A Winter Solstice Prayer

With gratitude to Ali, Heather and their family

While chopping kale for our
Solstice salad, the tough stems
set aside, though these tough
times of our souls cannot be
set aside, only entered into with
a spirit of discovery to mine
their shadows for release and
resilience.

Thin slivers of dark green slowly
fill a bowl, their dying becoming
nourishment for a community of
friends who have taken slivers
of what has been, tossing them
into a bowl and letting them dissolve
in fire and rise up as manifesting
wisps of new birth.

The bed of greens now awaits
her gifts – pomegranate seeds,
crisp apple slices, toasted almonds,
parmesan reggiano, lemon juice, salt,
olive oil, a touch of garlic – a rich
variety of sensual nutrients for our
bodies, even as our souls release
what we no longer need to carry,
and open to what brings promise
and hope.

May the gifts of a simple salad,
and all that is given to create something
of beauty to nourish our bodies, inspire
us to manifest all that is beautiful in
our lives and in this community of
gathered Love to enter into this
long night with a spirit of possibility
and a presence of imagination.

Amen.

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The Keepsake Collection #2

The long forgotten box
has collected dust and debris
from its attic life so that
when I disturb its peace
and carry it from the cold
into the warmth of my office,
collected matter makes
its way onto my sweater and
the table top.

Lift

The lid comes off easily and
the scent of mold wafts into
the room.

Open

I scan the contents, trying to
place them in memory’s landscape:
Old trophies, scattered and shattered,
from Jr. Golf days. I’ve carried these
from house to house for thirty-plus
years and now I think, what shall I
keep? One sparks my interest – a small
brass plaque on a square block of
wood – Junior Golfer of the Year,
Hidden Lakes Golf Club, 1974. I was
twelve.

Cull

An old golf shoe box holds my first
golf scorecards marking my first
round at Clapp Park (now pasture)
and a score of 130 for eighteen holes.
Not bad. Old medals honoring small
achievements. Vintage golf club covers –
1, 2, 3 are tucked inside other covers –
why have I kept these? For a moment
I consider putting them on E-Bay. Then
I toss them into the trash box.

Recycle

Nothing but memories. The act of
remembering is enough today.

Keep

Shall I create a rule for keeping? Marie
Kondo would ask me, “does this spark joy?”
What of any of this will be of interest to
my children? Will they want any of it?
What of these treasures may inspire
a story, or a set of poems on keepsakes?

Out of the deep sturdy box of golfing
dreams, I keep these:

a simple plaque
a cache of cards
a trove of medals

Trash

The rest goes in big blue.

 

The Keepsake Collection #1

Will you go steady?

seems so laissez faire
yet to a sixteen year old
so completely unaware of
the twists and turns of
puberty and its taunting,
tantalizing ways, the only
way to finally give it some
structure.

Isn’t this what the hormonal
adolescent truly needs to keep
the creative wondering within
a social construct?

What brings this up, from a now
AARP-certified older adult’s
treasure of memory, is the
rummaging through an old
keepsake box – one of countless
sturdy apple boxes that once
formed the only non-concrete
wall of his adolescent den.

Down in the crevice of papers
and photos, a silver chain bracelet
with his first name etched on an
attached plate appears. Where
did this come from? Memory
dances through the possibilities. Then
the jarring truth: a back seat, arms
and bodies entangled, a now
familiar stirring of arousal in low
proximity, another couple in the front
seat. The tangled adolescent, social
dis-ease so prevalent, wanting to ask,
longing to ask, leaning in to ask,
will you go steady?

The foreplay in asking was
relieved only by a yes, then a
completely naïve what’s next?,
which led to the creation of and
exchange of bracelets, names
etched for posterity, for all to see.
Then what? Whispered sweet
nothings at partially opened
lockers? Holding hands in the
hallways in front of other kids?
Physically showing that we’re
together? May I carry your books?
May I kiss you in public?

All too much for this shy introvert
who thought that just by asking
the relationship would be steady.

After less than a month, with no
more back seats to tangle and
dream in, only open halls and
peering eyes, the bracelet was
returned and buried deep in a
wall of time capsules.

