Letter to Parents

by Lisa McCowen

Dear Parents,

Summer is here!  In the liturgical year, we find ourselves in Ordinary Time, a season for reflection on the extraordinary things God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ. The liturgical color is a verdant green, reminding us this is a season for growth!  We’ve collected some resources to assist you and your family to that end for the summer and beyond. 

  • We have compiled verses for memory and meditation taken from the appointed Gospel readings each week.  These are verses to take home, post on the fridge, talk about, think about, act out, write out, illustrate, hide in our hearts.

  • Given busy summer schedules and to give our hardworking Children’s Chapel volunteers a break, we will not have children’s chapel during July and the first 2 weeks of August.  We will have busy clipboards available during that time and a Weekly Children’s bulletin which includes Gospel related activities, the Gospel text, and space with the following prompt: You can draw here, record your thoughts about the Gospel text, write a poem or words & phrases you hear from the sermon.  What do you learn about God?  About yourself?

  • As children worship with us, there are increased parenting challenges and opportunities.  Here is a summary of some helpful thoughts about how to engage our children in worship from Robbie Castleman’s book, Parenting in the Pew.  (I don’t agree with all of her methodology, but I definitely share her value of helping children to become worshippers.)

Grace and peace to you in this season of Ordinary Time,

Lisa

A Long Lament (in a certain direction)

by Shawn Bailey

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
(Isaiah 58:11)

Photo by Shawn Bailey

Photo by Shawn Bailey

A Long Lament (in a certain direction)
by Shawn Bailey
 
Crushed into sorrow, our pestle-ated
souls alter into a state
unfamiliar--not anywhere close
to the dreams we were dreaming
in the beginning. 
Even the mortar is
cracking with a plea to
 
make it stop. 
 
The lamenting is lasting
long past a reasonable
threshold. God should know
how much is too much. Perhaps he is napping. 
Or getting too old to remember about
 
checking in. 
 
We cry for the loss.
We cry for the long-ness of the loss. 
We cry for the long-ness of loss-after-loss. 
We cry that we
 
cannot stop crying. 
 
The drip-dropping tears are landing in
all the wrong places. Not in the rivers where
we will be refreshed. Not in the pool where
we can be soothed away from the blazing heat. No, 
the tears just fall out of dried-up sockets and
 
and land on cement. 
 
Nothing gives. Nothing is well. No horizon worthy enough to
keep on going; not a single thing to inspire one more step into hope. 
And so we languish, bewildered and weak: forlorn and bedraggled. There is
nothing more, but to wait for it to be done. But then, relief
 
is just a dream.
 
What we wanted is gone now, but our lips
cannot say good-bye--at least not all the way.
Our hearts still dare to speak with longings that
sound a little crazy, so they stay silent within us. 
 
And it is lonely in there. 
 
We keep doing the next thing until the next thing
is the last thing we want to do. It seems to make more
sense to go ahead and let it be the last thing. Succumbing
wants to trump over plodding. Plodding along is heavy work, 
 
getting nowhere fast. 

 
Until those three minutes happen while you are plodding along
in the same oblivious fashion as usual (since the terrible thing), 
and something soft captures you. The crushing pestle has
left some pliable powder, sifted a bit—
 
ready to turn into something.
 

Like peace. Just for a little while. The first time it happens, you
feel a little guilty, thinking yourself disloyal not to be grieving every beating second. 
So, you head back to the sorrowing spot where it has been comfortable, familiar. 
But a few days later, it happens again, but this time, it lasts a little longer. You can’t help it. It’s just there. 
 
You can be sure all those tears had something to do with it. 
 
Jesus weeps too--every time we do--in enough welcoming places to
fashion a steam of water, with just enough refreshment. Weeping waters, though anguishing, do not dissolve into nothing.  Collected by Jesus, they are held as precious, pregnant with drops of love and comfort. Pure sacramental restoration, 
 
beginning as a drip and graduating to dousing.  
 
Sounds heretical, borderline unkind, to talk like this while the gone thing
is still causing so much havoc in our souls, but it is the story of God in our lives. 
God has this insatiable habit of highlighting the beautiful side of ugly. It is uncommonly common—a distinguishing marker of our set-apartness. The mysterious
 
reality of all things sacredly astonishing.
 

Believe this only a little bit? Just a smidgen? That’s enough. The lamenting is long. 
There is time for it to bear the most luscious of all fruit. Until then, just enough is more than enough where there already seems to be nothing. 
 
