from Philippians 1:3-11 and Colossians 1:1-12
January 21, 2018
Mary Hammond
   I have these new friends across the street–about half a dozen sparrows. In this bleak midwinter, as the hymn proclaims, I am enjoying outside nature time from the window of our upstairs Guest Room. There is a tall, stately fir tree across the street, with some very barren bushes nearby. As the snow quickly thawed and the grass was again exposed a week or so ago (this seems to keep happening), my sparrow friends were overjoyed. They flitted from the bushes to the fir tree and back again, chirping away as if springtime had truly just arrived.
   Too soon, however, the snow covered the earth once more and the arctic blast returned. My newfound friends were nowhere to be seen at 8:30 a.m., my usual greeting time. I have no idea where they went to stay warm in the frigid, snow-covered nights and early mornings. But I do know that it definitely was not at our corner.
   Even when the birds are gone and the breezes absent, this simple outdoor landscape evokes a quiet sacredness all of its own. It offers me a small way to exit my daily dose of anthropocentrism and be captivated again by the glory and wonder of the Community of Creation.
   Every week as we face another onslaught of horrendous news, we struggle to guard our hearts against lurching from agony to agony. Sometimes that is unavoidable; lament is a powerful form of protest, prayer, and solidarity. Yet, one way to guard our hearts, in 2018, is to ponder the word “more,” and ask ourselves one simple question, “What do I need more of, this year?”
   There is a difference between beating back the darkness and shining more of the light. There is a difference between resisting division and sowing more connection. They are interrelated, but one can quickly become overwhelming while the other inspires hope, agency, and empowerment.
   What do you need more of this coming year? What do we, at PCC, need more of this year? Let’s share a bit about these questions [Congregational Sharing].
   The difference between resisting division and sowing connection became very apparent to me recently through a profoundly simple, organic opportunity. I didn’t even attend it; I just helped around the edges. Carla and Bob volunteered as point-persons for this project. The task was to sort volumes of clothes donated for Puerto Ricans who have fled to the City of Lorain since Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
   In early November, I was stunned to learn that the City of Lorain had already resettled 40 families from Puerto Rico. Six weeks later, my astonishment intensified. That number had mushroomed to 125 families. Every day, 3-4 new families were arriving, down from 8-9 a day. Each one was coming to Lorain with almost nothing, to rebuild a life in a whole new community, context, and climate. It’s certainly not balmy in the winter in Ohio.
   Meanwhile, donated clothing was sitting in bags in the basement of El Centro, the primary social service agency in Lorain. The staff was too pressed to be able to organize these items so families could find and take what they needed.
   So, on January 3rd, ten volunteers began sorting the clothes. The following week, that number grew to twenty-two. A couple moms brought their home schooled daughters along. There were retired folks from Kendal and elsewhere. Oberlin College students on campus for Winter Term helped out. Several PCC’ers came. A professor from Lorain Community College and an international student completing a Ph.D. volunteered.
   All came to support people they didn’t even know, but whose needs and life predicament they held in their hearts. This labor took one burden off overwhelmed social workers. Relationships were built between students and non-students, kids and grown-ups, older folks and younger folks. And, all the time,  Oberlin was building bridges with survivors of Hurricane Maria, the work of El Centro, and the community of Lorain.
   This wasn’t flashy or fancy work. This wasn’t fighting division. This was fostering connection. It embodied “shining more light,” not just resisting the darkness. It was a story of “more.”  More solidarity. More inter-generational engagement. More awareness. More service. More joy.
   Steve and I attended a presentation in Columbus this past week, held at a Sanctuary Church of Mennonite affiliation, housing an undocumented mother in danger of imminent deportation. The meeting was focused on hearing from those who have taken sanctuary at five churches in four states. These conversations were possible thanks to the use of both Zoom technology and translators. Each story was poignant and heart-rending. The sanctuary was nearly full of attenders, including local, national, and international press whom the church had invited. It was a “more” moment. More truth-telling. More courage. More awareness. More connection. More light.
   In his letter to the church in Pilippi and from his prison cell, the Apostle Paul prays for Jesus’ followers to nurture more and more love. In another letter to the church in Collosae, Paul prays for the community to develop more wisdom, more discernment, and more patience to navigate the hard times. The faith journey is no sprint; it is nothing short of a marathon.
   What do we need more of, to refuel for this journey?
   I am quite certain what I need. The challenge, for me, is carving it out. More nature. More silence. More laughter. More play. More connection. More prayer. More depth. More slow times. More grace.
   I invite you to join me in asking yourself these two questions: What do I need “more” of in 2018? What do we, as a community of faith, need “more” of in this new year? May God grant us lives overflowing with “more.” Amen.