Monday, December 22, 2014

Terms of Christmas Endearment

What does it take to draw people together at Christmastime?

My daughter, Abby, and my mom, Janet,
at Christmas in 2010.
CHRISTMAS EVE OPPOSITES.  Childhood Christmases with my extended Hay and Sheffield clans were dramatically different.  Christmas Eve would be spent in New Castle, Indiana--home to both family clans.  First, my dad, mom, sister, and I would go to Grandpa and Grandma Hay’s for dinner and a gift exchange.  Then, we would drive across town to Aunt Willie Mae’s for the Sheffield gathering.  The Sheffields--my mother’s side--were warm, affectionate and readily endearing.  The Hays--my dad’s side--were guarded, stand-offish and halting in their familial exchanges.  I would experience both on the same evening each year.

WISHING THE EVENING WOULD NEVER END.  I loved the Sheffield Christmas.  There were hugs and laughter and joviality and a great sense of belonging from the moment we walked in Aunt Mae's door.  It was like picking up on an engaging, ongoing conversation, no matter how long we had been apart. The Sheffields were easy to be with, even with 40 aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws crammed into a little house.  I remember wishing the Sheffield Christmas evening would never end.

CHRISTMAS-EVE STAND-OFF.  As much as I enjoyed the Sheffield Christmas, I endured the Hay gathering.  The Hay event was made all the more awkward by the opposite poles at which different households lived.  At one end were the religiously ultra-conservative households.  Each year, I would be freshly surprised and relieved that there were people more restrictive than my dad.  These reserved folk carried an air of spiritual pride and judgment.  The women and girls wore long dresses and no jewelry. These families kept their distance from the Hays who lived at the other end of the spiritual spectrum.  Suffice it to say that two of my fifty-ish uncles trafficked marijuana grown in Kentucky up to New Castle and exhibited most common forms of carelessness and irresponsibility.  In the middle of this was our bewildered family.  All these people crammed into a little house for several hours each Christmas Eve.  Awkward!

WRAPPING PAPER MELEE.  One year, we realized the terms of endearment.  Amid long faces and feigned smiles and strained laughter, my dad wadded up the wrapping paper of the gift he’d just opened and playfully threw it at his alcoholic brother across the room.  His brother picked it up and sailed it back.  But dad ducked and the wrapping paper wad hit Grandma Hay in the side of the head.  She, in turn heaved the wad at another family member.  Within minutes, the room was snowing wrapping paper wads.  And, along with them, genuine laughter.  Heaviness dissipated, suspicion ebbed, judgment was temporarily suspended, and the evening ended in hugs and kind words.

DON’T STOP THE CHAOS.  In the years that followed, the evening at Grandma and Grandpa Hay’s would begin with typical awkwardness.  There would have been little, if any, contact with each other between Christmases.  I would try to figure out the increasingly complex puzzle of who were my real cousins and who was related via divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, etc.  But during the gift exchange, the wrapping paper would eventually fly. Even though Grandma Hay may have disliked the melee, she made little attempt to curb the chaos.  Perhaps she knew that it was one thing--perhaps the only thing--that this disparate group of people with a common tie to her and Grandpa Hay would ever enjoy together.

GRACE IN A PAPER WAD.  I hope it doesn’t take a wrapping-paper-wad battle to bring your household or extended family together--however momentarily.  I pray it doesn’t come down to that.  But if it does, so be it.  I only wish I could have followed up that evening with some more frequent contact with my Hay relatives.  That little opening, that endearing moment, might have led to real relationship, might have led to understanding, might have provided an opening to a future of grace.  Grandma and Grandpa Hay are gone and the Hays no longer gather as family at Christmas.  It’s been years since I’ve seen any of them.  And yet I pray that, somehow, those moments of delightful Hay melee will not be completely lost for the grace they conveyed.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sleepwalking Advent

Shifting gears into Advent may take some time...but, please, don't lallygag too long!

Advent begins
In a fog of unreadiness.
As if by dull surprise
Or in a twilight zone,
We groggily hang the greens.

Hardly with awareness
Much less anticipation
God’s people sleepwalk
Through the prophecies
And Annunciation.

We may finally stir
By the time children sing
“Away in a Manger”
The Sunday before Christmas,
Their raised voices spark
A light in our slumbering souls.

Is it only children and prophets
Who grasp the urgency,
Sense the passion;
Whose hearts are rended
And readied by the
Promise of Light shining
In the darkness?

