Most nights I put the boys to bed. It is a lengthy process (Kelly takes about 7 minutes) with two story books (tonight was some of The Hobbit and When I Took the Moon for a Walk), three lullabies ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"," Away in the Manger", and "Sleep my Child") and then a round of prayers, all with the two boys jostling on some portion of Zane's bunk bed.

This afternoon I officiated at a memorial service for a 31 year old man. About 50 of us packed into a little chapel, sang an unusual selection of songs together, shared stories, and I prayed and offered a meditation. The man's mother sang one of the songs, a lullaby, the lullaby she sang him when he was a child. She was actually able to do it, hoarse voice and all, and it was lovely. And when she sang, "Bye bye," it was so dear, and so sad. Nothing breaks like a mother's heart.

I am tired tonight. But I sure didn't miss the boy's bedtime, and I paid a lot more attention to each of those lullabies this night.


Scenes from Christmas 08

I walked from my mother-in-law's house to a friend's party this afternoon. The sunshine was splendid.

Grandma's decorations are always delightful to see.

Zane got to Legos piece he wanted (800 pieces, actually...)

The major crisis of the day was deciding which of Theo's toys we were going to put our limited (10) supply of AAA batteries in.

Here Theo is showing the WALL-E robot toy his globe, discussing where various things were.

In these dark nights light is so welcome. I opened the porch door in my fuzzy pink slippers and the timer went off at just that moment so I had to go out in the snow and redo the lighting so I could get this shot. I tracked a lot of snow into grandma's house, but I think she'll like the photo.

Merry Christmas!


The Wings of Annunciation

My Christmas poem for 2008:

The Wings of Annunciation

I. The aging Chessie darted down the
winding, bluff road to find a flock of
heavy, dark winged turkeys lumbering
past. She gave chase when, as one graceful
body, they rose vertical into waiting
trees, the reverberation of air beneath wings
pummeling the puzzled, circling dog.

II. In a tent next to my mother I lay, half awake.
Pines whispered their night messages, water
pressed rhythmically against rock’s edge.
A loon called beyond the shore, the haunting
cry of northern night. Then air began to throb,
the hollow echo of sudden wings lifting,
haunting my uneasy sleep.

III. In summer’s heat I sat in the courtyard
of the Wailing Wall. Guards with rifles
rounded above. Women covered themselves,
pressing prayers into cracks. Men
bobbed their prayers on the distant side.
Then dozens of doves, startled, rose up,
beating the prayer-laden air below.

This is the sound of an angel, interrupting.

-- Michelle M. Hargrave, Christmas 2008

Christmas Eve Eve

Theo got up this morning and said, "It's Christmas Eve Eve."

And then I remembered that six years ago today a nurse told me I'd had a miscarriage and I could talk to the doctor after Christmas.

But here he is, that little collection of cells that was definitely becoming Theo.


Portraits of Poinsettias

Como Conservatory, 12.12.08


Responding to Sudden Angels

I'm moving the annunciation text to the Third Sunday of Advent because next week is the Children's Christmas Program and I just hate to miss this scene. A few years ago I put several annunciation paintings on my blog and although this is a repeat, I'm going to do it again. The paintings are support material to my sermon tomorrow and we don't do powerpoint here so...

(A few years ago I also made a movie with many of these images with Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven" playing. It is beautiful to watch these paintings, one after another, with that song.)

Anyway, here we are, annotated as I know them.

Maurice Denis

Fra Filippo Lippi 1440

Robert Campin

Alessandro Botticelli. Cestello Annunciation. 1489-1490


Fra Angelico, ca 1440-1445

Carl Bloch

He Qi

Jan Van Eyck, ca 1425

Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898


Thanks from the laptop

Two weeks ago I tried to go online and my lovely little HP laptop couldn't see the internet. Kelly did some research and discovered that my particular model of HP is prone to losing the wireless card because it runs so hot (some bios something). He contacted HP and they agreed to fix it, free of charge, and to send me a box to put it in.

Lovely. Except for the "send the laptop" part. The box came and I viewed it as a little casket for my work, my photos, my contacts, my writing...I panicked for a few days, then someone in the church heard (a couple of angels, really) and loaned me a laptop for the duration. So I spent a few days backing everything up, double, then sadly put mine in the box for FedEx to take away.

But working off a jump drive for a week was really okay. And after HP had my laptop for less than 24 hours they sent it back, and here it is, running cooler and definitely online.

So thank you, angels, for loaning me a laptop to use; thank you, Kelly, for figuring out what needed to happen; and thank you, HP, for doing the right thing and doing it quickly.


Religious concerts for preschoolers

Theo has a Hannukah concert tonight. He goes to a Jewish community center for daycare, and has been diligently practicing the Dreidel Song, a Maccabbees song, and "O Hannukah".

Last night he was at preschool church choir and, as the director told me, demonstrated for everyone how "Away in the Manger" goes. She said he did quite well. I told her I've sung it to him for bedtime for about his whole life, so he should know it well. (It goes inbetween "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "Sleep, my child.")

