also been blessed in other ways.  Our professor has a wealth of experience and expertise, and I feel blessed (in the sense of lucky) to have been in her presence for a semester.

And the wealth will continue.  Next semester I will take her Women and Preaching class, an upper level class.  I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

It is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, and I don't have much to offer in terms of my own decorations.  I do have a new picture:

I am not sure if these blow up creatures are supposed to go together.  Is there some new movie I don't know about?  Lyle, Lyle Crocodile Saves Christmas?  Is that Lyle the Crocodile?  Clearly the other character is Santa, the character derived from Saint Nicholas.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them. No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.

Through the centuries, the image of Saint Nicholas has morphed into Santa Claus, but as with many modern customs, one doesn't have to dig far to find the ancient root.  I don't have many Santa Claus ornaments or decorations, but I do collect favorite pictures.  Here's one my grad school friend posted years ago to her Facebook page:

I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!

More recently, a new favorite Saint Nicholas image, courtesy of my cousin's wife:

In this image, Santa communicates by way of American Sign Language. As I looked at the background of the photo, I realized Santa sits in a school--the sign on the bulletin board announces free breakfast and lunch.

The photo seems both modern and ancient to me: a saint who can communicate in the language we will hear, the promise that the hungry will be filled.

In our time, when ancient customs seem in danger of being taken over by consumerist frenzy, let us pause for a moment to reflect on gifts of all kinds. Let us remember those who don't have the money that gifts so often require. Let us invite the gifts of communication and generosity into our lives.

Monday, December 5, 2022

A Perfect Week-end at the End of the Term

I have had a good week-end, particularly considering the amount of work that must be done in the next 13 days.  Let me try to capture some of the moments:

--I walked to Wegmans, the closest grocery store to me.  I actually did this twice, because I realized that I needed vegetables (Friday's trip) to go with the last of the Thanksgiving turkey, and then I realized I needed some lotion and that I could get it at Wegmans as easily/cheaply as at the least well-stocked Target in North America.  So it's been a week-end of treats, like baguettes and cheese and wine, as well as more nutritious food.

--My spouse and I had good conversations, by way of video chat, and we played Yahtzee (we both have sets of dice).  We also watched birds on the deck of our North Carolina house together.  Bird watching is bringing us joy.  It's not the only element bringing us joy, but it has been unexpected.  I thought all the birds would have migrated by now, and I'm realizing how little I really know about the migratory patterns of birds.

--I've gotten some of my writing done, along with lots of thinking about what I plan to write.  I also got some books for one of my papers.  

--I pulled out my quilt, not the small piecing, but the big quilt that I assembled at the quilt retreat:

I got so much quilting done.  I needed to watch the second season of Fleabag to make sure that I could support what I planned to write about in my paper for Pastoral Care and Counseling in Context class.

--In addition to my walks to Wegmans, I took neighborhood walks and delighted in the holiday decorations, particularly in my evening walk last night.

--I have also delighted in my own holiday decorations--all sorts of lights drape my living room window.

--I went to bed early, at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night, and I slept and slept and slept.  I was a bit concerned that I might be setting up an unsustainable pattern--I can't go to be every night at 7, can I?  So last night, I timed my last walk of the day for a bit later.

--I watched much of the movie Scrooged last night, which I remember liking when I saw it at the theatre when it was released decades ago, but it left me somewhat underwhelmed last night.  Happily, I could just turn it off and go to bed, closer to 9 than 7.  And I had an interesting private message exchange with a grad school friend about the film as I watched it in real time--almost as good as seeing a movie with a friend in person.

Over the next few days, I need to get actual words into documents; happily, I still have time.  I know what I want to write, which can be half the battle.  But writing does take time, so I need to factor that in.  I also have grading to do, even though grades aren't due for my online classes until next week.

But first, let me take a walk so that I can get my thoughts in order and structure my day.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Ahead, Behind, Semesters Coming to a Close

I am having one of those mornings where I thought, wait, I was ahead of my various schedules--why do I suddenly feel behind?  In part, it's because it's Sunday, and as with many Sundays, I haven't gotten as much done as I had planned.  I still have time--just not as much time as I had a week ago, two weeks ago.  One of my online classes ended yesterday, and while I have time to get grades turned in, it's a reminder of time passing, endings in view.

So, I did what I have trained myself to do:  I graded 2 batches of student papers, the shorter ones.  And now I feel a bit more at ease.

And I'm reminding myself that I've done some work, even if I haven't started the actual writing yet.  I've gotten the books from the library and downloaded the periodical articles.  I have to create a timeline for Church History I class with 30 people, events, movements, evenly divided over the 1500 years we've studied (10 from years 1-500, 10 from years 500-1000, and 10 from years 1000-1500), so I've made some lists and done a lot of thinking--and this work helps me study for the final exam.  I've preached my final sermon and have a small piece of writing to do.  I have several papers to write, and I know what I plan to say.