Mona and Marilyn

She couldn’t go. She knew she couldn’t go.

The whole visit had been awkward. Her dad and step-mom, considering his upcoming stationing in Germany, had invited her to spend some time with them and decide whether she’d like to join them. She was older than her step-siblings, by nearly ten years, and just having graduated from high school this could be an ideal time for an adventure abroad.

She tried to talk with them about why she couldn’t go, but the valve over her vulnerable heart kept shutting down. Words, and the courage to speak them, evaded her.

She decided to go back home. No explanation, just a knowing. When she told them, they feigned understanding. She packed her small bag, put it in the back seat, and climbed into the front seat for the quiet ride to the bus station.

Her step-mother, who compensated beautifully for her silence with chatter, offered encouragement for her trip home.

When they arrived at the station, she got out quickly, retrieved her bag, and got in line to board the bus.

“Why, Mona Jean, you look six-months pregnant!” exclaimed her step-mother, commenting on the loose-fitting top that appeared to be covering more than added weight.

She had no response, only the foreboding silence that had overcome her spirit.

The secret-keeping began when she noticed early signs of physical discomfort, what she would come to know as morning sickness, with confirmation by her doctor. She told her Mom first. Then, in a letter written and mailed just after she returned home, she told her Dad.

Everyone then became part of the secret, finding a way to discreetly cover what would forever change her life.

When her Dad received her letter, he contacted his mother who knew of a reputable place in Kansas City, Missouri. They discussed options on getting her there and for how long. They agreed whom to tell. They agreed to keep the secret.

During the night, in early October, Mona boarded the train with her suitcase in one hand and her fear in the other.
________

Marilyn stood at the blackboard writing an assignment for her second grade class. The intercom crackled, the secretary’s voice breaking the silence. “Mrs. Cobb, you have a call in the office.” A look of surprise lifted her brow, a tinge of a smile curled on her lips.

When she was a teenager, puberty an unbidden stranger, Marilyn experienced heavy flow. The hemorrhaging wouldn’t stop and she was hospitalized. Doctors were puzzled.

In 1946, there was an experimental drug still being tested. They decided to try. Scientists had discovered that the urine of a pregnant mare could, in some cases, stop hemorrhaging in young women with heavy blood flow. The drug that became known as Premarin saved Marilyn’s life. She continued to experience heavy flow in the years to come, but the medication kept it in check.

She fell in love, married at twenty-one, and for the next nine years tried to get pregnant, without success. Along with her husband, Bill, she decided to pursue adoption.

They contacted Jackson County Adoption Services and completed a thorough home study. Now, they waited.

Marilyn walked to the office, picked up the phone, identified herself, then listened. “Mrs. Cobb, this is Ms. Schottel, from Jackson County Adoption Services. We have a baby we’d like to place with you and your husband. Are you still interested?”

Marilyn nearly dropped the phone. “Yes, of course! Let me call my husband and we’ll call you back.”

She told the secretary, called Bill, got coverage for her class, and went to be with him so they could call the agency.

“We have a little boy, seven weeks old,” chimed Ms. Schottel. “He has brown hair, brown eyes and is healthy. When can you come and get him?”
_________

Mona arrived in Kansas City on a crisp October day in 1961. She retrieved her suitcase, stepped off the train, and began to look for something, someone, to guide her to the next place – her new, secret home. A woman stood within eyeshot holding an identifying sign printed in magic marker. As soon as their eyes met, the sign went down, and Mona was whisked into a car.

In a matter of minutes, the car pulled into a long drive and approached a large house, set back from the road. On the front was a sign: The Willows.

For the next four months, The Willows, a sanitarium for unwed mothers, became her home. She, along with many other women in her condition, came here under the veil of secrecy, to have their babies and give them up for adoption.

She shared household responsibilities, was well cared for and lived with the tension she carried inside – a baby she didn’t ask for, but was falling in love with.

The time stretched on, until one day in late January, her water broke and she was placed on a stretcher and taken into the home’s delivery room. Within in a few hours of intense labor, she gave birth to a baby boy. The doctor held up the baby, cut the umbilical cord, told Mona he was healthy, handed him to a nurse to weigh, measure and clean up. The nurse returned shortly and let Mona hold him. Then she carried him to a large open room, with dozens of cribs, and placed him there in swaddling clothes.

