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7 minutes | 3 years ago
The Eternal Goodness (Special Guest: Jane Williams)
Photo by Kelsey Johnson; center aisle of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Houston Rev. Tommy Williams sits down with his mother, Jane Williams, to reflect upon excerpts from one of her favorite poems, "The Eternal Goodness." Jane memorized this poem for a reading class assignment in the 8th grade; the verses have been her companion and a reminder of God's goodness and faithfulness ever since.In the first stanza, when the poem references "O Friends! with whom my feet have trod // The quiet aisles of prayer," Jane says these "friends" are all of us! We have a special connection to one another when we pray or are prayed for. "Maybe we don't have one other thing in common," she says, "But the thing we have in common is God's love, and the prayer we all offer in our own way."The Eternal Goodnessby John Greenleaf WhittierO Friends! with whom my feet have trodThe quiet aisles of prayer,Glad witness to your zeal for GodAnd love of man I bear.Who fathoms the Eternal Thought?Who talks of scheme and plan?The Lord is God! He needeth notThe poor device of man.I see the wrong that round me lies,I feel the guilt within;I hear, with groan and travail-cries,The world confess its sin.Yet, in the maddening maze of things,And tossed by storm and flood,To one fixed trust my spirit clings;I know that God is good!I know not what the future hathOf marvel or surprise,Assured alone that life and deathHis mercy underlies.And if my heart and flesh are weakTo bear an untried pain,The bruised reed He will not break,But strengthen and sustain.No offering of my own I have,Nor works my faith to prove;I can but give the gifts He gave,And plead His love for love.And so beside the Silent SeaI wait the muffled oar;No harm from Him can come to meOn ocean or on shore.I know not where His islands liftTheir fronded palms in air;I only know I cannot driftBeyond His love and care.And Thou, O Lord! by whom are seenThy creatures as they be,Forgive me if too close I leanMy human heart on Thee!
9 minutes | 3 years ago
Kindness (Special Guest: Rev. Karyn Richards-Kuan)
Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash Rev. Karyn Richards-Kuan calls this poem her "first favorite"--meaning she has only recently discovered an appreciation for poetry and these verses by Naomi Shihab Nye find particular resonance with her. The poem's origin, as described by the poet herself, traces back to when Nye and her husband were on their honeymoon in Colombia and were robbed of their possessions. In their disorientation and desperation, they experienced the kindness of a local man, which inspired this poem, "Kindness." Kindnessby Naomi Shihab NyeBefore you know what kindness really isyou must lose things,feel the future dissolve in a momentlike salt in a weakened broth.What you held in your hand,what you counted and carefully saved,all this must go so you knowhow desolate the landscape can bebetween the regions of kindness.How you ride and ridethinking the bus will never stop,the passengers eating maize and chickenwill stare out the window forever.Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,you must travel where the Indian in a white poncholies dead by the side of the road.You must see how this could be you,how he too was someonewho journeyed through the night with plansand the simple breath that kept him alive.Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow.You must speak to it till your voicecatches the thread of all sorrowsand you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,only kindness that ties your shoesand sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,only kindness that raises its headfrom the crowd of the world to sayit is I you have been looking for,and then goes with you every wherelike a shadow or a friend.
11 minutes | 3 years ago
The Patient Dreams (Special Guest: Bruce Webb)
Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash Joining Rev. Tommy Williams today is St. Paul's member Bruce Webb, who shares a poem he wrote about two experiences in a hospital room: 1) the death of his father in 1968 and 2) his own life-saving heart transplant procedure 20 years later. Pay close attention to Bruce's use of imagery in windows, eyes, and coins. The Patient Dreamsby Bruce WebbIn the patient’s room are nine windows.Five windows face south and bring no stories to tell.Their purpose simply to gather thin yellow lightThat passes across the room, examining the wallSix hours each day, behind the patient’s bed. Of the other four,Two on the west vex the patientAt twilight when they wrinkle up, cold and blue,A hollow color matching the patient’s waxy skin.The other two windowsHave not been seen, have not been found yetIn the room. Much is made of this by the patientHis doctors and especially an old priestWho claims to have seen these windowsAnd tells the patient that eternityIs like the soft, Irish green, pastoral landscape,That lies within their frames.“When I go,” the patient says,I want it to happen quickly.” He imaginesIt will be like falling asleep in one roomAnd waking in another. The priest agreesAnd says, “When you go, angels open their arms to you,Invite you in. Lead you on. Then,When the time is right, they take youTo a clearing where everyone you know is gatheredAnd you have barbeque." The doctors dart in and out,Don’t stay long,They look at their watchesAnd at each other, shrug their shoulders,Adjust the metal blinds into thin bands of light.They say, It won’t be long now: Two hours? Three? The machine stops.They will pin down his eyelids with silver coins.
