Reflections on locked room mysteries and love that doesn’t knock: themes from John 20

What barriers stand between you and Love? Can you really keep out a love that is transformative, or will it pass through your closed door and locked heart, somehow? Yet doubt and questions have their place … they sometimes help open the way.

Man goes far away or near but God never goes far-off;
he is always standing close at hand,
and even if he cannot stay within he goes no further than the door.
— Meister Eckhart

Locked Room Mysteries
Locked room mystery lists. What is your favorite locked room mystery?

History of Locked Room Mysteries — Scott Laming (link to article)

The ‘locked room’ mystery is one of the most intriguing sub-genres of crime writing. These books depict a crime committed in what appears to be an entirely impossible situation such as a locked room where the killer has seemingly vanished into thin air.

The concept of a behind-closed-doors mystery has been a plot device since the heyday of Ancient Greece but it was not established as a sub-genre of crime fiction until the 19th century. One of the earliest examples is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue … Several other authors (Joseph Conrad, Sheridan Le Fanu and Wilkie Collins) also made early attempts at this style of mystery.

The real kick-starter for the genre came in 1892 when Israel Zangwill used the same locked room puzzle concept for his primary plot device in The Big Bow Mystery. However, he added another classic mystery writing element, the red herring … John Dickson Carr, who also wrote as Carter Dickson, is probably the king of the locked room mysteries and The Hollow Man is the Dickson Carr book to read to encounter the best example. Also look up The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux.

ON KNOCKING & ENTERING

Poem — Rumi 
One went to the door of the
Beloved and knocked.
A voice asked: “Who is there?”
He answered: “It is I.”
The voice said: “There is no room
here for me and thee.”
The door was shut.

After a year of solitude
and deprivation
this man returned to the door
of the Beloved.
He knocked.
A voice from within asked:
“Who is there?”
The man said:
“It is Thou.”
The door was opened for him.

If I Knew Then (excerpt) 
— performed by Lady Antebellum,
written by 
Charles Kelley /
Richard Belmont (monty) Powell / Anna Wilson


… ‘Cause love only comes
Once in a while
And knocks on your door
And throws you a smile
And takes every breath,
Leaves every scar,
Speaks through your soul
And sings to your heart …

So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. — Jesus Christ

It’s really interesting how music can knock down a wall and be an open connection between you and someone else where something else can’t. When music comes along, it just opens your heart a little more. — Phillip Sweet

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. — Milton Berle

No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself. — Alfred Lord Tennyson

If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!
— Emily Dickinson

I can’t never stop nobody, can’t knock nobody hustle.
— The Notorious B.I.G.

There are five issues that make a fist of a hand that can knock America out cold. They’re lack of jobs, obesity, diabetes, homelessness, and lack of good education. — will.i.am

We know we cannot plant seeds with closed fists. To sow, we must open our hands. — Adolfo Perez Esquivel

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. — Johnny Cash

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door. — Albert Camus

I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present. — Rabindranath Tagore

In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself. — Jiddu Krishnamurti

The outward man is the swinging door; the inner man is the still hinge. — Meister Eckhart

You close the door on me and tell me I can’t, I’m gonna find a way to get in. — Tyler Perry

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment. — Carl Sandburg

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 A.M. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. — Joan Didion

I cannot sleep for dreaming; I cannot dream but I wake and walk about the house as though I’d find you coming through some door. — Arthur Miller

Commentary on Fear, Doubt & Questions: John 20

The fact is that all the great spiritual models of the ages before us found themselves, at one point or another, plunged into doubt, into darkness, into the certainty of uncertainty: Augustine, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, John the Baptist, Thomas, Peter, one after another of them all wondered, and wavered, and believed beyond belief. Surely, then, doubt is something to be grateful for, something about which to sing an alleluia. Unlike answers that presume the static nature of God and the spiritual life, doubt stretches us beyond ourselves to the guidance of a God whose face is not always in books. Doubt is what leaves us open to truth, wherever it is, however difficult it may be to accept. But most of all, doubt requires us to reconfirm everything we’ve ever been made to believe is unassailable. Without doubt, life would simply be a series of packaged assumptions, none of them tested, none of them sure, and all of them belonging not to us, but to someone else whose truth we have made our own. — Joan Chittister