Mona named him Steven.

A few days later, after it was safe for her to travel, a staff person took her back to the train where she boarded with her suitcase in one hand and her secret in the other.
_________
Marilyn packed a small suitcase with everything she could imagine for the baby: diapers, several outfits, sweaters, blankets, bottles, formula.

They arrived in Kansas City a day early so they could rest before their big day. On the morning of March 27, 1962, they got up, got dressed, she in a black and white checkered dress, he in a black suit and trim blue tie, and made their way to The Willows.

They parked, went inside, and in a matter of moments one of the staff came to them carrying a swaddled baby boy, soft red tufts of hair standing straight up from his head.

The red hair briefly distracted them, until the staff person confirmed this was their little boy.

They took turns holding him, meeting him, smiling at him. Then Marilyn was invited to change him into the clothes she brought. She dressed him in nearly everything she packed. Then they signed the papers necessary to take him home.

“Do you have a name for him?”

Yes, we’re naming him Joseph Leslie Cobb.

O Little Dreamer

This prayer is inspired by a question my oldest daughter, Emma, asked me when she was five-years-old.  I wrote this and shared it tonight at a Prayer Vigil for Immigrants and Allies in response to the recent decision to halt DACA applications and renewals after March 5, 2018.

O Little Dreamer,
when you ran up to me,
embraced me and asked,
where is the sanctuary?
I had a sudden moment of
fear and uncertainty,
wondering what exactly you
meant?

Is it the place of stained glass
and deep prayer that welcomes
our eager spirits and weary bodies
in safety and security?

Is it the place your parents came to,
formed by immigrants from ages past,
seeking shelter from the storms of
oppression to find a better life?

Is it the place in the hearts of humanity
whose desire is to create a free space
where the stranger can enter our lives
And become a friend instead of an enemy?

Is it the place where, free from harm or
malice or discrimination or exclusion because
of the beauty that is you and is within you,
you can be all you were created to become?

So many questions, little dreamer,
from such a big, dreaming heart, and I am left
wondering and realizing that your question
is one we must all ask and finally know within
ourselves:

Where is the sanctuary?

It is within you,
it is within me,
it is within us all.

Will we create sanctuary?

Will we become the sanctuary
for your dreams?

Amen.

Immeasurably More

Immeasurably More
A Sermon On the Occasion of the 7th Anniversary of MCC Sacred Journey, Hendersonville, NC
Ephesians 3:14-21 and Matthew 15:21-28
Reverend Joe Cobb
08.20. 2017

No matter what people say, say or think about me, I am a child of God. No matter what people say, say or think about you, you are a child of God. No matter what the world says, says or thinks about me, I am a child of God. No matter what the church says, decisions, pronouncements on you, you are a child of God. And there is no thing or no one who can separate you from the truth that you’re someone, You are family, you are meant to be, a child of God! You are a child of God! – Mark Miller, Child of God

Last Saturday, our family boarded an Amtrak train
in Lynchburg, Virginia, to begin making our way
Northeast toward Connecticut. While settling in
for the journey I opened my laptop to read of the
horrors unfolding in Charlottesville, as white
nationalists and supremacists gathered to protest
the removal of confederate statues. I watched in
utter disgrace as the tiki-torch wielding mob began
coursing through the streets shouting “Jews will
not replace us,” “F**k you faggots,” “White lives
matter.”

I watched peaceful, non-violent counter
protests greeted with hateful shouting, mocking
and physical attacks. The more I watched, the
more I struggled: I wanted to be right where I was
with my family in the relative safety of the train;
I wanted to be out in the streets of Charlottesville
standing in solidarity with my non-violent peers; and
I was terrified that some of the precipitous violence
in the streets would overtake the train and put even
more people at risk.

As the train slowly pulled into the Charlottesville station,
a car with a license plate issued in Ohio and driven by
a white nationalist protestor was plowing
into another car in the middle of the pedestrian mall
sending bodies flying into the air.