7 minutes | 3 years ago
From "Letter Three" in "Letters to a Young Poet" (Special Guest: Helen Spaw)
Photo by Rainier Ridao on Unsplash Helen Spaw, who leads many of the Healing Circles at St. Paul's, joins Rev. Tommy Williams today for a conversation about the process of healing through poetry. In the poem she shares, Helen points out Rilke's phrase, "Try to love the questions themselves." She sees this as a surrender to the mystery of God, a patience with not understanding all things. There's a particular futility of rushing to figure out all the answers in life, as we often do in our desperation.Healing certainly takes time, and as the poem says, it may come to us "gradually... along some distant day."From "Letter Three" in Letters to a Young Poetby Rainer Maria RilkeBe patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
11 minutes | 3 years ago
Christ Hymn (Special Guest: Rev. Andrew Wolfe)
Rev. Andrew Wolfe, associate pastor of congregational care, and his wife Amanda gravitated to a passage in Philippians 2, which is commonly referred to as the Christ Hymn. They chose these verses to be read in their wedding to lay the groundwork for their life together, drawn to Christ's call for deep love and humility.When Rev. Tommy Williams asks Andrew what it means to him to have "the mind of Christ," his reply is: "It's seeing the world as God sees the world... realizing we're fully known and fully loved by God and it's only through Christ that it becomes a reality for us."Philippians 2:1-11If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with Godas something to be exploited,but emptied himself,taking the form of a slave,being born in human likeness.And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted himand gave him the namethat is above every name, so that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bend,in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confessthat Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.
8 minutes | 3 years ago
Wildness + Poplar Leaves (Special Guest: Kat Denton)
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash Kat Denton, Ministry Assistant for Youth and Children's Ministry, reflects on her love of nature and how God is revealed through the natural world. The two poems she shares today describe a kind of marveling and enjoyment in what Kat calls "outdoor cathedrals."Rev. Tommy Williams affirms, "You could say creation was the first cathedral, right? Before anything else was built."Wildnessby David BaileyYou're there beside me when I wake--window full of redwoods, otherworldly joyof a Swainson's thrush singing.It's enough to sit on the deckwith a mug of tea, breathing the fern-breathwarmth of the valley, ridge after ridgefrom the mist unfolding. The view is a bookI open for one word, and it's enoughto feel close to everything.But you know me better than I do. When you seeI'd stay here all morning, you whisper the nameof a trail I've heard of, and draw me out of my dreaming.Where the wind gets loud on the mountain'socean side, I'd turn back, unknowing, but you pull me onaround the last bends to where the path arrivesat the beginning of the world--grassy cliffs breaking offto jade-green ocean, waves burstingon rough black rocks, pools of purple starfish,green anemones. Gold chiaroscuroof the late sun through sheets of rainhangs in the air down the coast.A wild symmetry aches back in mefrom places I don't call myself, and I want to stay hereuntil I'm ragged and wind-slantedas these bishop pines, lit up with orange lichens, drapedwith Old Man's Beard. I want to stay untilI know you from inside, the way quail and coyotesknow you, and I've found that wildnessturning all of it into songfor no one's praise.The whole day hangs in melike a vision, strenuously beautiful.I want this to be enough, but I knowI must make from it actual things, I mustunfold that landscape inside of mein order to live there, in order to lovewhat you've shown me.Poplar Leavesby Line Gauthierwind rustlingpoplar leavesbells for Sunday mass
8 minutes | 3 years ago
Anonymous (Special Guest: Rev. Dr. Bill Kerley)
Photo by Christian DeKnock on Unsplash Rev. Dr. Bill Kerley first encountered this poem at a retreat where the facilitator Jim Finley was questioned about whether everyone has a place in God's heart. Musing on the poem and its message, Dr. Kerley says: "I believe we are all safe in God and that the gospel is inclusive... It may not be my favorite poem, but I like it a lot."Anonymous PoemMatt Talbot was a drunkardDismas was a thiefMagdalene was a playgirland Thomas without beliefBut there they are in heavenLooking down upon us nowEach holding a tilted haloTo a badly battered browAnd so the sins of all you sinnersDon't definitely damnFor your was-ness doesn't matterIf your is-ness really am.
