Associate Minister's Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

 It may not feel like it yet weather-wise, but Fall will soon be here. Sometimes it feels like everything is different in September. The pace gets quicker. Summer stuff gets packed away. Kids go back to school, some head off to college. There seems to be change in the air.

That can feel exciting and it can also make us feel anxious. New adventures await but perhaps the road is hard to see. Empty nesters get used to the quieter house. For others, there are new classes, new teachers.

I always loved the new school year. The buying of new supplies. The snap of new books. The mystery of new teachers or returning to the classroom of favorites when I was in college. Being challenged. Learning more about myself. Then there was graduate school, and many years later, seminary. When I started seminary, I was not only going back to school but, in a sense, remaking my life. Talk about excited and anxious.

Still, in that adventure as well as throughout my life, there have been constants. My family. Friends. But most of all, God. Through every season, time of doubt, and questioning, God was my anchor. My midnight prayer partner. The One always listening, always caring, always encouraging me to be the best I could be, even when I was not so sure. Even when I thought it was impossible.

Of course, this trust, this relationship has taken my whole life. And there are still days when I cry out and get frustrated. But I know that God will not turn away or refuse to hear me. What a difference that has made in my life.

Through every season, every moment, every change, God is there. What a difference that can make in how we see and live our life journey if we hold on to that truth with both hands and a full heart.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Autumn – leaves and all.

Peace,

 Joy

O Autumn, Autumn!

O Autumn, Autumn! O pensive light
     and wistful sound!
Gold-haunted sky, green-haunted ground!

When, wan, the dead leaves flutter by
     Deserted realms of butterfly!
When robins band themselves together

    To seek the sound of sun-steeped weather;
And all of summer’s largesse goes
     For lands of olive and the rose!

Effie Lee Newsome - 1885-1978 American Poet

 

Associate Minister’s Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

Do You See What I See?

When I was younger and my family went on vacations that involved long car drives, we loved to play a lot of games in the car. We played the “Round robin continuous story”,  the “license plate game”, the “state game”, the “alphabet game”, or my parents’ favorite – “the quiet game.” One of the games that my dad loved to play the best was “I spy”. For those of you haven’t played, this is where you pick an item and people have to guess where the item is and what it is, using no more than 20 “yes” or “no” questions to gain clues.

The thing about playing “I spy” is that it helps you see things that perhaps you wouldn’t ever notice were there otherwise– like the red flower on a billboard; a shiny logo in the car; the color of the trees on far distant hills. I remember one time we were playing and the object turned out to be a freckle on my dad’s nose. None of us could see that from the backseat and he thought it was hilarious.

But the lessons of “I spy” are important. What do we see and what don’t we? What do we focus on and what do we not? Do we see what’s important or do we take it for granted? This applies to  anything—family, friends, colleagues, material things, security, even privilege. Most importantly, do we see God in our lives? Do we see the ways that God is in our world or do we walk right past them? 

Only we know the answer to these questions. But this summer, when maybe we have a little bit more time to step back, reflect and see a little clearer,  might be a good time to play our own personal “I spy” games. What do we see about our lives that we might have missed?  When we examine our lives do we see the people who help us? Do we see the ways that we interact with the world? Do we see how God is woven into our every moment?

Why not take the time to really see things. Be unafraid to live an examined life.  You might be surprised by how it changes your point of view.

Happy Summer!

Peace,

Joy

Associate Minister’s Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

A Summer’s Day.

Did you ever wish for a summer day with nothing to do but simply enjoy it however you wished, but then find when it finally arrived that you had so many things planned you could not enjoy it the way you wanted to? That instead of just drinking in every moment and letting it lift you up instead of added to your tension?

I experienced a bit of that when I was recently at my niece’s graduation from Duke. We had one Commencement in the morning for the entire college and then another one in the afternoon for just the Pratt School of Engineering, with many hours in-between. We were not going to leave campus as it would be too difficult with our large family group, so we took a lot of pictures, had lunch and then sat at outside tables in a section that is the heart of the campus and waited. And waited. And talked and wandered and talked some more about how we hoped the rain would hold off.

We had so much to do but could not get it done because we had a schedule of when it would happen. We wanted to celebrate but were not done with the graduating. I went over to the Duke Bookstore at least five times. It is a beautiful campus, but we could not relax. We had to plan for how much time to walk back to the arena for the second graduation. Finally, something broke.

