So, my goal is to post something every weekday on Sabbath Walks as part of a virtual "Advent Calendar" for 2023. I used to try this on Facebook, but now...this is what I will do. There are reasons, of course. I have no illusions about the rate at which my posts are read. However it is good to move through this time with mindfulness. Part of that comes from writing--at least for me--and putting that writing where somebody might find it. Usually it will be snippets of things. Some of them will be new and some will be what I found searching around. That is how life is, too. We don't experience great profundity all the time. If you think you do, well, I doubt your grasp on reality. There are down times built into life. There are fallow periods where we can't quite get our minds wrapped around what is before us. We are humans. We aren't failing when this happens. We are working as designed.
With that in mind, I am sharing an old mini-sermon that I gave on Christmas Eve in 2016. I have no real memory of giving it, but it sounds like me. Back then we had two services that night. There was an informal one at 5pm, where the readers were children and many of the musicians were too. Then there was a formal 7pm service, where people would get a little more dressed up and the readings were filled with the "thees and thous" of the Tyndale translation.
What follows was probably preached at the 5pm. These days I don't preach on Christmas Eve. I set up all the moving parts and I pray. The night of the 24th--the last moments of Advent--is about the story in the Bible and how it makes us think and feel. It isn't my job to explain. Instead I leave room for each of our hearts to connect to the story, the moment, and the spirit as it may.
The Work of Christmas
Rev Adam Tierney-Eliot
December 24, 2016
So, I was going through an archive of old Christmas sermons in preparation for this evening and I found a script to the pageant we used here at Eliot when I first arrived. Now I realize that some of you probably remember it (and some of you were no doubt in it). For the rest of you, let me just say that it was...different from the way we do it now. After all, back then it began--oddly enough--with this exchange between Mrs. Claus and a reindeer.
“Santa” says Mrs, Claus “You need to get busy. There’s so much to do to get ready delivering presents!”
Then the Reindeer--mostly innocently--says “Is that what Christmas is all about--delivering presents?”
“Not really,” says Mrs. Claus “Santa [she says while turning to her husband] while you are getting up, why don’t you tell us the real story”
Now, these days our pageant tends to go straight to the “real” story. However, we still are able to recognize the tension this pageant exchange reflects. We do, after all, understand the young reindeer's confusion. We see and feel the tension ourselves between the call toward the spiritual birth and rebirth that this time has represented (on the one hand) and the excuse for consumption and acquisition--an engine for the economy (on the other hand). It is this second group of activities that dominate much of our surplus time over Advent.
I certainly know this to be true. Every year I try and fail to avoid the chaos of the malls and shopping centers of route 9. Every year I try to cut back on my purchases, too. In fact, I more or less succeed at the cutting back. However, I still end up feeling like I should have gotten a couple more things for a few folks on my list.
This commercial element of our culture is pervasive. Our understanding of this time is deeply connected to the exchange and display of material goods. So it isn’t all that hard to see how someone like Ebenezer Scrooge could downplay or ignore the religious and ethical obligations of the season.
In Dickens' classic Christmas Carol, Scrooge's nephew, Fred, tried his best to set him straight. At one point he describes the holiday as “The only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women...think of people...as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Still, it isn’t hard to imagine--given all the noise that can surround the sentiment of the season--how that message can be missed. After all, in the song of Mary she sings that “God has scattered the proud...and brought down rulers..and raised up the humble. Has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with nothing”. Yet nothing in our observation of the holiday this year seems to indicate any great victory on that front.
This Advent it has been difficult to accept the idea that our fellow-passengers do in fact take the message of Christmas to heart. The birth of Jesus, like any birthday can be an excuse for a celebration. However, it feels like the meaning of his life, death, and teachings has fallen on many unheeding ears.
Together this Advent we have had our hearts broken by the news from places like Syria. We have journeyed together through a contentious and demoralizing election cycle. We have had our hearts injured again by stories of bigotry and discrimination here in our own towns and in our own neighborhood.
So, Mindless cheerfulness is pretty hard to maintain given the current situation. Like the Grinch there are times we wish to escape to the hills, or like Scrooge maybe even to our counting houses. It is enough to make some of us build walls between ourselves and the love we yearn to share and receive.
But...here is the thing.
Specifically because it is so hard to put on the usual festive veneer, many of us haven’t really tried! Instead we have put our energy elsewhere this December. Sure, maybe our Christmas trees and our lights went up late. Maybe our gift list is still a shambles and there is nothing we can do about it by tomorrow, but we took the time and energy we normally spend on these things and put it somewhere else.
That’s right. We put our energy somewhere else.
Looking out into the troubled world of 2016 we have chosen to find ways to help. We have found ways to speak out into the darkness. We did this for the sake of others. We did it for our own sakes, too. For example, this church took on the Christmas Open Door community meal this week, which is no mean feat in the midst of everything else. We also went caroling at Riverbend Nursing Home.
In addition, many of us have found some healing in the work of Natick Is United. The rainbow “Peace” flag campaign, the marches and vigils, the joint statements and all the rest have drawn our minds away from despair and into action. Then through action we have been drawn back to hope.
Hope, is, after all, what this holiday truly is about. It is about Hope for a light in the dark, a light that is kindled by our fellow beings through the exercise of a broad, dynamic faith
And an all-encompassing love.
This year we are learning to live into the words of the civil rights leader Howard Thurman.