Is it only to them that Advent
Becomes no mere repetition
Of myth-laden past events,
But days of embracing
The living Mystery,
The ground of all hope?

By God’s mercy and grace
Children and prophets are
Only the first to hear,
The first to recognize,
To proclaim that
It is, indeed, Mystery.

The Light ever dawns,
Beaming its rays into the
Eyes of the groggiest saints,
The hardest sleeper
Among us.

Only those who refuse to rise
Amid many urgent shakings
And light flooding their beds
Sleep through the

“Wake up, O sleeper,
Rise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.”

Saturday, December 13, 2014

If You Want

you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy
and say,

“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth

as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yes there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence externally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb of your soul,

as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and
sing . . .

If You Want by St. John of the Cross, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, shared by Richard Rohr

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent Hush Meets Christmas Rush

The month-long clash of Advent and Kulture Krismas calls for holding in tension these two divergent traditions

"'Tis the season to be jolly."

Technically, that would be the Christmas season. And that season will not arrive until December 25.

Technically, we begin the season of Advent on the fourth Sunday before December 25 and observe it right up through Christmas Eve. In Advent, we're invited to carefully prepare our hearts, making room for the Arrival. That's what we'll do if we want to explore and observe an ancient church--and deeper cultural--tradition.

Commercially, however, already "It's Christmastime in the City." In stores. With ads. On TV. Over radio. One cannot avoid or escape it.


There are two primary rhythms for celebrating Christmas.  The most popular is what I call Kulture Krismas. This is the rhythm most of us in America know and practice.  It begins with Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and finishes on Christmas Day.  It's full of frolicking and purchasing and caroling for the month leading up to December 25.  But after the big day, we're partied out.  We're spent.  Christmas is pretty much over.

Kulture Krismas is a gradually-morphed product of the commercialization Christmas.  Fabricated over a century by retailers and corporations which simply seize on the financial bonanza of gift-giving at Christmas. Trace the ever-earlier sales, decorations, teasing holiday music, and holiday extravaganzas from the early 20th-century until now and you find a snowballing cultural evolution driven not by metaphysical meaning or historically-rooted tradition, but by layer upon layer of manufactured hype.

In the rhythm of Kulture Krismas, Christmas Day is the end of the season of purchasing and frolicking. Everything builds toward this orgy of indulgence and gratification. Instead of Christmas Day being the beginning of a season of celebration and meaning, it signals the end of a season of hype. Retailers count their blessings and we burrow in for a long, cold, barren slog until spring.


The rhythm fewer know--and still fewer observe--begins with four weeks of soul-searching preparation in Advent, highlights with Christmas Day communion (the Mass of Christ, i.e., Christ-mas), and extends through Epiphany on January 6th (celebrating the arrival of the Magi at Bethlehem). This rhythm gives us the tradition of giving a gift on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

The feeling and mood of Advent is like a home that is anticipating a child to be born to a family.  It's wonderful, hopeful and joyful. But it's primarily a time to prepare, to make room for the child. The gift, the child being born, the birth day, is the beginning of the real celebration.  That's what brings surpassing joy and cause for real revelry.

There are a few simple yet meaning-giving traditions for the four weeks of Advent. Here are a few:

  • The advent wreath, with a candle lit for each week--one symbolizing hope, the next love, the next joy, the last one peace. Some light a fifth candle, called the Christ candle, on Christmas Day.
  • The Jesse Tree is another Advent tool children especially enjoy.
  • Some households use a Nativity creche with an empty manger and place different characters of the story at the creche as the weeks unfold.
  • One can readily find online readings for each day of Advent (I use an iPhone app for this).
  • Fasting is also part of the ancient Advent practice, it is a partial fast combined with repentance to "make room" for receiving in Christmas what can uniquely satisfy the heart's desire.


Most of us who try to observe the ancient practice also accommodate the more secular/commercial holiday, but we do so with mixed feelings. The month-long clash of Advent and Kulture Krismas calls for holding in tension these two divergent traditions. We cross this border daily during the weeks of December. We are attempting an Advent simmer amid a commercial Christmas combustion. We try to live in the rhythm of Advent, attempting to hold off untimely outbursts of "Joy to the World" until Christmas Eve, only to find ourselves indulging the crowd that can't wait for Santa Claus to come to town.

So, if I seem a bit reticent to dive whole-hog into Christmas frolicking in these weeks, please indulge me this small eccentricity.  I'm trying to prepare my heart to make room to fully experience the grace of Incarnation--as if the Child were suddenly, upendingly born in my heart and to our world on Christmas Eve. Then, I'll sing--and keep on singing--with gusto: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill to all!"