Maybe it was the wind picking up. Or the smell of rain in the air even as the sun came out. Maybe it was family being together for a special moment. But we all suddenly seemed to relax. Funny stories came out. Laughter filled the spaces instead of continually looking at our watches. We were there to celebrate my niece and celebrate her we did. Our collective hearts lifted, and we looked at the day as the gift it was instead of something to get through.

A gift. Each and every day is one. How often do we really look at them that way? Celebrate them. Cherish them. Give thanks to God for them. Remind ourselves that God walks with us through them – all of them – the good and the difficult. This summer, as the days stretch out and you find yourself with a moment or two – why not relax, refresh, pray and give thanks for the gift. It will do your heart good.

Peace,

Joy

A something in a summer's Day

                 By Emily Dickinson

A something in a summer's Day
As slow her flambeaux burn away
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer's noon -
A depth - an Azure - a perfume -
Transcending ecstasy.

And still within a summer's night
A something so transporting bright
I clap my hands to see -

Then veil my too inspecting face
Lets such a subtle - shimmering grace
Flutter too far for me -

The wizard fingers never rest -
The purple brook within the breast
Still chafes it narrow bed -

Still rears the East her amber Flag -
Guides still the sun along the Crag
His Caravan of Red -

So looking on - the night - the morn
Conclude the wonder gay -
And I meet, coming thro' the dews

Another summer's Day!

Associate Minister’s Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

The world is full of promise and it never seems more so than in late spring. The flowers are making an appearance, the trees are in flower, the bees return, and the birds are dive-bombing you to stay away from their nests. There is a whisper that seems to call and remind us of the days that have passed and the days yet to come, that they will get here and we don’t need to rush them, no matter how much the world may be telling us that we need to keep moving if we don’t want to be left behind. Benet refers to it as the “divine languor of late spring”.

We often think of the lazy, hazy days of summer, but late spring invites us to pause and reflect, consider and plan. Perhaps it is plantings, trips, or just how to spend an afternoon. Nature calls to us to really see what is going on around us and not just speed through our days in order to get the next item ticked off the list. But the invitation is there, so why not answer, even if for only an hour or two?

But unlike the call of May, God calls us in all the seasons of our lives. We can’t hear if we don’t allow ourselves to find the silence to hear though. We can’t reflect if we don’t carve out the time to do so. God waits for us to find that time, but I wonder sometimes if God gets a tiny bit frustrated when we repeatedly don’t. Life certainly involves making a living, but living is more about making a life. And that is something we have to do as a master sculptor does – inch by inch, finding out who we are, discovering our passions as well as how to feed our soul as much as we feed and care for our bodies and our loved ones.

Now, while “there is neither past nor vague hereafter” we should take spring up on that untouched invitation and let ourselves listen for the still small voice of God urging us to be all we can.

Happy listening!

Peace,

Joy

May Morning

I lie stretched out upon the window-seat
And doze, and read a page or two, and doze,
And feel the air like water on me close,
Great waves of sunny air that lip and beat
With a small noise, monotonous and sweet,
Against the window -- and the scent of cool,
Frail flowers by some brown and dew-drenched pool
Possesses me from drowsy head to feet.

This is the time of all-sufficing laughter
At idiotic things someone has done,
And there is neither past nor vague hereafter.
And all your body stretches in the sun
And drinks the light in like a liquid thing;
Filled with the divine languor of late spring.

 Stephen Vincent Benet

Associate Minister's Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

April showers bring May flowers. Or so that childhood rhyme goes. That’s what I love about the poem by Langston Hughes. It’s about how he loves the rain and all the ways the rain loves us back. All the gifts of the rain from kissing us on the head to singing us to sleep. A way to celebrate, because as the old song says; “Who can stop the rain?”

It often seems that much of April is filled with rainy days. But not every day. There’s plenty of sunshine too. Like life. Days of sunshine and shadow. A time for every season, as the Biblical poet reminds us. Rain brings growth and with it new beginnings. But rain can be a menace, bringing too much rain and floods, that causes damage and destruction. Again, like moments in life when we feel like we are drowning in our problems or situations.