The work of Christmas begins he tells us
to find the lost
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers and sisters,
to make music in the heart
Our lives--and hopefully the lives of others--will be better for this work, so tonight we remember. We remember that the birthday we are celebrating is not our own. We remember that we are called to walk the path of faith. We remember we are called to walk the path of justice.
I got up early today to take the dog for a walk. She needs at least two solid hours of exercise a day. We can carve out about ninety minutes in the morning of we are careful. Earliest is best. That way we get ahead of the casual dog walkers; the ones to get tired quickly and let their pets off to roam and poop in the woods. With a puppy--or any energetic dog--it is good to be away from the folks who flaunt the leash laws. It is no fun negotiating an encounter with another dog whose owner's only aid is to say things like, "I don't know what has gotten into her..."
Anyway, it was raining a bit today, which also kept the numbers down. It is good for the dog to get comfortable with the wet weather. It is also nice to be able to grab some silent moments in this cluster of trees surrounded by suburbia. The second day in Advent, it turns out, started well with a stroll along the Charles.
I have written about the Charles River before. In fact, it has its own category. These days we also use the Algonquian name, Quinobequin. By either name it looms large in the literature of the area. The funny thing is that it doesn't really get that big until near the end, when it nears the very end outside Boston. Here in Metrowest it is slow, narrow, and marshy. It is a great place for birds. These days I can hear the geese calling to each other, with their wings pounding and whistling as they are started by a fox or--more likely--someone else's dog on the opposite bank.
In any case it is a good way to begin the first Advent workweek of 2023. It still feels like fall and will for a while. Given the state of the environment it may always feel like that now. My family is posting pictures of snow up in Maine but everywhere is warmer and it feels strange. That said, with some effort--and the sacrifice of 30 minutes of sleep--we got some quiet in a chaotic world. The big bang of church is behind us for a time. Now the still small voice.
I leave you with this video of our congregation participating in the "Sanctuary Lighting" yesterday morning. Every year we take the readings we will use for Advent, pick six of them to listen for, and then read them together on the first Sunday. Half are biblical and half are not. It was chaotic but we are enjoying ourselves....
And just like that...here we are....
It is Sunday afternoon and I am sitting on the couch, watching a youtube video of a dog sleeping in front of a fire. The dog looks pretty darn content in their massive bed that features a prominent LL Bean logo, so I can only assume it is an advertisement for dog beds, and LL Bean in general. Thanks algorithm! We got a puppy the day before Thanksgiving Sunday (which is the Sunday before Thanksgiving if you are in church) and I have been looking up vids to help her get settled. The dog on the video is some kind of labrador retriever. The puppy is half-lab. Maybe she will take some lying down lessons...
Of course it isn't Thanksgiving anymore. Advent started this very day! I have to say that it took me a bit by surprise this year. We had that extra Sunday--November 26--which our church went ahead and cancelled. However, I didn't rest exactly. There was that puppy,...and work...and the usual drama of life that left me almost completely unaware of the looming crisis of December holidays.
What snapped me out of it was an invitation to a party on December 1. This important date is, of course, the beginning of secular Advent. We mark the first of December by opening the first door on our calendars to get our daily chocolate or scotch, or whatever the person who gives us the calendars chose this year. Anyway, a clergy friend held a party on December 1 to kick things off and I had to bring something. This meant that--between dog walks--I was forced to turn on the Christmas music and make my first fruitcake of the season. This bake included the very last of the cranberry compote from Thanksgiving dinner. The loaf I saved and "tested" for the party was pretty OK. I hope people liked the other one.
I don't have much to say about the holiday today. However, I wanted to check in. Advent is one of my favorite times of year and I try to give it the respect it deserves by not lurching directly to Christmas. It is ironic, but being a church person means less Christmas, not more. I like it that way. It keeps everything in its time.
That said I have some Advent "gifts" for you. Don't get excited! They are all virtual. Also, it includes the "Yule Dog" which I didn't make and don't really endorse in any meaningful sense.
So here is the link to my "fruitcake" recipe. I use it every year and give them away as much as possible. Then I stop when I feel like it. That moment usually arrives before Epiphany. Also, below you will find my "Advent prayer" from this morning. It is really kind of a meditation, but whatever. We had our annual sanctuary lighting today--which involves lots of readings and open flame--then we had communion. The meditation here closed communion, which was fine.
So the video of the dog by the fire continues. While I was writing this, the bottom half of a person came in with a classy LL Bean log-carrier, stoked the fire, and returned to pet the dog and drop off their snowy boots. The boots, of course, are those super-ugly-and-uncomfortable "Bean Boots" that were the bane of my childhood. I bet the dog is named after the Chesapeake Bay. I remember lots of "Chessies" growing up. This is the sort of set-up they would like. It kinda makes me wish I had a fireplace...and a scratchy wool blanket...and that it was snowing.
OMG! The "dog owner" is back wearing LL Bean slippers and stoking the fire with a bespoke fire poker! This is about as much excitement as I can handle on a Sunday afternoon in the rain.
Anyway, here is the prayer. I need to walk my dog, who is named after a mountain in New Hampshire, which is totally different from being named after a bay in Maryland...