It's also good to remember that I only have this work to do--the weekly work of getting ready for the classes where I am a student is behind me.  While I still have a few classes to attend, I've already done the work, the weekly readings and the writings.

For the paper for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class, I'm writing on Fleabag, which means I should re-watch season 2, the focus for my paper.  I'm in the mood to do some quilting on my big quilt.  Happily, I can quilt and re-watch--and still make it to church!

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Annunciation in Fabric

On Thursday, we had our last working/creative day in Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class.  It was supposed to be fabric day, and it was.  We had material:  felt, tulle, satin, and canvas, along with black t-shirts.  We had twine and rope, both in natural color and blue, green, and deep purple.  We had two sewing kits, massive sewing kits with tools and thread spools in every shade.  We had scissors and hot glue guns and paint.

It was interesting to see what people did with the materials.  One classmate started embroidering with the thread.  One stretched out a length of canvas, plugged in a hot glue gun, and started affixing twine to it.  One stared at the materials, waiting for inspiration.  One took the paint and spread it on her hand, which she then used to make hand prints on canvas.

I took a selection of fabrics and twines, along with a pair of scissors.  I thought I would make the kind of fabric art I used to make, something with layers and the tulle spread over it.  But I didn't like the way it looked.  I cut shapes out of felt in two colors of blue and arranged them on the pink.  I sewed them all together, but the sewing was only to keep them in place, not to preserve them for history.  

Here's what I ended with:

Annunciation, Month 3

When I first started, I had a vision of rivers, but that quickly became a descending dove kind of feel.  But something about the shapes and the Advent time we're in made me think of the Virgin Mary, of pregnancy, of Jesus as a fetus.  So, if it's important to know what the artist thought she was creating, that tulle-wrapped blob at the bottom is baby Jesus in utero.

The blue shapes to me represent Mary, mother of Jesus, partway through her answer of yes, the agreeing to be part of God's plan in the invitation that the angel Gabriel conveys.  I like the shapes, the way they have an energy, the way they suggest both power and a drawing in conservation of that power.

I have really enjoyed this class, and part of me is sorry to see it come to an end.  I've enjoyed all the exploring we've done, and the books we've discussed.  I am so looking forward to the next class that I'm taking with this teacher, Chapel Visuals--that anticipation makes it easier to say goodbye to this class as the semester comes to an end.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Second Sermon for an Academic Grade

Before we get too far away from the event, I want to remember the very good experience I had giving my sermon on Tuesday night.  It was strange to go to that class after the Zoom meeting with the president where I learned that my seminary housing is likely to be bulldozed sooner rather than later.

Tuesday night, I gave my second and last sermon for my Foundations of Preaching class.  For our first sermon, we had a choice between several of the New Testament lessons that were upcoming in the Revised Common Lectionary.  For our second sermon, we had a choice between the Hebrew Bible lessons from the upcoming Revised Common Lectionary.  Each possibility allowed for only 4-5 students to choose it.

For the New Testament choices, my top choices had already been taken.  In some ways, that was great, because I approached the text without ever having spent much time with it.  For this next/last sermon, I felt overwhelmed by the choices; I liked them all similarly.  I chose Isaiah 2:  1-5, the passage about beating swords into ploughshares.

I enjoyed the exegetical work, once I knuckled down and did the work.  For each sermon, I feel I had a richer sermon, in part because of the exegetical work, in part because we had a strict time limit.  For the first sermon, we couldn't go over 7 minutes, and for the second sermon, we had 10 minutes as our max.  Having that time limit meant that we focused on what was essential.

I also gave a sermon from a written manuscript, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  I had never done that before, and I am willing to admit it makes for a better experience for me as the sermon giver--which probably means it's a better experience for the listener.

Last night, I felt calm and prepared; I volunteered to go first.  Note to self:  in the future, always volunteer to go first.  Because I have no printer and can't seem to master the way we print on this campus (there's an app that I can't get to work), my manuscript was a bit scribbled on, and I did get tripped up in one place.  I was happy that I was able to think on my feet and reassemble the sentence into something that made sense.  I don't think that anyone listening realized I made a goof.

As I walked back to my seat, my teacher said, "Kristin sounds like a prophet, doesn't she?"  I assure you, that comment was a compliment.  Later, she said that I had a perfect use of illustration.  Perfect!  This teacher does not hand out praise as if it's cheap candy.  I wrote down her comments, and I'm preserving them here.

At the end of class, our professor talked about what a good job we had all done, how we had set the bar high.  Hurrah!

I am so grateful for this class.  While I may not have time to do this kind of exegesis for each sermon, I am grateful to have had this experience.  Much like a creative writing class, I've learned techniques that will come in handy in a variety of ways.  These are techniques that I likely wouldn't have bothered to teach myself. 

I am also grateful for the example of my professor who has a wealth of information to share with us, who is so generous--and who demands that we do increasingly better.  She takes her obligation seriously, to make better preachers who will continue the important preaching work that she has done her whole life.

I'll be making a recording of the sermon for my home church in South Florida, and I'll post it to my YouTube channel in a week or so.