I have been watching this stand of daffodils for the past few weeks, watching them emerge from the ground, watching the yellow petals form underneath the protective membrane that keeps them from freezing. This stand blooms early every spring we have been here, but this time, they might just wait until spring actually gets here. Perhaps they are waiting for the bitter cold we have had to seep away so that they can take the March winds dancing.
The anniversary of my Grandmother’s death is coming up this Monday. Daffodils were her favorite flower, and when she died the ground around her home was covered in these gaily dancing yellow flowers who lie in wait in their bulbs over the winter, daring to emerge before other flowers are even dreaming about the sun. It is bittersweet to me that from now on, every early spring, when the daffodils come out to dance, I will be reminded of her, as well as of her death. But we need reminders of those we love, those who are alive and especially those who have gone on to join the church triumphant ahead of us.
These flowers display hope for me. They know full well that they are standing in the midst of snow. They know full well that the weather has been deeply below freezing for days on end. But they know full well that Spring is coming, that they will be the first to triumphantly declare the return of warmer days and shorter nights.
I envy them. They wear yellow much better than I do. God has dressed them in radiant silks and glorious shimmering greens. I envy them, but more, I consider them sisters. We are both pregnant with the promise of new life. Hope is seated deep inside of me, waiting for a new season to emerge, to enter the world, not at the violent riot of color that is Spring, but the full breadth of joy that ushers in the Summer months. This hope is taking longer to form, to develop, to be knit together; but as I wait, I am blessed in preparing for this hope that I have carried for seasons, and hope to watch grow and mature over the seasons and years to come.
My husband and I are preparing to usher a new life into the world in about five months. Baby Bryant is coming. We are getting ready to expand our family and share a whole host of new things with this new little person on the way. Among the host of preparations, considerations, alterations, decisions, and worries associated with becoming parents, I want to make sure that we pass on traditions that we cherish from our own families.
One of the traditions of my family is going to really interesting places. This may be as part of a really long trip on a vacation, or as simple as making a set of memories as we go away for a weekend or as short a trip as a picnic. I remember specific picnics that we took while I was a child on Sunday afternoons, the meal already prepared before church, then carried out to the edge of a lake at a bench on the side of a hill at Callaway Gardens. I remember going on a camping trip to Amelia Island so we could watch the full Lunar eclipse. I remember trips to the High and the Cummer Museums to go look at poignant paintings and sculptures four feet across made of ribbons and feathers dipped in wax.
But there were longer trips that I cherish as well. We loved going to Colonial Williamsburg, more than our trip to Disney. There was more to do, more to see, more to learn, and really, there were not as many people there, which made it all the more better. We were delving into history, learning the steps of the old dances and the stories of the people who created our nation. We traveled to California to learn about the westward expansion of the nation, and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Big Sur to see the waves, in the forest to walk among the Redwoods, and at Monterrey to watch the seals flop around. We traveled down the Florida coast to the Keys, and went sixty miles west of Key West, to the Dry Tortugas. We camped on the beach (again) and listened to the waves (and the cars on the highway) lull us to sleep.
I want to be able to share these kinds of memories with my child. I want to learn what different things my husband loved to do, what we want to create for our own family, what memories we have to share with this new thing, this new family we are creating. We are creating a family, and a family is held together by its common story, by the narrative that we weave together. We will take our different parts, the memories of each of our families, and create something new together.
One of the fascinating details from my experience in Kenya was the prevalence of members of the Islamic community in the area in which I lived. There were so many Muslims living in the town where I lived that there were four Mosques in our area. Even though the home where I stayed was a mile from the nearest one, I heard the call to prayer with regularity. I loved to hear the reminder for the people of the community to stop what they were doing and pray. I didn’t get to catch it all five times of the day, only when the wind was right. If I was really lucky, I would be walking on my route to town, which took me directly next to one of the mosques at the outskirts of the city. They had a school there as well, I know because I would see children coming with backpacks out of the meeting area at the end of the day. They, like all the children in the area, played pick-up games of football (global football, mind you, the round ball kind) with their makeshift balls formed from discarded paper, plastic, and twine.
When I left Kenya, I missed hearing the call to prayer on a regular basis. Even though it wasn’t my tradition, I knew that it was reminding people from another tradition to pause and pray, and so I also would pause, and pray. In the Christian tradition, we don’t have much of that. The only times I tend to hear sounds emanating from a church is when I probably need to be in church, because it is the bells of the beginning of worship. There are a handful of churches with bells that ring the hour, and sometimes a song here and there, but nothing like the intense regularity that comes from a Mosque.
When I went to school at Duke I learned that the bells were played by a carillonneur who began at five o’clock each evening. Perfect timing for a pause after a long day in class. A few friends and I would make at point of going out to listen to the two or three songs that he would play. It was a space to pause and reflect on the holy. And even if I was not able to pause and listen, I still got to hear the bells as I walked away, though the sound didn’t carry as far as I would like.
This week Duke University announced that they would sound out a call to prayer for the portion of Islamic students at the school once a week. The students had already had a worship time each Friday, which was in full practice while I was still there. This single call a week would be a reminder for the students to come to that prayer service, to remember to pray in their tradition.
Unfortunately, the call to prayer broadcast has been cancelled. I don’t know all the reasons why. People spoke out about the proposed broadcast of the call to prayer for reasons of ignorance and fear, saying that the sounding of the call to prayer would crowd out the lifeblood of the Christian symbols present in the University. They must have never stepped foot on the grounds of the University, or seen any symbols from Duke, because the presence of the cross is everywhere on campus. Christianity is not in danger because another group from another faith is saying “God is Great” in their mother tongue.