While we sat and awaited passengers to board the train,
an ambulance lit up and made its way to the downed people to offer
aid and to confirm that one who was hit, a thirty-two year
old woman named Heather Heyer, was dead. In a
parking garage nearby, a 20 year old man, Deandre
Harris, was being beaten by a group of young white
supremacists with metal flag poles, nearly dying
before being pulled to safety. While he shuddered in
terror, blood careening from his head, his attackers
ran away, cowards to the core.

The events of that day, and the subsequent silence,
denial, and then mind-numbing cacophony touting that the root
and responsibility of the violence was “many-sided”
left many of us bewildered, numb, confused, trembling
and in pain from the devastating state of the human condition.

Throughout the week, as I was thinking about being here
with you for your seventh anniversary as an MCC miracle
in the heart of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge, and as I
tried to make sense of my own soul’s search for meaning
in the fragile state of our world, I kept returning to Paul’s
prayer to his beloved Ephesians.

Offered as the centering text for this year’s MCC People
of African Descent Conference in St. Louis two weeks ago,
just shy of the third anniversary of the shooting of Michael
Brown in Ferguson, the invitation to be rooted and grounded
in God’s redeeming Love for humanity provided a salve to
this weary soul and a stirring call to be immeasurably more
than we can imagine.

Picturing Paul kneeling in his jail cell, I felt an inclination to
join him and countless others in countering the angry,
hate-filled postures of stern jaws, clenched fists and spitting
vitriol in Charlottesville and far too many other places
in our nation and around the world.

I found myself praying fervently for the riches of God’s
divine glory to shine upon, around and within our
anger, fears, hatred and violence to remove the limitations
we place on God and each other and reveal in unexpected
ways that as God’s beloved creations, we are immeasurably
more than we imagine.

One of the things I love most about you is your name:
MCC Sacred Journey. Some years ago, when I was a very
young seminary student at Perkins School of Theology in
Dallas, Texas, I was introduced to the writings of Frederick
Buechner, who in his first memoir, The Sacred Journey,
wrote something that changed the way I look at life.

He said, I think of my life, and the lives of everyone
who has ever lived, or will ever live,
as not just journeys through time, but as sacred journeys.

By placing everyone – not just the ones who look or think
or act like us – but everyone who is within the beloved
creation of God as sacred, and on a sacred journey, we
immediately begin to shift from limiting each other to
opening to each other.

To be sacred is to be set apart for a holy purpose. And
isn’t our holiest purpose to know that we are Loved by
our Creator, to Love our Creator in return,
and to Love one another?

Why do we fight it so?

Why do we expend so much
energy creating barriers based on our thirst for power,
our need to control, or our troublesome and sinful belief that
the color of one’s skin is license to supremacy?

We do so, I believe, because we are scared of believing
that God created us and desires for us to be sacred.

And, I dare say, we should be scared –
not in the sense of being afraid, but of being afeared;
being in awe of what this means –
this calling is nothing less than knowing that we are
created in the image of God – the image of Love –
and living into this means that we begin to know that
our neighbor, too, is created in this divine image.

We are all meant to become God’s image in this world –
a radical change in the way we see and treat everyone
in creation.

What would it look like to acknowledge this fear,
present it to the One who created us, and allow our
fear to be transformed?

Like a good recipe with many ingredients and textures,
journey with me as we “fold in” a story of an encounter
Jesus had with a Canaanite woman who dared to re-
define and re-imagine what sacred looks like in God’s
kindom.

Fresh from a heated conversation with the Pharisees
about what is defiled and undefiled, what is clean and
unclean, Jesus makes his way to the land of Tyre and
Sidon, where an unnamed woman approaches him and
shouts into the din of the crowd, “Have mercy on me,
Lord, my daughter is possessed by a demon.”

Remember for a moment that when we are introduced
to Jesus, through the ancestral genealogy at the
beginning of Matthew, five women break through
the patriarchal system as part of Jesus’ lineage. Three
of these women – Tamar, Ruth and Rahab – are of
Canaanite heritage.

It’s hard to know whether or not Jesus heard the woman
or if he did, if he chose to respond in silence.