Advent Prayer 2023
It doesn't start with a star
It doesn't start with hallelujahs
It starts with stumbling through
It starts all too frequently with loss
the rocky road to nothing
Then we begin
with a moment of desperation
on our knees
With crying out and wondering if
if our cries will be heard at all
And then it starts
with the hands that lift us up
brush us off
feed us, even, and walk us into the day
We may be too tired to notice
these hands but
they are there
Each caring hand
the hand of God and
the human hands
of human hope
We shudder to turn these hands to violence
We resist using them
for selfish ends
Advent does not begin with a star
or an angel
or a hymn
but begins with us
in communion with humanity
Advent begins as stillness
In the chaos and
then the stillness grows
This morning I started my pies. You probably know why. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and there is lots to do. We have hosted for years and--as the primary-but-no-longer-sole cook--I have a system. With certain exceptions, the preparation for the meal goes in reverse order of consumption, which means desert first.
Anyway, my son--who will be ultimately responsible for this dish--brought home a splendid butternut squash and some sweet potatoes from the farm where he works. My task this morning was to reduce them to a puree for later assembly. I have the Christmas music on. It's somebody's attempt to reconstruct the Grant's Department Store albums on Spotify. I am mindful of the peeling and the roasting. I am making a list of things we forgot to get in the first (and second and third) run to the grocery store. Johnny Mathis is singing O Holy Night. I am inhabiting the holidays...yet I am also not.
I am not entirely feeling festive this year. You see, it is a dark time in the world and it seems weird in some way to be grateful when so much is going to Hell in a hand basket. The holidays are like that. Even in times that seem somewhat better than this one, there is conflict. There is pain. There is the fact that not everything works out the way we would hope.
Thanksgiving was the big holiday in my family of origin. It is built into me to be a "Thanksgiving person" like some are "Christmas People" or Halloween people". It is my personal high holy day, regardless of the ambiguity. It was also something we faced with seriousness and intention every year. Christmas and other holidays were an afterthought compared to Thanksgiving. There certainly was a good way to celebrate it which, of course, was our way.
As a child visiting my grandparents, every year the various activities were exactly the same as the year before. My grandfather, who fought in the Second World War and spent two years in a German prison camp, made sure that it all went off with precision. The morning started with farm-chores. Then there was the obligatory family football game. Then we would get all dressed up--we boys wore blazers and ties--and filed into the large dining room that was only used for special days. Then we would sit in our assigned seats. Each seat was the same each year unless a new addition set the chart in disarray. The food...it was the same to. There was never a variation to the menu, from the enormous turkey that my aunt and mother would cook to the tomato aspic they let my grandmother prepare so that she would stay out of the way.
It was–-and still is…if somewhat reformed–-a ritualistic day leading toward a ritual meal. It is, for many people,
like a Communion Sunday at church. Like at church, there is an element of worshipfulness. There is the air of the sacred though we may not know why. Nan Merrill, who is one of my favorite liturgical poets, writes in her Mandalas and Meditations, "Who will open their hearts to the/blessings of love? Who will surrender their lives/to be guided by the spirit? Who will invite the Most Holy into/the heart's abode? These are the sorts of question we ask ourselves, or we are encouraged to ask during this season. Regardless of what holiday floats our boat, when the moment comes, we try to turn away from our regular tasks and challenges. Our goal is to love and be loved; to let in "the Divine" whatever that means to us.
Of course, when we look up from our mundane activities, we don't really let them go entirely. We are human beings, and we make sense of our world through stories. Some of these stories are small and personal. Others are set in the larger context of society or the environment. However, each story comes with its ups and downs. Each story comes with risks. The reason is simple. Stories have different interpretations and different points of view, so conflict is inevitable for most of us during this time. The classic is the Thanksgiving table battle with Uncle Bert or whatever. Realistically, it can happen at any time when we are trying so hard to get along.
In fact, when I look back fondly on those childhood holidays with my grandparents, I wonder if their regimented nature had something to do with those differences of opinion. Time, distance, and marriage had set every faction in our extended family on different trajectories. My funky northern liberal parents didn't always strike the right chord as some of the more staid and conservative--and also beloved--relations. The same could be said going the other way. Again, we were trying but sometimes we were also trying if you get my drift.
Now, my family is not atypical. These experiences of real conflict and tension tempt us every year. After all, everyone knows what is going on as we gather around the table. This year there are wars in Ukraine and the middle east that have generated strong opinions and feelings. They have had repercussions for many people at home with the rise of antisemitism and hatred of Muslims. There is hunger and fear outside the walls of our relatively tidy holiday-houses as well. The gap between rich and poor grows. Our own democratic institutions seem weaker than at any time in our memory. There are a plethora of personal battles being fought within each of us every day. In other words, there are storms brewing. We shouldn’t be surprised when the chaos slips on into our carefully created rituals of the season.
Which means that each year we attempt to hold these things--the good and the bad--in tension. At least we should do this, in our own way. Otherwise our gratitude is empty. There is darkness that needs acknowledgement for Thanksgiving to make any sense. When we think of a time where gratitude abounds, we consider the unambiguously happy moments, like weddings. However, we also think of funerals. I have officiated a number of them lately. There by the graveside we struggle to hold on to a memory. Still, we also tell a story of gratitude in the midst of sadness and unfinished business. It is in these moments where we hold things in the balance. It is in these moments when we are being the most authentic humans we can be.
