“And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…’
This is an excerpt from a poem written in 1908. Born into humble roots, the poet, Minne Haskins’, father began as a grocer, later acquiring and running a pipes factory. In turn, her mother took on the management of the factory after her death. Shaped by what she witnessed and experienced in early life, Haskins became a life dedicated to the care of workers and others on the bottom rung of society.
Yet in 1939, with a country facing the uncertainty of war, King George VI read this poem for his Christmas Day broadcast. The words, “Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown,” struck a chord in the minds and hearts of its hearers. Perceiving that the road ahead was fraught with peril and even danger, the words resonated.
And so it is now, as you and I stand at the beginning of 2022. With even Canada expressing alarm at the perilous state of our democracy, the continuity of weather systems upended due to climate change and a virus that shows no signs of abating, is it any wonder we’re anxious? But in speaking truth, as poets can, Minnie Haskins continues with these words:
‘And the one replied; ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than any known way.’” Minnie Haskins, 1908
When Epiphany’s Star eludes us and we are plunged into darkness, illumine us, Divine Maker, so that we may tread safely into the unknown. Amen.
“It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot or a few small stones; just pay attention…” Mary Oliver
In her poem, Praying, Mary Oliver gives credence to the power of paying attention, particularly when what is immediately before us doesn’t merit it. But what our preoccupation is in itself the problem? What if our vexation and distress, however understandable, hinders rather than helps our capacity to see?
Though family, friends, colleagues, store clerks, and the postal carrier, may have all been wished a Happy New Year, have you pondered how auspicious 2022 will be…if at all? With real threats to our democracy, unabated natural disasters, and escalating planetary temperatures, is it possible to carry on when hearts are breaking? Can one hope to perceive anew when so much we had once counted on, appears lost?
In the wake of all our losses, the poet replies, “[Your reclamation] doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot.” Indeed, when it comes to recalibrating and restoring our vision, Oliver describes prayer, not as an obscure doctrinal obligation but holy discovery. Where thanksgiving conjoins with silence, and senses become attuned to a deeper and more vibrant frequency.
Concerning prayer, Oliver writes,
“[…just] patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.” 
In these waning days of Christmas and as we stand on the threshold of a New Year, may even the simple and mundane usher us into thankfulness and silence, so that shattered hearts may be restored in your divine likeness once again. Amen.
“…The forest keeps different time; slow hours as long as your life…So you feel more human; persuaded what you are by wordless breath of wood, reason in resin…Ah, you thought love [applied only to humans] till you lost yourself in the forest…these grave and patient saints…pray and pray and suffer your little embrace.” Forest, by Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish poet
This holiday season, as we hastily adorn living rooms, front porches, and workplaces with either real or artificial pine trees – what if we’re also trying to feel more human? Yes, the Christmas tree is a much-beloved holiday tradition. But what if trees, “these grave and patient saints,” actually slow us down, calm our fears and provide a canopy of beneficence unnamed but longed for?
Imagine if our yearnings for continuity, and to be in close proximity with those whom we love – also points to this ineffable but ancient connection to all of nature itself, and in particular, trees? What if something seemingly common and expendable as a tree – holds not only the link to our distant past – but grasps the key to our future?
In the nineteenth century, German composer Ernst Anschutz wrote a traditional folk song, O Tannebaum, which translated means, O Fir Tree. Later it was adapted as a Christmas carol, giving voice to our yearning:
“O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches!” O Tannebaum, O tannebaum, how lovely are thy branches!”
In this Season of Advent, be with us, Divine Maker, so that we may behold our kinship with all of creation as you ordained it, including trees. Amen.
In response to the humanitarian and environmental crisis that continues to unfold in occupied Palestine and the egregious loss of lives on both sides, I’ve written to representatives concerning the passage of HR 2590. It is a bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. I would encourage you to consider reaching out to your representatives as well. A copy of the letter is below:
May 19, 2021
The Honorable Senator…(followed by address)
RE: H.R. 2590 A Bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and to ensure that US taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detentions of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.
My name is Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, I am an Environmental Justice advocate whose work includes challenging the systemic impact of unjust and predatory practices directed against communities of color, indigenous, and other vulnerable populations. In particular, the occupation and aggression against Palestine and Palestinians in favor of illegal Israeli settlements, has devastated the already limited water supply, uprooted established agriculture, accelerated soil erosion, and has increased toxic waste and dumping.
2) Along these same humanitarian lines, the displacement of Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlements, violates international law: Violation of International Law.
3) The continued occupation and aggression against the Palestinian peoples including the illegal seizure of their property, has devastated arable land, led to the depletion of water resources and increased toxic waste and dumping: Environmental Degradation of Land Due to Occupation
On a personal note, I saw this flagrant violation of the land and its people firsthand when visiting Palestine several years ago. Traveling with a seminary delegation, we stayed overnight with Palestinian families in occupied Bethlehem, toured a Palestinian farm whose lush olive trees were later uprooted by Israeli soldiers, and met advocates who against overwhelming odds sought to provide a measure of protection and well-being for their communities. Throughout our visit, the barrier that cut deep into Palestinian-occupied territory loomed large. Still, through it all, I observed an unparalleled commitment to human dignity, was afforded generous hospitality, and experienced a quality of kindness that touched me deeply.
As a minister, advocate, and constituent, I urge you to support the passage of this bill. Given the current escalation of violence in this region, I believe this bill addresses some of the root causes behind it. As your constituent, I would appreciate knowing where you stand, relative to this issue and in particular, this bill.
Thank you, Senator…, in advance for your consideration.
Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle, (followed by your address)
Commemorating the 51st anniversary of Earth Day while speaking to the “spring song” of justice long-denied for those in the black community, a poem by the late African-American poet, Langston Hughes. Given the events of this past week, his words are timely.
An Earth Song
It’s an earth song,
And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song.
It’s a spring song,
And I’ve been waiting long for a spring song.
Strong as the shoots of a new plant
Strong as the bursting of new bud
Strong as the coming of the first child from its mother’s womb.
“When God saw that the people had changed, how they turned from their destructive ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that would be brought upon them.” Jonah 3:10
How often does God change God’s mind?
The story of Jonah is recorded not as an account but parable. Here, a prophet called, Jonah, after emerging from the “belly of a whale” astonishingly succeeds. Cut to the heart by the prophet’s warning, the entire city mends its ways. When seeing that the people had turned from their evil ways, God changes his mind and spares the city.
But what if God wasn’t poised to destroy the city of Nineveh? What if Nineveh, like the fall of the Roman empire or the rampant deforestation leading to the collapse of Easter Island and Norse Greenland, were well on their way to destroying themselves? What if the figure of God in this parable and elsewhere, isn’t bent on bringing about the destruction of whole civilizations as much as trying to get our attention – using prophets like Jonah – before it is too late?
Prayer: God of the Whale and the Dolphin, who broods over the waters of the deep, in your steadfast love summon us to make amends for the harm we have committed against each other and this planet we call home. Teach us to turn from the violence that readily insinuates itself into every corner of human life. Quell our voracious appetite for hoarding, while abolishing the meanness that festers and the parsimony that corrupts.
In your mercy, transform us by thy grace. So that you can change your mind about us, once more. Amen.