The disciples, who clearly did hear her, plead with
Jesus to dismiss her. Her shouting is bothersome.

How someone shouting for mercy is bothersome
is a whole other conversation on the role of privilege
in biblical times.

According to biblical scholar, Mitzi Smith, Associate
Professor of New Testament and and Early Christianity
Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary in Detroit,
Michigan,

Too often we cannot or refuse to empathize with people
whose experience is different from our own. If the oppression,
injustice, or pain is not happening in our house
and neighborhood or does not impact our race, gender, class,
or sexuality, then we dismiss it as unwelcomed, unjustified noise.

What Jesus says in response to the disciple’s plea,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,”
does not sound like the radically inclusive Jesus we embrace
today.

Then, this outsider woman does something that surely
must have rattled every religious and spiritual cage of
the day: she kneels before Jesus.
She entered Jesus’ presence with vulnerability and
humility to receive what she knew he could offer:
the sacred space to be loved, to be holy and
beloved.

When she knelt, she said, boldly and simply:
Lord, help me.

How different would our grasping and grabbing and
shouting for power and place be if we knelt instead
in a moment of vulnerability and surrender and
prayed, Lord, help me?

The risk is extraordinary, and for some, insurmountable.

Sometimes we’d rather hold on to a limited view of
who we are – who our neighbor is –
than imagine with God that we can
be immeasurably more.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

Jesus seems unfazed.

Even with the blood line of this
Canaanite woman running through his ancestral heritage,
he seems unmoved.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to
the dogs,” he says. To which she quickly answers, “Yes,
Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from
their masters’ table.”

How many of us have dogs who are beloved members
of our families?

From what I’ve read with regard to the differing cultural norms
between Gentiles and Jews, there were two very
different perspectives when it came to throwing
food to the dogs. And this extraordinary Canaanite
woman schools Jesus on the difference.

And, in so doing, she opens even Jesus’ eyes to
a more inclusive view of God’s kindom.

Jesus acknowledges this, and even honors it when
he says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done
for you as you wish.”

When we create space to be truly present with
each other, in such a way that we hear and honor
each other, we are modeling the beauty of
hospitality.

In his remarkable book Reaching Out: The Three
Movements of the Spiritual Life, Henri Nouwen
describes Christian hospitality as “the creation of
a free space where the stranger can enter our
lives and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer
them space where change can take place. It is
not to bring men and women over to our side,
but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing
lines.”

From the first whisper of God’s sacred breath
into Rev. Troy Perry’s life in 1968 when he struggled
to believe God was setting him apart for a sacred
journey to start a Christian church for all people,
to the whispering breath that inspired your
Sacred Journey to begin in this place,
you have been creating, growing and nourishing
a safe and brave space where the
stranger can enter, bring the authenticity and
giftedness of their Love, life and experience into a
community of faith willing to welcome, receive and learn –
all within the vision of God who is shaping
us into immeasurably more than we currently
know or even imagine.

In our MCC core values, we begin with inclusion and
the transforming power of Love:

Love, [we believe] is our greatest moral value and resisting
exclusion is a primary focus of our ministry.
We want to continue to be conduits of faith where
everyone is included in the family of God and
where all parts of our being are welcomed at God’s table.

To live into this possibility and promise is to harness the
energy of God’s creative power to transform us into
conduits of transformative faith toward all we meet
and welcome along the way.

To do so will require us to acknowledge when we are
scared, to be willing to identify and name behaviors
and actions that limit Love, and to believe that God
will shape our fears into something sacred.

Or, to put it another way, in the words of Frederick
Buechner,

“To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little
by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters,
even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for
the world’s sake –
even when the world bores and sickens
and scares you half to death –
that little by little we start to come alive.”

This coming alive sets the course for a most
remarkable and sacred journey.

No matter what people say, say or think about me, I am a child of God. No matter what people say, say or think about you, you are a child of God. No matter what the world says, says or thinks about me, I am a child of God. No matter what the church says, decisions, pronouncements on you, you are a child of God. And there is no thing or no one who can separate you from the truth that you’re someone, You are family, you are meant to be, a child of God! You are a child of God! – Mark Miller, Child of God

Amen.