Now, there is actually a way to celebrate what we have and to mourn what is missing at the same time. It takes courage, like so many things, but it's worth trying. An act of thanks in a time of oppression and evil--in a time of crises and conflict--is an act of resistance. It is a moment where we contemplate the vastness and decide that "the Man"--those principalities and powers of our society--isn't going to get us this time. We are stating that in the midst of struggles--whatever they may be--we will be broad-minded and open-hearted against the forces of fearful self-interest.
There is strength in looking at the vastness. There is strength in prayer, which is really what we are talking about.
There is strength in understanding our role as part of the ecosystem writ large. This practice encourages us to set aside our own issues. Nan Merrill's translation of Psalm 146 tell us to "Put not your trust in riches, in illusory things that fade away. For when our day comes to depart this world, at that very time, we carry only the love imprinted on our soul." That is what all this holiday-making--all this risk taking--is about.
Or, at least, that is the goal. It requires some practice. It also requires some higher order thinking to say “yes, I am grateful…but”. We are grateful but…not all is right in the world. Not all is right in our lives. We are grateful but…when we look over this broken earth, the blessings are imbalanced. Though we may be pleased with what we have, we see that there is work to be done.
This “yes, but” is as much a “yes and” approach familiar to anyone who has ever done improv. For in our gratitude, we are motivated to action. This is an essential element of the move, actually. So many people want to escape during the holidays. So many center their own narrative and miss the opportunity to reach out. Thanksgiving in particular is susceptible to this. As is perhaps inevitable in a secular holiday with a religious theme, our “attitude of gratitude” has too often been an act of self-congratulation masquerading as humility.
For example, as children we learned the holiday’s creation myth--all that stuff about the Pilgrims and the Native-Americans gathering together in peace--as history. At best it is a white-washed mashup of complex events in the midst of a clash of cultures. That “First Thanksgiving” myth was--and still is--used to prop a distinctly American theology. It is used to privilege and elevate the story of European Americans and legitimate colonialism in the so-called “New” World. Now, theoretically, we know better. Still, we feel the impact of this story and of how we learned it every day.
Here is another example. It is also hard not to veer into self-congratulation in a celebration of the ability to lay out a table of more food than we can eat. When we do this, we are celebrating our riches in gratitude for a harvest that we did not bring about. We celebrate our ability to store up food for a winter that–thanks to the trappings of our suburban society–will not be a time of scarcity for most of us, after all.
We don’t want to be like that. We also know that we don’t have to be. There is a way--through honest prayer--to be grateful and still acknowledge the depth of pain in the world, in our bodies, and in our hearts. There is a way to atone, somewhat, and commit to the struggle. There is a way to bring about a better life and a better world that we can celebrate next holiday season.
Every year I share a prayer by Theodore Parker with the church. It is called "Trials". It may not be the best prayer ever–At least artistically–but it is an authentic one. Parker was a transcendentalist,
and a Unitarian minister who was ostracized by his fellow Unitarian clergy because of his radicalism. He had personal struggles, too. Many of those struggles had to do with his health. He died young at 50 years of age, right before the Civil War.
In this prayer he mixed his gratefulness with the reality of his situation, facing imperfection and acknowledging responsibility. In it he speaks into where he feels he has failed. He notes the suffering he has endured but…he still ends in thanks. He still finds reasons for gratitude.
For all the trials of my earlier day
I thank thee that they all have been
That darkness lay about the rugged way
Which I must tread alone. For all I’ve seen
Of disappointment, sorrow, pain, and loss
I thank thee for them all. And did I sin,
I grieve not I’ve been tried; for e’en the cross
Of penitience has taught me how to win.
Yet of ills as child or man I’ve borne--
My hopes laid waste, or friends sent off by death,--
Remorse has most of all my boson torn
For time misspent ill deeds or evil breath.
But yet, for every grief my heart has worn,
God I thank thee still, trusting with a hearty faith.
So that is where we are this year. In a world of trouble and pain. We live in a world in need of our humility and our strength. We live in a world in need of our joy and our gratitude. We need to give these things even in the face of all that has happened and all that will happen in the quest for the just and peaceful Kin-dom.
Today, I am done with the squash. I have the turducken almost thawed out. I am making plans in future days to eat both of these dishes and more besides until they are gone. We will not wear ties to dinner tomorrow. Things will be more casual. Maybe--for a little while--we might talk about religion and politics until we can't deal anymore. Then next week, having been grateful for the many things we should be grateful for and having acknowledged the hard truths--or as many as we can--we will turn back to the dream of making a better world. After all, we will have Advent to remind us, right?
May we see the imperfect world and resist despair by giving thanks for the victories, the love, and the tools for the new journey that empower us to good work and enable us to move forward once again.
I may be posting a bit more about music and other things for a while. It is hunting season here in New England, so my hiking has been limited to suburban trails. They are pretty of course. They may not really be post-worthy, however. I do stay away from many of the wilder places during this time, particularly during the week. Some hunter has taken time off from work on a weekday to head on out to do their thing. They shouldn't have to worry about me or I about them. The season will end soon enough, and the winter climbs can begin.
Also, I am swamped at work. The holidays are here. The church is down both an intern/assistant minister and a church administrator. It is just me right now. There is so very much to do. Among the things to do, though, is plan for holiday music. The Liturgical Folk Band has been busy playing for our experimental "Second Sunday" services. In fact, as we tweak the format in other ways, I would say the band has been a point of stability for us. That hasn't always been the case in the past, so it is nice.