Giving them power over us. Wondering where the sun is. We all love the gentle rain that Hughes is speaking of - soft, warm, lulling us to sleep. But the hard rain of life is more difficult to move through. That is when we need to remember Who is with us in the rain. Who is rowing out to us in the flood. Who is right beside us. Who is walking towards us on the water. When we are in the midst of gloom and storms, it is easy to forget. But God never does. God is with us through it all - sunshine, rain, rainbow and all the colors in between.

On those gloomy April days when the rain is kissing your head, why not, just for a moment, give thanks to the One who is with you through it all. And then, look for the flowers!

Peace,

Joy

April Showers

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you

Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops

Let the rain sing you a lullaby

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk

The rain makes running pools in the gutter

The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night

And I love the rain.

Langston Hughes

Associate Minister’s Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

March Comes In Like…

I love the poem to the right by Emily Dickinson. I love its declaration of how she welcomes March, as if she has been waiting and waiting for it to come. As if she couldn’t wait to celebrate it. March is her favorite month of the year. And when April tries to come and knock, she won’t have anything to do with it. She will not be pursued.

I’m not sure that most of us would choose March as our favorite month. Winter has already been around too long it seems and the promise of spring and Easter are not here yet.

What is your favorite time of the year? A time that fills you with joy, outside the usual suspects of Christmas, Easter and Summer vacation? Your birth month? An anniversary time? A fun family annual event?

During these winter months when the scenery seems unchanging, either grey, brown, white, or a mix of all three, we often long for the colors of spring, the warmth of the sun, or a blue sky that lets us know that summer is on its way. It’s a waiting game.  We wonder if what we want will ever appear.

The season of Lent can be like that too. Forty days of waiting for Easter morning. But waiting doesn’t mean we do nothing. Lenten waiting is a time for taking stock, learning, deepening our hearts. A time for sitting with God. Waiting can be a gift. Which is why I think Emily doesn’t want April to come too soon. She wants the time to sit and wait and be in March. May the month of March for us this year be a time of waiting,  learning, growing and stretching. A time when we will take the time to get to know ourselves better, and in the process perhaps deepen our relationship with God a little bit more.

Happy waiting!

Peace,
Joy

Dear March - Come in - (1320) Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

Dear March - Come in -   
How glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat -       
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are -
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well -
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

I got your Letter, and the Birds -
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -
But March, forgive me -
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue -
There was no Purple suitable -
You took it all with you -

Who knocks? That April -
Lock the Door -
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied -
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame -

Associate Minister's Message

Winter Blues

This time of year, the world often seems gray; a hint of snow always in the air, the trees bare of leaves and the promise of spring with it’s myriad of colors seeming far far away. It’s a time when we want to bundle up and just stay put, watching the world go by and hoping spring will hurry. It’s one of the things that I like about the poem below - how it catches that moment between winter and spring through the tree that will not let go of it leaves, as if to say “You can’t take away who I am!”

For the poet however, it is a warning and an encouragement. The tree, not knowing that spring is on its way despite the bitter chill, is holding on tight. Holding on tight to who it is, not aware that it may need to let go in order to find itself. To find the promise of spring and what it can become. As long as it is holding on tight though, that can’t happen.

We do that as well. We hold onto things tightly, sometimes longer than we should, even when we see the signs of change in the air or feel the winds blow. We can be afraid of what might happen if we “let go and become the person that God sees in us.”

This time of waiting, while much of nature pauses to rest and renew, is a great time to think about what holds us back. What dreams are on hold? What pathways beckon. Are we like the tree holding every leaf, afraid to let even one fall? Or are we willing to shake them off and say, “Here I am God, lead the way”?

Only time will tell.

Peace,
Joy

Winter Leafage

Each year I mark one lone outstanding tree,

Clad in its robings of the summer past,

Dry, wan, and shivering in the wintry blast

It will not pay the season’s rightful fee,

It will not set its frost-burnt leafage free;

But like some palsied miser all aghast,

Who hoards his sordid treasure to the last,

It sighs, it moans, it sings in eldritch glee.

A foolish tree, to dote on summers gone;

A faithless tree, that never feels how spring

Creeps up the world to make a leafy dawn,

And recompense for all despoilment bring!

Oh, let me not, heyday and youth withdrawn,

With failing hands to their vain semblance cling!

Edith Matilda Thomas
American poet, 1854-1925

Associate Minister's Message-- Rev. Joy Mounts

What is it about January?

