We were having lunch at Princi Italia in Midtown on Tuesday.
The waitress refilled my water glass and overheard me say to Benno,
“the little square cards we have that say: ‘bring your dog to church’”. She turned to walk off with her water pitcher, then turned back to offer enthusiastically, “If I could bring my dog to church, I’d go to church!”
Naturally, I dove in with directions to Highpoint and a hearty invitation. And then we talked a bunch about dogs. I risked suggesting to her what I suggested to y’all on Pentecost, about how dogs are a part of creation that make us know what the Holy Spirit is like.
We tend to think we’re in the dark about the Holy Spirit.
~Jesus? Yes. We know him. Something like friend or fellow.
~God? Yes. The Grandfatherly creator type. Maybe with some lightning bolts thrown in.
~the Holy Spirit? Not so much. Strangely other.
Except for this living with dog-love, because
they make us know about this Holy Spirit thing. . .
they make us know. . .
that we are loved unconditionally.
And like the Holy Spirit they incarnate joy. (yes – Joy is a fruit of the Spirit)
Sometimes they make a mess of things.
And sometimes they chew.
They invite you to play with a universal sign that even cats understand (read proverbs 8 if you wanna see about the Holy Spirit at play!)
They walk in devotion, watch with intent, companion us in all things no matter what the things.
They do not abandon.
Like the Holy Spirit they are wild creatures, wholly different from us, and yet, we learn a shared language and develop a mutual trust.
They want our attention and live for our affection. They follow us around.
They snug up as close to us as we will allow.
They are intuitively sensitive to our emotional terrain. And. . . well, you get the idea. . . I digress!
I did not say all of that to the waitress!
Suffice it to say, that sacramentally speaking, dogs are an “Outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual truth”.
But at the mention of our dog-life as a way to understand the Holy Spirit, her eyes got big and she was all over it! Knowingly. More stories rolled out.
One of her Holy Spirit stories was about how her dog is her intuitive radar about another person’s character and trustworthiness, because of how her dog may or may not warm up to them, or look askance, or growl, or wag.
And how that makes her feel protected.
I sometimes like thinking of Holy Spirit as guardian, so I knew what she meant.
I love stories.
I love dog stories too, and I’m thinking about sitting at a table down by the sidewalk in front of the church on High Point Road with a shingle that says:
“Tell me a story about your dog”.
Jake came to our yard sale in April. I was passing out dog biscuits and inviting people to bring their dogs to church, when I was invited to the car hatch to meet Jake, and we had prayers for healing in the parking lot. Jake lost a leg in November to cancer surgery, but as you can see, he's all about the God-love and the unconditional status of being worthy of love and belonging.
I continue prayers for Jake. Blessing him as he blessed me!
Two weeks ago we blessed our trails, outside, with water and asperges and prayers, conversation and reflections, and dogs in tow (as it was our ‘every-second-Sunday-pet-friendly-Sunday’).
Some among us met us at strategic points along the way so that they could have access by way of the pavement.
Some among us went along on the pilgrimage by way of a hand-held labyrinth.
The labyrinth holds the truth that every journey outward is really a journey inward. And that every pilgrimage is made for the sacred truth that God is with us in every step, and that we embark on any and every pilgrimage for the deep and singular purpose, of going with God.
Beth Ellis is one among us who used the hand-held labyrinth (and we celebrate her recent trade-in of a therapeutic boot for ‘real’ shoes!). She shared with me that she had a surprisingly profound experience with this paper labyrinth. I asked if she would be willing to share the same with you.
She said yes, so here, in my parson’s letter, I have included her reflection.
Thank you ever so much Beth.
“It was a line on paper to wile away the time as Catherine Giel filled the sanctuary with musical fragrance.
Follow within the line was all you had to do to arrive at the center, the heart.
As the pen made it's way around curve after curve, my mind stopped controlling and I just focused on the path.
I wasn't expecting anything except passage of time, when, rounding a curve with my point, I had this thought: 'follow where You lead'.