I have written about folk music in the church before, so my plan here was to keep it brief and leave you with some links at the end. I failed.
I just want to comment for a moment on the folk element of the term. Folk Music is what folks do. In an often-professionalized world we have grown accustomed to leaving to professionals things that have for the vast majority of human existence been something that is done by amateurs. Music is only one example of this. Even in the genre we are discussing, a "folksinger" is more often than not somebody we pay. We go see them in cozy concert halls, or we buy their music. The performance is (hopefully) of a monetizable quality.
Interestingly enough, many professional musicians are trying to leave the term "folk" to the amateurs. Some performers of original works now lean toward "singer-songwriter" for what they do. Performers of actual folk tend toward the terms "Old Time" or "World Music" to describe what they do. That is nice of them. They at least recognize that part of their job is to popularize works that others can replicate at home. That is, they are empowering people to keep on doing folk-art.
I bring this up because being just OK at something doesn't mean we cannot enjoy doing it. It doesn't mean we cannot share it either. If we just relied on professional athletes, there wouldn't be pickup basketball. If we just relied on professional artists, then we wouldn't have the rich world of creativity that we need for our culture to thrive. When you see videos of us playing, I want you to understand that we know how good--or not good--we are. The point is that everyone has a place to create.
So...what do you do if you would like to take your place as one of the folk in folk music? All you have to do is find an instrument and make some noise.
If you want a little more direction, here are some thoughts....
Start with What You Used to Play! This should be obvious but somehow it isn't always. There are no rules for what an actual folk musician can play. Yes, the acoustic guitar is ubiquitous among the professionals. However, that has to do with what is marketable. You aren't shooting for a recording contract. You don't care what "the Man" thinks about your music! Did you play clarinet and you still have it? That works. The trick is just to find ways to be creative with it when you are playing with others. That takes time, but it should be fun time.
Start with What might be fun! What instrument did you always think sounded cool? That is a good place to start. Think about what sort of sound you think you could make. What sound would you like to make?
Pick Something You Will Stick To! For some people that will an instrument that is easy to get going on but hard to get good on, like the ukulele or the autoharp. For others it may be something that is hard to get started on but you get progressively better over time. You have to want to practice. However, remember that in amateur folk music practice isn't so much practice as "jamming-with-yourself". You should enjoy it. Remember to measure success not by how proficient you are but by how much fun you are having.
Pick Something Different! OK, say you want to play with people and this is your big goal. If this is the case then I want to say something that might be considered controversial in some quarters. Pick an instrument that other people don't play. Over the last half-century, the go-to instrument has been guitar. Whay has this been the case? Take a look at my previous suggestions. People frequently play guitar as a kid. Parents like the idea and pay for lessons. It replicates the sound of a ton of great music performed by professional musicians and released to a breathless public. Finally, with a few quick chords, you can play along to almost anything.
However, because of this, if you want to get your pals together to jam you will have no shortage of three-chord guitar warriors keeping the beat. Most of them will be thinking about how much cooler they would sound with a little variety.
This is where you come in. How about something that sounds different? I play guitar but when I get together to play with people nobody has ever asked me to play it. The reason is there are already plenty of guitars in the lineup. Instead, they ask if I could play some other instrument.
Here are the ones I play: Voice, Mandolin, Ukulele, Tenor Banjo, Bones.
Here are some I always wish somebody else would play: Bass, Autoharp, 5-String Banjo, Drums, Whistles, Fiddle
Anyway, knock yourself out. There is a learning curve to these instruments just like guitar. Also, as you learn, you will be noticeable. Still, you shouldn't worry about mistakes. My experience is that all the guitar players are just happy you are there.
OK, that is it. My music update plus some stuff. Enjoy the vids. Here is the link to the "Music and Arts" section which--as I mentioned--should be growing over the winter.
I spent a couple hours today cleaning out the church office. I organize in piles. I like to be able to lay eyes on all my stuff--papers, liturgical gear, easels and so on--so I know where everything is, and I do not forget certain items exist. My favorite tool in this way is a bookshelf. The titles are on the spine. After a period of repeated use, I know the color and size of each book well enough that I don't need categories to find them again. An open shelf is a horizonal pile. I love them.
However, this piling doesn't work quite as easily at work. There just aren't enough shelves. Also, I am not one of those ministers with a spacious private office to retreat to. I have a desk in the corner of the shared workspace, but I haven't sat at it since before the pandemic. The way we work has changed. The church office is no longer a buzz of activity. Over time, piles--vertical ones--have taken over the desk. In this case they were piles I didn't really need.
Anyway, I got to cleaning my desk along with the stacks on the floor and the other two desks that share the space. One of the desks is for an intern if we ever have one again. The other is for a church administrator. After the departure of our beloved admin Felicia, we need a new one of those as well. Since it has just been me in the office--along with drop-ins from lay leaders--all surfaces are about the piles.
Cleaning isn't easy for me. As I went through the stacks of paper, I found references to old ministries that are no more. We used to have an active youth group. We had a D&D group for kids. We had multiple Christmas Eve services, plays-in-worship, fall fairs, rummage sales, and casual hangouts after worship at a local bar. Some of these things are long gone. Some need attention and could be revived. In any case they are memories. I greet them with panic, nostalgia, and sometimes regret.