Sometimes it seems like such a letdown after all of the fun and festivities of December.  As if all of the air has been let out of the balloon and the days stretch, gray and uninviting.  Down come the decorations and lights, put away for another year.  But sometimes, with the new fallen snow, it seems like a clean slate ready to be written upon.  There is a crispness in the air you would swear you haven’t felt before.  There is a whisper of promise and journeys that await.

There’s just always something about January.  Something that somehow seems to make it different than the rest of the months of the year.  As in the poem below, the wind is knocking at the window to say, “Here I am, ready or not.”  For some people, it is filled with thoughts of happiness for all that lies ahead.  For others, it is a time of anxiety and fear.  What will the unknown bring?

The one thing that we do know is that the new year will bring with it something the old year had God’s presence with us.  God is with us when we peer into the known and the unknown.  God is with us as we step into all our journeys.

No matter how the wind may blow or scratch at our windows, we are warmed by the presence of God, who will not leave us to face our giants on our own; who walks beside us in every challenge and gives us courage and strength and as we look at our calendars to see the rush of meetings, schoolwork, applications and the general busyness of life.

There is something about January.  Hopefully, it also is the month which reminds us that while Christmas is over, the Promise lives on and on.  That is something to continually lift our hearts and brighten any cold, grey winter day!

Wish you and yours a blessed New Year and a happy January!

Peace,
Joy

January

Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:

Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.

And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
‘its derisive music’.

William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963

When Christmas Comes

When Christmas Comes.

When is it Christmas for you? When is that moment when it becomes Christmas?  Is there a song you hear or carol you sing?  Is  it  the smell  of  pine  or  baking  cookies  or  candy canes? Is  it  the  taste  of  a  favorite  holiday  dish  or  seeing  an annual TV show? Is there something that suddenly makes it Christmas for you - that moment which makes the season come alive before your eyes and in your heart?

Maybe it is different every year.  I know that it is for me. Some years it’s the smell of evergreens. Or the house being decorated. Or watching a favorite holiday movie. Sometimes it  is  being  at  the  Advent  Festival,  making  the  crafts  and caroling together. Whatever it is, there’s always a moment for me when Christmas comes even if it’s early in the season.

Although I know it will soon be Advent and then Christmas, that  moment  when  I  feel  Christmas  come  usually  sneaks  up on me. But then I realize that Christmas, with all its awe and wonder,  its  message  of  hope  and  grace  and  the  power of God’s unending love for humankind, is truly here. And that it has never left.  Yes, Christmas comes but God’s gift once given was for all time. How amazing is that? When does Christmas come for you? 
When is that moment when you feel like a child again and your heart feels open to so much love that is spills out of you? When it happens, don’t brush it off or rush through it to get the next thing on your list done. Savor it. Breathe it in deeply. And then consider how to hold onto its message throughout the rest of the year.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Advent and a  Blessed Christmas season!

Peace,

Joy

Christmas Carol by Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 -1906

Ring out, ye bells!

All Nature swells

With gladness at the wondrous story,

The world was lorn,

But Christ is born

To change our sadness into glory.

Sing, earthlings, sing!

To–night a King

Hath come from heaven’s high throne to bless us.

The outstretched hand

O’er all the land

Is raised in pity to caress us.

Come at his call;

Be joyful all;

Away with mourning and with sadness!

The heavenly choir

With holy fire

Their voices raise in songs of gladness.

The darkness breaks

And Dawn awakes,

Her cheeks suffused with youthful blushes.

The rocks and stones

In holy tones

Are singing sweeter than the thrushes.

Then why should we

In silence be,

When Nature lends her voice to praises;

When heaven and earth

Proclaim the truth

Of Him for whom that lone star blazes?

No, be not still,

But with a will

Strike all your harps and set them ringing;

On hill and heath

Let every breath

Throw all its power into singing!

Associate Minister's Message--Rev. Joy Mounts

November

Much have I spoken of the faded leaf;

Long have I listened to the wailing wind,

And watched it ploughing through the heavy clouds,

For autumn charms my melancholy mind.

When autumn comes, the poets sing a dirge:

The year must perish; all the flowers are dead;

The sheaves are gathered; and the mottled quail

Runs in the stubble, but the lark has fled!

Still, autumn ushers in the Christmas cheer,

The holly-berries and the ivy-tree:

They weave a chaplet for the Old Year’s bier,

These waiting mourners do not sing for me!

