Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd
Friday, October 20, 2017

reflections from past seasons ......

On the 4th Sunday of Lent, the children, like the adults, heard the story of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, and we thanked God for our sight.
These two, informal poems reveal the quite extraordinary ways that the children understand the blessings of sight—our eyesight, that is, and all the things they are grateful to have seen...and the insight that God gives us into our lives.


I have seen a rainbow
I have seen flowers
I have seen people
I have seen trees
I have seen plants
I have seen rainbows in puddles
                        -Ela Somers
I have seen piggies.
They’re really fat.
I like to look at them.
Sometimes in the light you can see Jesus.
You see the light, and you think that Jesus is right there, in the sun.
                        -Sarah Somers

Good Shepherd Sunday School, 18 November, 2007

Jonathan and I went onto the back porch to gather wood for the fireplace. Our conversation moved quickly: from how wood is cut, to why we use dead, not green, ones for the fire, to what trees do for the environment. When I said that trees provide oxygen to help us breathe, Jonathan himself breathed deeply, looked around at the oak and Japanese maples and asked: “How?”
I told him that I’d explain later, making a note to work up a photosynthesis/creation lesson, maybe one to use in preparation for the coming Easter vigil, either with banners or a roll-out banner, maybe, where I’d have the children draw the equivalent of the photosynthesis formula that I remembered from my brief stint as a bio major:
6 molecules of water plus 6 molecules of carbon dioxide produce 1 molecule of sugar plus 6 molecules of oxygen
In this way, the children and I keep one long conversation going.  I try to listen to them, their interests and delights, because they will show me the way into the mystery of God—as they experience it.
And because I’m an organizing adult, I’m always trying to bundle their interests into our liturgical calendar and schedule of events. So, creation and science, will likely work together this Easter.
Then, Ishmael and Isaac came to the door. And that was our group for the day. Everyone got to put a small log onto the fire. Isaac commented on how the smoke was bad for the environment, and we talked about environment again, and using God’s creation wisely. Satisfied with our stewardship, Isaac said that he wished we could roast marshmallows. 
Then, we thanked God for the many blessings of this life, as we always do to begin our circle for the day, and marshmallows went on first. I wasn’t sure how to spell the word. Ishmael was: m-a-l-l-o-w, not e.   He told me he was a good speller.
It’s like holy jazz and improv, Sunday School is, and each week, I prepare two lessons, then see who comes, and wait for the spirit’s direction. Like when we read about Abraham and Isaac, and because the day was so glorious, I took the children outside to walk on the green and remember—that’s what it felt like, as if they, young as they were, and I, all these thousands of years later, were remembering Abraham’s altar building: just that, without the Isaac story yet. Like Abraham, children sense God everywhere, in everything. I wanted them to feel their delight and awe of God’s sunshine, and learn from the ancient Hebrews to mark the land with reverence. 
During that lesson, Isaac, 10, and Jake, 9, and Jonathan, again, crawled over the green collecting pine cones at first. They gravitated to the columbarium, as if objects collected there were better for the purpose. 
“Rocks,” Jonathan said. “We need rocks for the altar,” as if he’d been reading the commentaries.
I thought of Jewish cemeteries, where mourners leave a small stone to note their visit. I fetched the brightly colored rocks I’d bought in the Southwest and was saving for the Easter lesson, where each child makes a clay cave and stoppers it with a beautiful stone that they choose. Then, we roll away the stone to reveal the cave’s emptiness: Jesus is not there, but instead lives in them. Alleluiah! We say the prayer: “We are living members of your son, our savior, Jesus Christ...”
I tell them that members can mean fingers, and we wag them in the air, like American sign language applause.
On the Abraham lesson, when we climbed over the columbarium wall and returned to the pile of stuff we’d left, we discovered that Parola, had been quietly creating of the pine cones two interlocking circles. Suddenly, an altar. Suddenly, their choices mattered, and they argued happily about which color rock to place where, and how to get the birdbath off its pedestal, in order to include water, and to draw birds to the place, if only theoretically. After church, adults wondered if what we were doing had actually been Christian, the circles looked so ancient, Druidical, stark.
So, around the fireplace in November, with the three boys thanking God for marshmallows, straight As, life, hands, waking up, healing, and skewers (for marshmallows). We made a special chair and imagined that Jesus were sitting with us, and the children fell silent, awed by the possibility. Me, too. 
“Imagine,” I said to Ismael. “How do we sign imagine?”
He showed us a pinky at the forehead going out once for the word idea, and twice for imagine. Parola, who speaks three languages, practiced each sign four or five times. I could feel her concentration, see the boys watching her. 
Then we improvised with sign language, taught to us by Ishmael. He taught us the signs for J-E-S-U-S, which we learned, with Isaac helping, explaining what we missed in Ishmael’s experienced sweep. Then, Ishmael taught us the sign for Jesus Christ, which requires a touch of the middle finger to the palm, first one hand, then the other. That rocking motion is the sign. What did that mean?  I wondered, loving sign language etymology, which uses the body’s wisdom in a way that spoken word sometimes forgets. As I wondered, I took Jonathan’s chubby fingers and pantomimed it with him. He wouldn’t do that one. Parola spoke softly, encouraging. OK, I thought, maybe he’s had enough. No need to ruin Sunday School with academic overload.
We went on to new words: God, Bible, prayer, thank you. Jonathan looked back from the fire, half-listening, it appeared. I got out the marshmallows and skewers, which rolled in like manna, and asked Jonathan which sign he liked best. He touched the tips of his fingers to his chin, and arched outwards, downwards, not clapping the hands like Isaac, no expressivity, just tentative: thank you.
Later, after church, it came back to me, now and then, that moment and the sign for Jesus. That night, I sat between my mother and grandmother, listening to our concert, a gorgeous dedication of the new grand piano. Our organist and choir master Roland Woehr played several pieces, then Rachmaninoff’s prelude in D. I let my eyes travel up with the music, aching, as Rachmaninoff had made me ache from the time I was a girl, with yearning that I now recognize as the spirit thirsting for God.  
            “Lift up your hearts.”
We hear it every Sunday.  I thought of Ishmael, listening hard-hard-hard, reading lips, signing, generously, with precision, looking so like his grandfather, whose funeral filled this church just last month. During communion that morning, he and Isaac made the I-love-you sign when Isaac kept moving. The younger brother silenced his body for a moment, looked up.
The children replied with the adults: “We lift them up to the Lord,” but not Jonathan, although he knew the response, said so to me with his eyes, but chose not to say it, for now, not until he’s ready.
Roland Woehr played his own composition setting to music the words of Robert Frost’s poem, “Reluctance: From a Boy’s Will, 1913,” and I thought of our boys, around the fireplace that morning, setting marshmallows on fire, laughing, sharing, making room for each other, toasting their faces. “No burns,” I said to them. “No Sunday School injuries. Parent’s don’t like it.” 
And Parola getting longer and longer tongs for them.
The tenor Tom Nardone sang with openness and clarity Robert Frost’s words to Roland’s music:
                        The last lone aster is gone;
                        The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
                        The heart is still aching to seek,
                        But the feet question “Whither?”
                        Ah, when to the heart of man
                        Was it ever less than a treason
                        To go with the drift of things
                        To yield with a grace to reason,
                        And bow and accept the end
                        Of a love or a season.
Then, I realized what the sign for Jesus meant: the scars on the palm from the nails. No wonder Jonathan wouldn’t do it.
Peace and Love,

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church photo by Timothy Shepherd