The Islamic community of faith will continue to gather for their worship and prayer. The Christian community on campus will continue to have its nearly dozen opportunities for worship around campus and in the Chapel. The university is a space for inter-religious conversation and community, where students, faculty, and staff learn from each other, challenged and strengthened in their growth in faith.
If anything, the Islamic Call to Prayer should be a reminder for Christians to also be called to prayer, to our God, who is Great. My faith is not so shallow that someone else worshipping in another tradition does not negate my own worship of the God I serve. I hope your own faith may be strong enough to celebrate the faith of others.
Folks from the school have put together a petition to support religious diversity on campus. I invite you to go read it for more information, even if you don’t sign it.
The busyness of Christmas is over. The season of Advent has come and gone, and the new year has begun. Some cultures have yet to celebrate Christmas, they will be gathering together for Three Kings Day, Epiphany, on January 6th. But for most of the people I know, we are winding down on the holiday season, getting ready to pack up the decorations, returning to the regular routine of work and play. For pastors, we are already looking forward to Lent (or at least know that we should be… even if we are adamantly denying it’s coming).
So with all this closure you would think that the waiting was over. We are in a holding pattern, not yet making plans for anything of much import.
For me, the waiting has just begun. I’m now three months pregnant. Which means that for the next six months, I have quite a bit of waiting to do. I am waiting to see what sex our child will be, I am waiting to see his or her face on the ultrasound screen, I am waiting to see whether the baby sticks with the due date, or has us guessing. I am waiting to meet this baby.
This waiting will have preparations and signals: registry lists, appointments and check-ups, showers, thank you notes, new clothes, and the physical reminder of a coming change through a changing body. As my body changes, I will change routines, expectations, and my bedtime, so that I will have enough energy for work, for relationships, and for my body to do its miraculous knitting together of a new life.
This is not the only change happening in our family, my husband is hoping to be ordained this year, and we are looking to celebrating that as well. But I get the feeling that the new baby coming will quickly turn our attention to a new life.
Many times of waiting do not have a tangible marker of the change to come. However, growing a new life creates a myriad of changes in the mother’s body, and changes the relationship of those who are preparing to raise a child. I already do not fit in to most of my pants from before I was pregnant. I will have to go buy a few new things even before I start to really look pregnant.
As I sit in the midst of this waiting, I anticipate that not everything will go the way that I plan. I don’t know what different things I will need to be ready for, but I look forward to finding out what they are, and how I figure out how to handle them. I am looking forward to this new season in my life, but God only knows what it will look like once it arrives.
This is my sermon from this past Sunday. I enjoyed sharing with my congregation both the Gospel and the good news.
Sermon Text: Luke 1:26-55
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Luke 1:46-47
Mary exclaims the words of the Magnificat and celebrates her own blessings but she does not stop there; she also is given a prophetic voice and speaks of the radical changes in God’s Kingdom: of the hungry being fed, the humble being exalted, the arrogant and rich scattered, and rulers being brought down from their thrones.
Her pregnancy as a young, unmarried woman could easily have been a place of shame and despair but instead, she realizes that she is bearing a child who is holy. She is a young woman in First Century Israel, but she is well versed in the teachings of her Jewish religion. She knows the story of the prophets, and the promise of return from exile and delivery from oppression.
See, when Mary showed up on Elizabeth’s threshold, it wasn’t like she had sent a letter about the angel Gabriel appearing to her. Elizabeth had no reason to suspect that Mary was pregnant at all, let alone with the Messiah.
For six months Elizabeth had suffered as an old woman from pregnancy sickness and nausea, felt her belly grow and her feet swell, but, a few months into her pregnancy, she hadn’t felt the baby move. I wonder if she was fearing a stillbirth. She couldn’t go get an ultrasound, she didn’t have any other proof that the baby inside was healthy and so had been hoping against hope that this child she was bearing would be born healthy and whole.
When Mary called out to Elizabeth, John leaped inside her womb. Finally, her baby had quickened and was there, present and healthy. Elizabeth knew that something special was going on with Mary as well. There was something new and different with her little cousin.
Indeed, Mary was pregnant, and I would have loved to hear that conversation between the two of them, Elizabeth telling how Zechariah came home unable to speak, but he still wrote to Elizabeth an account of what had happened to him. That this child she would bear was to be named John, and that he would be a prophet, set aside for holy work, and prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.
And then there was the story Mary had to tell, about the angel Gabriel appearing to her, and how she indeed was to bear a child named Jesus, and that he would be the Son of the Most High, the Son of God.
These are both two very big stories, and as we witness them, hear the promise re-told, we are invited to participate in the stories ourselves.
See, we may not be bearing any Sons of God anytime soon, but we do bear the image and likeness of Christ. We are called to bear the image of God’s Son in the world, to share the Living Word with the people around us, to deliver the message of salvation, hope, peace, and the coming of the Kingdom of God with those around us.
And y’all, I have a sign of hope I would like to share with you.
We’ve been waiting, we’ve been praying, and finally John and I are going to have a baby. We are expecting our first child in July. We are ecstatic. and our family is thrilled as well.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.
Now, I’m not bearing the baby Jesus in my womb, but I have been tasked with the privilege of bearing another life into the world.
In a way, this is what we are all called to do. We are called to bear the life of Jesus into the world. We bear the Word of God within us, and we are called to deliver it to the world.
May our hearts be filled with joy in the same way that both Elizabeth and Mary’s were. And may we be led to share this glorious news with everyone around us, in the same way that new parents cannot wait to tell the world that they are having a child.