10 minutes | 3 years ago
Take Love for Granted (Special Guest: Bethany Williams)
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash Rev. Tommy Williams and his wife Bethany share conversation about one of Bethany's favorite poems, "Take Love for Granted" by Jack Ridl. She calls it a Sabbath poem, one that emphasizes the familiarity of family life.Despite the expectations in our culture to "make something grand of your life," Bethany says one of the things she's learning is: "A sweet life gets smaller, in a way that is not disappointing."Take Love for Grantedby Jack RidlAssume it’s in the kitchen,under the couch, highin the pine tree out back,behind the paint cansin the garage. Don’t tryproving your loveis bigger than the GrandCanyon, the Milky Way,the urban sprawl of L.A.Take it for granted. Take itout with the garbage. Bringit in with the takeout. Takeit for a walk with the dog.Wake it every day, say,“Good morning.” Thenmake the coffee. Warmthe cups. Don’t expect muchof the day. Be glad whenyou make it back to bed.Be glad he threw out thatbox of old hats. Be gladshe leaves her shoesin the hall. Snow willcome. Spring will show up.Summer will be humid.The leaves will fallin the fall. That’s morethan you need. We canlove anybody, eveneverybody. But youcan love the silence,sighing and saying toyourself, “That’s her.”“That’s him.” Then toeach other, “I know!Let’s go out for breakfast!”
9 minutes | 3 years ago
The Giving Tree (Special Guest: Tiffin Wilsford)
Photo by Marina Khrapova on Unsplash Director of Youth Ministries, Tiffin Wilsford, sits down with Rev. Tommy Williams, bringing along a book by one of his favorite poets, Shel Silverstein. For Tiffin, this poem speaks to him about the lesson in being content in all circumstances. So often we rush from one thing to another, seeking what might make us happy. But there is wisdom in remaining in a place of contentment in every stage of life. The Giving Tree by Shel SilversteinOnce there was a tree....and she loved a little boy.And everyday the boy would come and he would gather her leavesand make them into crownsand play king of the forest.He would climb up her trunkand swing from her branchesand eat apples.And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired,he would sleep in her shade.And the boy loved the tree....very much.And the tree was happy.But time went by.And the boy grew older.And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.""I am too big to climb and play" said the boy."I want to buy things and have fun.I want some money?""I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money.I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy."And so the boy climbed up thetree and gathered her applesand carried them away.And the tree was happy.But the boy stayed away for a long time.... and the tree was sad.And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joyand she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy." "I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children,and so I need a house.Can you give me a house ?"" I have no house," said the tree."The forest is my house,but you may cut offmy branches and build a house. Then you will be happy."And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them awayto build his house.And the tree was happy.But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back,the tree was so happyshe could hardly speak."Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play.""I am too old and sad to play,"said the boy."I want a boat that willtake me far away from here.Can you give me a boat?""Cut down my trunkand make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away...and be happy."And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy... but not really.And after a long timethe boy came back again."I am sorry, Boy,"said the tree," but I have nothingleft to give you -My apples are gone.""My teeth are too weakfor apples," said the boy."My branches are gone,"said the tree. " Youcannot swing on them - ""I am too old to swingon branches," said the boy."My trunk is gone, " said the tree."You cannot climb - ""I am too tired to climb" said the boy."I am sorry," sighed the tree."I wish that I could give you something.... but I have nothing left.I am just an old stump.I am sorry....""I don't need very much now," said the boy. "just a quiet place to sit and rest.I am very tired.""Well," said the tree, straighteningherself up as much as she could,"well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."And the boy did.And the tree was happy.