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, November 27, 2014


A poem, to be read on Thanksgiving

A few years ago, I went searching for the ultimate Thanksgiving poem. I turned up lots of worthy renderings. I have since posted quite a few of these on Indybikehiker. But nothing that year spoke to or from what I was feeling at the time. So, here's the result of my attempt, not at the ultimate Thanksgiving poem, but to express what was--and is--in my heart as we approach this holiday.

Thanksgiving doesn't live in a vacuum;
We do not pluck it from thin air.
We cannot be grateful on command,
Genuflecting at the drop of hat.

Talk is cheap when it comes to thanking.
Yet beyond courteous etiquette
Lies a deeper reality that beckons,
Inviting us to reckon with grace.

Native American graciousness
And Pilgrim hospitality,
Turkey and all the trimmings point
Beyond finely folded, praying hands.

Through and beyond these images
We glimpse a sacred connection,
As generations across time
Hail some gracious provision.

It’s not so much a debt we owe
Or tribute for posterity
As it is a virtue we receive
And reflect into eternity.

We deep-down know we are held
By sustaining, life-giving hands.
Not our own or on our own,
We belong and are lovingly known.

We cannot utter such mystery;
Tradition and rite fall short.
But these, and we, can point and say
“Thanks” for life and grace today.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Seven ways receiving and offering the grace of gratitude enriches life

A few years ago, I spent most of a week in the San Francisco bay area at the expense of Lilly Endowment with an extremely gifted group of emerging teachers, compassionate ministry practitioners, and pastors. The group was part of Lilly Endowment's Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative. Our group was facilitated by Dr. Christine Pohl, who teaches ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary and is author of Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, and, more recently, Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. Our task for the week was to explore the meaning and practice of gratitude in the context of Christian community and ministry. Here are some personal reflections I brought home:

1. Gratitude is more than a cultural courtesy; it can be a spiritual grace. We are taught to say “thank you” as a common courtesy, but gratitude also erupts within us as a grace. Instead of cheap, trite words somehow mustered up, gratitude seems to arise from the depths of a soul that has encountered grace. It can be a heart-felt response to recognizing grace. How have you encountered grace? What responses does it produce?

2. Gratitude is only gratitude when it is expressed. It is one thing to have feelings of thankfulness, but gratitude is expressive. It speaks the words. It demonstrates in actions. It goes public. The Apostle Paul captures the spirit of it: “give thanks in all circumstances.” To whom might you outwardly express the inward thanks you feel these days?

3. As we offer gratitude, we are made whole. In a story told in Luke 17, ten lepers are healed bodily as they go on their way, but it appears that only the one who returns to give thanks is made whole. His healing is complete. Expressing gratitude for what God has begun in our lives moves us toward fullness of life.

4. Gratitude is a life-affirming choice in the midst of a cynical social environment. Cynicism seems to be the very air we Americans breathe. To choose gratitude in such a Zeitgeist risks being scoffed at, to be sure, but it taps deeply into an authentic source of life. At the conclusion of a prayer, one of our group members—a fellow who labors against poverty in Harlem—humorously blurted out: “Cynicism be damned!”

5. Gratitude is a hope-bearing perspective in the face of extreme difficulties. Choosing to express gratitude for some small graces or mercies in the midst of dark hours and deep waters seems, somehow, to draw a line in the sand against ultimate despair. In the face of tragedy, loss, or trial, what is below the surface—what is in us—is revealed. We may grieve our losses and at the same time express gratitude for what is lost or what remains. When we do, gratitude becomes transformative.

6. Gratitude, one group member said, is like a lubricant in the context of community. It is like oil in ongoing, committed and sometimes turbulent relationships. Our group explored the disciplines and interconnections of truth-telling, promise-keeping, hospitality, and gratitude. Of these, gratitude seems to be the healing and sustaining balm in sometimes very stressed communities.

7. Gratitude may well be a distinctive quality of Christian community. Christians do not have a corner on the market on gratitude, to be sure. But small and great expressions of gratitude, practiced as discipline and expressed as grace, seem to define healthy communities in which Jesus Christ is being recognized as Savior and Lord. One might conclude that when a community practices gratitude it is becoming more like the one whom it honors and in whose name it exists to serve others.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moving Toward Thanksgiving

My thoughts are moving toward Thanksgiving and its essential meanings. But boiling down the essence of a particular holiday is dangerous. By the time one distills it down to one thing, it has lost is savor--it's flat, one-dimensional. One will have a point, but have missed the larger, broader experience in the process.