I find sweet peace in depths of autumn woods,

Where grow the ragged ferns and roughened moss;

The naked, silent trees have taught me this,

The loss of beauty is not always loss!

Elizabeth Drew Stoddard, American Poet, 1823 – 1902

Autumn Dreams

Autumn has a beauty all its own. The sky. The leaves changing color. The bare trees casting different and spooky shadows in the moonlight. Some find this season depressing as the colors fade and the world seems more monotone before the coming of Christmas reds and greens. But I enjoy the paler colors, the way the earth seems to fold into itself. The truth of the last line of the poem by Elizabeth Drew - the loss of beauty is not always a loss. - is that there is sometimes a greater gift when all the outward trappings are gone.

Sometimes we have to see past what we think we now to get to the core of something, like a tree shedding its leaves that lays bare the truth with its knots and whirls, its birds’ nests and squirrels. Then you can discover things you might have known were there but couldn’t clearly see until the leaves were gone. Suddenly there they are and you wonder how you ever missed them to begin with.

Sometimes it is like that in seeing God in our lives. Our days are so crowded with activities and schedules that we just don’t see God at work, much less have time to consider how God’s presence is woven through our days. Sometimes it takes changes of season, of life, or the year to make us stop and wonder. Sometimes it is because of sorrow or celebration that we stop and look back and finally see how the Great Artist has been painting our days.

In this season of change and reflection, as the colors fade and the world around us seems to pull itself in seeking warmth and light, take the time to look back and see how God is present in all your moments and, appropriately for November, give thanks.

Peace,

Joy

Here Comes September--Rev. Joy Mounts

Once  again the seasons have turned, and fall has arrived. It might not quite feel like it but it is here. And with it comes Welcome Back Sunday, the start of school, programs at the church gear up again, the leaves begin to turn, and hopefully there will be a crispness in the air. There may also be a feeling of sadness or regret over things not done during the summer. But there is also a feeling of excitement as to what the fall and all of its adventures will bring.

That is how life feels sometimes – regret over things not done or said, or help not given. Excitement over where life is taking you or what adventures have been yet to be experienced. Below are two poems that express both of these possibilities. They express the paradox of September.

In the middle of all of this, it is comforting to know that God is with us as we experience both the highs and lows of life. As we wonder where the mountaintop moments are or long to stay there. In all the seasons of our lives, God walks with us. This is reassuring, encouraging, and inspiring. We need to hold on to that with open hands and open hearts as we boldly walk into all the adventures that September and beyond.

Peace, Joy

September
Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lo! a ripe sheaf of many golden days,
Gleaned by the year in autumn's harvest ways,
With here and there, blood-tinted as an ember,
Some crimson poppy of a late delight,
Atoning in its splendor for the flight,
Of summer blooms and joys-
This is September.

Autumn Day
Rainer Maria Rilke  1902 – translated by Edward Snow 1991

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense,
Lay your long shadows on the sundials,
and on the meadows let the winds go free.
Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
urge them on to completion and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Who has no house now, will never build one.
Who is alone now, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters and will wander restlessly up and down
the tree-lines streets, when the leaves are drifting

"What Do You See?"--Rev. Joy Mounts

I love this poem from Walt Whitman because of the way it challenges us to  look at things we  may  consider to be perfectly ordinary and see them in a totally different way. Things we may take for granted. Things our eyes might skim over or ignore as not special.

Sometimes our horizons are just too narrow. Or we are too preoccupied by everything going on around us. But these moments, these little miracles  that feed the soul, encourage the spirit and often help us to have the strength to deal with our daily battles large and small.  Whitman doesn’t mention God’s presence but I think God is there in all of the things he names and more. We  just  need  to  remember  to  see,  and remind each other that there really is nothing “ordinary” about an ordinary day. They are each a gift. How different would the world be if we all embraced and cherished each day, those we share it with, and how we spend it?

Something to ponder as we head into summer and the lazy, hazy days that invite reflection and relaxation.

Peace,
Joy

Miracles - Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

"Timeless"--Rev. Joy Mounts

Timeless
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

For an on-line poetry class I am taking, I recently wrote the poem on the right. The lesson was about telling a story through an object and then opening that up to something more. I wrote about a clock in my parents house and time itself. I thought a lot about time as I wrote this. The nature of it. How fast it seems to fly. How we lose track of it.