This morning over his requested buttered toast he told me, quite solemnly, about the songs for the Hannukah concert, which order they come in, and which ones have motions. "Then I'll sing 'Away in a Manger,'" he said.

"Oh no, honey," I jumped in. "Don't do that. That's for the other concert."

Perhaps I have some explaining to do with him!


Good night, Wednesday

It's the end of a Wednesday night and I'm thinking about my day. Youth group didn't go so well, just sort of blah, and I haven't figured out how to really use the parents who are with me very well yet. I didn't get much done on my to-do list, although Kelly and I did go and get crickets, cat food, and dog food this morning, and there are several creatures in the house who are glad for that. Zane and I finished reading the Goosebumps book about the mermaid who didn't get sold to the zoo after all, and tomorrow we will start Beedle the Bard. Theo has a Hanukkah concert tomorrow night so I should wash a new shirt for him, and clean up the kitchen. We let Theo play in the snow in the front yard without adult supervision (if you don't count hovering from the windows in the porch here) for the first time and he is still alive so that is good. My sister called with news about the political mood in Detroit right in the middle of bedtime so we didn't get to talk much. There are hard feelings there about some senator from Alabama. I got friended by several folks at Facebook today and I remembered all of them eventually, but it is weird to have people from so many categories of my life in one cyber location and I'm not sure what to do with all the options yet. We had Covenant Discipleship group this afternoon and I had hardly anything to offer in any category (compassion, justice, worship, devotion) -- I usually have something good in one or two areas at least. (We did have some great laughs.) And I haven't hit 10,000 steps yet today.

Someone told me a quote today about how wanting to do things perfectly sometimes keeps us from getting them done. Seems like a good quote for today. But, in keeping with the mood here, I can't remember what it was.



So I finally joined Facebook. It is so much less linear than the blogging world I'm a bit dizzy. I created a bare profile last night and already have been "friended" by people I haven't seen in 15 or 20 years. My younger colleagues tell me this is an essential tool and that I'm not too old to use it. Hope they're right!


Everyday Breath

Last Sunday I started my sermon on being awake (Mark 13:24-37) describing when I saw the painting "Everyday Breath" by Squeak Carnwath in a San Jose Art Museum. I've always been taken with the words she painted on it:

there are secrets in everyday breath mysteries of lives lived in our bodies
memories sensations seeing feeling hearing eating smelling the phone rings it is
a call to be the
one who is awake

So here is the painting. Happy Advent.

Like the ends of my fingers

Last Friday I turned on my laptop and tried to go online and -- nothing. No signal. I checked all the switches and rebooted. Kelly got up and I handed it to him (he's my in-house techie.)

After some research he determined that my wireless card had melted, a common problem with my model HP. So, he told me, send it to them and they will fix it.

Lovely. Except the "send it to them" part. I felt a bit as if he'd asked me to cut the ends of my fingers off.

Well, not exactly. But I am terribly dependent on my computer. My music, my pictures, the Bible, my email work with my congregation, my documents, years of research, my pedometer linkup, my....well, you get the idea. And it's Christmas so I wanted to make CDs of pictures and music and do photography projects and all that.

It is taking me days to back everything up to my satisfaction. I usually keep it fairly well backed up, but this is an epic occasion. Luckily for me, someone in the congregation heard of my plight and has loaned me a laptop with MS Office and wireless, which, really, is the basic package I need to do what I do, which is move back and forth from home to office with my work. I'm feeling well cared for, really.

So in a few hours I will box up my HP and send it off. It isn't the right season for it, but I hope resurrection is in the works and I receive it again, better than ever, right before Christmas.


What we don't hear Sunday mornings from the Gospel of Mark

So I wrote yesterday about teaching in Sunday School class the portions of the Gospel of Mark which never appear in the lectionary readings. I've included them here, at a request. These are the ones that are never scheduled in any year in the Revised Common Lectionary and the texts whose parallels (the best I was able to figure that out) in Matthew and Luke are also not used in their respective years.

What does it mean? I can't fault the RCL for not including every single text (there's a lot of Bible to cover in 3 years.) Maybe we should not depend upon worship for all our Biblical knowledge -- there are some interesting details here. And I think it will be interesting as a class to look at these and other texts that we don't hear in lectionary based preaching but which are confusing or challenging. And sometimes perhaps it is worthwhile to wander away from the lectionary to look at some of what we're missing.