Unrelenting, 
 
Jesus turns nothing into something. 
Something like breathing again. 
Something like life. 
 
Something like hope.

Photo by Shawn Bailey

Photo by Shawn Bailey

The Ascension

Ascension Lutheran Church at East Lansing

Ascension Lutheran Church at East Lansing

by Ryan Grove

When I was little, someone gave me a picture book about angels. In the story, a young boy dies tragically of an illness. His spirit rises up out of his body, and is quickly carried away, through the ceiling and into the sky. He arrives in the clouds, and looking around, he sees a bunch of people dressed in white, lounging around. The place is spotless, brilliant white, and the people are all stunning in their beauty. They all have great big bird wings, and a few inches above each of their heads, hangs a bright circlet  gold. The boy reaches for his back, and above his head, and is dismayed to realize he has no wings, and is lacking a halo. For the rest of the story, he explores the celestial sphere seeking his due angelic accouterments.

This story captivated me. It grabbed my small mind and dug its way deep in there. For years, this was my image of heaven. This was my vision of the kingdom. Clouds against the bluest sky, angels and wings and halos. Possibly endearing, definitely bogus, and certainly heretical, this book, and others like it, shaped my imagination. It wove its net around how I thought about this world, and the world to come.

And when I first read about the Ascension, it was into this net that I placed the story. Luke tells us that “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” I know exactly what that means. Jesus’ spirit rises up, just like that little boy’s, and he flies upwards and into the clouds. Heaven. Life after death. Hope.

But as I grew older, and more critical, and as I experienced loss, and death, and brokenness, that net began to weaken, and crumble. The hope of one day lounging on clouds flickered and faded. My reason and logic kicked in and I quickly jettisoned the entire thing, along with any other hokey junk that was tied up with it, including Jesus. Whoever gave me that book had the best intentions, but inadvertently ended up placing heaven, and God, and Jesus in the same realm with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, nice stories we tell children to help them sleep.

While I rejected that vision of heaven, I never realized how deeply that story, and others like it, embedded their way into my imagination. Ideas about the depravity of flesh, and the purity of spirit. Ideas about where to locate my identity. Ideas about the shamefulness of human bodies. These stories teach us that we are not the fleshy husks we are forced to inhabit, that we are prisoners in our own skin, and true freedom, true enlightenment, lies somewhere else entirely.

When Adam bit the forbidden fruit, he cast a divide between heaven and earth. He drove a wedge between humanity and God; and he set us off looking for identity in all the wrong places. No longer known in the presence of God, we are drawn elsewhere to find our identity. We seek to find ourselves, in ourselves, and end up lonely, and broken, and wishing to leave this world behind.

Ever since Adam, people have sought to escape their bodies, to find enlightenment and freedom beyond the disappointments of the flesh. And now technology has allowed us space to live out actual, disembodied lives. Places where we can leave the limitations, and letdowns, of our bodies behind. Places where we can express our real selves, our ideal selves. Myself made in my own image. My life drawn by my own hand. Blemishes removed, excess fat trimmed, annoying habits subdued. The internet has given us what we always wanted, but it has not made us any happier, and now we, like the angel boy, wander among the clouds, searching for our wings.

Ascension Icon from the Pskov Caves

Ascension Icon from the Pskov Caves

“He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” As Jesus’ stood outside Bethany, with his beloved disciples for the last time, he blesses them, and he parts from them, and is carried up and into heaven. The word for ‘parted’ and ‘carried up’ is actually the same word used twice in the same sentence. In English, this word can be translated as to separate, to disjoin, or to depart.

Jesus leaves this world, certainly, but he does not forsake it. He ascends into heaven, not as a spirit, not as a ghost, but as a human, with a body, with skin and hair and hands and feet. He crosses the divide that Adam wrought, and drags his flesh through with him, sealing what once was broken, and mending what once was severed. In his separation, Jesus heals, and in his leaving this world, he re-supplants us into the holy presence of God, so that while a body may dwell in heaven, the Spirit may dwell on earth.

As he steps out, or up, and into the presence of eternity, Jesus refuses what Adam so quickly embraced: shame and self-hatred. With no hesitation, Jesus walks into heaven, clothed in crucified flesh, and takes his rightful seat beside his Father, and in doing so, changes absolutely everything. The Ascension gives us, in one moment, an embodied vision of heaven, devoid of ghostly wings and halos; a transformation of the material world, now sanctified in the presence of God; and a re-understanding of our human identity and our bodies, forever proclaimed as God’s beloved.

Carvaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas

Carvaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas

I can’t help but think of Thomas’ face in Caravaggio’s painting, The Incredulity of Thomas. The painting depicts Jesus gently pulling Thomas’ finger into his side. And as Thomas’ dirty, human finger enters the flesh of God, Thomas’ eyes bulge, “My Lord and my God.” This is the powerfully raw force behind the moment of Ascension, wherein, God finds it right and meet to draw his Son back to him, and not just his spirit, or his soul, but his body. This is the moment that Jesus sees it fit to invite our dirty fingers into his side, and our imperfect, blemished bodies into his presence. This is the moment that Jesus breaks from this world to save this world, undoing and redeeming Adam’s sin, and reminding us once, and always, that we are beloved of God, body and soul.

Letter to the Congregation Concerning The Nursery

by Lisa McCowen

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 19:14

Dear Holy Trinity Church family,

Think of the people in your early life that were physical examples of God’s love to you at church, people who read you stories or were a loving presence.  There is an opportunity for you to offer the same to our littlest members.  

You may have heard about some changes in our nursery care for little ones.  We are moving from nursery as a childcare service to our vision of the nursery as ministry, the beginning of catechizing little ones, showing them the love of Jesus and speaking the Word of God over them.

Parents and other adults of the church are significant in implementing this vision.  We are asking families who use the nursery to serve once a month and we looking for more adult parishioners to serve, too!  We will equip you; there will be resources ready: simple printed Scripture prayers for parents to pray over the children based on the lectionary Gospel reading for each Sunday.  (see below)

Church family, please prayerfully consider how you can support this ministry.  Your willingness to serve is a gift to the parents of young children, many of whom are actively serving our church in a variety of ways (here’s looking at you, Groves, Barfields, Bonners, etc.!).  If you are interested in serving once a month or even being on the substitute list for a last minute need, please contact Lisa McCowen.

Grace and peace to you,

Lisa

Example of Scripture prayer from this week’s Gospel reading (John 14:15-21)

Lord, may these children know Your Holy Spirit, may He abide with them and be in them.  May grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  May they grow to know, love and keep your commandments.  May they know the love of the Father and the Son; reveal Yourself to them Lord.

The Atrium — A Congregational Letter by Allison Martin

Dear Holy Trinity Family and Friends,

We just ended another season of Atrium with an early and joyful celebration of Pentecost last Thursday afternoon.  Liturgy, candles, prayers and songs filled the time and at the end, much to the delight and anticipation of the children, an array of red foods were laid out and enjoyed in recognition of the liturgical color of Pentecost.  

Atrium or Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an international Montessori-based approach to Christian formation that makes room for children to touch and experience instead of just being told.  What does, "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed," mean to a child who has never seen or held a mustard seed?  And does holding a tiny seed in the palm clear up the mystery?  No, but it gives a starting place to Wonder and opens the door to begin understanding Biblical truths such as parables and lessons Jesus taught in a way that is tangible and meaningful.  It allows children to do what comes naturally to them and that is to get up close by touching materials each week--handmade child-sized representations of the Altar and vestments as well as hand painted figurines depicting everything from the Annunciation to The Last Supper and parables and to ask questions and ponder what it all means.   It gives them a chance to reflect on their baptism by hearing scripture and having water poured over their hand at a small font or to see a ribbon stretched the length of a football field in the lesson called La Fettuccia (The Ribbon) to illustrate the the history of the Kingdom of God.  Our catechist Nancy Robinson shared this lesson with the Level II children in September and the children and adults in attendance were amazed at seeing how long the ribbon stretched before humans were created.  

Children also have an opportunity to understand and experience liturgical worship in Atrium as well.  To see a five year-old child carefully and mindfully set the prayer table or pour wine and water into a small chalice or to learn about gestures such as epiclesis as a visual sign of asking for God's gift of the Holy Spirit during Eucharist is an altogether sacred thing.  When I see Fr. David do this each week I know the children watching recognize and understand what is happening.  I pray it helps them see the things we do in worship as significant and meaningful and relevant to them and that church worship isn't just an adult-only experience.