… questions … So many of them seemed to imply that people were struggling with the fact that hard things in life are hard. That somehow since they don’t have great positive feelings about God in the midst of their own suffering that this somehow means they lack faith and this worries them. For some reason we tend to think that having faith means unwavering belief, and never doubting and always no matter how awful things get, never ever having negative feelings about God and certainly never wondering if there really is a God. It’s like we’ve forgotten the strong, and totally awesome tradition in the Hebrew Bible of complaining to God.   It’s called lamenting – and we should totally reclaim this part of our tradition…I have a friend who says if you’re going to have a praise band in your church, that’s fine but only if you also have a lament band because being the people of God has always meant a whole lot of both praise andlament. — Nadia Bolz-WeberNot surprisingly, Jesus came to visit his disciples, knowing that they would feel defeated and understanding the support they would need in order to move forward. He bestowed peace upon them, and they were overjoyed when he showed them his wounds. They, like Thomas, apparently needed physical proof of the resurrection. Jesus’ return to visit with his disciples appears to have had a clear mission of fortifying them to continue his work. First of all, they would need peace to counter the turbulence of his death, and secondly, they needed evidence of his resurrection to restore their faith. Jesus dealt with these two pressing issues immediately. He did not simply return to celebrate his resurrection, but to prepare them as he sent them forth to continue the work he had begun. — Samuel Cruz, Workingpreacher.org

John is explicit about the prevailing sentiment behind the closed doors.  They were behind the doors because of fear, one of the most powerful human emotions.  Fear shuts all sorts of doors in our lives.  It shuts the door to anyone who is “other” because it sees them as a threat more than a friend.  Fear causes us to live out of reptilian fight or flight rather than the deeper virtues of faith, hope, and love.  Fear causes us to react to what we fear rather than reflect the one we worship.  When one lives in a constant state of fear, it can actually rewire the brain so that everything looks like a threat.  Fear had the disciples behind locked doors. Despite the pervasiveness of walls and locked doors, however, Jesus walked right through them.  And his greeting to them was one of peace.  — Preston Clegg, The Truett Pulpit

And suddenly, in the midst of their fear and confusion, there he was, not with angels, trumpets, or legions, but quietly, without a hint of anger. No accusations, no trouble or turmoil. Only peace. And then, the very next thing, he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit – he doesn’t just give it to them, but breathes the Spirit into them. — Katheryn Matthews

Of course, it’s not just a story about Thomas. It’s also a story about frightened disciples. So scared, in fact, that, they hid behind locked doors. And who can blame them? They had just witnessed the one they confessed to be the Messiah betrayed by one of his own, tried and convicted by both religious and civil authorities, and then brutally executed. Little wonder they were afraid, assuming that the next step would be to round up Jesus’ followers. But when Jesus comes on the scene, their fear falls away and is replaced by joy… But that’s not the way it works with Thomas. He doubts. He questions. He disbelieves. He’s not satisfied with second-hand reports and wants to see for himself. And again I would say, who can blame him?  … do we make room for the Thomases in our world? Because I suspect that their number is legion … And sometimes faith is like that – it needs the freedom of questions and doubt to really spring forth and take hold. Otherwise, faith might simply be confused with a repetition of creedal formulas, or giving your verbal consent to the faith statements of others. But true, vigorous, vibrant faith comes, I think, from the freedom to question, wonder, and doubt … Indeed, I think that if we don’t have any doubts we’re probably not taking the story seriously enough. — David Lose

This is John’s great commission: Jesus breathes on his disciples and tells them to be about the business of forgiveness. John’s commission … does not imply the necessity for conversion of others, but a rebirth of the self. — Jonathan Burkey, aplainaccount.com

Resurrection is relationship. A relationship that will never be broken, that will never be abandoned, that will never know separation, and will forever be. Think this is just a pie-in-the-sky promise? Let’s pause and think about how much a relationship that will never end might mean. We live for and exist in relationships that are not life-giving, that are on the brink of dissolving, that will end, most certainly, because of every fault or no fault of our own. Think about the relationships that have changed over time, that can’t go back to the way they were before, that need to change, but maybe can’t and, in the end, maybe that’s okay. So we exist in tension and frustration and grief because we are not sure how to handle an acceptable demise or how to negotiate what this means for our relationships in the future. Think about the relationships that ended too soon — by terrorist acts, the ruthlessness of illness, the not-so-random events of nature’s reaction to environmental complacency, the sudden separations not planned, never anticipated, and so devastating, for whatever reason and for whatever cause. Our lives exist in, are known through, and defined by broken relationships. But it is not so with our relationship with God. — Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.org

Love on the move. Themes from Gospel of John

Bending down to wash and anoint someone’s feet. What story do our feet tell about us? How we live? How do we love? How do we touch the earth?

Indeed, what amazing gifts might must be ours if we could kneel and honor the humanity in another? I imagine we might just start to see the holy there as well. — Janet Hunt

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet
in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears (excerpt)
Mohja Kahf My grandmother puts her feet in the sink         of the bathroom at Sears to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer, wudu, because she has to pray in the store or miss the mandatory prayer time for Muslims She does it with great poise, balancing herself with one plump matronly arm against the automated hot-air hand dryer, after having removed her support knee-highs and laid them aside, folded in thirds, and given me her purse and her packages to hold so she can accomplish this august ritual and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares
Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom …
Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum …

On Feet: Walking and Washing

I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves – we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny. — Mary Oliver 

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair … ― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm. — Abraham Lincoln

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. — Saint Augustine

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go. — Dr. Seuss

When food comes you open your mouth; when sleep comes you close your eyes. As you wash your face you find your nose, when you take off your shoes you feel your feet.  At that time, if you miss what’s being said, take a torch and make a special search deep in the night. How can you attain union?  — Joshu

The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless. — Billy Graham

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. — Rumi

… Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking — walking not in order to arrive, just for walking. The purpose is to be in the present moment and enjoy each step you make. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. … We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind. … If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness. Our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. — Thich Nhat Hanh

From our feet, we can tell how the rest of our body is doing. The way we follow the Lord reveals how our heart is faring. The wounds on our feet, our sprains and our weariness, are signs of how we have followed Him, of the paths we have taken in seeking the lost sheep and in leading the flock to green pastures and still waters. The Lord washes us and cleanses us of all the dirt our feet have accumulated in following Him. This is something holy. Do not let your feet remain dirty. Like battle wounds, the Lord kisses them and washes away the grime of our labors. — Pope Francis

Extravagant Love: Washing and Anointing

… we don’t separate a self from its environment, and cleaning expresses our respect for and sense of wholeness with the world that surrounds us. Shoukei Matsumoto

A monk asked Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery: please give me some guidance.”  Joshu said, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
The monk said, “Yes I have eaten.”  Joshu continues, “Then go wash your bowl.”
— Joshu, Buddhist Koan

In this text, Mary continues the theme of extravagance in the form of costly gestures involving expensive ointment. … Now is no time for frugality. This extravagance on earth is participating with the work of heaven. — Lynn Miller

Do you see this person that you are judging?  Do you see her humanity, her profound child of God-ness, her generosity, her capacity for compassion?   — Joy Perkett

Sounds like a horrible idea to me, trying to get ​closer​ to God. Half the time, I wish God would leave me alone. Getting closer to God might mean getting told to love someone I don’t even like, or give away even more of my money.It might mean letting some idea or dream that is dear to me get ripped away. — Nadia Bolz­-Weber

So Mary might have given Jesus this stunning gift of extravagance as a thank-you or as a prophetic witness as to what would soon be. Perhaps her motivation was a mixture of both. But what if another reason Mary poured it all out that day was simply because she knew deep down that her gift would make a holy difference to Jesus. Her gift, her generous offering, could remind him who he was and how much he was loved. — Shannon J. Kershner