A Prayer and a Poem

As a way of opening my heart while facing my deep despair leading up to and after last fall’s election cycle, I’ve been writing a daily prayer, and occasionally a poem.  Today, I offer up both forms in the hope that they might bring someone encouragement and hope in the face of whatever despair you may know.

A Prayer

When Joy Seems Elusive and Despair a Daily Companion, may darkness be a teacher and light a splinter of hope. Amen.

A Poem

Their singing is lively this

morning, the birds of the air —

bright, bold, virtuoso, harmonious —

their choir perched all around

creation’s full surround sound.

The Narrow Thread of Discernment

IMG_0779

While reflecting on a friend’s process of discernment regarding ordination in the Episcopal Church, I found myself transported to the front room of my Grammy’s old house, where more often than not, a quilt was spread on a rack with a bee underway.  While the bee stitched many a quilt, Grammy hand-stitched a few of her own, one of which I have the honor of tending.  It is this quilt, made of depression-era fabric, now worn with years, which inspired this reflection.

for Cara.

 

discernment is the narrow

thread woven into, holding

together, the furrows of

ancient fabric, pieced together

with long-dead hands, meant

to enfold generations to come.

whether origins told or

unspoken, these threads

silently hold the space —

tethering, mingling, tending

the soul’s telling.

 

though the fabric ages, and is

brittle from the air and oil of

handling, the thread is steady,

invisible and binding,

honoring the release while

clinging to the

creation.

Church of the Holy Greenway

you beckon, ever so patiently

for this restless soul, seeking a new

rhythm to these sabbath mornings

feeling a bit lost.

 

sitting in the rocker on the porch

isn’t enough sway, though the breeze

is cool and the magnolia alluring;

even reading the small heart of things:

being at home in a beckoning world 

with adventures in the Perska Lakes

at the convergence of Albania, Greece,

and the former Macedonia, doesn’t

soothe my wandering thoughts.

 

I walked yesterday, so today, I’ll bike.

 

each act of pedaling draws me near

your narthex, leading me beside

still waters, among green fields,

heart racing happy.

 

the gathered community passes by,

with an occasional “on the left”, or

“there you are again,” and even when

the chain pops off the drive, and I kneel

in prayer that I, even I, can fix it, there

is a knowing that I am not alone.

 

and, perhaps, this is the assurance I

needed most of all today: that in my

loneliest times, when the unknown

creeps in and awakens something new,

I can let my fear teach me the gift of

mystery; the quiet unfolding of the soul.

Walking on Water

Can we walk to the water by ourselves?
Their smiles display the freedom
They feel in asking; the liberation
Of being outside of us.

What do you think, Papa? asks Daddy.
I think it’s good. Decide which path
You’re taking and your destination so
We know where you’re headed.

Once you’re on the dock pay attention
To each other. JJ, what happens if you
Fall in the water? Ginny, what will you
Do? I’ll call for help then jump in to
Get him. This is why we want you to get
Swim lessons JJ.

A smile, acknowledgement.

I need to walk, so I’ll leave in a while
To come find you. Okay.

I walk down the quiet road, dusk
Settling in, unaware of their pace, or
Where they have walked, and reaching
The end of the road, straining to see
The end of the public dock I look for
Their bobbing heads.
Nothing. No one. A shiver races up
My spine. A worst fear. How quickly
My mind goes dark. Am I at the
Right pier? Is there another close by?
I go down a block thinking it there,
Then back toward the more familiar
Floating dock where JJ especially loves
To explore.

Walking, looking, the breeze so
Comforting swirling around me
I look up into the pink, orange hues
Of the forming sunset and see them
On the other side of the road walking
Toward me, without me, growing
In front of me.

I cross over, spotted, and when they
Arrive, thusly: Can you wait here
While we walk ahead, so it looks
Like we’re all by ourselves? Yes,
Ginny, sure.

They walk on. As I see them crossing
The street, hand in hand, I want to
Take a photo, to hold this moment,
To keep it, and them, right here.

Between their speed and my fingers
Fumbling for the phone,
I’m too late, and they are
Gone, the moment too. So
I pause and snap the succulent
Wildflowers.