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

"Transitioning Back" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

Transitioning Back
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

First and foremost, let me say thank you again for the gift of my summer sabbatical. It truly was a time of rest, renewal and refilling my well of the spirit. I am continuing to “unpack” – as we used to say in seminary - all my learnings and thoughts from my time away. I will have more on that in future Congregationalists, Word for Children, etc. During my sabbatical, I went to a poetry conference in New Hampshire, on a spiritual (and silent) retreat in Connecticut, to a few family reunions and on a Great Lakes cruise. I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones. I even got to cross off something on my bucket list – going to The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan!

Being on sabbatical gave me much needed time to wander, to wonder and to work on my poetry, artwork, writing, thinking, praying and more. Even coming back for the Mission Trip and spending a fruitful week in Denver added to this.

So now I am transitioning back in and trying to hold on to the lessons learned from my time away.   It is not easy. I had to take a nap the first Sunday I was back! But I plan to hold myself accountable to the lessons learned. That may be the most lasting gift of all. By giving me this time of reflection and renewal, you have not only helped me to refresh my spirit but also to shape my ministry.

We all need to find ways to give ourselves this gift of time. We all need help from time to time to refine our focus and see, see who we are, what matters the most and where we want to put our energies. We  don’t  always have  the  luxury of  taking a month or two off, but we can start by finding ways to carve out time. Maybe it is morning prayer or mediation, reading that book we have always meant to, or walking, calling a friend, or any of the countless ways we refresh our souls.  Prayer is always a great place to start. I know it is where I started back in June – praying that God would bless my sabbatical and would bless the wonderful FCC community who gave it to me.

I will be sharing more stories in the months to come. But for now, just know that your gift was appreciated. More than I can say.
Peace,
Joy

"A Time Away" -- Rev. Joy Mounts

A Time Away
Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Pastor

Sabbatical: a break or change from a normal routine (as of employment); a time of rest, reflection, research, learning and more. A time away.

Starting in June, right after Confirmation Sunday, I am leaving for vacation and sabbatical. I will be away for June, July and August, except for helping lead the Summer Mission Trip to Denver, an experience I did not want to miss.

I am looking forward to this time off. After twelve years serving here at FCC, I am ready for a much-needed break to recharge and refresh. First and foremost, let me say thank you for this opportunity. I could not go if you did not offer and support it. Being a minister is a 24/7 job and I would not have it any other way. But my personal well needs filling and I am looking forward to the time to do so.

While away I will be attending the Robert Frost Poetry Conference in New Hampshire in late June and spending a weekend in silent prayer and contemplation at the Mercy Center in Madison, Connecticut in July. There will also be day trips and a writing class or two. I will be going on vacation with my family, seeing old friends and taking a Great Lakes cruise with my parents, Most of all I will be taking the time to write, journal and dream more, hopefully organizing my poems, prayers and Christmas Eve pageants - maybe even turning one of them into an original children’s story.

I will undoubtedly have a lot to tell you when I get back! But I want to ask you all to do one thing for me while I am away. Please keep me in your prayers that my time away will be refreshing, recharging and transformative. I will be keeping you all in prayer and will, as ever, be thankful for the blessing of being a part of FCC.

See you in September! Peace,

Joy 

"It's A Mystery to Me!" -- Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Pastor

It’s A Mystery to Me!

Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Pastor

In my last column, I said that I would tell you about a mystery that happened when I was writing it. Well, here it is. When I went to find the poem I wanted to share I looked in a copy of my poetry book, Come with Me and Touch the Sky. I have several copies at my house and picked one up to find it. It happened to be the one I had given my Reed grandparents and which was given back to me after they died. When I opened it, much to my surprise out fell a little booklet. It was small and on the faded blue front cover it said – “Poems” by Joel E Reavis.

The booklet was printed in 1947 and inside was a picture of Joel Reavis. The booklet had been printed by his wife. I’m guessing it was a memorial, but I don’t know. It was a beautiful booklet and the poems were lovely. Many were about the sea. From his picture, it looked like Joel Reavis was in the Navy. I wondered who he was, but not why my Grandma had put this in with my poems. Whoever he is, I am related to him. Reavis is a made-up last name that first appears here in the United States in the early 1700’s and I am related to anyone who has that last name through my Grandma’s side of the family. We don’t know why the first Reavis changed his name – that is another mystery for another time.