Thanksgiving, like other holidays, is multi-faceted, a layered tradition with rich tributaries. But, like other holidays, commercialism tends to twist or bury primary meanings and overwhelm traditions. For example, who would ever have imagined eating Thanksgiving dinner in front of the TV, watching an NFL game? Two American traditions collide and the primary one yields. Or, they both morph into something new.

I will likely watch some of the NFL action next Thursday. I also hope we play some football. But I was thinking of the tendency to lose primary meanings and spiritual growth opportunities of Thanksgiving when I penned the following poem.

This holiday is for all that we
Take for granted,
Assume as a given,
Absent-mindedly overlook,
Claim as our God-given right.

This holiday if for all those we
Unnecessarily criticize,
Agitate with our demands,
Impatiently rush,
Regularly impose upon.

This holiday is for all that we
By-pass in our drivenness,
Go out of our way to avoid,
Carelessly forget,
Thoughtlessly leave out.

This holiday is for all things we
Receive as gracious gifts,
Share as common ground,
Express as transcendent grace,
Return in praise to God.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mission of a City

From where do we and our city's leaders get our ideas about the purposes for our city and region?

Two-term Mayor Greg Ballard has decided not to seek a third term, leaving Republicans scrambling to find a candidate. Yesterday, former Secretary of State Joe Hogsett officially launched his campaign to lead Indianapolis. Whoever takes the reigns will have significant issues to grapple with.

But before arguing policies, postulating solutions, or resuming power plays, I wonder if would-be leaders and citizens would pause to consider the mission of our city?

If so, I suggest we begin with the following mission statement and apply it to our city and Central Indiana. Our polis, to be healthy, must be guided by a high enough mission to heal and inspire the whole.

“The mission of a city is to put the highest concerns of human beings at the center of all its activities: to unite the scattered fragments of the human personality, turning artificially dismembered people…into complete human beings, repairing the damage that has been done by vocational separation, by social segregation, by the over-cultivation of a favored function, by tribalisms and nationalisms, by the absence of organic partnerships and ideal purposes.” 
-- Lewis Mumford in The City in History (1961)

Read it carefully. It is not idealism. It is neither unrealistic nor unreachable. It is not a business-as-usual mission, however. It is not a business-knows-best perspective. So-called leaders have overlooked the core concerns named in this mission at the expense of our city’s and region’s vitality. And yet there has never been a more opportune time to fulfill its promise.

If we took this as our city’s mission, we would invest to address crime’s personal and inter-cultural sources rather than frantically throw more taxpayer money at covering its symptoms. We would reverse the devolution of public education into private self interest. We would develop our capacities to draw our residents into a rich common life--regardless of income or cultural background--instead of occasional faux expressions of it.

Mumford’s perspective of a city is a soulful—though not religious—one. That is, it places ultimate value on persons as individuals and as participants together in a commonly-felt but pervasively-sabotaged common good. It defies interest groups, which, all the while declaring their value to the city, nonetheless act primarily to exploit it for gain.

Based on Mumford’s mission of a city, I offer the following challenges for the current and next generation of our region’s residents and those who would serve them in municipal leadership:

1. Carefully explore where you get your understanding of the city, interpretation of its conditions, and recommendations for shaping its future. Develop a healthy skepticism of so-called expert sources that self-identity as serving our good. I, for one, have not found many local news media outlets, real estate brokers, partisan ideologues, pulpiteers, or entertainment media to be valid reflectors or helpful interpreters of the life and challenges of our city. Unfortunately, these are some of the prime sources by which many people form their perceptions and respond with their actions.

Consider four inadequate views and responses to the city: 

• A necessary evil – endure it

• A marketplace – consume it, exploit it, use it, take advantage of it 

• A dangerous place – flee it, fight it 

• A broken place – work around it

Such inadequate and misleading perceptions of the city and metropolitan area lead to choices, behaviors and values that can become self-fulfilling prophecies of fear, division, segregation, disinvestment, and violence. On the other hand, an understanding of the city as Mumford describes it can lead to barriers being bridged and vibrancy abounding.

2. Strain to see your life and the city's future as bound together in a greater work of vitality.  Are we not here together now in this particular place to listen, learn, contribute, and grow? Place and what we do with it and in it, Mumford implies, is tied to one’s sense of meaning and fulfillment. So, let’s make a functional connection between our personal wholeness and the vitality of this place in which are together living.