10 minutes | 3 years ago
At a Solemn Musick (Special Guest: Christopher Betts)
Neri, da Rimini, 13th/14th cent. Leaf from an Antiphonary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source: www.mfa.org Director of Music Christopher Betts admits he initially found it difficult to choose a favorite poem. After all, he doesn't consider himself having much exposure to poetry over the years. But then it dawned on him: he is constantly surrounded by poetry! "I realized how much poetry I do know and love because it's been introduced to me through music," he says.In this conversation between Christopher Betts and Rev. Tommy Williams, you'll hear about the interplay of sacred music and poetry. Inspired by John Milton's 17th century poem, "At a Solemn Musick," we reflect on how the metaphor of music can shape our understanding of our relationship with God.Feel free to leave a comment below. You might ponder...How do these art forms of music and poetry create "thin spaces" (as it's described in the Celtic tradition) between humans and the divine?We certainly absorb theology through poetic lines paired with memorable melodies, as in the hymns of Charles Wesley. Which of Wesley's hymns is your favorite and what impact has it had on your understanding of what it means to be Methodist?At a Solemn Musickby John MiltonBlest pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav'ns joy, Sphear-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Vers, Wed your divine sounds, and mixt power employDead things with inbreath'd sense able to pierce, And to our high-rais'd phantasie present,That undisturbèd Song of pure content, Ay sung before the saphire-colour'd throneTo him that sits theronWith Saintly shout, and solemn Jubily, Where the bright Seraphim in burning rowTheir loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow, And the Cherubick host in thousand quiresTouch their immortal Harps of golden wires, With those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms, Hymns devout and holy PsalmsSinging everlastingly; That we on Earth with undiscording voiceMay rightly answer that melodious noise; As once we did, till disproportion'd sinJarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh dinBroke the fair musick that all creatures madeTo their great Lord, whose love their motion sway’dIn perfect Diapason, whilst they stoodIn first obedience, and their state of good. O may we soon again renew that SongAnd keep in tune with Heav'n, till God ere longTo his celestial consort us unite, To live with him, and sing in endles morn of light.
10 minutes | 3 years ago
The Peace of Wild Things + The Little Duck (Special Guest: Judy Leatherwood Smith)
Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash For our first episode in the 2018 series of Summer Together, special guest Judy Leatherwood Smith joins Rev. Tommy Williams to share a couple of her favorite poems.Judy, who is a member of St. Paul's UMC, remarks about why she loves these poems, "There's a preciousness of being a creature on earth... we are held by something so much larger and going out in nature just reminds me of that."The Peace Of Wild Thingsby Wendell BerryWhen despair grows in meand I wake in the night at the least soundin fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,I go and lie down where the wood drakerests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.I come into the peace of wild thingswho do not tax their lives with forethoughtof grief. I come into the presence of still water.And I feel above me the day-blind starswaiting for their light. For a timeI rest in the grace of the world, and am free. And Judy shares another poem, one that fell out of book she had pulled from her shelf. Rev. Williams joyfully quips, "Anytime the poem falls out of a book, it probably needs to be read!" The Little Duckby Donald BabcockNow we are ready to look at something pretty special.It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf,And he cuddles in the swells.There is a big heaving in the Atlantic.And he is part of it.He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.And neither do you.But he realizes it.And what does he do, I ask you.He sits down in it.He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is.That is religion, and the duck has it.I like the little duck.He doesn’t know much.But he has religion.Now, it's your turn for reflection! Feel free to leave your comments below. Do you have a favorite poem that vividly captures images of the natural world? What about it speaks to you and your soul? Share it with us.
23 minutes | 4 years ago
Summer Together 2017 Finale
Exodus 1:8-2:10 In this final conversation centered around the summer's lectionary texts, Rev. Williams and Dr. Levison describe the enduring promise of God through the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. Even in the midst of a devastating famine (in the story of Joseph) and Pharoah's order of mass murder (in the story of Moses), life is preserved and sustained through the bold, determined action of God and God's people.What can we do to be preservers of life?
21 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 10
This week’s scripture text is heart-wrenching. It is the long hoped for reunion of Joseph with the brothers who betrayed him. There are lots of tears and expressions here as the brothers listen with awe to Joseph retelling the story of how God redeemed his journey. Listen in for the conversation with Jack and Tommy and reflect on the mercy of God and how meaning is made in the worst of times. Early study for "Joseph Greeting his Brethren" by Pier Francesco Mola (c. 1656) © The Trustees of the British Museum
24 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 9
"Joseph and his Brethren" by Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo (oil on canvas, c.1670) After the reconciliation with Esau (his brother), Jacob settles in Canaan with his family. On this week's podcast, we trace the stories of the many sons of Jacob, including his youngest son, Joseph (Genesis 37). The story is rife with favoritism, jealousy, violence and estrangement. However, listen especially for the sub-plot with Joseph's brother, Reuben, who is a “glimmer of grace,” according to Dr. Jack Levison.