However, I was moved when I found the booklet inside my poetry book. Not just in discovering a long-lost distant cousin but in that my Grandma Reed had put the two family "poets" together. We never really talked about my poems but I felt somehow, she was telling me through this action, she was proud of me. I just wish we had had the time to talk so she could tell me about Joel and his connection and the poems. Still, finding the booklet meant a lot.

How often do we let a moment pass or leave a word unsaid or fail to reach out? It can be difficult. Maybe we don't think we can find the words. Maybe we don't feel it's the right moment. What I love about poetry is that in writing I can often find the words I might scramble for otherwise. That doesn't mean I don't miss the moment or let it pass. It happens plenty of times.

It is then that I turn to prayer because that is one conversation that often does not require words at all. I can speak from my heart and God knows and understands. How wonderful that we have that gift. And that it is always accessible to us. Prayer can help us find the words we need to speak to others. The words we need to speak to ourselves. God is always listening and ready to enter into divine conversation even when, perhaps especially when, the moment does not feel right. God is always there.

And that is no mystery at all. Peace,
Joy 

"Echoes From The Past" -- Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Echoes From The Past

Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Below is the poem I mentioned writing in my sermon I on Sunday, March 19. It is a poem written during what I consider to be a defining moment in my life, when I knew that even though I had given up on God, God had not given up on me. Writing a poem after a dry spell of well over a year and the loving presence of God helped me to see this. Also, when I opened the book this poem is in to copy it for this article, I found a mystery which I look forward to sharing with you all in the May Congregationalist.

Happy Spring! Peace,
Joy

Light Spell

Fire of the burning sun
That makes the seeing blind
The tawny glow of dusk to light the way The whisper of a candle's flame
That flickers on the wall
All of these are mine
For from my fingertips at will
And on my soul's command
Do they appear like soldiers bold
To defend at every turn
For when the path is dark and cold
And danger there unseen
When caves do hide their treasures gold Too dark for eyes to see
When enemies would stand before
So ready for the kill
Then from my soul and hearts command To surge through hands
That tremble with power
Comes light controlled
And light defined
A light that slices like a sword
Yet like an armored shield
A light that's true
A light that's pure
A light of ever changing energy
So hear my friend
And enemy alike
And gear these words of mine
If by chance that we should
Meet and thee should block my way
Or try to stop my mission, goal
Or completion of a deed
They as thee will
My light is victor yet
Come remember then
Emblazoned on thy brain 

"The Art and Challenge of Reading" -- Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

The Art and Challenge of Reading

Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Recently on a FCC theater trip we saw The Most Reluctant Convert, a one act/one man show examining the conversion of author C.S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity. For Lewis, it was a journey marked by many discussions with his friends, J.R.R. Tolkien among them. It was also a journey marked by lots and lots of books. Many authors influenced him, opened his mind, and challenged his thoughts. Lewis was not afraid to read something that challenged what he thought he knew. He loved learning, and not just because he was a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge. He loved to read. One of his quotes that is a favorite of mine is, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” After his conversion to Christianity he wrote the powerful and poignant, Surprised by Joy.

I first came to know C.S. Lewis through his children’s Narnia book series, starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I devoured the nine books in the series, liking some better than others. My aunt had recommended them and, at first, I balked at reading them. They looked like kids’ books and I was already in junior high. But I came to find out they were far from simply stories for children. They are on one level, but on others a thought-provoking allegory. I then reached for his adult books - The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity and others. This opened other worlds to me., and caused me throughout my life to seek other authors, fiction and non-fiction, to help me more deeply understand my faith.

What are the books that have challenged you? That you use to examine your thoughts about faith or even open the door for a deeper relationship with God? I would love to hear about them. Maybe we could even print your suggestions in an upcoming Congregationalist, like a church-wide book club. Who knows what authors will help us to gain insights into the Author of all, who not only opens our minds but widens our hearts.

Email or tell me your book suggestions. I can’t wait to hear from you. Until then, happy reading!

Peace, Joy 

"Keeping the Light Lit" -- Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Keeping the Light Lit

Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Although short in days, February often seems the longest month. Deep in winter the days are dark and some of the coldest days seem reserved for it. After the bright lights and cheer of Christmas have faded by the end of January, it looms as a another month to push through to get to spring. Keeping the light of our hopes and dreams and energies alive and moving can be difficult. Luckily, we do not have to face it alone. There is One we can always turn to, no matter how dark, to help us keep those internal candles burning. Thanks be to God.

