Pastor Audrey Ward
Pastor Audrey Ward
Epiphany: a sudden and profound understanding
When I was talking about epiphany with some of the children in our parish yesterday, I imagined that moment in the life of a cartoon character when a light bulb comes on over his head. Later, I realized that these children do not read the funny papers or comic books. Light bulb? Huh? Everything’s fast and furious in their world, shown for them on whatever magical device to which they’re currently connected.
Fortunately I also recognize these particular children are from households that value books, good reading and classical literature. And so right here, I’d like to put in an ad for reading that ancient classic, the Bible. Don’t groan. I realize that pastors are supposed to say such things but those who know me also know that I have not pushed this, but looked for ways to enhance the values we hold as a community. Sometimes that way is with biblical stories.
Here’s my epiphany: stories with deep roots nourish our children’s imaginations and fire up their faith. I’m struck by how many times the symbols I’ve accrued through biblical tales have appeared to me during a tough passage: the fire into which the Hebrew children were said to have been thrown; the lion’s den where Daniel found himself; Ruth, the audacious daughter-in-law; Hannah’s desperate prayer; little David, up against Goliath. How about the whale that swallowed Jonah when he refused to take the right direction? Allowing the madness of biblical heroes and adversaries to challenge my understanding of the world has been a lifelong gift.
Perhaps our hesitancy in reading Bible stories to our children is that religion has used these tales as propaganda. Attempting to pound home some “truth” deemed so by whatever doctrine is being pressed, robs the stories of their art. It makes them small and flimsy rather than robust with a child’s own imagination.
When asked, “Did this happen, really?” I like to respond, “I don’t know, but it keeps happening for me.” A good entry for speaking of symbol, metaphor and myth. Then I also have an opportunity to talk about oral tradition, of stories held within cultures and not written down for hundreds of years.
Please don’t forget the Egyptian poet in Ecclesiastes, the sensuality of Solomon’s Songs or the sentiments from soothing comfort to a release of rage in Psalms and lists of wise sayings of Proverbs. What we have throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament as well, are chapters written by rugged individualists and included in the canon through a great deal of political chicanery. This book is fierce and unruly.
For me, the Bible symbolizes an unpredictable wildfire--like love--tumbling down through the ages from oral tradition into text, from hearts into minds and hands then back again. I’m thankful that I climbed through the fundamentalist teachings about those stories and allowed them to be larger than facts; let them be works of art.
Sure, we’re flooded with color, action and the arresting sound effects of quick images in programs and games today. But how does one build confidence, empathy and a steadfast spirit? So far I haven’t seen evidence that popular media can instill a better way of life in heart and soul.
Our children—including the child embedded in each of us—need deep roots. Wonderful as family is, sometimes that just isn’t enough. In the next few months, starting with this week’s update, I will be posting all of the scriptures in the Sunday lectionary. Read them all if you dare.
See you in church,
As ever, with love
Pastor Audrey Ward
Don't you just love it when the truth pops out of your own surprised mouth? I wonder if that's like the blues singer - Keb Mo - promises, that it's "jus God tryin ta git your attention."
Anna Quindlan writes a moment like this into her latest memoir, "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake." After her country house was barely missed by a tornado, her college-aged daughter called to say she had been frantic regarding her mother's safety, worried her mother would die young. And Anna quickly responded, "Oh honey, I'm too old to die young, now!"
Aha. There it is. And what an interesting marker for our years: too old to die young. Which means, of course, still here, alive in the world for whatever will come.
May Sarton, the poet, speaks of "the inexhaustible flame" that kept her mother alive until she died. Going on, in the poem "August Third" (Printed in full below) to say, "if you taught me one thing, it was never to fail life." And I pass this on to all of us as our calling, every day.
See you in church,
Lifting myself up
Like a heavy weight,
Old camel getting to her knees,
I think of my mother
And the inexhaustible flame
That kept her alive
Until she died.
She knew all about fatigue
And how one pushes it aside
For staking up the lilies
Early in the morning,
The way one pushes it aside
For a friend in need,
For a hungry cat.
Mother, be with me.
Today on your birthday
I am older than you were
When you died
Thirty-five years ago.
Thinking of you
The old camel gets to her knees,
Moves forward slowly
Into the new day.
If you taught me one thing
It was never to fail life.
Here is prose poem about joy and plenty from Mary Oliver in her most recent book “Swan,” seems like one Virginia might write. It’s the one she expresses through her 90 + years of life all the time.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.