And the trees shall clap their hands...

NOTE:  Every month I write something to the people of my faith community. It is usually a practical update - sometimes my interpretation of a specific mission commitment - but this month, in anticipation of Advent, I was called in a different direction. Throughout Advent (and I'm not trying to rush into the season because I am way too excited about Thanksgiving) we will be worshiping in a more contemplative style:  candles, quiet times, gentle songs of the season and Eucharist. Here's how it is feeling to me right now.
There is a passage from the Scriptures that I cherish even if I don’t grasp its
wisdom completely. It is from the 55th chapter of the poet Isaiah’s words to ancient Israel:

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the  earth,
making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
I love the image of the mountains bursting into song and the trees clapping their hands in joy and gratitude. That seems to be the essence of faithful living, don’t you think? Not long ago I purchased Mary Oliver’s new volume of poetry wherein she offers her take on scripture in a poem entitle, “The Country of the Trees.”

There is no king in their country
and there is no queen
and there are no princes vying for power,
     inventing corruption.
Just as with us many children are born
and some will live and some will die and the country
     will continue.

The weather will always be important.

And there will always be room for the weak, the violets
     and the bloodroot.
When it is cold they will be given blankets of leaves.
When it is hot they will be given shade.
And not out of guilt, neither for a year-end deduction
     but maybe for the cheer of their colors, their
          small flower faces.

They are not like us.

Some will perish to become houses or barns,

     fences or bridges.

Others will endure past the counting of years. And none will ever speak a single word of complaint, as though language,
     after all, did not work well enough,
     was only an early stage.
Neither do they ever have any questions
to the gods – which one is the real one,
and what is the plan.
As thought they have been told everything
already, and are content.

Long ago, I was told by a poet that if you have to ask “What does this means?” you are missing the whole point of a poem. (I think it was my wife…) I sense that wisdom applies to many of our Holy Scriptures, too. They are not linear advice nor prescriptions for successful living. Rather they are poems that invite us into deeper mysteries and truths too great for words. So mostly all we can do is sit quietly in their presence and let their grace seep slowly into our souls. That’s what Advent is like for me – never frantic – always still albeit obscure.

This Advent our worship will offer you a taste of that quiet, gentle obscurity. I hope you will be present to savor it. Embrace it. Ponder its beauty in the stillness. Not long ago, Dianne and I were walking in the woods when we came upon this gift. Her photo, I think, evokes the heart of our quiet Advent longing.
photo credit:  Dianne De Mott


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