Chapter 3
[7] Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; [8] hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. [9] He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; [10] for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. [11] Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, "You are the Son of God!" [12] But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
[13] He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. [14] And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, [15] and to have authority to cast out demons. [16] So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); [17] James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); [18] and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, [19] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Chapter 4
[10] When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. [11] And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; [12] in order that
'they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.' "
[21] He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? [22] For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. [23] Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" [24] And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. [25] For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."
Chapter 7
[9] Then he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! [10] For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.' [11] But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban' (that is, an offering to God)-- [12] then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, [13] thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this." [16] (Let anyone with ears to hear listen) – some ancient authorities add [17] When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. [18] He said to them, "Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, [19] since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) [20] And he said, "It is what comes out of a person that defiles.
Chapter 8
[8:1] In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, [2] "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. [3] If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way--and some of them have come from a great distance." [4] His disciples replied, "How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?" [5] He asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" They said, "Seven." [6] Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. [7] They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. [8] They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. [9] Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. [10] And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
[11] The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. [12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." [13] And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
[14] Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. [15] And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out--beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod." [16] They said to one another, "It is because we have no bread." [17] And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? [18] Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? [19] When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" They said to him, "Twelve." [20] "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" And they said to him, "Seven." [21] Then he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"

[22] They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. [23] He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, "Can you see anything?" [24] And the man looked up and said, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." [25] Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. [26] Then he sent him away to his home, saying, "Do not even go into the village."
Chapter 9
[10] So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. [11] Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" [12] He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? [13] But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him."
[32] They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; [34] they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again."
Chapter 11
[12] On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. [13] Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. [14] He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it.
[15] Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; [16] and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. [17] He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written,
'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?
But you have made it a den of robbers."
[18] And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. [19] And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

[20] In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. [21] Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." [22] Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. [23] Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. [24] So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Chapter 13
[14] "But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; [15] the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; [16] the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. [17] Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! [18] Pray that it may not be in winter. [19] For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. [20] And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. [21] And if anyone says to you at that time, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!'--do not believe it. [22] False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. [23] But be alert; I have already told you everything.
Chapter 16
[9] Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. [10] She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. [11] But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
[12] After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. [13] And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
[14] Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. [15] And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. [16] The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. [17] And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; [18] they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."
[19] So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. [20] And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

The haven of the mundane

I'd just been emailing a dear mentor about his newly discovered cancer and treatments, and I was fretting. Then I read a link Kelly sent me about some disturbing crimes by high school girls in my hometown at the nursing home where I used to visit a close friend. (I'm not going to link it, but it makes "Mean Girls" and "Heathers" look like candidates for a humanitarian award.) Then I picked up a message on my cell phone from my father, "You'd better call home, then."

I crawled into bed with all my clothes on, covered with quilts and cats, and hit "CALL." My mother picked up.

"You're calling because of Dad's message. He got me a new computer, and we're wondering if you can help us with some of it."

Whew. Somedays the mundane is a haven.


What you don't hear on Sunday morning

In Sunday School this week I wanted to prepare the class for the coming year of preaching Mark in the Gospel (prep them for listening to Mark, I guess.) Only I did it backwards by explaining the lectionary cycle, handing out a list of readings in the Gospel of Mark scheduled for this year, and then a document that lists all of the Gospel of Mark that isn't scheduled to be read this year, or any year, in the lectionary. I did a cross-reference with the synoptic gospels of Matthew and Luke and listed which stories in Mark were not used in any lectionary year. In other words, which verses in Mark are never read in worship, if we follow the lectionary?

It was surprising that the names of the 12 apostles was not ever read. But quickly we discovered that the most difficult texts are often the ones not included. So someone said, "So does the lectionary mean we avoid the hardest texts in the Bible?" There are plenty of hard ones to preach on (like last week's Mark 13) but yes, many difficult and obtuse texts are left out.

So we decided to make a list of texts that we were curious about and plan to cover them occasionally in the Sunday School class. I didn't promise that Pastor Rich and I could explain them, but that we sure can wrestle with them. I'll be curious to see which texts the class wants to explore. Any ideas?

Mystery of Preaching

Preaching is just an absolute mystery. Kelly always asks me Saturday night, "Do you have a sermon?" Usually I say, "Yes, I think so." (I preach without notes, so having something on paper doesn't quite make it a sermon yet.) Some Sundays I get up and know the whole service is gonna be great. Usually I have no idea what will happen. Sometimes even after worship I don't know what happened.

This Sunday, preaching on one of my favorite themes (wake up) I just couldn't get from one point to the next very clearly. I felt I hadn't made much of the main point at all. I sat down and wished I could get up and apologize and hope people would come again for another try the next week.

But in the hours after the sermon yesterday several people said it was a good sermon or, more importantly, that it touched them. Most of them told me this in email so they didn't see my quizzical face. What made it good? I can't tell.

Sometimes it feels like preaching is like taking a walk in a wooded park -- lovely, interesting turns, fairly sure footing. Somedays it feels like walking a tight rope, out in the air holding onto barely nothing at all, wondering what will happen if I fall. That's how it felt yesterday. Except afterwards I'm wasn't sure if I got anywhere or not, or if I just left it all out there, hanging in the breeze.

It's times like these that remind me my preaching isn't really mine. I try to do my prep work, show up (in more ways than one) on Sunday, and let it go. And what happens then is always a surprise. At least to me.