The rich philosophy of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd maintains that children, even very young children, have a religious life and that God is present to them in a deep way.  Atrium is a place to nurture that space in their lives that often remains hidden.  For our seven year-old son Oliver, I have found the lessons he experiences in Atrium naturally carry over into discussions during our worship and life at home.  He told me his favorite thing about Atrium is the lesson of the Empty Tomb and prayer time and I know he deeply loves our catechists Miss April (Manring), Miss Nancy (Robinson) and our interim Level II catechist Miss Jenny (Shaw).  I can see a continued budding of knowledge and a depth to his questions and thoughts regarding our faith in God.  He gets excited when he makes a connection between something he experienced at Atrium to something done at home or in Sunday morning worship services and many times I have seen him replicating these things at home.  There have been many a chicken or stuffed animal or Lego mini-fig around here baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Most profoundly though, I see in him and his prayers a tender love for Jesus, the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep--young and old.  

I have never stood in the center of a vast lavender farm, but I have held a small bouquet of the purpley-gray flowers in my hand and inhaled their incomparable scent.  In that I have an inkling the size of a mustard seed of the dramatic experience it would be to take in such a place of profound beauty with all my heart, mind and senses.  The same is true for what happens in the beautiful and lovingly created space that is our Atrium at Holy Trinity.  I pray all children would have an opportunity to come close to and sit with the lessons and mysteries of our faith in such a way.    

I’ll close with the words of Hebrew scholar Dr. Sophia Cavalletti who co-founded of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in Rome in the 1950’s and said, "If we want to help the child draw nearer to God, we should with patience and courage seek to go always closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and prayer. The child will be our teacher if we know how to observe."

With love,

Allison Martin


 

Claire's Last Letter

Share on the day I go to heaven.

Graduation Day

If you are reading this I am in the presence of our almighty God. I feel nothing but unconditional love. Overwhelming pure love. I am so humbled by all of you and wanted to thank you for all of your love and support throughout my battle with cancer.

Cancer was something that happened to other people but when I got it I knew there was a purpose and God would use it for good.

A few years back before cancer I shared with our small group that after I lost my Mom I became at peace with moving on from this life. There is so much comfort knowing that there is much more to our lives than this life on earth. Don't be sad for me but instead care for my dear sweet family. I loved them deeply with every ounce of my heart and soul. I never want to see them suffering or grieving so remember this is not the end.

Lift up my husband , daughters , sister, Dad and all my family. I was blessed with the best supportive family and friends anyone could ask for and my heart is so full. I was given over 37 incredible years with the love of my life David who is a quiet, easy going , kind ,loving, supportive husband who gave me nothing but unconditional love. I felt so very blessed by God to marry such a wonderful man. I was also blessed with two beautiful , kind, wise, loving daughters. Lindsey and Caroline are so much a part of my heart and I will always love them unconditionally. Being their Mom was the highlight of my life. I am so thankful for both of my son in laws Cam and Alex which are both a gift from God for my girls and our whole family. My sister Anne has been my best friend since I was born and she continued to show her overwhelming capacity to love me in both the good times and the bad times. Keep them all laughing Anne it's the best medicine. Also I was so blessed with the sweetest most loving church family and friends. This is not goodbye as I will see you all in a very short time. Be kind to one another and live your life to the fullness. Remember family , friends and fellowship are the most important thing we have in our lives. Enjoy all the art , music and beauty we have been given. Try not to sweat the small stuff because most of it is small stuff. Stay close to God and let him carry you in both the good and trying times. In the end it's not the years in your life that count but the life in your years. I love you all. Claire

I Fought the fight.

I Finished the race.

I Kept the faith. 💋

Love,
Claire

The Tree and The Scepter

by Ashley Bonner

Sabbath, it begins in groaning.
Gloom and black abyss surround,
Joined with dry wind, still bemoaning
The cursed tree upon the Skull Mound.

Blood watered long and deep today
Ashen, rigid branches, bare
Of life, but to what?  Only dismay
And grief, His orphans in despair.

Day of rest in silence we spend.
Tender, vacant eyes proclaim
Our Rabbi, Redeemer, Healer, Friend
Lost to Sheol in bitter shame.

Spectres chase away our sleep.
Hollows hallowed, they whisper in wait
Of a germination, a breaking deep
In the earth outside the city gate.

Awake, O sleeper!  Come and see!
O children, your Lord - He is risen!  He lives!
The branches give vines and leaves.  The tree
That once was wretched, life He gives!

Morning brings the flowers soft -
Crimson, indigo, and gold - 
Creeping up to raise aloft
Praise and love of Messiah foretold!

Death, it is conquered!  Water and blood
Birthed life from the dust of Adam's bone.
The tree - Your scepter - like Aaron's it shall bud
Evermore beside David's unending throne!