What amazing and wonderful thing can she do, what can she say not with words but with her whole self: Mary takes the best she has to give and in an hour of need, as death looms over this little band of disciples, Mary takes the best and breaks it open over the feet of Jesus, the one she loves, the one she is about to lose…even if only for awhile…but we suspect she does not know that, yet. — Kathryn Matthews Then again, we might ask whom God might work through next. And if you ask that question, then invite your people to look at those sitting near them. For God may be about to use each of them in a surprising way to care for their neighbor, to offer a listening ear, to do their work with faithfulness and courage, to stand up for those who are less fortunate, to resist peer pressure at school and offer an alternative to those watching. Who knows? What we do know is that God is regularly about the business of surprising us with where God shows up, whom God uses, and what God accomplishes. — David Lose

Mary’s extravagant love for Jesus makes it possible for Jesus to show extravagant love in what follows — washing the feet of his disciples, handing himself over to be arrested in the garden, carrying his own cross, dying, rising, and ascending. Mary loves Jesus into his future as the fulfillment of, “for God so loved the world.” — Karoline Lewis

Jesus’ commandment to love one another is not a commandment to feel affection, but a commandment to act in a loving way, even when we would rather do otherwise. — Elisabeth Johnson

Remembering her may help them leave him alone while he finishes delivering his message. At home in Bethany, the storm clouds are still piling up against the door when Mary gives the forecast: it will be bad, very bad, but that’s no reason for Jesus’ friends to lock their hearts and head to the cellar.  Whatever they need, there will be enough to go around.  Whatever they spend, there will be plenty left over.  There is no reason to fear running out–of nard or of life either one–for where God is concerned, there is always more than we can ask or imagine–gifts from our lavish, lavish Lord. — Barbara Brown Taylor


Reflections on being curious and asking questions … the experience of the holy season of Lent.

In the holy season of Lent, we are called to the spiritual discipline of preparation. Some part of this is the practice of curiosity and questioning. Entering Lent is wandering into  the metaphorical  ‘wilderness’ … where everything is primal and makes a difference and you’re likely to be at risk and to get lost … it’s about life and death, about getting down to core values. From that deep place arises the deep questions, the underlying ‘why’ that shapes how we live. So Lent is about living close to the wellspring of creativity and tension, beyond the context that usually makes us comfortable, safe, and secure. Paying attention to Lent becomes an invitation to go into an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual place where we have permission to wonder and doubt and explore and grow. — Rev Gail (with credit to Rev Sean Dunker-Bendigo of Madison Church for the inspiration to approach Lent as a series of questions)

Music Video Link: Question by the Moody Blues

Be present.
Make love. Make tea.
Avoid small talk. Embrace conversation.
Buy a plant, water it.
Make your bed. Make someone else’s bed.
Have a smart mouth and a quick wit.
Run. Make art. Create.
Swim in the ocean. Swim in the rain.
Take chances. Ask questions.
Make mistakes. Learn.
Know your worth.
Love fiercely. Forgive quickly.
Let go of what doesn’t make your happy.
Grow.
— Paulo Coelho

On Asking Questions: Being Curious

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself. — Susan Engel

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not to answer them. — Anton Chekhov

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

Ever since I was a little girl and could barely talk, the word ‘why’ has lived and grown along with me… When I got older, I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered. As a result, I tried to work things out for myself by mulling over my own questions. And I came to the important discovery that questions which you either can’t or shouldn’t ask in public, or questions which you can’t put into words, can easily be solved in your own head. So the word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary, it does us all a world of good. — Anne Frank

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers. — Voltaire

How do I create something out of nothing? How do I create my own life? I think it is by questioning. — Amy Tan

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist. — Isidor Isaac Rabi

On Lent: Surrendering Ourselves

The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it … —  Nadia Bolz-Weber

… another Lenten season, a time of lengthening days…not just in hours but in slowness, in taking time to linger over our spiritual lives, over our identity as a people of faith, over the texts that form us and the quiet places in which God speaks to us, still. — Kathryn M. Matthews

