So, I knew going into the Anglican experience I wanted some prayer beads. I mean, Rebekah had some lovely ones she just received from Amanda at Love is a Seed, and Heather has me all prayer bead inspired since she’s been researching different variations. I’ve made a rosary for my Catholic father in the past, and some strings of remembrance prayer beads for my mom and aunts recently when my grandfather passed away.
My father’s piece was made with a patron saints medal of his I’ve had since I was a child, and I used green glass beads, Celtic knot spacers and a Celtic cross. I loved that medal, but never felt appropriate wearing it, seeing as the back was inscribed with “I am Catholic, in case of emergency notify a priest.” I was very pleased with how it turned out and thought about making a similar one for myself, but never did.
For my mother and aunts, I did a simple five bead strand with an acorn charm at the end. The beads were turquoise and the acorn a copper color, both elements that remind me of my grandfather. The acorn was a symbol that had come to mean much to them as they sat vigil bedside of their father, and I wanted that to signify that these beads were for them to hold and touch and pray in memory of him.
As soon as I decided I wanted a set of prayer beads for this liturgical year, it didn’t take me long to select my beads. What was harder was choosing the drop. Yes, I know a cross is the logical and traditional choice, but I have a quirky hang up about a “cross-centered” life. Besides, anyone who’s heard me teach will tell you I like post-resurrection Jesus best, but a loaf of bread just seemed to lack the pizazz needed for a focal piece. I needed something that would be meaningful to me, meaningful to how the story of scripture speaks to me, meaningful to my life in the Spirit.
That’s it! It’s perfect! A yin-yang symbol of my Christian walk if there ever was one. Shadow and light. Doubt and faith. Hesitation and trust.
I actually wear a tree on my finger already, and I love to tell the story of how my philosophy professor once demanded I no longer ask questions about the tree in the garden – not that he didn’t want me to ask questions, he just wanted me to move on to something else. But that damn tree plagues me to this day (that’s a post for another day, probably along with further explanation of the cross-centered hullabaloo).
But the tree is not just something that raises questions for me (like, why DID Jesus curse that poor fig tree?), but also a beautiful symbol of life in the Spirit. The tree is a symbol of a rooted, abiding life – a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit, the same fruit that has nourished us, we offer to others. I think of family trees, and the genealogy of Jesus, the women and men whose stories come together to form the body of Christ, and the stories those of us grafted in bring. The trees will clap their hands with the joyful song of creation when redemption is fulfilled (I suspect they already are).
With my design plans set on the back burner to simmer, I slid into the back of St. Michael’s sanctuary on the first Sunday of Advent, and quickly spotted friends to sit with. I settled in, and gazed forward toward the altar. My eyes were immediately drawn behind the altar, beyond the center of the room, to the looming focal piece of the space – a large picture window, opening up the sanctuary to the beauty outside.
And I realized, in that moment, that I will spend this journey not only experiencing the liturgical seasons within the sanctuary, but watching nature’s seasons change the trees just beyond. Every time I take the elements among this gathering of the body, it will be kneeling near trees that are journeying through their yearly process of renewal, of change, of death and burial and resurrection, of ordinary days before it all starts again.
The sermon (homily? I’ve got to get the terminology down…) focused on the life that exists in the transitions, the growth that occurs during those times we feel least in control of our lives. (Here’s a link to one of the stories that was shared: http://www.earthstewards.org/ESN-Trapeze.asp)
It was inspired by the Gospel reading of Luke 21:25-36:
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
The kingdom that was and is and is to come, the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, is evident in the changing of the seasons: death and resurrection, suffering and reconciliation, uncertainty and wisdom.
Changing seasons can leave us feeling unsettled, like we can’t see the forest for the trees (see what I did there?). But when we can keep our focus on the big picture story, we know that changing seasons is part of nature, it’s part of the story of creation, it happens… and it happens again… and it happens again. Each time we transition through a cycle of life, we grow, we strengthen, we renew.
We experience resurrection, again and again and again – to new life, and new experiences, and new perspectives. Every time we’re convince we have God figured out, we see his plan for our lives clearly, change enters in, and the Creator asks us once again to open our hands, to open our hearts, and to release. We release our grip of control, and we raise our hands to hopeful trust.
And we wait.
We wait for new birth. We wait for new growth. We wait for the beauty of redemption.
We wait with trepidation, and the angels whisper “Do not fear.”
We wait with eager anticipation.
We wait with uncertainty.
We wait with hope.