Peace, Joy

Winter Night

Boris Pasternak

It snowed and snowed, the whole world over, Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

As during summer midges swarm
To beat their wings against a flame
Out in the yard the snowflakes swarmed To beat against the window pane

The blizzard sculptured on the glass Designs of arrows and of whorls.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

Distorted shadows fell
Upon the lighted ceiling:
Shadows of crossed arms, of crossed legs- Of crossed destiny.

Two tiny shoes fell to the floor
And thudded.
A candle on a nightstand shed wax tears Upon a dress.

All things vanished within The snowy murk-white, hoary. A candle burned on the table; A candle burned.

A corner draft fluttered the flame And the white fever of temptation Upswept its angel wings that cast A cruciform shadow

It snowed hard throughout the month Of February, and almost constantly A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned. 

"Teatime" -- Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Teatime

“Everything Stops for Tea”

I know now why Franz Schubert
Never finished his unfinished symphony He would have written more
but the clock struck four
And everything stopped for tea.

John Baldrey

I recently had the pleasure of once again venturing to my favorite tea place in Flemington, New Jersey Teaberry’s for lunch and a spot of tea. It was a warm, relaxing afternoon spent in conversation with a friend about life, this and that and everything in-between. It was a good way to sit back and reflect and reminisce. It was good to step outside of the world for a moment or two.

There is something about tea that naturally slows you down. It has to take time to be made. First the water must be boiling. Then seeping the tea bag or preparing the leaves if you use loose tea. Then fixing it how you like it and then the first sip. I realize this is true of other hot beverages coffee for example but I would suggest that there is something different about tea.

It isn’t there to wake you up but to help you relax. It calls for a good book or deep thoughts or simply gazing out the window. It invites you to step away for a moment or two. It is an invitation that we do not always heed preferring instead to rush ahead to the next item on our to-do list.

God calls us to also step away and spend some time in thought and prayer. But we do not always heed that call either. I had a friend whose prayer time was her time for tea. I always thought that was great idea since I usually find myself with a book in one hand and a mug in the other. When is the moment that you slow down? That you step away and spend some time in thought and prayer with God?

As a new year begins, maybe this is one thing that should be at the top of our to-do list. To find more time this year to be in thought and prayer. Maybe a spot of tea would make an excellent reminder that this is a good moment to pause and spend time with Someone who would love to hear from us! It might be a challenge but they may turn out to be the most important moments of the year.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Peace, Joy

"Eyes Wide Open" Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

Eyes Wide Open

Rev. Joy Mounts, Associate Minister

When I was seeing the Canstruction exhibit on Saturday, November 12 at Brookfield Place, I was struck again by the creativity and inspiration that an ordinary can or bottle can inspire. Something you see every day. Something you open, use the contents of and then discard without another thought. No beauty there. But turn the labels just so, or group them by color or size and suddenly something else entirely is going on.

This year there were among the twenty-five sculptures, a carousel, a whale tail, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Guggenheim, a volcano, a crab, a Ghostbuster ghost and even a display that changed from Yes to No. One of my favorites was a display of old fashioned Christmas lights. Seeing them reminded me of the big bulbs we used to string on the tree and outside the house when I was growing up, before Christmas lights got smaller and could do forty-three different types of flashing combinations But seeing them made me smile, and for a moment I was a little girl in a small living room in Charleston, West Virginia watching her dad put the lights up.

All from looking at cans. How often do we look at something and see what we expect to see and not what we could see? How often do we truly consider all the possibilities? Going to Canstruction every year reminds me of this. Not only do I see the sculptures but I am reminded that the struggle to end hunger is ongoing and that we cannot stop fighting. It also encourages me to see that even something as small as a can inspires us to do more, to see with different eyes, to look beyond what is and see what could be.

If we can see that in a simple can, maybe this new point of view can help us to see each other with different eyes. To see what could be. What can be. What is keeping us from seeing the possibilities around us? In our life? In our faith? Why not take a moment each day to look around and see. And what better time to do this than during Advent, the season of hope and new beginnings !

Happy Advent! Peace, Joy