Pentecost, the birthday of the church, is Sunday, May 31, 2020. At least part of what I wrote about Pentecost last year is even more true this year: The church isn’t a building; it never has been—it’s the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism… bringing light to dark places, mending and making, healing and helping, one conversation or small act of love at a time.
There are two terrific new picture books that help us to remember that even when we can’t go to church, we are the church. This is the Churchby Sarah Raymond Cunningham and illustrated by Ariel Landy shows the rich and wide variety of contexts in which God’s people come together to do God’s work in the world.We Gather at This Table by Anna V. Ostenso Moore, illustrated by Peter Kreuger, will help children make the connection between the altar and the table, the church and the neighborhood, and how each are holy.
My friend Juniper has some great ideas for celebrating Pentecost at home. If you decide to take their suggestion and celebrate the birthday of the church with cake, I posted a recipe last week that you probably have all the ingredients for already. Another idea from Juniper is to make a “tongues of flame hat” and adorably, my husband made one last year and models it on video.
I have a feeling that when we are together again in our beautiful, beloved places of worship, we’ll continue to imagine all kinds of new ways to be the church. Until then, take a deep breath. What we need is here.
I am not a relentlessly cheerful person, but I was born on a sunny day and that has generally helped my outlook. However, these are trying times for all of us, so what I can offer this week are 5 good things:
Beeswax candle kits are a swell way to bring color and light to your table. I got mine on Etsy.
Friends, here in New York City we are on Week 9, with no end in sight. On the other hand, the maple tree outside my kitchen window is now in full leaf, and I was able to order in two healthy houseplants, since we are on the second floor without garden access, which is a cheery thing.
Virtual visits have been life-giving. Every Saturday we have video chats with my mother, who lives across the country from us. We might have had video chats with her before quarantine, but now she’s actually home and has time for an hour-long call and no time to be self-conscious about the camera. We spend much of it laughing.
This week, we also had virtual dinner church, which was food for my soul. What is dinner church? Funny you should ask. My friend Emily’s book telling the story of her dinner church (and mine) comes out on Tuesday. It will feed you, too.
Another friend, Ana, shared reassuring words from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” with this promise from Indian novelist Arundhati Roy: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing” in this lovely song. In fact, you should get the whole album. It was Julian’s feast day last Friday, and my friend Bob wrote a reflection on her words that give me hope.
Green and growing things, connecting with family and friends, good words, and good music—that’s what I wish for you.
Next week, Emily M.D. Scott‘s book, For All Who Hunger will be out in the world, and I haven’t been more excited about a book birthday since my own. In it, Emily tells the story of founding and pastoring St. Lydia’s, a dinner church in Brooklyn. You need this book as much as you need fresh warm bread or a glass of wine or the company of a good friend right now.
The first time we went to St. Lydia’s, my son and I had already spent six hours in church–me, because I was the director of children, youth and family ministries, and my son Peter, almost 9, because he was a chorister, at a large and formal Episcopal church in midtown Manhattan.
By Sunday evening, I was tired, and so was my kid, but our friend Donald invited us, and so we went. From the moment we walked in the door, St. Lydia’s felt like home. The entire liturgy is set within the context of a meal, and those who gather for it make the dinner, set the tables, light the candles, sing the prayers. For the next five years, St. Lydia’s fed us when we were hungry, held us when we were sad, strengthened us when we faltered, emboldened us when we hesitated, brought us joy and laughter and so many good people. It was messy and beautiful and holy.
We didn’t need more church in our lives; we needed more people in our lives, people with whom we could sit and eat. You get to know people at a different level around the table, especially when they’re not people you yourself invited. This is how strangers become friends. I met my husband at dinner church.
Emily says that in the breaking of the bread something happens: we catch a glimpse of Jesus in the stranger next to us at the table. “In that moment, heaven and earth overlap and God builds a bridge between the world as it is and the world as it should be.” The meals we share, the conversations we have, give us what we need to strengthen that bridge, to confront our own prejudices, to fight injustice and inequality, to work for a greener, more peaceful neighborhood and planet.
I am so grateful to Emily, for the sacred stories she tells and the sacred spaces she creates, for helping me be a better bridge-builder, and for helping to build my family.
Emily Scott and I had a wonderful conversation about liturgy as formation at the Rooted in Jesus conference in January. You can watch it here.
Every night at 7 pm, New York City erupts into two full minutes of cheering, bell ringing, pot-banging clamor in support of all who are working on the front lines: health care professionals, delivery people, grocery store employees. It makes me teary just writing about it. Briefly, we are connected to our neighbors in a heartfelt expression of gratitude for those who are working to keep us healthy and safe.