26 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 8
"Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Eugène Delacroix (mural completed in 1861, Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris) In this week's text, Genesis 32:22-31, Dr. Levison ponders the mysterious person with whom Jacob wrestles. Is it a man? Is it an angel? Is it God? "One of the important things about being a person of faith is discerning God's presence in apparent absence," he says.Later, Rev. Williams emphasizes Jacob's persistence in prayer: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me" (v. 26). And in the course of intense wrestling through the night, we find Jacob at daybreak, both bruised and blessed. He greets the new day by naming the place Peniel, meaning "face of God."Resources:"Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown" by Charles Wesley (UMH 386)The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology by Samuel Terrien
23 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 7
Jacob Encountering Rachel with her Father’s Herds by Joseph von Führich, 1836 Lectionary text from Genesis 29The Genesis drama intensifies as Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but is tricked by his father-in-law and marries Leah (Rachel's sister) instead. Jacob, who once deceived his father to steal his brother's blessing, now falls victim to being deceived himself. As Dr. Levison and Rev. Williams discuss, in the midst of relationship upheaval and what starts to sound like a modern-day soap opera, somehow the promise of God remains steadfast and continues to be fulfilled.
23 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 6
Jacob’s Ladder (woodcut from Luther Bibles of 1534 and 1545) Rev. Williams and Dr. Levison dig into this week's passage from Genesis 28:10-19.Jacob dreams of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven. Through the dream, we hear God repeat the promise of how his descendants will multiply and be a blessing to all peoples. "...And all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring." (v. 14b)As Dr. Levison notes, "The sign of a great nation is not whether it [thinks itself] great, but whether the earth is blessed by that nation." Rev. Williams adds that often it takes the perspective of others to reveal what is true.Resources:The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter"We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" (African-American spiritual)
23 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 5
"Jacob and Esau" by Lorenzo Ghilber Gilded bronze panel in the Gates of Paradise doors, Bapistery of St. John in Florence, Italy Wherever you may be this summer, listen in to engage in this Bible study discussion with Rev. Tommy Williams and Dr. Jack Levison. "Summer Together" follows the lectionary passages in Genesis, week by week. This week's scripture takes us to the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. It's an account of struggle, competition and deception. "And the LORD said to [Rebekah]: 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.'” – Genesis 25:23Read the full lectionary passage: Genesis 25:19–34
22 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 4
Turning to Chapter 24 in Genesis, we find the story of Rebekah and Isaac. Dr. Levison and Rev. Williams remark how--even within the patriarchal constraints of the ancient world--Rebekah is an active figure who exercises agency in her own way. "Watch for the women embedded in the story," Dr. Levison remarks.Wherever you are this summer, we hope you enjoy the easy pace of engaging these lectionary texts week by week. As Dr. Levison encourages us, we are reading scripture slowly so we can pay attention to the remarkable details.Resources:The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter Eliezer and Rebecca at the Well by Nicolas Poussin, 1648
29 minutes | 4 years ago
Dialogue on Genesis: Week 3
Abraham’s Sacrifice by Adi Holzer (Hand colored etching, 1997) Following along with the summer's lectionary texts, we enter into a particularly difficult passage of scripture this week in Genesis 22. Rev. Williams and Dr. Levison candidly discuss the raw emotion and anguish of this account where God puts before Abraham a test, telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom he loves.There are no easy answers here. Dr. Levison encourages us, the readers, not to rush to the end too soon and reassure ourselves that God halts the sacrifice of Isaac. He also recommends for us not to try to find "the moral of the story" and tie everything up neatly. In this complex passage (as so much of scripture so often is) there is simply not a way to fully understand it, yet we still engage it together.Resources: Watch the sermon by SMU professor, Dr. Roy Heller, who preaches about how Abraham failed the test God gave him--it wasn't a matter of obedience but of compassion and mercyFind out more about the book, The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter
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