Anne Howard: A Word in Time: On the Lookout for Hope


I am on the lookout this Advent, on the lookout for hope.

As the season of Advent ushers in the new church year, I  am looking for the signs of hope in our day, places where new life pushes in to surprise us with possibility. I am looking for places of liveliness, energy, and the growth of the good.

I want to find what the prophet Isaiah is talking about in Sunday's text, that day when "the wolf shall live with the lamb," all creatures graze in peace, and a little child is safe in the face of danger.

The safety of children is on our national agenda right now-or should be-as we approach the first anniversary of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We have done nothing as a nation in this past year to make our children any safer. Our Congress has dithered away (or sold to the highest bidder and the richest lobbyist) the opportunity to pass even the mildest of common sense gun legislation. We have lost nearly 30,000 more people to gun violence, despite the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans want stiffer background checks and some 70 percent of us support bans on military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. We watch Chicago's children bleed every day. And yet we side-step any attempt at stopping gun violence with diversionary conversations about mental health.

So I'm on the lookout for hope, with the help of two prophets, Isaiah and Wendell Berry. I'm spending these Advent days pondering their words--words not of optimism, but hope.

Isaiah paints the lovely image of the peaceable kingdom, a fantasy designed for Christmas cards. But he starts with a stump. He starts with a cut-off, dead, lifeless stump, not the place you'd look to find new life. But there springs that shoot of new life: "a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots."

Where are the stumps? I tend to overlook the stumps-I want to jump to the green shoots of new life. But Isaiah asks us to look right at the stump.

Where do we most need a sign of new life? Where is that something so old and set and solid, like an old dead tree stump? Where in our church, in our daily habits, in our common national life? Where might God be inviting us into the old to discover the unexpected possibility of the new?

Wendell Berry, in his Sabbath poems, focuses our attention on stumps both literal and literary, asking us to look to the land to find our way back home: "Now/ after the long invasion/ of alien species, including /our own, in a time of endangered/ species, including our own,/ we face the hard way: no choice/ but to do better."

It is my Advent hope that we can do better.

Echoes from the Edge

Walk Beside

By Karen Rohrer, 2013-14 Beatitudes Fellow - December 2nd, 2013

As pastor of a new church development that does quite a bit of neighborhood programming, I spend a good deal of time thinking about what it means to be a pastor outside of the normal activities we associate with church.   My church is in the kind of neighborhood where people know each other, where they watch each other and do life together.  As a young pastor, this visibility is fairly new to me and unfortunately there was no class on "pastoral behavior in the grocery store context" in seminary.

In fact, I've learned the most about being a pastor throughout life from the children who come to Beacon's afterschool program.  Most of them don't go to church, and don't know exactly what we do there or why.  Despite that, they seem to know that I'm the pastor, even as I am a young woman leader in a Catholic neighborhood, even as I teach creative story writing, serve snack, or scrub paint off the table. 

  This week one of the kids from the program showed up early. She walked right in and said, very grown up like, "Can I talk to you privately?" so we stepped just out of the volunteers' hearing.  She told me about her cousin, who she loves very much. He has cerebral palsy and doesn't speak or walk.  She shared that other children had been making fun of him.  As she spoke, I was immediately aware of my total inability to fix it for her, even in this small way, in this one instance.  I had a flash of worry about what to say, knowing no way to explain the cruelty or solve the problem.  But as she finished speaking, she said, "So I want you to pray for me, that I know what to say and pray for him that people don't make fun of him." 

And there it was. 

I didn't have to say anything. She didn't expect me to fix it at all.  She knew that for whatever reason it isn't ours to always fix whatever hurts or frustrates us.  She knew that when you can't fix it, you pray--that when you can't avoid pain, it's best not to hold it alone and that maybe pastors are there to help you find your way to prayer.


In my fellowship year, I hope to walk beside the Kensington neighborhood as it makes its way in the process of prayer.  I hope to be a part of prayers as we begin to trust God to hear, and as we dare to ask for abundance and thriving, for a place to belong and a place to cobble wholeness together.  I want to be a part of the prayers for healing and peace, calm, and freedom from addiction and I hope Beacon will be a place that points to prayers being heard and being held, a place where all are reminded through resources, caregivers, community, and vision, that God delights to remember them. 

 Karen Rohrer is the Pastor and Co-Director of Beacon, a new church development of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA. 

Finally, the Poet

Poem IX, from Leavings

By Wendell Berry - December 2nd, 2013

As if suddenly, little towns

where people once lived all

their lives in the same houses

now fill with strangers who 

don't bother to speak or wave.

Life is a lonely business.

Gloss it how you will,

plaster it over with politic

bullshit as you please,

ours has been a brutal

history, punishing without

regret whatever or whomever

belonged or threatedned to belong 

in place, converting the land 

to poverty and money any

way that was quickest. Now

after the long invastion

of alien species, including

our own, in a time of endangered

species, including our own, 

we face the hard way: no choice

but to do better.  After

the brief cataclysm of "cheap"

oil and coal has long

passed, along with teh global

economy, the global village,

the hoards who go everywhere

and live nowhere, after

the long relearning, the long

suffering, the homecoming

that must follow, maybe

there will be a New World

of native communities again:

plants, animals, humans,

soils, stones, stories,

songs--all belonging

to such small, once known

and forgotten, officially unknown

and exploited, beautiful places

such as this, where despite

all we have done wrong

the golden light of October

falls through the turning leaves.

The leaves die and fall,

making wealth in the ground,

making in the ground the only

real material wealth.

Ignoring our paltry dream

of omniscience merely human,

the knowing old land

has lighted the woodland's edges

with the last flowers of the year,

the tiny asters once known

here as farewell-summer.

Taken with permission from the blog of the Beatitudes Society.