Some of us, maybe most of us, are busy and tired right now, balancing work, our children’s remote learning, and household chores in ways we didn’t even imagine two months ago. Let me be clear: you do not need to do more. Really, truly, you don’t. I promise. You are, in fact, already doing good at home. You can stop reading right now. If, however, you find some time and energy, there are ways you and your kids can make a difference in the lives of others from your kitchen table.
Doing Good Together is a national non-profit founded in 2004 “on the belief that when parents engage with their children in community service, they pass along [to them] the spirit of giving and goodness, strengthen their families, and create a new generation of volunteers, philanthropists, and kind, caring adults.” As a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, they have all kinds of ideas and activities for families to reach out to others and to volunteer from a distance, to share from our abundance, and to advocate for justice.
We can only do so much. But as long as you’re still reading, science and experience show that helping others helps us. Strengthening bonds with family, friends and neighbors, renewing our sense of purpose, and looking to that which is bigger than ourselves actually can reduce anxiety and stress. It’s also how we join with God in helping bring about the realm of God, with one small act of kindness at a time.
Please read Catherine Newman’s exquisite post about the transformative power of these small acts. It’s the most true thing I’ve read in a long while.
Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling, in secure homes, in carefree resting places.
For your child, home is already holy, and you are the one who makes it so. You are modeling God’s love and care by making your child feel safe and secure, nurtured and supported. Everything else is just window dressing. The rhythms of the day, the year and the seasons of our lives are full of opportunities to find and create sacred moments, ways of making meaning and memories, and all of them can be simple.
Start tonight, with dinner. Can you all sit down together? What you’re eating isn’t important. Light candles. Hold hands around the table and let the youngest child choose when to squeeze. No cellphones, no television. Music might be nice, without lyrics.
I aspire to cloth napkins every night, but that adds to the laundry load. My father remembers that his grandfather insisted on cloth napkins for every meal. There were silver napkin rings for special occasions and wooden clothespins with people’s names on them, even guests, for everyday use, so the napkins could be reused. This led to my family collecting napkin rings. Whoever set the table on Friday could choose the napkin rings, and we had lots of fun choices: olive wood from Jerusalem, a hand-painted folk art set from Austria, enameled ones from India. If you don’t have any, your kids can twist pipe cleaners into circles. If they want to get fancy, cut a cardboard tube into pieces and let them wrap each ring in a different color ribbon, one for each member of the family.
Do you have a bit more time? Ask your kids to find an object with meaning to set on a small plate and use as a centerpiece. It could be a baseball, or a baby cup, or a postcard from Nana. Let them tell about why they chose it. You can be directive: bring something that makes you feel proud, something that reminds you of when you were tiny, or something that’s beautiful.
What will you talk about tonight? Conversation cards are fun. Make your own. Ask questions you’d like to respond to yourself, or ones you don’t know the answer to: What is your favorite memory? If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Describe your perfect day. Tell about an act of kindness you saw or heard about today. How would you spend $100 (or $100,000) on other people? Throw in a God question, maybe not right away: When do you feel closest to God?
Homes are as holy as churches. Some families have a table or a shelf that’s set apart as sacred space, with a cross, candles, a Bible, a prayer book, fresh flowers or a small green plant. Place photos of loved ones here, or prayers you’ve written or drawn on scraps of paper and tucked inside a small box or jar.
We live in a Brooklyn apartment: three full-sized human beings and a double bass in approximately 650 square feet. Instead of a home altar, we have a blessing bowl. You could make something like this yourself. Choose any bowl you really like, although a shallow one will display the items you choose to put in it well. Then, collect some small items to put in it. We use a small beautiful bowl painted gold on the inside that was a wedding present from Peter’s godparents. Here is what is in our bowl right now:
• a marble painted like the earth, for travel, for those we love who are far from us, for being mindful of world events
• a heart-shaped stone, for acts of love and generosity
• an acorn, for growth
• a shell, to remind us of our baptisms
• an angel token, for acts of caring and kindness
• a LEGO piece, for play, fun and creativity
• a silk rainbow ribbon for promises made and kept
• a pottery pebble that says “peace”, for when we find it or need it
• an olive wood cross, to notice where Jesus has been with us that day
These tiny treasures are meant to spark meaningful conversation, prayers, remembrances, and gratitude.
“We don’t remember days, we remember moments,” says the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. Parents know this best. The warmth and love we create in our families may not be something that feels consistently present, but it is what we hope our children carry with them and learn to create for themselves and others. These moments of sacred connection can sustain us for a lifetime.
It has been a very long Lent. Today, the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. Wake your household up in the morning with the ages-old acclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” They will soon learn the response: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Your earliest riser could do this for the family, given a bell to ring through the house. Before breakfast, light a candle and read from the Gospel according to John:
Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.
Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
John 20:1-18, Common English Bible
This is a quirky story we tell, the resurrection of our Lord. Resurrection means, “to cause to stand up.” Easter is an even greater mystery than Christmas. My understanding of the hows and whys is imperfect. What I do believe is that our God is a God of love, grace and mercy.
Easter isn’t a day, it’s a season, a full fifty days. How will you celebrate? You could raise butterflies, even in an apartment. My most personal experience of resurrection was the year we brought home a caterpillar from the children’s museum, when Peter was four. Our tiny friend ate food from a tub they provided, and we painted the inside of a shoebox to look garden-like. A stick wedged at an angle provided a place for the chrysalis to hang from, and sure enough, one day our friend began to change. Covered with clear cellophane, the shoebox sat on the baker’s rack in our kitchen. For weeks, nothing happened. I was sure we had a dud. I even stopped bringing Peter’s attention to it, but I hadn’t the heart to throw it out. And then one day, we came home to to what we thought might be a small earthquake. (We lived in Southern California; it wasn’t unlikely.) Peter quickly realized it was just the baker’s rack that was shaking. The chrysalis had finally burst and our butterfly was beating its wings against the cellophane! We ran outside and released it. You can well imagine our surprise and joy! It was Easter all over again.
If you are able, start a butterfly garden, growing what butterflies need to flourish. Today, though, make some butterflies to decorate your windows, so that everyone who walks by will see signs of new life.
We are Easter people, and it’s our work and our privilege to point out and create signs of new life. Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed.
Through Jesus, God’s love claimed victory over death, and opened for us the gate of new life forever. Lead us, risen Christ, into the mystery of Easter and fill us with your Holy Spirit so we can join you in building your kingdom of justice and love.
Holy Saturday is a time of waiting. Good Friday has come and gone, and Easter has not yet arrived. There is quiet, and sadness, and a sense of strangeness that suits the present moment. Today, Jesus is between earth and heaven. You can almost hear the earth breathe.
It would be good to go for a walk early. Find some stones to put in your pocket. You’ll need them later. Look for signs of spring. You will find them. Aslan is on the move.
In our Brooklyn neighborhood we can walk to Prospect Park and still keep the required distance from others, but that’s another reason to go early. We can walk to the corner near the hospital, too, and pray for all those within.
When you arrive home, fish the stones from your pocket, wash them, dry them, and stack them, one on another, with a prayer for each stone. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob ran away in fear and spent the night in the desert. He took a stone and put it under his head for a pillow, and dreamed of angels moving up and down a ladder. When he woke, he said, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He anointed the stone with oil and left it there as a reminder.
God was in that place.
The women who stood at the foot of the cross on Friday waited at home on Saturday, the Sabbath, in quiet and sadness and strangeness. Did they know God was in that place?
In Celtic spirituality, there is a term for places where heaven and earth touch, where the veil between them is so thin it becomes translucent. Minister and poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
‘Thin places’, the Celts call this space, Both seen and unseen, Where the door between the world And the next is cracked open for a moment And the light is not all on the other side. God shaped space. Holy.”
On this day, Thursday in Holy Week, we remember the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, which may or may not have been a Passover meal. Only John’s gospel, however, tells how, after dinner, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, guys who wore sandals on unpaved dirt roads all the time, whose feet must have been filthy. This was a servant’s work, and Jesus gave his friends a new commandment (“mandatum” in Latin):
Love one another as I have loved you.
For this reason we churchy people do a strange thing: we wash one another’s feet. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and I know lots of people who get pedicures first. It’s humbling and touching, too.
This year, we won’t be doing this in our churches, but it’s simple enough to do at home.
A Maundy Thursday Foot-Washing Service for Households
Ideally, this service takes place after the evening meal, and bed or quiet activity follows. If there are enough readers, please divide the parts into three as indicated. Have a basin of warm water and clean towels ready. Light a candle before you begin.
Reader: On the first Day of Passover, Jesus’s disciples said to him,
Peter: Where do you want us to go and get ready for the Passover meal?
Reader: So, Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying to them,
Jesus: When you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house he enters, and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks, “Do you have a guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. It is there you are to prepare.
Reader: As it grew dark, Jesus arrived with the twelve. During supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Peter, who said to him,
Peter: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Jesus: You don’t understand what I am doing now, but you will understand later.
Reader: After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and returned to the table, Jesus said to them,
Jesus: Do you know what I have done to you? You call me “Teacher” and Lord, and you are right, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you, too, must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.
The washing of feet takes place now. An adult could first wash the feet of a child. Together, you might sing or listen to the Taizé chant, Ubi Caritas.
Jesus: I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
Prayers and thanksgivings may be offered now, for ourselves and others. Conclude with the following prayer:
Reader: Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and in the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen. (from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 139)