The big rub is that to surrender my “singularity” (John 12:24) and fall into this “altogether new creation” will always feel like dying. How could it not? It is a dying of the self that we thought we were, but it is the only self that we knew until then. It will indeed be a “revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Heart and body will soon follow. This is the real “try harder” that applies to Lent, and its ultimate irony is that it is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go. You will not do it yourself, but it will be done unto you (Luke 1:38) by the events of your life. Such deep allowing is the most humiliating, sacrificial, and daily kind of trying! Pep talks seldom get you there, but the suffering of life and love itself will always get you there. Lent is just magnified and intensified life. — Richard Rohr

I think it is good news–because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be … What did that long, famishing stretch in the wilderness do to him?  It freed him–from all devilish attempts to distract him from his true purpose, from hungry craving for things with no power to give him life, from any illusion he might have had that God would make his choices for him. … But it would be a mistake for me to try to describe your wilderness exam.  Only you can do that, because only you know what devils have your number, and what kinds of bribes they use to get you to pick up.  All I know for sure is that a voluntary trip to the desert this Lent is a great way to practice getting free of those devils for life–not only because it is where you lose your appetite for things that cannot save you, but also because it is where you learn to trust the Spirit that led you there to lead you out again, ready to worship the Lord your God and serve no other all the days of your life.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

But the historic practices of Lent are Christian. There are three of them: praying, fasting, almsgiving. These are three things that Christians should consider doing all the time, but the 46 days of Lent provide us with an explicit invitation to do them more intentionally. I say an invitation, because we don’t have to do them, not during Lent, not ever. … I am going to make an unabashed case for Lent, myself. …  Lent is a chance to uncork the bottle, to unclog our spirits from what is stifling them, to sample the mystery. It is a chance to own that we do not wholly own ourselves, but acknowledge that God has a claim over us. We work so hard for radical equality in our lives—for equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, an end to bigotry of all varieties—and we sometimes delude ourselves, as religious people, that radical equality extends to our relationship with God … Taking on a Lenten discipline means surrendering to a higher power, it means placing ourselves under God’s authority and protection. But here’s the rub: to place ourselves under God’s authority is a reminder that we are under no other authority, or at least that all those other authorities are less than God’s. The church, the state, our remote fathers, our overbearing mothers, our inept boss who gets paid more than we do, our snarky coworkers, the popular crowd, the opposing football team, the opposing political party, Al Qaeda, alcohol, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, porn, late-night cable. Whatever our addictions, whatever our self-medication devices, whatever our overlords of fear and control, none can match the power of God our Father and Mother, if we choose God as our God. To claim that we are in a direct relationship with our Creator, to join with that Creator and Sustainer in an act of self-disciplining, is an act of resistance. It’s a boycott of all that is body-wounding and soul-killing. It is a radical re-ordering of our priorities, and a reclamation of our God-given will and strength …  … What might you do, this Lent, to rend your heart, to give God an opening? What might you do to make God-shaped space within your heart, a space that will invite you to call on the name of God more frequently, to share the experience of your brother Jesus in the wilderness, to uncork the Spirit and let it flow freely, to release yourself from rage or addiction or the tyranny of lesser gods? What can you give up, or take on, as an act of resistance against the authorities that don’t deserve any claim over you?  — Molly Phinney Baskette

Reflections on Advent 4: Love (plus longest night, resistance songs, Blue Christmas)

This week, Mary’s song, one of four found in the Gospel of Luke, is a song of praise and resistance, an expectation for justice and change. In times when we wonder whether to expect transformation, we are reminded to work for change, and to recall that we are lights in the darkness.
How will you shine in this season and into the coming year?

Les Miserables – Great Crescendo (excerpt)
Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people, Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart, Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start, When tomorrow comes!

Do you hear the people sing, Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people, Who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth, There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest night will end, And the sun will rise.