Summer is coming, and for this brief moment before it begins it seems like it is poised to go on forever. But all too soon it will have flown by as well. How do we count our time? How do we measure our days? Do we cherish them? Do we grumble or celebrate or take them for granted? Some days seem to test us and others bring us to the mountaintop. The choice is often up to us, and it is a day by day decision.

It isn’t always an easy choice. Maybe it would help if we could keep in front of us the knowledge of Who walks those days with us. Maybe knowing God is in our moments, minutes and all the days that add up to make our life will give us a new perspective. Perhaps it will help us to live in the now, cherish the past and craft the future, even when we can’t quite see what is ahead. The time will come when it is here before we know it!

In this season of graduations, reunions, vacations and summer reflecting, taking time is always a good thing. I hope you take yours.

Peace,
Joy

"The Naming of Things" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

The Naming of Things
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

It is often said that April, that month between winter losing its grip and spring trying to get started, is the cruelest month. May is the one that brings flowers. And is said to be merry!  I hope after all of the cold we have had that it turns out to be so.

But it got me thinking about why we have this tendency to label things. Is it to feel that we have some sort of ownership? Or to try to understand things better? To diminish things; make them more reachable; or just make them more fun?

I was thinking about this after the Confirmation Class’ trip to Temple Emanu-El. After worship, we talked with Rabbi Sagal about many different elements of the service.  One of the Confirmand’s questions was about the names for God. Rabbi Sagal explained that in Judaism the name for God is so sacred that they do not say or write it. They say Yahweh, Adonai, or Lord. Some write it as G_d. In the New Testament, Jesus called God “Abba”, which basically means “Dad”, and made everyone mad. They thought He was being disrespectful when He was simply portraying the way He viewed God and the relationship He had and we all could have with God.

How do we name God? What do we call God when we pray? When we  weep?  When we laugh?  The  naming of  things is important. And it can tell us much about how we view people, places, relationships and all that is important to us. Do we have special names? Nicknames? Are there names we cannot speak aloud? In many cultures, knowing someone’s true name was a sign that you could have power over them.

The one thing we can know for sure is that God’s name for us is “beloved”. That is unchanging. And that is a warming thought to take with us as we head, hopefully, into spring!

Peace,
Joy

"Getting to Work"-- Rev. Joy Mounts

Getting to Work
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

There are two types of stores where I don’t really trust myself - bookstores and craft stores. I have written before about my love for bookstores. Similarly, there’s just something about craft materials that call to me.

Silk flowers on sale for $ .99 a stem? Coloring books? Brushes? Pens? What! How can I possibly pass that up. I find myself leaving with a much bigger bag of supplies than I ever intended to buy when I walked in the door. I should just stay out of craft supply stores but that is not realistic. Instead, I need to find a way to go and get what I went for and leave. But that may not be realistic either. Especially in the spring when the heart turns toward creative projects. Or any season when that happens.

The fact is that we all have things that call to us to help express who we are. Maybe it is art, or writing, or singing, or cooking, or any number of creative outlets. We all have gifts that we long to but don’t always find the time to use. And that can be frustrating. We want to use them but have a hard time making space for them in our already crowded lives. We think someday we’ll get to it. We’ll buy the supplies now so we’ll be ready when it happens. But will we give ourselves the space we need, or end up with a closet full of supplies?

We can be that way about our faith life too. We‘d like to work on our faith life, study the Bible, have a more consistent prayer life. But life crowds in and we think we’ll get to it tomorrow. Only tomorrow never comes. Maybe it’s time to take our faith off the shelf. Dust it off and do the study, do the work it takes to deepen our faith and our relationship with God. Not wait for tomorrow to come but to start today. That means we have to be intentional. We have to make time each day to do this, whether it’s reading the Bible, praying, meditating or any number of ways that we can practice our faith life. It might be hard at first to get going but after a while we’ll wonder why we thought we could never fit it in to begin with.

Spring is a great time to start new projects or to get going on old ones. And it’s also a wonderful time to answer the call that God is always placing on our hearts to deepen and strengthen our relationship. Why not challenge yourself to try? You will be glad you did.
Peace

"Close or Far Away" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

Close or Far Away
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Recently I got some lenses for my iPhone Camera. Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t even know this product was out there until browsing through Amazon one day. I love to take close up pictures of nature and was disappointed that my iPhone camera did not have as good a zoom as I wanted. Low and behold, there they were. Lots of them! So I picked a Marco lens and hit “buy now.”

