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She hiked herself upon the seat of the ladder-back chair and grabbed a mound of pink clay from the tub on my dining room table. Her head bowed, her red hair swishing the sides of her round cheeks, she set to work. Small hands kneaded the clay, stubborn under her touch. She worked harder. Her freckled nose twitched as she rolled it flat on the table, one side, then the other. She hunched back in her chair and inspected the results, then rolled it out again.

Finally satisfied, her narrow fingers fashioned the flattened piece into what appeared to be a container. Her work continued. Again, she reached into the tub and pulled out an orange piece. After having smoothed it, she shaped it into a circle, a process she repeated with lavender, blue, and yellow clay. Next came narrow green strips of clay she rolled into tubes; upon them she mounted the circles.

“I need a toothpick,” she said to her mother and grandmother, looking on and smiling. One emerged from the tub. With deft fingers the young artist inscribed her message, I love you, from Mary, then offered me her creation: the pink vase with summery flowers.

Such was the fruit of Mary’s industry, my six-year-old great-granddaughter who was visiting from her Minneapolis home.

Her love offering reminded me of a striking parallel found in the prophet Isaiah: “You are our Father; we are the clay, You our potter, we are all the work of Your hands.”

May we be willing to participate in this daily kneading. It’s about letting go of the kinks in our instincts and thriving.




So exclaimed Mary R Woodard (no period after the letter R), her body broken by decades of washing, ironing, and cleaning for others in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she hunkered down in a ditch in Christian County, Kentucky, and watched her twenty-year-old uncle lynched for looking at a white woman. Following her move North as part of the Great Migration, her experience of racism morphed into “bitter with sweet meanness.” Psalm 37 protected her gentle spirit from its contagion.

 Into Mary’s life came another outsider, Jane Ellen Ibur, a toddler living in an affluent home with a swimming pool. Screaming battles with her parents led her to seek Mary’s bosom, in their basement where she ironed.

This little girl subsequently became a teacher and a poet who honored her mentor in this poetic memoir, both wings flappin’, still not flyin’ (2014). Their mutual selflessness defies words: Mary’s habitual recourse to God and Jane’s care of her the last eleven years of her life—such reveals the brilliance of the Sacred Feminine.

We learn from them.


It is overcast, drizzly, cold. Cars inch forward along the exit ramp onto South Kingshighway near the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex. Further ahead stands the outline of a panhandler. I cringe. With each change of the stoplight, I move closer. A stooped woman braces herself against cutting winds as she walks toward us; her sign says it all: Homeless – Hungry – Merry Christmas!

I open my window and wave. She stoops, eye-level with me, then flashes a toothless grin and takes the health bar offered her. “God bless you!” she says, her milky eyes alive with mirth. In the rear view mirror, I follow her mincing steps toward other motorists, noting as well her stained high-top tennis shoes with broken laces. The stoplight changes and I drive on.

But she remains with me. I’ve glimpsed the disheveled hag who lives within me, even reluctantly befriended her. At times, my inner homelessness, my disorientation, my ill-formed choices with consequences, my rebellion sickens me. Although not on the streets, vulnerable and isolated, my angst yearns for deliverance.

Into just such circumstances, The Word of God incarnated among us to teach us to love the unlovely in ourselves and in others through the practice of humility, honesty, and forgiveness. He even showed us how to do it—Kingdom living, He called it. Such a transforming gift that never tarnishes!

Merry Christmas!




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