Again, another bend or two and this came into my mind: 'honor things brought into my life'.
What was this?
What or where were these thoughts coming from?
When the very next thought relayed was: 'it's Your majesty'.
The next thought that came to me on the path was: ‘long periods of introspection yet nearness in fellowship with You'.
I continued following the course around another bend and then to another.
Once again I received the understanding that: 'this is a journey and a process'
And: 'I want to see Jesus in all of this and after life'.
Continuing on to the center I understood: 'continue to follow the path until I walk into the Holy Light of peace and joy'.
Amen! to this hand-held labyrinth walk.
I received some joyful words from Roy Wright on Christmas morning that served as a balm for my soul after a wild and woolly Christmas Eve.
It was his description of our Christmas Eve Service laced with endearing humor and the sense of God’s presence in it with us, embracing our human frailties.
I thought you would enjoy reflecting on the Christmas Eve Service with his lightheartedness, which creates quite a pleasant soulful vignette! For those of you who missed this Christmas Eve with us, let this fuel your imagination as you will! For those who were also there, may we lift a ‘cheers’ to deciding how it is we choose to tell our stories.
Roy’s letter lightened my spirit and as I read and reread it, I am finding that it keeps Christmas for me. Fortunately, Christmas lasts for 12 days! (and is not all spent in one quizzical night)
So here’s this, from Roy:
“Good Morning, Ruth......
What a wonderful Christmas Eve service at Highpoint!
Thank you and all the members for the team effort to make the service a success.
Yes, as I pondered the service afterwards it seemed like parts of it were from a scene from a Fellini movie - pianist has flat tire, arrives late wearing a Christmas cap, sort of stumbles through the hymns, but is probably a wonderful improvisational jazz pianist, John with his wonderful baritone voice pitching in to help move along a hymn, Mike’s occasional vocals and the lady, who was a guest, had her small dog regaled in his special Christmas outfit. It was all good and God was in the midst of it all accepting and forgiving our human frailties.”
Roy’s greeting, that “The New Year for Highpoint will be a good year!”,
is mine as well, to you.
In Merriment and Love,
This is the trail map of our beautiful wooded acreage. Approximately. Drawn by yours truly. I made it in hopes that we would use it for the trail blessing on Sunday. The weather forecast is foreboding, but we will see. In the meantime, isn't it fun to see a birds-eye view of our 'Walking in Love'?!
Worker bees arrived early last Sunday morning to brew a hot pot in our new coffee urn and to set up the labyrinth in the parish hall, so that we could all start our Advent journey of love 'on the right foot’. I was comforted to see Duffy out sweeping the front porte-cache when I drove up, thinking something like “Oh look, everything’s ready to go with a little extra time for a finishing touch, sweeping the walk. How lovely. He looks like a little shop-keeper in Greece.”
Much to my surprise (and dismay, with a huge douse of shock), the parish hall had been set up on Saturday for a formal dinner: wineglasses on tables, silverware wrapped in napkins next to china plates, gold lame’ table runners atop floor length white table clothes, and white slipcovers for chairs throughout.. you get the picture. . .
I wish I had recorded the bunch of us scurrying about lifting tables and chairs, in all their array, whisking them to the perimeter of the room to set up the 35’ diameter labyrinth in the middle, only to roll it all up and crate it before the 1:00 dinner party arrived, then zipping around to restore the formal dining room arrangements, everything in place!
I felt like we were church mice playing tricks!
So utterly comical in HINDSIGHT.
Now this week, the worship and music team planned that we would continue our Advent Journey of Love on foot, and go outside for a blessing of the trails (on pet Sunday, get it? A dog walk too?), and we would walk through the woods with meditations and prayers and holy water to splash. . . and as it turns out, it promises to be 39’ and raining. If only it would snow instead.
Just as an added bonus to things going berserk. . . it seems that Seagraves plumbing is going to have to dig up our front lawn to find the roots or crushed pipe or whatever dinosaur bones might be had, that are backing up the commodes.