In this, I ask myself two questions: (1) In what ways might I be formed to become more mature, more whole? (2) How do this city and region’s past, present and future challenges uniquely connect with this maturation process? Personally, I am convinced that my salvation is tied up with how I live in and contribute in this place we call Indianapolis and Central Indiana.

3. Cooperate with a bigger dream by investing your life redemptively in our city and region's peace.  A transcendent sense of purpose should be informing our approach to life and development in this metropolitan area. This is not our city to use, exploit, possess, or control. It is a place and a people with a higher value and peaceful purpose. Regardless of its self-deceptions, its worth is inestimable. Regardless of its hurtful ways, it is renewable. Actions for individual and community redemption are critical to higher purposes for both.

Could Indianapolis and Central Indiana identify and claim Mumford's mission as our own?  Certainly. Can we develop a clear, unique sense of mission that is shared across the region?   It is possible. Or, we can continue to be pushed and pulled and quartered by one competing self-interest and passing influence after another. I'm choosing to live as if Mumford's mission applies. Will you join me?

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wendell Berry's 'The Way, the Truth, and the Life'

I came upon this gripping, insightful 2012 Sabbath poem of Wendell Berry this morning. With him, my heart aches at the ripping fabric and cultural insanity of twisted words, shallow values, hollow justifications, and indefensible violence.

Praise "family values,"
"a better future for our children,"
displacing meanwhile the familiar
membership to be a "labor force"
of homeless strangers. Praise
work and name it "jobs."
With "labor-saving technology"
replace workers at their work
and hold them in contempt
because they have no "jobs."
Praise "our country" and oppress
the land with poisons, gouges,
blastings, the violent labors and
pleasures of the unresting displaced,
skinning the earth alive.
This is the way, the truth, the life.

Welcome the refugees set free
from the "nowhere" of rural America,
from the "drudgery" of the household
and the "mind-numbing work"
of shops and farms, into
the anthills of "liberation,"
the endless vistas of "growth,"
of "progress," the "limitless adventure
of the human spirit" rising
through inward emptiness into
"outer space." Welcome
the displaced naturally "upwardly
mobile" to their "better world"
as they gather bright-lighted
in "multicultural" masses
in the packed streets. Catch
those who inevitably
fall from the light-swarm
in meshes of "safety nets," "benefits,"
"job training," the army,
the wars, mental hospitals,
jails, graves. Forget
vocation, memory, living
and dying at home. This
is the way, the truth, and the life.

Flourish your weapons of official
war where they are needed
for peace, bring death by chance
but needfully to small houses
where children play at war
or a wedding that is taking place
so that the bride and groom
will not be separately killed,
for you have an enemy
somewhere, who must be killed.
Therefore forgive the unofficial
entrepreneur who brings
your weapons to your
school, your office, your
neighborhood theater, bringing
death randomly but needfully,
for his enemies are his
as yours are yours. This is
the way, the truth, and the life.

- from This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Sunday, October 26, 2014

After Four Months as a Part-time Pastor

A reflection on serving East Tenth United Methodist Church

East Tenth UMC has some really striking old stained
glass in its 1911 structure. The simplicity of the old
sanctuary invites contemplation and reverence.
I've been serving part-time as Pastor of East Tenth United Methodist Church since the first of July. These four months have flown by. Though the time I have to invest is very limited, I enjoy preaching and facilitating weekly services again, as well as basic pastoral care. I also enjoy participating in the open community dinners the church hosts every Sunday evening. Forty or so folks attend the 10:45 am service, but about 100 nearby neighbors come for good food and gracious hospitality at 5:00 pm each Sunday evening.

The work I have committed myself to in leading Near East Area Renewal is top priority for me, but the fact that NEAR is developing affordable housing and building community relationships within St. Clair Place--the neighborhood in which East Tenth UMC is located--creates good synergies. Both keeping the two roles separate and working the angles of them together when appropriate is a fun challenge.

I've been following the full range of Sunday by Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and preaching from one of the texts. I'd forgotten how intriguing and fun this can be. Each week is an adventure as I let the texts work on me through the course of my daily work in the community. Throughout the summer and early autumn, I've preached from the Old Testament stories in Genesis and Exodus. They naturally reflect on the history of salvation and the liberating acts of God that create opportunities for community.