For those Living with Grief & Loss

 I hear
the love of those
who have loved me
echo in me.
All the notes of my song
sing over theirs,
the only kind of beauty.
The song does not die.
May I live
with love and mercy
for it will echo
long after.
— Steve Garnaas-Holmes

AGAPE as LOVE

The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. — Got Questions

True transformation is when we unleash the power of agape. We create an environment for positive change. There is still a world of possibility, even when the worst thing happens that could possibly happen. Forgiveness gives me the capacity to contribute something of value—to create a positive outcome to a terrible tragedy. —Desmond Tutu

Our hearts are like diamonds because they have the capacity to express divine light, which is agape; we not only are portals for this agape, but are made of it. — Anne Lamott

I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world. ― Mother Teresa

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. — Thomas Merton

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. — Leo Tolstoy

Agape is a sobering love to receive, for it says, ‘If I cannot love you for who you are, then I will do so despite who you are.’ It is unique in that it is able to love those whom it cannot like. ― James Castleton, Mending of a Broken Heart

The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well. — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform. — Thich Nhat Hahn

LONGEST NIGHT: Of Moons & Stars – Light in Darkness –

We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. — Carl Sagan

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings. — Wendell Berry

You must have shadow and light source both. Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe. — Rumi

We go into the darkness, we seek initiation, in order to know directly how the roots of all beings are tied together: how we are related to all things, how this relationship expresses itself in terms of interdependence. — Joan Halifax

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass. — Dogen

Is the sweetness of the cane sweeter,
Than the One who made the canefield?

Behind the beauty of the moon is the MoonMaker.
There is Intelligence inside the ocean’s intelligence
Feeding our love like an invisible waterwheel … ― Rumi

The pine tree of Shiogoshi / Trickles all night long / Shiny drops of moonlight. — Basho

… [Sagan’s] statement sums up the fact that the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Because humans and every other animal as well as most of the matter on Earth contain these elements, we are literally made of star stuff, said Chris Impey, professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. “All organic matter containing carbon was produced originally in stars. The universe was originally hydrogen and helium, the carbon was made subsequently, over billions of years.” … In 2002, music artist Moby released “We Are All Made of Stars,” explaining during a press interview that his lyrics were inspired by quantum physics. “On a basic quantum level, all the matter in the universe is essentially made up of stardust,” he said. — Remy Melina, Are We Really All Made of Stars? Live Science (excerpt)

SONGS of RESISTANCE: Commentary

Why, one might wonder, all these songs? Because singing is an act of resistance. That’s not to say that all singing is, of course. Sometimes it’s an act of joy and sometimes of camaraderie, but it’s also an act of resistance. The slaves knew this. When they sang their spirituals they were both praising God and protesting the masters who locked them out of worship but couldn’t keep them out of the promise of deliverance of the Bible. And the civil rights leaders knew this, too, singing songs like “We Shall Overcome,” when so many in the society didn’t give them a chance to advance their cause of justice, let alone triumph. — David Lose, Singing as an Act of Resistance (excerpt)

I wonder whether we would dare to sing the Magnificat today. What would it mean? — Richard Ascough

It’s easy to sing the song, but to pray the lyrics from deep within … that’s worship! — Gangai Victor

Who can resist … the story of Mary’s elegantly exuberant prayer, the Magnificat? Her spontaneous outburst in song echoes Hannah’s praise for God’s marvelous deeds in the lives of all who are marginalized or downtrodden (1 Samuel 2). Like Hannah, Mary sings out of her own experience, her own hope, but out of the experience and hope of her people as well. The Magnificat is a lovely expression of joy at God’s promises kept, a celebration of the tables being turned, or overturned: the lowly are lifted up, the proud are brought down, and the hungry are fed. God remembers the people of Israel, and the promises God has made to them. What a powerful text for every heart hungry …  Kathryn Matthews (excerpt, UCC Sermon Seeds Dec 23 Reflection)