I have not been disappointed with it so far, although I have to get pretty close to the flowers and plants I am photographing. Still, I love how close I can get! And I love learning about the ways I can use the lens and the other lenses that came with it.

When I get so close it reminds me of all that I don’t see on a regular basis – either under my nose or far away and slightly out of focus. How much do we really notice of the world around us? How much do we really take time to see? Hurrying from place to place, we often barely have time to see what is right in front of us, never mind anything else.

Which leads me to this – How often do we look around to see God with us? To see God in our moments and days? In the kindnesses shown to us or the unexpected moments of grace? Probably not too often, if at all. As a result, we are missing so much. Missing moments which could lift us up and give us encouragement and hope. Because close up or far away – God is with us.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect and see. That is part of what it is designed for. So why not take the opportunity given us? We don’t have to do anything – the time is already set aside – all we have to do is make the time. I know, easier said than done. But why not take on the challenge? Your heart and soul will thank you.

Happy reflecting. Wishing you a sacred Lent. Peace,
Joy 

"Picture This"--Rev. Joy Mounts

Picture This
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

“No matter how many pictures I take, I can never catch the ocean,” I said on a recent spiritual retreat weekend held in Ocean City, NJ. “That is true,” said the woman I was walking with, a longtime friend. “But you are still going to try!” I agreed with a rueful smile that I was. And I did. The picture above is one of my shots.

It was the same on the Great Lakes Cruise I took on my sabbatical - so many gorgeous sunsets, spectacular scenery and even a few sunrises I managed to get up for. I tried to capture them all. And while I have many wonderful photos, they all were but a moment of the larger picture I could never totally bring to life with my camera. It is hard to capture creation. But we keep trying.

Why? Well, I think because it speaks to us, to our souls in a way we want to sustain us. To bring us closer to something we cannot quite put our finger on. It reminds us of the bigger picture. The beauty of creation is a balm to our hearts and reminder of the wonder of God in troubled times. When I looked on Niagara Falls, wondered at the wild beauty of Mackinac Island, the ever-changing blues of Lake Huron, or the vastness of the night sky from the darkness of the bow of the boat, it reminded me of this. It was calming, comforting and exhilarating all at once. I didn’t need to capture the whole picture to know how wonderful it was.

It is that way sometimes with being able to view God’s presence with us. No matter how hard we try we cannot see the complete picture of God at work in our lives and our world. We see glimpses of grace, we look back and see God’s presence in this situation or that, but like trying to see the night sky all at once we can’t. It can be frustrating, especially in a world that wants more and more proof and less mystery, less Holy Spirit, less grace. We want this, and yet know that we will never be able to see it with our eyes. We must see it with the eyes of our hearts. Which means we must tune our heart to see that way by jettisoning the voices of the world that tell us we will never be able to do so.

It is a paradox and a challenge – to see and not have to have the evidence in front of our faces. To know that it does not matter if we cannot hold it in our hands. To embrace mystery and spirit and presence and say that is enough. Like trying to pin down a wave, hold starlight, or count the greens in the forest – God is with us, around us, lifting us and walking with us. Picture that.

Peace, Joy 

"Snippets of Life" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

Snippets of Life
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

I have been trying to keep up a daily SnapChat picture exchange with my youngest sister, Amy. Snapchat is an application with which you take a picture and it exists for only 24 hours. The pictures are like little snippets of life. My sister uses it to send our extended family pictures and videos of my nieces and nephews. But since Thanksgiving we have been trying to keep a streak going, i.e., we each send one to the other every day. So far, we have done well. A lot of hers are of waiting at the bus stop with my nephews at 6:40am. Mine are not taken that early!

What I like about them is that they truly are slice of life photos that keep us connected even though she lives in South Carolina. In a world where our connections seem less and less face to face oriented, getting to see their faces and the videos is one way to stay in touch. I know I look forward to getting a picture every day and she does too. Of course, as wonderful as these moments are they can never really take the place of an actual conversation. That bond, that connection, is more important than any app can convey.

Connection to family, friends, each other – this is all something that we crave. Connection to God is also something that we long for. And not just in a SnapChat way but a real, concrete and lasting way. We may wish that we had a way to do a Snapchat with God every day – “Here is what I am up to God, please send me a picture of what You are up to as well.” That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? But in a way, we can, because God is with us. We just have to open our eyes to see.