Most of the regret, though, is saved for failures. Not all programs had long runs we can look back on with pleasure. There are as many false starts in the piles. Usually, they are things I thought might have potential. However, they fizzled out. Usually there was a marked lack of energy or interest. I don't blame others, but I do blame myself sometimes. I ask myself if Maybe I pitched it in a different way I could somehow have made them more compelling.
At home the attic and the basement are filled with things like this. There are plenty of problematic reminders. When I survey the boxes in the corners of the house, I see happy things...sometimes. However, most happy things aren't shoved away from sight. Just as often I see signs of old failures, conflicts, and dark times. We carry that stuff around, particularly when others see the same moment in a more positive light. I ask myself if this is this the day I rent the dumpster and start chucking things out. Maybe it is just another day I can't deal.
I know of plenty of people who say they aren't like this. They claim to move through life without attachments. Memories and garbage are in the past and they are unaffected or forgetful. Good for them, I guess. When I walk through life, I know there are many paths we can take. We hit the crossroads and we pick our way through the choices. Sometimes we luck out and sometimes we do not. Just as in any walk, the path can be hard. The goals can be elusive or disappointing. Yes, the story of the struggle and what we learned may give us strength for the next journey. That said, things may have sucked and we have the right to remember that as well.
Perhaps others don't wonder about the roads we turned from, but I do. Just maybe you do, too. In our lives we pick things up, or they stick to us. We can reach our destination covered in common burdocks or--even worse--ticks. Maybe you know the stress of old detritus. We carry it farther than we should.
So back to the cleaning, if we can manage it. In the fall I think of the rebirths to come in the spring. That potential rebirth drives us to go through the piles. We need to prepare the ground for the next crop. A clear desk gets us on to the next job. Man, though, it is work, isn't it? We don't just become a new person. We don't just rise one day clean and unburdened. Before the resurrection there is a bottleneck, we must find a way to squeeze through. If you are doing this work, I see you. I hope you have someone helping you carry the load. There are moments when we need someone or something to give us a push or a yank.
I sat at my desk today and looked out the window for the first time in a long time. It was nice to bask in the November light for a moment, watch the traffic go by, drink my coffee, and read an old copy of the Christmas Pageant from long ago. Maybe there are some good dreams in the future. Maybe there is more cleaning to do before Advent. Maybe there will be emptying in winter to make room for something new. Maybe we lay down some burdens for the new thing. We shall see.
I hope you all fill your dumpster this year. Let's make a pact to get the garbage out. Cleaning is tough work to do by yourself.
Things have truly been hectic at church. However, I am enjoying looking back at old hikes as I plan new ones for the future. Truthfully, the way things are going it may be a while before I head up north again. Of course, the mountains will be there...and I will bring snowshoes!
As with the previous hikes, some of these hikes have longer posts, which I have linked in the descriptions...
Mount Cabot #26
We combined this hike with a trip along the ridge to The Bulge and The Horn. The Horn resides on the 52 With-A-View (52WAV) list, but there was no view to be had. By that time the clouds had rolled in and the rest of the hike veered between misty and rainy. We did have this one good view heading up. The longer post tells the tale.
Monroe and Washington #27 & #28
This trip combined one of my favorite mountains--Monroe--with one of my least favorite...Washington. This has nothing to do with the relative ease of the climb. Honestly, while Washington is indeed the tallest. It isn't much taller than its neighbors. All the Presidents are big piles of slag. The longer post tells a bit about why I would climb Monroe again...and just look at Washington from there. This trip helped me refine what I like and don't like about hiking.
Carter Dome #29
This hike was tough! There isn't much more to say that isn't in the longer post. That said, I would do it again. I might decide to climb up the Rainbow Trail, however as it became one of my favorites. The longer post has the details.
Middle Carter and South Carter #29 & #30
We climbed this one on a day where it was fall at the bottom and winter at the top! What a great trip. If you are planning a hike on a three day weekend in the fall in NH, this may be the right one for you. All the tourists are heading to the Presidential and Franconia ranges. Do both yourself and the folks at Search and Rescue a favor and climb the Carters. They are plenty.
Madison and Adams #31 & #32
This was the hardest hike we did in the Whites. I have tried to write about it before but just haven't been able to grasp its weight. Adams is the second tallest mountain on the 48 list and Madison is the fifth tallest. For comparison, Washington is first, Jefferson is third, and Monroe is fourth. All of these are pretty much the same height if you are climbing them. They all hurt, too.
What I do remember is a massive amount of exertion. I had been climbing every day that week--mostly 52WAV mountains--so I was in good shape, but also a bit tired. That said it was beautiful and I enjoyed the time spent in nature with my brother Dan and my wife Allison. I would do this again, but only climb one peak per trip.
A few things happened on this hike that are worth mentioning. First, we were given stern warning at the base of the trail. This is an unreasonably difficult hike for its level of popularity. The rangers know this and want to make sure that the people going up know what they are doing. After that we encountered an entire dog-and-pony show of an influencer, her friends, and some poor guy who actually had to take the pictures. I think they thought we should know who they were...but we were too old. They were a bit much, so we got ahead of them as quickly as possible at one of their many stops.
Finally, on the way down the mountain we passed a number of people who should have listened more closely to the rangers. They were struggling mightily. It was a good reminder that sometimes we think more highly of our abilities than we should. Humility is a must in the White Mountains.
