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What are you grateful for in these strange days in the wilderness?

A Prayer of Thanksgiving 
by Walter Rauschenbusch, 1861–1918

For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses.
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Amen.
Dear Ones,

For the last month, I have been looking for alternatives to the questions “how are you?” That simple question that we would ask people when we see them has become a very complicated one to ask and answer. If we are honest, we would say that most of us are not doing well these days. The compound heaviness of many months of the Pandemic, a stressful Election season, and the changes for many of family plans for the Holidays are leaving us sore, tired, sad, and exhausted. All very valid feelings.

A question that I am trying with some people as an alternative to “How are you?” is “what expectation of normal are you letting go of?” Letting go is not easy, yet it is necessary for new things to come. Letting go allows us to be open to what God might be bringing about, for the holy unexpected. My family and I are letting go of the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with extended family. It will be a small household celebration. The decision brought up tears and grief. My children were mad at this decision, not as us discerning its need and making it, but at the fact that yet, one more thing was taken away from them by the Pandemic.

I believe our hearts are big enough to hold sadness and gratitude at once.

What expectation of normal at you letting go? Keep awake because the holy unexpected might surprise you as you let go of what is normal.

My family has adopted a little ritual of thanksgiving before dinner in which each one of us goes around saying one thing we are grateful for from the day. It is the simple things that we have come to cherish and be grateful for the most these days, things like: the yard fire pit, Minecraft (video game), the British Baking Show, warm socks, a phone call from a friend, a recently found new book series, the people at Thursday Bible Study, work at McDonald’s, a tickle fight, a working dishwasher, dark chocolate, a good belly laugh, the health of family members, the gift of strong leaders in our church, the support of the Bishop, carry out pizza on hectic nights, for hope, faith, and love.

What are you grateful for in these strange days in the wilderness?

About Community Kitchen: I was informed that some rumors are going around about St. John’s ending its collaboration with Community Kitchen (CK). That is an unfounded rumor, and it is absolutely false. St. John’s continues in relationship with Community Kitchen.

Early in March, we stopped all activities happening in our building as a way to discern appropriate measures to protect people using our building from the COVID-19 outbreak in our area. In April, I began conversations with the President of Community Kitchen and St. John’s representative, Jackie Grove, with a request and a share of best practices to have CK serving from our building while having a protocol of precaution and prevention. The outcome of that conversation was that a CK protocol was to be developed by May. However, the CK board put those plans on a pause during the Summer, with some people related to Community Kitchen still serving from the street.

Not long after that, the building work began full force preventing the building’s use for any groups.

Our Junior Warden, Dawn Wheatley, has been in communications with all external groups, including CK, with building updates.

At no point has the Vestry, nor our faithful SJ representatives in the CK board (Jackie and Tom Schelfhout), nor I as Rector, made any decisions to terminate our partnership with Community Kitchen. Be assured of that.

See additional note below from Jackie Grove.

Advent is coming: November 29 will be the First Sunday in Advent. Included in this email is information about Advent Evening Gatherings activities for the Four Sundays in Advent. The gatherings are an opportunity to be together as a community. At the same time, we make way for the Messiah and prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Holy One who is to come. I encourage you to join the gatherings. As you can see, we will meet via Zoom, which is the best way for us to come together around a flat screen, that can also be a gathering table and a thin space for spiritual formation and community building. I invite you to reach out to others and to invite. Maybe even consider doing helping someone teach someone to use Zoom so they can participate.

I have two books to recommend to those who like to read a special book during advent.

A Weary World: Reflections of a Blue Christmas, by Kathy Escobar.
“During the holidays, so many of us can suffer for all kinds of reasons. The magnitude of our weary world weighs on our hearts and minds. We wrestle with chronic pain, broken relationships, shattered dreams, fragile faith, and unexpected losses. Our grief and sorrow feel particularly acute when compared to the festivity and joy everyone else seems to be feeling. More and more churches are acknowledging this fact with “Blue Christmas” services (also called Longest Night services) and offering resources to give particular support and comfort to those struggling during the most wonderful time of the year.

Kathy Escobar has been leading Blue Christmas experiences at her church for nearly a decade and just experienced her bluest season of all following the sudden death of her son. In A Weary World, Escobar provides twenty-eight daily reflections paired with prayers and practices to honor our struggles during the holidays.”

Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-us Then, Here and Now, by Scott Erickson
“From celebrated artist-storyteller Scott Erickson: 25 days of heart-stirring images and thought-provoking meditations to rekindle the wonder of God-with-Us in this season. Honest Advent creates a space for you to encounter the Incarnate Christ in unexpected places: like a pregnancy announcement in an era of political unrest and empirical bloodshed, the morning sickness of a Middle Eastern teenager, and the shocking biology of birth that goes far beyond the sanitized brand of Christmas as we know it.

Then, through powerful benedictions, prayers, and questions for honest reflection, you will discover how the wonder of God-with-Us is still happening today: in your unexpected change of plans, your unaccomplished dreams, your overcrowded lodging, your humble stories of new beginnings. In a world that’s difficult to make sense of, and a season that’s so often overtaken by consumerism, find here fresh eyes to see this powerfully sacred story.”

Black Jesus: Some of you have noticed on the Morning Prayers Videos, a very colorful painting of a Black Jesus hanging in my office. The painting is done on a canvas and will be moved to the Narthex once we are back using our building. All the iconography at St. John’s at this moment (icons, stain glass windows, crucifixes) expressed a white Eurocentric aesthetic. While beautiful, these representations are limited and when unquestioned can be damaging to our faith. We need more diverse images and representations of God’s people in our iconography. The painting of a Black Jesus invites us to imagine the incarnate God in the body of People of Color.

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