(notice: please use the bathrooms in the back hall on Sunday!)
Someone mentioned that it might be the Mercury Retrograde causing all of this. . .
Ultimately, it’s just the true nature of the Journey of Love.
Calendar conflicts, faulty communication, elbow grease, cross purposes, tons of heave hoeing, generous attitudes, humor, camaraderie, creative problem solving, emergency problem solving, errand running, expertise in plumbing, . . .need I say more?
The true nature of the journey of love is that we love our way through it all. Through every step of it. It’s love in the trenches, the rubber meeting the road, the in-situ opportunity to live the love.
We said “yes” to the journey with Mary last week. When she, alone at the well in Nazareth, engaged the Angel Gabriel and said “yes” to the love and the overwhelming fire of the Holy Spirit, with a certain unknowing about where it would take her.
So, we said yes, too, and look where we are in our certain unknowing, but journeying and loving, nonetheless.
Mary ropes us into another risky step of the Journey of Love this week. She visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant in her old age, and tells her story. She sings it, as a matter of fact, and we call it: Magnificat. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . .
So, we will go too, into the vulnerable place of loving and being loved, and not being alone at a well, but in community where our yeses ~ together ~ magnify the greatness and glory and joy of Love come down.
This is the essence of faith community. It is this journey in and with community that moves us out of loneliness and into relationship. Out of our despair, into hope; fear into joy; darkness into light. As Isaiah would have it, it is a journey that delivers “A Garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning”.
This Advent Journey of Love, is Isaiah 61 in promise, it is Highpoint Episcopal Community Church, in practice.
In it with you, for the Journey of Love,
It came home to me in a profound sense on St. Francis’ Day, that people love, love, love their dogs.
They’re proud, they tell stories about them, they’re devoted and indebted, they’re companioned and by living a life with them, they walk in love.
They love. We love. We simply love.
I had a funny thought about one of the Offertory Sentences the other day. Not ‘funny’, like ‘haha’, but funny as in a joyful little thought that made me chuckle. The Offertory Sentence I’m thinking of is the one I use most often.
Most clergy use it most often. You know it, it goes like this:
“Walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”
As I sat in my studio visiting with a parishioner, I could see out the window toward the woods in the front of the parish house. In the matter of a little over an hour,
I saw no less than 5 people walk through, at least 3 dogs and 2 strollers.
It tickled me to suddenly think, “Well there ya have it! That’s it! right in front of me: People ~ walking in love.”
. . . out there with dogs and babies, walking.
That’s what it means, that’s what it looks like, that’s how we do it.
We tend. We treat. We set aside our own comfort.
We take care. We delight. We put up with shenanigans.
We companion. We feed. We play.
We walk. . . in love.
And then I thought, with the view outside my studio window, that’s why the pet blessing was so much fun, that’s why everybody left happy and joyous because we had all been immersed in love!
We filled the room with it. We drank a deep draught.
We feasted on it! On love!
Sure, the animals are cute and everything, but it’s the love that’s so compelling.
So life changing.
Love keeps us alive!
The worship and music team and the outreach and community life team have been conspiring together ~ and roped in the building and grounds team, to plan another pet friendly Sunday.
This time, taking it a little bit further and planning a pet and people social after church.
Outside, with biscuits for both.
Dog biscuits and British biscuits, too.
Dog play and Coffee and Scones!
And so we will begin this adventure, this experiment in love, on November 18th!
Just 3 weeks time!
So we’ve got to pick up on the big efforts
Roger Loney has already begun and do some grounds work of our own, right along with him.
One of the “takeaways” from our study group for church growth (which was a word of advice given to Roy Wright by the national church representative for church growth) was about love.
When Roy asked, “Are there some immediate things we need to do right away?”, he answered, “Yes. Fall in love with your neighborhood.”
Talk about walking in love!
He recommended that we fall right in it!