We really don’t need SnapChat or any other application to help us see God at work in our lives. God is weaving God’s presence through our days. We just need to lean into that presence, trust, listen, and let God in. To see that it is not the snippets of life that God wants to be a part of but our whole lives. All the moments – good, sad, fun, difficult and more – each and every moment.

It’s a new year and a good time to look back and see all the times God was with us and then face forward knowing that God will continue to be with us in the future. That is the promise that God has made to us.

All we have to do is take the time to see. Peace,

Joy 

"Ringing Out The News" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

Ringing Out The News

“Christmas Bells”
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
     And wild and sweet
     The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of allChristendom
     Had rolled along
     The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
     A voice, a chime,
     A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
     And with the sound
     The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
     And made forlorn
     The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
     "For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
     The Wrong shall fail,
     The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863

Longfellow wrote this poem on Christmas Day in 1863 after several more than difficult years. He was grieving his beloved wife who had died in a tragic fire.  His son had  run off in March to join the Union Army without his permission and come home in November severely wounded. He would recover but Longfellow didn’t know that when he was writing. Where was hope? Where was peace? He felt lost and worried. The world seemed like it was falling apart to never be put back together again. Where was God in all of this? To encourage himself and find an answer to that question he was inspired to write this poem, one that has inspired countless others who have read it or sung the carol version.

Longfellow later said writing the poem helped him to find a measure of peace. It helped to remind him that God was with him even in the chaotic times he lived in. With him in the midst of  his sorrow,  to  help  him  begin  to  heal  and  be  present again with the rest of his family.
There are times we can all use hope and encouragement. Those moments when the light sometimes seems to dim and we need to be reassured that the Light that has come into the world  has not, and will not, ever be extinguished. Maybe the words of this poem or a favorite carol will help to do that for you. Maybe it is hearing that old familiar Story of a night over two thousand years ago. The message remains the same. Emanuel, God is with us, now and always. And that is something that we can all hold into in this Season and every season.

Wishing you a blessed Advent and Christmas!
Peace,
Joy

"Poetry" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

Poetry
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

This  summer  during  my  sabbatical,  I  had  the  pleasure  of attending  the  Robert Frost Poetry  Conference  in  Derby,  New Hampshire.  It  was  held  on  the  farm  that Robert  Frost and  his family lived on  for  many  years. It  was a  wonderful experience with   workshops,   poets   sharing   their   work   and   time   for individual critiques with the poets in residence. It was thrilling, scary,  challenging  and  helpful  all  at  once.  I can’t  wait  to  go again next year.

The  last  day  of  the  conference  I  had  to  check  out  of  my  hotel before heading over to the farm. As I was taking my things out to  my  car,  I  was  pulling  my  suitcase backwards down  some steps.  Not  my  brightest  moment.  And  it  seemed  even less  so several seconds later  when  I  found  myself  falling  off  the concrete steps and on to the asphalt parking lot.

As  I  lay  there  taking  stock  and  making  sure  no  bones  were broken, I heard a voice. No, not God, but an elderly gentleman from  my  poetry  conference  who  had  told  us all  he was in  his 90’s. He said, “I saw you fall. Are you ok?” I told him I was but didn’t think I  was up to writing poetry. He replied  with a grin, “Nonsense!  Write  a  poem about  your  fall!”  I  grinned back  at him,  then  he  gave  a  wave  and  got  in  his  car to head  to  the conference.

I have thought a lot about his wise words since then. I did head back  to  the  conference but didn’t  write  a  poem  about  my  fall. Maybe someday. What I loved about his words was his way of looking at what happened. Don’t hang on to being upset, turn it to something  creative. Make  poetry  out  of  it.  Take a  fall  and make it something else.

Too many times in life there is a temptation to hold onto a hurt or  wrong  or  unkind word.  To sit  and  dwell.  Perhaps instead  it should  spur  us  to  action.  To  be  creative. Maybe  this means forgiving  or  reconciling  or  seeking  understanding. Maybe  it means letting  it  go and  using  the  energy  to  help  or  encourage others.

The best part is that we don’t have to attempt this on our own. God will help us, inspire us. Give us the energy to try and see it through.  It  may  not  be  easy.  There  may  be  a few aches  and pains. But in the end we may be glad we wrote a poem with our lives.

Peace, Joy