One thing we do know: music in the United States has led directly to environmental action, the equality of our citizens, a movement against war and violence, and it has raised the voices of the working American … Powerful songs have always been the engine behind the greatest social movements — it is the marching soundtrack that unites the people and gives them focus and resolve, and it’s not limited to the U.S. In 1970s Nigeria, Fela Kuti invented Afro Beat music as a way to protest the oil company regime of Nigeria. His song “Zombie” became a global hit that railed against Nigeria’s military dictators. In South Africa, the indigenous Mbatanga music helped bring about the end of apartheid and it spread a message of peace and reconciliation in that nation. In Chile, Victor Jara wrote songs about his country’s struggles, sparking the Nueva Cancion (New Songs) movement that caused South Americans to rise up against their military dictatorships and replace them with democracies. In Brazil, the Tropicalia movement was created by songwriters like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Rita Lee as a form of protest against the Brazilian military junta, which eventually fell from its own corruption and incompetence. In Australia and New Zealand, popular songs written by indigenous and non-ingenious songwriters sparked an indigenous land reclamation movement that is still active today. — Barrett Martin, Huffington Post (excerpt)

Throughout the ages, God’s people have faced oppression. And in the face of that oppression, God’s people have sung God’s songs of resistance. But God’s people have also been oppressors. We have enslaved others — and each other. We have stolen from, oppressed, and slain others — and each other. And when we have done so, the oppressed, the enslaved, the persecuted have sung God’s songs of resistance against us. — Rolf Jacobson

Reflections on tenacious love plus relationship as vine & branches – themes from 1 John 4 and John 15.

Active love establishes a tenacious & enduring relationship; find its allegory in the vine and branches in 1 John 4 and John 15. If the incarnation of holy love is the vine and we are the branches, what fruit do we bear? What or whom does the fruit nourish? What is essential and what must be pruned away? In what soil are the vine and the branches rooted, to be nurtured, to grow, to flourish? We are here to sustain each other through relationships that are sacred.
Song of Myself (excerpt) — Walt Whitman
44 … All forces have been steadily employ’d to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.
45 … Crying by day Ahoy! from the rocks of the river,
swinging and chirping over my head,
Calling my name from flower-beds, vines, tangled underbrush,
Lighting on every moment of my life,
Bussing my body with soft balsamic busses,
Noiselessly passing handfuls out of their hearts and giving them to be mine …

Of Vine and Branches

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. — Gwendolyn Brooks

We are leaves of one branch, the drops of one sea, the flowers of one garden. — Jean Baptiste Lacordaire

Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the roots. — Rumi

How can you bear fruit? How can you imagine being beyond yourself? How can you realize your potential if you have no grounding, no sense of origin, no affirmation of possibility outside yourself? The bearing of fruit depends on dependence. It depends on connection. It depends on origin. It depends on belonging. As soon as you think you can produce anything from the basis of your own sovereignty, from your own efforts, from your own sense of independence, think about it. What kind of fruit will that be? Because bearing fruit has everything to do with who you are in relationship. — Karoline Lewis

… our sole responsibility to the rest of the branches is love. — Meda Stamper

Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it’s intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant … this vine is one with the branches … we find the best grapes close in to the vine, “where the nutrients are the most concentrated.” … This kind of abiding … showers us with “shalom, which speaks of wholeness, completeness, and health.” Here, close to the vine, immersed in shalom, we find not only nourishment but also hope and joy. — Kathryn Matthews

Stubborn Love (excerpt)
Performed by The Lumineers
link to video
Songwriters: Jeremy Fraites / Wesley Schultz
… It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love’s indifference
So pay attention now
I’m standing on your porch screaming out
And I won’t leave until you come downstairsSo keep your head up, keep your love
Keep your head up, my love
Keep your head up, my love
Keep your head up, keep your love

On Stubborn, Abiding Love

Tolerance must give way to tenacious love that overwhelms the forces of indifference, intolerance and hate. Only then can we live into Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community and the common good … — Paul Louis Metzger

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, [God] will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’; rather God will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?’ — Mother Teresa

I think, therefore I am? Nonsense! I love, therefore I am. — William Sloane Coffin

The community that Jesus calls forth is one that embodies an African proverb: Because we are, I am. — Barbara Essex

Where there is love there is life. — Mahatma Gandhi