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Tiger lilies are beginning to bloom. Talk of the Town, a popular species in our neighborhood, flourishes along fences and side gardens. Morning breezes excite their six-sculpted petals trembling with stamens and pistils; their orangeness ushers in summer’s brash colors. But in time, these rowdy adventurers will collapse their petals and wither and drop to the ground. Would that we could hold onto their beauty.

Looking deeper, we find this ordinary perennial rooted within the cycle of life and death. We, too, have a similar rootedness. How many springs have we experienced the pastel feathering of fruit trees, only to move into summer’s light-plays, followed by autumn’s chill and winter’s bluster? And quickened, yet again, with the return of kaleidoscopic color enlivening somber spirits?

So how can we relish such seasonal changes? Allow them to teach us? It seems to be about sacrifice: cutting away the unworkable for the fresh and untried.

Jesus talks about this when speaking of “the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28 +). He challenges his anxious listeners, ourselves included, to own their small-mindedness and to set their hearts on God’s Kingdom. Therein is experienced ultimate significance dressed in unchangeable colors, fresher than the first morning of creation.

 

 

 

 

 

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This week, many in the Christian world remember.

More than two centuries ago, a misfit was hounded to death on a cross atop a steep hill outside the city walls. Before sundown, friends removed his desiccated remains to a nearby cave for burial, then huddled together in secrecy lest they be discovered. Days of indescribable angst followed. The third day, several women sought out their beloved, only to find the tomb empty and an angel proclaiming his resurrection.

Empowered by this phenomenon, this man’s followers spread his teaching throughout the world. Deep joy spirited their footsteps toward neighboring villages; its flame ignited those who were receptive to its transforming message of littleness and service. Merriment tickled psyches, drew broad smiles.

But as with such divine in-breakings, its fire flickered. Materialism, secularism, and hedonism spawned other sophistries that undermined the humility and truth and simplicity, the very foundations of this life path. The pursuit of comfort and prestige and power became paramount, no matter the misery, even bloodshed, of those in the way.

Even the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) did little to deter this spiritual malaise.

Like “The Fool on the Hill,” alone, scorned, ignored, the Crucified still looks through the eyes of the poor, the afflicted, the harassed. He cannot stay away. These are his people and they know it.

But there’s more to this picture. Such suffering passes; within its wake easters in unfathomable LIFE. We are invited to participate, even now, within moments of grace.

 

 

“… Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.” The last strains soar to the rafters of this darkened church as we snuff out our candles and blink beneath the illumination of the overhead fixtures. The service is over. Once again the story inflames our hearts.

No matter that everything around us feels worn: the electric fans mounted on the dusky pink walls of this cruciform church; the cherry-red velour used in the drape behind the Italian marble altar, the upholstered presider’s chair, and the carpet in the sanctuary; the used poinsettias affixed at intervals along the wrought-iron communion rail; the languishing figures in the crib set; the carved receptacles mounted upon the backs of the pews that once held hymnals; the aging worshipers, about forty in number, in a church that used to hold hundreds; the hickory floorboards smoothed by decades of worshipers since 1894.

No matter that the city’s pollution besmirch the once white stones of this German Gothic church with its steeple enveloped in the night.

No matter that streetlights shadow abandoned houses, vacant lots, and brick sidewalks of North St. Louis as we drive toward home through the womb-like mist.

There is still life in such places for those who seek it. Emboldened by the Christmas story, laced with hardship and sacrifice, we carry its message of lightsome joy into the dark world around us.

Happy New Year!

 

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