Lincoln and Lafayette #33 & #34
Mount Monadnock--on the 52 WAV list--may be the second most climbed mountain in the world (after Mt. Fuji) but I have to say that these two peaks have to be up there as well. They bookend a fabulous section of Franconia Ridge that features breathtaking views all around. As with Mount Washington, though, I found it too crowded for my taste. This may be why I did not write a longer post for this hike. I am glad I did it. However, there are mountains I would rather climb.
The climb up Lincoln was typical New England. There we very few switchbacks, just a steep incline that got steeper with time. The hike goes over Little Haystack--"little" is a misnomer--then up to Lincoln. The views were indeed spectacular and there were certainly plenty of folks to share them with. Then came the walk across the ridge to Lafayette, hitting a couple smaller peaks on the way. The way down was less direct than the way up, presenting a number of different views forward and back before finally dipping into the trees. I think if I could have found a day just as pleasant with fewer people I would have been more into it. However, I don't think such a day exists.
So right after putting down what is many people's favorite hike, I want to share my favorite with you. At least this was my favorite hike on the NH 48 list! I did run into some horrific weather and almost slid right off the peak. I would do it again, though. After Jackson I went over to Mount Webster (another 52WAV). I would love to replicate this whole day sometime. The longer post here covers it, I think.
HIKED ON 6/19/23 and 6/20/23
Really, in a perfect world this would be our final hike of the NH 48 4,000 Footer list. That isn't how it worked out. However, it was beautiful. It was also the last of my hiking videos before life got in the way. That and recording got in the way of hiking (sigh). So, I am mostly just embedding that video here. It should be noted that we crossed of Mount Zealand for the second time and experienced the revelation of beautiful Mount Guyot, which isn't on anybody's list. It may be my favorite mountain. It took quite a bit of effort to get there but the reward was great.
So here is the second group of hikes for my New Hampshire 48 4,000 footers. As I mentioned in the first installment, I started the project before I should have. These hikes, however, mark the transition from rehab to hobby. I was getting stronger. I also was climbing many other mountains when I could. I took every opportunity I could get to head out on the trail in Massachusetts. Also, I would run up to New Hampshire or Maine to climb smaller things when time would allow. Many of those hikes are documented here in Sabbath Walks. Perhaps this information will help explain the growing gaps between 48ers.
It also indicates something of my hiking style. Most of my other hikes were solo endeavors. On the 48 list, however, I usually had at least one companion. The mix worked out well, I think.
As with last time I have linked to longer posts on specific hikes when possible and wrote a bit longer where I don't have any other supporting material. I couldn't always find the time to write, after all. Life has a way of being lived...
Osceola and East Osceola #11 & #12
(October 4, 2021)
I really loved this hike. My brother Dan joined me, which gave the whole thing the feel of a family reunion in the wake of Covid. I also wiped out and broke a pole by landing on it. The long post has the deets.
Zealand #13 (October 7, 2021)
Video (ZBonds Traverse)
This has to be among my favorite hikes. I have hiked it once since--the video link tells the story--but I can see myself heading up to the cliffs in the future just to take in the view. It was one of the first climbs I enjoyed for itself. The process of rehab was far enough along to drift into the background a bit.
Flume #14 (November 11, 2021)
I have no real documentary evidence of this hike up Osseo trail. This is strange as I really loved it. The climb was relatively gentle. Allison and I spent time at the top eating snacks and watching the world go by. On the way down we encountered the honor guard with an enormous American flag. Flags on the 48 usually has events on September 11. That year someone was doing something on November 11, too. They looked tired but determined to get to the top in time!
Osseo Trail is the "easy" way up. There is also a slide. The thing about slides is that you get a fabulous and continuous view while raising the difficulty level a few notches. I was in no shape for Flume Slide and the hike was so pretty I would probably do it the same way again.
North Kinsman #15 (December 4, 2021)
The long post here actually records our second summit, which included South Kinsman. We failed to get to that mountain the first time. We started later than Al and I usually do and there wasn't really the time to make it out and back before dark. After hitting the peak of North, we decided to turn around. Hikers often remind ourselves that getting to the top is optional and getting back to the car is mandatory. Still...it was frustrating. The good news, though, is that the mountains don't go anywhere.
Liberty #16 (January 16, 2022)
It was dangerously cold that day. We got up early and I had trouble moderating my heat. That said, the hike was beautiful. There were some folks using the mountain as a massive sled run--buttsliding--which is controversial. However, after everything ices over it may be the only way down. This was my favorite hike of the winter. The long post explains it pretty well.
North and South Hancock #17 & #18
(February 11, 2022)
Here is another hike without any documentation. In this case I know why. I was so depressed about the steep climb and the deep snow. A quick butt-slide off South Hancock cheered me up but...still...
Also, we did this one morning during our annual church ski retreat. We probably weren't as well-rested as we could have been.
Now I enjoy winter hiking and did quite a bit of it this past winter (2023). However, I like to keep my hikes a bit more manageable so I can enjoy the views and the weather while also getting home and warm. Those hikes can be found in other sections--and in the Tecumseh video--as the shorter, more local hikes in the snow fit the bill for me. Allison reminds me that the Hancocks are supposed to be easier in winter because the trail conditions aren't so great the rest of the year. Whatever...