We don’t have much money, but we have resources: beautiful wooded acreage (especially now that God gave it back to us, and we’re not trying to sell it).
Gently rolling hills, a splendid community garden, and spectacular sky-scraping trees.
A peaceful landscape in the middle of a cityscape (even 400 begins to sound like a stream worthy of the pacific northwest if you close your eyes and imagine it).
The Offertory Sentences are on p. 376 in the BCP. There is a list of sentences (all from scripture) with which the priest transitions the congregation from the ministry of the word to the ministry of the table, at which point we all make our ‘offering’; we bring ourselves, our souls and bodies, our God-given gifts.
So I’m thinking, what a beautiful theology of stewardship, to Offer our God given gifts our natural resources, to create a habitat of love.
To make our offering, of all that we have, to God, for the love of the world, an oasis of kindness,
And to walk in love, by the doing of it, to be in it, ourselves, to be in, the love.
We don’t have much money, but we have resources and a lot of love. And we can use our resources to fall in love with our neighborhood, by making this offering. We are already oriented toward neighborhood, always have been! That’s who we are ~ just like we will open our doors this afternoon for the Civic Association’s Fall Festival.
But honestly, I’m craving the big love.
The walking in love.
The falling in love. Maybe it’s a little selfish to think that if we open our space, our parish house and home and backyard too; open our land in a big way, to the people who walk in love, because then we will be continually immersed in it!
Surrounded by love.
Out around the whole circumference of our property, just burning with love.
Out from the nave and onto the wooded hilltop, one fork leading to the community garden, the other to the sidewalk trellis that marks the trail head,
and leads through the wooded trail from west to east, across the grass land over the pipeline, around the dumpster and the pig roast flat lands, up and into the fenced woods,
and through the half hitch gate into the memorial garden.
All of it like a wrap, a mantle of love, us, garmented in love.
All of the neighborhood and people in condominiums and apartments, coming out for a breath of fresh air and green space, and to find love and human community, and
Walking in love all over our property, and surrounding us in love, because that’s what they do:
They walk, in love.
They walk their dogs, for love
They stroll their babies, for love,
They hike around with companions and partners, for love.
They walk. . .
I want the big love.
Love is a good thing, so I’m absolving myself of the selfish want of it.
“God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.” (I John 4)
Think of it, even the vagabonds with spray paint will be blessed by it. And maybe they too, will fall in love.
18 months ago, I said to you in a playful sermon:
“I see that you have clear glass windows”, and I shared things that I deduced about you because of the clear glass.
Rather than stained glass that removes us from the world and cloisters and protects us,
I was wondering and guessing, because I didn’t know you well.
I surmised that you were free thinking and not cloistered.
Not afraid to look.
Not afraid to look out onto the world
to embrace the world,
to stay connected to the world
because you are brave and full of love.
And that to be connected to the Creation was intrinsic to your spirituality.
During worship you gaze with holy sight and contemplation on bare branches in winter,
Rain, wind, lightening and dark cloud,
Or bird life on the window ledge on the cross beam of the cross.
Your clear glass windows suggested to me, that you are always ready.
Expectant to find God, through all matter, every bit of creation,and in the human form and all of humanity.
18 months ago, I said that you are outward facing and that I would have to think a congregation with clear glass windows is a congregation with vision and courage.
Because as they look out on the beauty of the world, they also see its brokenness.
And know themselves to be called out, into that brokenness with love.
That’s what I said 18 months ago, just as an outside chance, a guess.
I think those things are more true, than ever.
At the essence and heart of who you are:you want to see
The younger you, an earlier generation of yourself, said these things about you by designing this place with clear glass windows, which are actually doors that open the nave in six places!
The younger you wanted to see.
I hear in today’s gospel, Jesus asking you if it is still true for you now, in this day. The gospel today is the healing of a blind man.
Jesus asked him, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ He said
‘Teacher, Let me see again.’
I think we’re on the brink of something. And that Jesus is saying to us, what he said to him:
“Go. Your faith has made you well.”
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.