These are lovable and caring people. On the one hand, disparate, few, and somewhat fragile; on the other hand, steady, informed, and with a persistent sense of belonging. My sense is that they've hung in there through an unusually high series of pastoral changes and unusually diverse range of pastors. I'd like to think that I could offer them a long-term pastoral tenure, even as part-time, but we'll take it one year at a time. First things first.

I've been fascinated by East Tenth since my days of serving at Shepherd Community in the 1980's. East Tenth represented to me a church that "gets" loving its community and neighbors. It still does. I've enjoyed friendship across the years with its 1990's pastor Darren Cushman-Wood (now Senior Pastor at North UMC). I've enjoyed my numerous opportunities to preach at East Tenth when its pastors have been away. I never imagined serving as pastor of this historic urban neighborhood congregation.

My sense of the East Tenth Street UMC community is that it's life and future is connected intimately with it being turned inside out in neighborly love in the larger Near Eastside community. It's own internal life is limited, but it's direct and indirect reach into the community is rich. I imagine a spiritual formation that reflects an historic Wesleyan ethos and first-generation Methodist practice of social holiness and service to low-income and at-risk neighbors.

At the same time, I am anxious to initiate a few home-based small groups or clusters that will reflect something of the class meetings that also historically defined and catapulted Methodism to its earlier effectiveness. Accountability and encouragement within a group of 8-12 people meeting weekly is a powerful thing. We'll see how that develops over the next six months.

In all, I've clearly bitten off more than I can chew. I cannot invest the time I feel is needed to turn some corners that need to be turned. I accepted the assignment thinking I could help the church remain viable and grow as one of the last mainline congregations on the Near Eastside. There is a slew of new neighbors in St. Clair Place to consider. New folks are attending church steadily and core church folks are clearly and naturally expressing care in the nearby community. This is promising to me. I hope growth and renewal continues. For now, I'm just happy to be reconnected and serving. After being on the bench or sidelines for a few years, I think it's good for my own soul.

If you're not doing anything on Sundays at 10:45 am, you might enjoy what we're up to at East Tenth.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, October 20, 2014

Grace in Autumn

Wendell Berry reflects on autumn's glory in the woods

A brief bicycle ride in nearby Eagle Creek Park brings the presence and power of autumn to my senses: the crisp-cool air, vibrant colors, falling and fallen leaves, and a realization of this necessary dying turn of life's cycle. Later, I came across this poem by Wendell Berry titled, simply, "Grace."

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking,
the way is the same. Be still. Be still.
"He moves your bones, and the way is clear."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn as Metaphor

Parker J. Palmer challenges us to see the paradox of dying and seeding in this incredible season

"Autumn is a season of great beauty, but is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer's abundance decays toward winter's death.  Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn?  She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring--and she scatters them with amazing abandon."

"In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted.  In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface experiences--on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a vocation.  And yet, if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come."

"In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time--how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the 'road closed' sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sewn."

"In a culture that prefers the ease of either/or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together.  We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter, and the Faustian bargains we make fail to sustain our lives."

"When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off.  Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing."

From The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb.  Parker Palmer's books include Let Your Life Speak, The Active Life, In the Company of Strangers, and The Courage to Teach.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Welcome, Autumn

I love autumn. I'm always looking for writings and poetry about the season. I've found quite a few that I've shared on this indybikehiker blog over the years. Word search "autumn" on my blog and see what all turns up.

The following poem will show up frequently. I wrote it in 2006 and I've posted it every autumn since. It's my personal celebration of this season and my nudge to every reader to embrace its possibilities.

On the brink of autumn,

A hint of chill in the air,
The sun’s setting sooner,
In a few days we’ll be there

Where green turns to golden
And reapers harvest the yield,
Where dry leaves are falling
And flocking fowl arc the fields.

Then we’ll don our jackets
And brace ourselves for the wind
That rustles through branches
And billows our souls again.

Do not shrink back from fall;
Embrace this gilded season
As a grace that descends;
A gift to all from heaven.

It’s time for returning,
For in-bringing and burning,
For heart walks in deep woods,
For distilling, discerning.

What’s muddled becomes clear
And all chaff is left exposed
As autumn’s sun glows bright
And a harvest moon shines cold.

We may shed pretenses
And travel a lighter way
Our hearts as crisp as leaves
That lift and then sail away.

As we are being turned,
Turn—facing all the changes,
The falling, the cooling,
And the encroaching darkness.

Lean into the season
Lest it overtake your way.
Let your soul be opened;
Relish its gift this fall day.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA