Let me say at the outset that I’m impressed with women who can make a pleasing outfit with subtle shades of grey.
For good or ill, that’s not me. The other week I got a sudden notion to clean out my clothes closet, and take some unwanted items to the thrift shop. Here’s what my closet looked like when I finished.
The first thing to strike me were the swatches of strong colour – orange, red and purple mainly. I’ve loved the colour orange for a long time. A few friends have hinted that they’re getting tired of it. Purple also has a history. Red with black is a newer addition. But I started out with subdued colours.
When I was a beginning pastor, a young adult asked me, “Sue, why do you always wear such dull clothes? Brighten up!” So I did. (I wore “dull colours” in those early days because I didn’t want to “stand out” as a young female pastor.)
When I was a younger pastor, I had a purple dress and purple shoes. I liked them enough that I wore them to church from time to time – until another young woman started calling me “her purple highness.”
Actually, I secretly wished I could wear robes in liturgical colours.
Other evidences of colour in my world have included: quilts and quilted wall hangings, spring and summer flowers, the spring green of the golf course and its trees across the way, maple trees in fall.
I have also reveled in patterns, such as fields in summer.
Recently I found a spiritual exercise in an old journal which I wrote on a retreat a few years ago. Taking off from the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3, it reads in part like this:
How can a woman who is old be born?
in simplicity; in simple pleasures; in focus;
in NOT needing to have anything to prove;
in carrying the past, not as burden or baggage, but as gift;
in strong earth colours (brown, orange, green, yellow, deep red);
with the Spirit as a gentle loving current within.
I was pleased to find this journal entry; it still speaks wisdom to me. And I’m glad it includes colour!
Questions for Reflection:
What is your reaction to wearing strong colours?
What would you add to or subtract from my list of “how a woman who is old can be born”?
I’ve long had a respect for the Old Order and other conservative Mennonites of our region, and have been pleased to live in proximity to them.
So it’s not surprising that the other Sunday afternoon, our drive took us past the Conestoga Old Order Mennonite Meetinghouse near St. Jacobs.
As we approached the meetinghouse, we saw young men on bicycles or with horses and buggies dash out of the parking lot. We saw groups of young women walking energetically along the rural road.
As we got closer, we saw dozens of young women – all wearing pastel dresses – lined up along one side and part of the front of the building, all apparently waiting to be picked up by a young men’s buggies on the far side of the meetinghouse. The meetinghouse yard was jammed with conveyances.
“What on earth is going on here?” we wondered.
Then we remembered. We’ve come upon instruction class!
All the late teenagers being baptized this fall in 25 Old Order districts in Waterloo region are attending catechism class for 2 ½ or 3 hours on six consecutive Sunday afternoons in June and July, with two-four adjacent districts meeting together.
I knew this group used the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 to learn the catechism, but I had some other questions. So Sam phoned a well-informed Old Order deacon with these inquiries:
How far do people come to attend? From as far away as Mt. Forest.
What are the demographics of the people who attend? They are mostly young people, and the parents of those being baptized.
Everybody seems happy when the class leaves out. Is it a social event too? The youth are probably just happy to get out of there after 2 1/2 -3 hours of instruction!
Is this a way of “keeping the theology” of the group together? Yes!
In what language is the instruction? Each week there is an initial Scripture in High German and a sermon in Pennsylvania German. Then each week three articles of the Confession are read in High German. Two ministers have been assigned in advance to expound on each of the 18 articles in Pennsylvania German. After each of the three expositions that day, each baptismal candidate is asked whether he or she is in agreement with the article.
(The 18 articles deal with such matters as… of God and the creation of all things…the reason for Christ’s coming…revenge…foot washing…of holy baptism…the ban and shunning….and the office of the secular authority)
All the candidates are baptized in the fall in their own district.
The following Sunday afternoon we came across an instruction class already in progress at the neighbouring Martindale Meetinghouse near Heidelberg. The meetinghouse is smaller and newer than Conestoga.
My reaction to all this?
I’m amazed at this level of instruction, with its uniform theology. And I wonder: what would happen if our conference tried to have six weeks of regional catechism each summer? Could that help us “keep the theology of the conference together?” Do we want to have a uniform theology?
If we could do it, would we? how might this approach to instruction class further our mission? How might it hinder our mission?
My favorite Bach Cantata is “Sheep Shall Safely Graze,” (BWV208), probably because it was played as a two-piano duet at Waterloo North Mennonite Church the Sunday of my retirement in 2005.
“Yes, it is finished!” I remember my response being when the music stopped. It spoke to me of the congregation and of me separately being kept in God’s loving care. It is now on my “winding into sleep” playlist, and I listen to it most every night.
But long before the Bach Cantata, sheep were my favorite farm animal. For years, Sam and I took a Sunday afternoon drive over the buggy bridge near the St. Jacobs’ dam, then drove up the hill looking for (at that time), “Cyrus’ sheep”.
We saw them in a beautiful plump clump again on Sunday, now cared for by other Martins. We almost always stop the car, and Sam adds to his collection of sheep photos, as he did on Sunday.
Somehow, these beautiful placid sheep seem like a good way to bring an end to my blog. I have been blogging for over two years now, and it seems time to stop. So, this is my last regular Friday blog post. I will keep the blog online for some time, posting perhaps occasionally but not weekly.
It has been a pleasure to write this blog – a gift to myself and hopefully to my readers as well. I have enjoyed immensely the thoughtful responses of my readers.
May your spirit be nourished as you rest in God’s loving care for you, and for all God’s creatures. May sheep and people safely graze!
I love riverboats of all kinds. So I was glad to meet the Dixie Belle through the Kentucky Holy Land Pilgrimage led by Marlene and Stanley Kropf in the spring of 2011. We called ourselves “pilgrims” for several nights at Shaker Village Pleasant Hill in northern Kentucky.
Morning – One morning, fortified by coffee, group centering prayer, and a hearty breakfast, I decided to walk downhill to the Kentucky River. I knew the river was running fast, so I wasn’t optimistic the Dixie Belle would even operate that day. It hadn’t all weekend. But I was determined to at least see the river.
So I climbed over the locked gate and began walking down the river road, preoccupied with the steepness of down, knowing it would later mean the steepness of up. I felt quite alone – fearful even – as the road entered the bush with no sight or sound of other humans.
Finally, there it was – the Kentucky River – high and muddy and fast down in the canyon. I watched it for a while, then turned back.
Walking uphill at a sedate pilgrim’s pace, I finally noticed my surroundings. I heard woodpeckers and frogs, then the train whistle through the canyon. Water splashed loudly over layers of rock. A red-winged blackbird flitted among thistles. I saw traces of humans – a muddy path, old stone fences, mowed fields. And as I reached the locked gate, the way to open it was obvious.
Why, I wondered, is the journey deep into canyons or into ourselves so fearful?
And how is it that noticing simple things around us gives such pleasure?
Afternoon – Surprise! I’m on the river with 13 other pilgrims.
Our riverboat captain enunciates with flair and with Kentucky pride, telling of the varieties of trees, fish, birds and turtles the river hosts. We see a high, cascading waterfall flowing into the river over and over again.
I’m sorry to miss our waiter singing Shaker songs that afternoon, but very grateful to be on the Dixie Belle….
Evening – A time to wind down the day, releasing it to God in gratitude. How better to do this than through beautiful chamber music in a barn, with birds trilling along with the string quartet playing the young Mendelssohn?
How wonderful – later in the evening – to be greeted by the Large Village Cat on the doorstep as we left our meeting room. The Small Cat walked back to our dwelling with us, lying down in the pathway from time to time as cats will…
I enjoyed Shaker Village Pleasant Hill so much that Sam and I returned with friends at least twice. But alas, the Dixie Belle river tour lost its luster for me the second time around, and wasn’t available in late fall.
Questions for Reflection:
Why is the journey into canyons or deep inside ourselves so fearful?
How is it that noticing simple things gives such pleasure?
When has a second experience of a special place lost its luster for you? When has it retained its special character?
I created this watercolour in 2014 in a workshop at Five Oaks Retreat Centre here in Ontario. It has nourished me ever since.
I had never worked in watercolour before. I did not go into the art exercise with a sense of what I was trying to depict. As instructed, I simply allowed the brush strokes to fill the page as they wished, then let meanings emerge as I reflected on my work (or my play?).
This watercolour speaks to me of safety and hope in a Trinity of colours.
The tight mass of brush strokes in the middle of the page depicts me. The shorter red stroke at the right edge of the mass is the “current me,” dragging 70 decades of life with me. Or sometimes it’s me carrying my communities with me. Or perhaps my ego!
The Trinitarian God surrounds me in the curvy strokes around the edge of the paper, as in “peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet. Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace” (From Sing the Story #16).
The watercolour has a present direction, and also a future dimension. I am moving towards the Light, and beyond that is Depth. Eventually there will be a necessary leap…a letting go…a trusting….
Sometimes snippets of songs from childhood appear to me, usually towards morning. They comfort me in an odd sort of way. They fold understandings I’ve had since my youth into present realities in a manner almost too deep for words. This watercolour elicits a deep affirmation of my spirit, which is given language by means of the refrain of an old Gospel song:
“Moment by moment I’m kept in his love; moment by moment I’ve life from above; looking to Jesus till glory doth shine; Moment by moment, O Lord I am Thine” (LifeSongs #2 – #192).
Questions for Reflection:
When have you created a drawing, an art piece, or some other expression where you didn’t know in advance what you were trying to depict? Did you trust the results?Why or why not?
What experiences have you had of God speaking to you through something you have created – or something you and God have created together?
“What were one or two of the special gifts you received from your mother or grandmothers that influenced the way you live – gifts for which you are grateful?”
My maternal grandmother Maggie immediately came to mind. She died when my mother was 11. She greatly intrigued me as my Mom and her sister Anna talked about a poem and a couple essays which Maggie had published in the church paper, the Herald of Truth.
So, what gift did Maggie give me? The gift of keeping letters she and her girlfriends wrote to each other when they were young adults in the year 1900. I was 42 years old and already a pastor when I realized that the letters existed, and that an older cousin had them. Sam transcribed them for me as a Christmas present.
Those letters – 100 pages of them – gave back to me a crucial, missing piece of my own past. As I read the letters, I realized with a start that my grandmother was flirting with a call to church ministries as a 22-year-old woman. In 1900 she worked at city missions for short stints and attended Sunday School and Bible conferences in western Pennsylvania, often with like-minded girlfriends. Their enthusiasm shone through in their letters.
But in the fall of 1900, things changed for Maggie. Her mother implored her to come home to help with the butchering. Maggie consulted with her increasingly serious correspondent, local businessman/farmer Irvin Derstine.
He wrote this telling response:
“You ask the question what you should do about staying out there. I think you ask the wrong party if you ask me. I might still be too selfish to answer it….The best is to find out God’s will and then obey.”
Maggie came home, married Irvin the next February, and settled into life on his family’s farm business. She gave the pitch at church if the male song leader couldn’t find it. She taught Sunday school to adults.
What stunned me most was an essay for the Herald of Truth called The Sister’s Work, which Maggie wrote in 1900, before her marriage.
Maggie’s argument parallels that used by Holiness groups in her era to sanction women pastors. She quotes the prophet Joel on God’s Spirit being poured out on all flesh, so that “your sons and daughters shall prophecy.”
In the essay Maggie exhorts women to use their talents, whatever they may be. She cites the example of Dorcas, who sewed garments for the poor, and Mary Magdalene, who was a missionary to the disciples on Easter morning. These examples are carefully chosen, for at this time young women were leaving their sheltered rural Mennonite communities to head to India, and sewing circles were forming in local congregations to support their mission work….
The letters from my young grandmother’s circle revealed a hidden part of my own history. Through young Maggie and her friends, I uncovered a missing piece of myself. I understood better how I came to be the person I am. Perhaps most importantly, I glimpsed a group of ministering sisters who gave my own vocation a tradition.
All this, because Maggie saved her letters! (or someone saved them for her).
Questions for Reflection:
What story would you tell about how your mother or a grandmother has given you a gift which has nourished you and guided how you live?
What surprises have you gleaned from reading old family letters?
I encountered several surprises this week as I watched and waited for “real spring.”
This enlarged photo of hyacinths and-surprise!-a butterfly which I can’t identify, was taken in Rockway Gardens this week. Is it perhaps a Painted Lady?
Sam enlarged it to better highlight the butterfly, which flitted about and sometimes lay flat on the hyacinths, but ignored the nearby daffodils.
The butterfly was just one of the surprises of this coolish week. Others included opening the blinds and seeing the panorama of trees leafing. Or listening to birdsong from the open bedroom window. Or walking the garden paths at Rockway in the late afternoon sun, seeing how much is changing from day to day. Or noticing forsythia bushes bursting out yellow on our countryside drives.
On one such drive, we encountered rain on the way home. As the rain pattered on the hood of the car, I remembered how as a child I used to enjoy the sound of rain from the backseat. I remembered how safe I felt in that enclosed space, and how much I liked the rhythm of the windshield wipers. The only thing missing was the rhythmic squeak of the wipers as they reached a certain spot in their cycle….
Yes, indeed, “real spring” is coming. And I’m increasingly enjoying the surprises along the way….
Questions for Reflection:
Do you prefer “getting there”? Or rather enjoying the surprises along the way?
I love this photo of yellow spring flowers planted thick, one of them even falling over! To my eye, this is “real spring” in southwestern Ontario. We need to wait a couple more weeks for it, at least according to last year’s schedule.
In the meantime, I find these stark purple and white crocuses just as satisfying – maybe more so. It’s fun to watch bulbs bursting forth in unexpected places.The bench speaks to me of welcome and warmth and promise in days to come. The photos together assure me that not every week in May will be chill and rainy. And amazingly, by early evening, warmth and sun have returned, new bulbs have burst forth, and new flowers are blooming.
Questions for Reflection:
Do you prefer the beauty of cultivated beds of spring flowers, or the surprise of bulbs springing up in unexpected places? Why?
What assures you that not every week in May will be chill and rainy?
Some years, I’ve hardly thought about my birthday in advance. Other years, like when I knew I was getting a bike, or when I turned 16, or when I was having a party, I waited impatiently.
This year, I waited with quiet anticipation. Would I even reach 72, I wondered? I marveled when I saw that I probably would.
I felt good that morning, still glowing after an exceptional Easter service at Rockway Mennonite Church the day before. It was a warm sunny Monday, so we drove an hour and a quarter to Aylmer, a favorite destination for us. I bought coffee mugs in the Green Frog Gift Shop, and we found we were early enough to eat in the Tea Room without a reservation. A special pleasure was the quiet…the room is usually full and too noisy to have a good conversation.
After lunch we drove through the Old Order Amish settlement near Aylmer – another pleasure – and Sam stopped at Pathway Publishers to pick up a new Amish directory.
We returned to Kitchener in lots of time to eat homemade chicken potpie and an ice cream cake with friends in their home.
All in all, it was one of my most satisfying birthdays…
I wonder – how long is a “good” life span anyway? It surely varies from era to era. In my own family over three generations, the age of death of those who survived infancy ranged from my mother Martha Clemmer at age 97, to her mother Maggie Derstine at age 38 (from complications of childbirth). Grammy Lizzie Clemmer, considered “sickly,” died when she was 72, and Grampop Irvin Derstine, with a leg amputated due to diabetes, made it to 71.
When I read obituaries in the church papers, I get the impression that everyone who has died was in their 90’s!
The Psalmist takes a rather jaded view of the human life span in Psalm 90, where he speaks of God’s wrath, God’s eternity, and human frailty. In v. 10 he says:
The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
My life has certainly been much more than “toil and trouble.”
In fact, I’ve had a good life, believing it has a purpose, marveling at the grounding my family of origin and community of origin in Pennsylvania have given me.
I’ve gratefully received the gift of living and working as an adult in southwestern Ontario. I love the landscape, the multi-cultural setting, and the multi-faceted Mennonite community here.
But still…I’m pleased that I’ve reached my 72nd birthday. I’m thankful for the extension of my life on this beautiful planet. I receive my present life with gratitude. And I’m curious about what’s ahead….
Questions for Reflection:
When have you barely noticed a birthday coming up? Waited impatiently? Waited with quiet anticipation?