South Kinsman #19 (May 7, 2022)
This is the same long post as North Kinsman. I loved this second hike with South being one of my favorites. There was no sadness or defeat this time. We took the same route over North and then on from where we turned around before.
Moriah #20 (May 14, 2022)
Man were we tired during this hike. Also, there was snow in places and the tiny peak was packed! I still remember it very fondly even though we had forgotten our "means to treat" and ran out of water before reaching the car. We will never do that again. The long post only reflects some of the desperation.
Passaconaway #21 (June 18, 2022)
This hike was made during one of those strange mountain storms that exist above 3,000 feet. We had actually decided on Passaconaway as a back-up hike instead of something taller. I am glad we did. There was a fatality not far from us that day. The lesson--much as with our first attempt up South Kinsman--is to respect the mountain.
Whiteface #22 (July 10, 2022)
In some ways the Passaconaway hike was like the Kinsmans. At one point we had thought of doing both during the storm and even strolled out a short way toward Whiteface in the storm. Instead, we turned around and took it the next week, walking back to just below the peak of Passaconaway. It wasn't as depressing, however, because we were learning to be in touch with ourselves and with what was going on around us. Our reward was a fabulous day described in the long post.
North and South Twin #23 & #24 (July 16, 2022)
I loved this hike. It made up for the strain of some of the earlier ones and reminded me to take time looking at the nature around the trail instead of just the views. that said, there were plenty of views from both peaks with South Twin performing brilliantly. I would climb South again by a different route instead of an out-and-back over North. North Twin was fine, but not as brilliant. Also, the weird small rocks on the trail made footing a bit painful at the end of the day.
Jefferson #25 (July 23, 2022)
This was a big deal of a hike for us. It was the first we did in the Presidentials! It is still my favorite mountain on that ridge. The long post covers it well. This was our final hike before taking time to hike the Great Glen Way in Scotland. The Highlands had something to live up to...
I have been out and about lately, as some of you know. Church is hopping. There have been crises large and small to deal with. Life just gets ahead of me sometimes, as it does for everyone. That said, I have also been hiking! This week, in fact, I made my way up Pamola Peak, down the Chimney, over South Peak along the Knife Edge, and on to Baxter Peak all on Mount Katahdin. I hope to post about that at some point. Many things went wrong but...the Knife Edge was a bucket list item for me.
In my few spare moments, though, I have been filling out my application for the NH48 4,000 Footers Club. Yes, there is an application process to join. Obviously one can hike all the mountains, become a "48er" and never make it "official". That said, I think it would be fun. There is a dinner at some point...and a patch. Also, it is an accomplishment with a set beginning and a set ending. In a life and job where one thing just flows into another as Sundays and seasons roll right along, there is comfort that in this, at least, there is a piece of paper in a file somewhere that said I did a thing.
The application includes lists of names and dates. It also includes a narrative. It seems like low-hanging fruit to post the narrative here...with slight enhancements since the actual report is rather dry.
Narrative: Mount Carrigain
Hiked on 8/27/23 #48/48
I found this final mountain to be fairly straightforward when compared to the ones I had climbed most recently. Mount Isolation had been my 47th, for example and that turned into a bit of an adventure. That was fine, though, I was finally–after waiting about a month–able to find a reasonable day for an ascent. My companion on this hike was my wife, Allison Nelson-Eliot, who finished her 48 on that aforementioned Isolation hike. That was hard to schedule, too. The rain has been an epic reminder of the strain we have placed on this "dying" Earth.
It is probably worth noting that I hiked most of my mountains with Allison but her application will contain some different dates from mine as she repeated some mountains with me after she did them the first time. As we waited for at least some of the water to run off Isolation she climbed with me. That meant second summit for her on Pierce, Eisenhower, Hale and others. I also introduced her to some of the "52 With a View" mountains that I love.
We did this hike as an out-and-back via the Signal Ridge Trail. It took us about 8 hours including rests and a celebratory stop at the fire tower/viewing deck on the summit. The hike itself was a bit of a slog. An early commitment to flatness disappears to be replaced by a steady–sometimes steep–incline strewn with those awkward granite boulders so common in northern New England. We cursed the hike many times until we reached the actual Signal Ridge. As I noted, it had been a month since any serious climbing had occurred. Then–even though cloud cover obscured the view at times–our mood improved. There is something about seeing the end-point for so long that really gets you going!
I am a people-person and–as with many hikes I have taken–I fell into conversation with a few of the folks around me. This trip we climbed with a couple of ADK 46’ers up for vacation and met a couple still in their single digits on the NH48. It was an amiable crowd to spend time with at the top. The view–as I mentioned–came and went, but we got some glimpses into Both the Pemi Wilderness and the White Mountain National Forest.
For me it really is about the people you meet along the way. I am a talker. Most people, I think, hike for the silence. However, in any group there is usually somebody more interested in the story than the view. We make eye contact. We venture some quick comments and observations. Eventually we recognize a fellow-traveler and stay connected for as long as we leapfrog each other up and down. This was a good mountain for small-talk and hiker-chats.
The way down was unremarkable except for how happy I was to have finished the list! This started as a way to spend time with my wife while rehabbing from a mid-Covid back injury that resulted in surgery. We hope to keep on climbing. Early in my rehab I got pretty far on the 52 WAV and we have begun picking away at the NE67. Who knows what we will get up to next?
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.